Zach Miller writes about the risks and rewards of learning to trust in the process, in people, and in oneself.

By on November 17, 2017 | Comments

“Can we do trust next month?” My editor, Meghan Hicks, asked. “I’m eager to hear your thoughts on the topic.” The question came in an email, one to which I’m not sure I gave a reply. Not that I was ignoring it. I made a mental note of the request, but uncertainty loomed. I liked the topic. In fact, it was my idea in the first place. I had no one to blame but myself for roping me into a topic that intimidated me so much.

So, here I sit several weeks later, sitting by a fire, trying to conjure up my thoughts. It is a beautiful fall day. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the temperature is cool enough for a jacket, but too warm for gloves. The birds are chirping, the fire is purring away, turning unwanted scrap wood into ashes for the compost pile, and my brain, well, my brain is thinking. It’s thinking about trust and how to wrap words around such a topic.

The fire is roaring now, as I’ve just added more wood. I scoot my chair back a foot or so as the heat is getting to be a bit much. As I think about trust, my mind keeps going back to a story that Angel Collinson told at our The North Face athlete summit a few weeks ago. It was a story of trust, one in which Angel’s father asked if she trusted him. She must have said yes, for what they did next was something of high consequence. Something that certainly required Angel to have quite a bit of trust in her father. I’ll spare Angel the embarrassment of sharing the finer details, but to sum it up, her trust prevailed as she was left with best possible outcome: a rescued mitten and a very funny story.

Fast forward to today, as I write this essay that you will read next week, and I am finding a lot of relevance in Angel’s story. Several days ago, I started easing into my taper for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. To be honest, the first two days weren’t very taper like as they involved quite a bit of running (but also a lot of fun). Being that those two days came on the tail end of several big, hard days, it was no surprise that the third day of taper felt like absolute garbage. And not just any garbage, but that full-blown-couldn’t-push-if-you-wanted-to sort of garbage. And yet, when it comes time to taper, I expect (or hope) to start feeling good. When such an expectation isn’t met, it becomes very easy for worry and doubt to creep in. But, what can you do other than to take care of your body, sleep it off, and hope the next day is better?

Well, the next day felt mostly the same, and while I knew there was a very logical explanation, the worry monster grew. That night I got a timely text from my buddy Chris Vargo. “Hope you’re feeling good leading into [TNF50]!!” he wrote. I tapped out an honest response, telling him that the last two days felt like juuuunk! But, I’m logical, so I mention that the last training block was big, that hopefully the fatigue means that I did it just right and the taper will kick things into gear. He agrees and my concerns are calmed a bit. Maybe a little bit.

As the days progress, I see improvement, but it’s slower than I’d like. I want to wake up and just feel awesome, to have everything click just like that. At times like this, I have to be realistic with myself. I have to remind myself that it took a lot of time and effort to beat my body up this much and that it will take time for the body to recover and reap the benefits of it.

Trust the process, is what keeps going through my head. It’s easy to say, harder to do. After all, why should I trust the process? The reason, I believe, goes back to Angel Collinson’s story. Some might suspect that Angel trusted her father because he was, well, her father. But, that’s like saying you should trust a training plan just because a coach wrote it. I don’t really agree with that. I suspect that Angel trusted her father because he had proven himself in the past. Sure, those moments of trust may not have been equivalent to the one at hand, but they still would have laid the foundation for future moments of need. And so, just as Angel likely trusted her father based on past events, we too can learn to trust our training (and tapers) because they have worked in the past.

Of course, this ideology is not fullproof. As trustworthy as Angel finds her father, he is still human and capable of/subject to mistakes and misfortunes. Similarly, the human body is a funny thing, and sometimes it (or life) throws the unlikeliest of curve balls. And so, I like to think that trust comes with a sidekick named risk. For even the most trustworthy of friends, coaches, fathers, and others are still subject to the unpredictable ways of the universe.

It’s like an interaction that we recently had with a guest at Barr Camp. Upon arriving, he handed us a card which explained that he could not talk or write that day. Later that evening, Jonathan Lantz and I headed out with the chainsaw to fell a couple of dead trees. As we strategically went to work to notch and drop the trees, the man appeared. Though he was still silent, we could see quite clearly that he was interested in our work. He was eager to help, and through a series of hand gestures and written notes, he provided suggestions and guidance. By the time the job was done, it felt as though we had made a new friend.

Did we have a good reason to trust our newfound friend when he first appeared? No, not really, but we took some calculated risks, judged the situation as we went, and kept an open mind. It reminds me of something my good friend Amos King once said, “Life is better when you trust people.” Now, I certainly realize that many folks would be very leery to live by such a motto. But, even as cautious as I can be, I have come to realize that in some (or perhaps many ways), Amos is right.

As important as it can be to be careful, sometimes we miss out on some really great things because we refuse to couple our trust with a tad bit more risk. I’m not suggesting that you grab a complete stranger and ask them to be your sky-diving partner. That might be a bit too risky. But, next time you are faced with a challenging situation, remember the moments that gave you reason to trust, and when your mind finds them a bit slim, toss in a bit of risk. Do that, and you might just be in for some really great things!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How tightly do you guard your sense of trust? As in, does it take a long time for a person or situation to earn your trust?
  • Have you ever more consciously coupled a bit of trust and a bit of risk to see how things shake out? What happened?
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.