Showing Up

Fall is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. The air is crisp, mornings are dark, and leaves are turning. But above all, it’s time for fall sports, including the greatest one of all, cross country. No offense to football, but my loyalties lie where my heart and lungs once paid the bills.

From 2005 through 2010, I spent every fall toiling through workouts and gutting myself at cross-country meets. It’s kind of a weird sport when you think about it. Fanfare amongst your peers is modest at best. The only people who really watch are parents and fellow runners. A properly run race feels like death and many of the workouts feel very much the same.

And yet, my soul smiles when I think of those days. I’m not alone either. Toss a dart into the sea that is cross country, and chances are you’ll strike the likes of someone who feels the same. But why is this? Is it because misery loves company? Sure, that could be part of it, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.

Zach Miller - Showing Up Cross Country team 2

Zach (bib #211) during his college days of cross-country running. All photos courtesy of Zach Miller.

I think the real reason may be in something my my old college teammate Michael Hardbarger once told me. Michael, you see, was a miler, giving him plenty of reason to feel averse to cross country. And yet, he loved it. He told me it was a family sport. This, my friends, is what makes it so awesome.

But why? Why does it being a family affair make it so great? It’s because families show up for one another and as humans in need of connection and belonging, that feels really good.

Earlier this year my grandmother passed away. Though she was in her nineties, her death was fairly sudden. It would have been easy, and quite reasonable for family members to send their condolences from afar. Some did, and that was fine, but so many more dropped what they were doing and made the trek to Pennsylvania to be present.

Zach Miller - Showing Up Cross Country team 3

Zach speaking to a cross-country team in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The comparison may seem a bit strange, but we did the same thing in cross country. Day after day we showed up. We pounded miles and gasped our way through workouts. Sometimes once a day, other times twice. On weekends we traveled to meets where we ran not just for ourselves, but also for each other.

We had a lot on our plates in college, and you weren’t always well rested. Some days you killed the workouts. Other days they killed you. But, one thing was guaranteed. Day in and day out you had a network of people to work alongside. You had a family.

My days of cross country are long gone. I’ve gone from doing nearly every single autumn run with a team to doing the majority of my miles alone. Yet, I still find myself teaming up with other runners. In fact, just the other day I was thinking about how I’m a person who trains by “other people’s workouts.” Sure, there are times when I do focused training blocks with workouts tailored specifically to me, but there are also times when I simply jump in with other people and do whatever they are doing.

Zach Miller - Showing Up Cross Country team

Zach (fifth from left) with a cross-country team in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Years ago it was workouts with Joe Gray and Allie McLaughlin. Then there was a spring of training with Jared Hazen. Last year, while at home in Pennsylvania, it was swim and bike workouts with Yoder Performance, the local triathlon group. And this year, it’s Wednesday morning workouts with a small group of runners here in Bend, Oregon where I am currently living.

The workouts vary, but one thing is the same. We show up and work together.

Life is very much the same. Not every day is filled with sunshine. Some days are just hard. This is why it helps to have a cross-country team, a training group, or a family! It’s important to have someone who shows up for you, and also to be someone who shows up for others. The only question now is, who’s that gonna’ be?

Call for Comments

  • Do you have a team to turn to when things get hard in life or running?
  • Who do you consider to be your running family?
Zach Miller

is a mountain runner and full time caretaker at Barr Camp in Colorado. As caretaker, he lives year round in an off-the-grid cabin halfway up Pikes Peak. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.