The Trap

Zach Miller writes about training, and the trap of getting too obsessed with arbitrary numbers and linear progress.

By on March 17, 2023 | Comments

Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about training. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the traps that we fall into as we train. There are all sorts: running too much, running too hard too often, never running hard enough, under-fueling. These are but a few examples. I’m sure the list could go on.

For me, I fall into the trap of consistency. That probably sounds a bit odd. In and of itself, consistency isn’t bad. It’s actually a great thing. I am a huge supporter of it. But, like most things, it can be overdone. Allow me to explain.

When I train for a race, I build things up over time. I take a variable such as miles, time, or vertical feet climbed and increase its volume from one week to the next. Every now and then, I take a step back to allow my body to recover, but for the most part, it’s a steady, uphill grind.

Zach Miller grinding uphill in snow.

The uphill grind. All photos courtesy of Zach Miller.

The method is nothing revolutionary. It’s pretty basic stuff — a class called Endurance Training 101, if you will. So, if the method is solid, wherein lies the problem? The problem is in the execution of it. Each time I up the volume, I set a new bar for what I deem to be a success. For example, if I log 4,000 feet of vertical gain on Monday, my brain gets sucked into defining that as success and wants to do the same (or more) the following day.

Sometimes it can be productive to push for this sort of consistency. Other times it can be quite detrimental. The trick is to be able to determine what your body needs each day and pursue that, not some (mostly) arbitrary goal. It’s a matter of chasing concepts rather than rules.

It makes me think of my childhood. When I was a kid, life had a lot of rules. And believe me, I was a follower of them. Sadly, there were probably times when I missed the point, moments when I followed the rules without giving much thought to their purpose. At the time, this probably wasn’t the worst thing. After all, many of the rules we are subject to in our adolescence are made by well-intentioned adults we can trust.

Zach Miller selfie in the snow

The author out training in snowy conditions.

And yet, I can’t help but think that I might have been better off if I had been taught more of the concepts behind the rules I was instructed to adhere to. Without this understanding, rules are mostly just a list of dos and don’ts. Dos and don’ts feel like a restriction. Understanding concepts feels like empowerment. In other words, the former threatens to trap us while the latter sets us free.

In training, it is the same. When all I do is chase arbitrary numbers that make me feel successful, I’m simply following a list of dos and don’ts. If said numbers are being prescribed by someone who understands the appropriate training concepts, I may be right to follow them. But, if they aren’t rooted in solid concepts, I could be wasting my time, much like blindly following an unproductive rule.

So, the trick in both training and life is to understand concepts. Concepts provide a reason for our actions. Sure, rules can provide guidance, but this guidance is only helpful if rooted in solid concepts. So next time you lay out a training plan or head out the door for a run, take a moment to stop and think. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What is my intent? And does this help me get there?”

Call for Comments

  • Do you get bogged down with arbitrary numbers much in your training?
  • Or do you think you are pretty good at seeing the bigger picture?
Tracks in fresh snow, with beautiful snow covered trees in the background.

Zach Miller’s winter training ground.

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Zach Miller
Zach Miller lives in a school bus he outfitted himself. 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.