Unpopular Opinions

Are we holding so tightly to our opinions that we fail to make space for forward progress?

By on May 17, 2024 | Comments

We do this thing these days where we preface our controversial thoughts with the words, “unpopular opinion.” It goes something like this: “Unpopular opinion, but morning runs are overrated,” or “Unpopular opinion, but winter runs are better than summer runs,” or “Unpopular opinion, but I don’t actually care about local legend status on Strava.”

It’s mostly a fun game we play on social media, but I think there’s something more to it. It’s as if those little words grant us permission to voice our true thoughts without being too embarrassed because we openly acknowledge that they are unpopular. But perhaps more importantly, when we use these words to shield ourselves from potential judgment, they can also remind us to question ourselves about why we hold these opinions and prepare ourselves to have a constructive dialogue about them.

Zach Miller hugging Coach Bradley 2023 UTMB - feature photo

Zach Miller in 2023, after finishing second at UTMB, would have disagreed with a young Zach Miller’s unpopular opinion that 100-mile races were silly. Photo: Luke Webster

And with that, I shall share some of my own unpopular opinions. Here goes.

Unpopular opinion, but part of me thinks that 200-plus-mile races are dumb. In fact, a side of me cringed when my Instagram feed was filled with people running the Cocodona 250 Mile just the other week. Part of me thinks we should first get faster at 100-mile races before tackling races two-and-a-half times as long. And a similar fraction of me disliked that I was sucked into following along and caring about it. But wait, there’s more.

Unpopular opinion, but part of me was bothered by lululemon’s FURTHER event. A piece of me thought it simply looked like a lot of slow running. Meanwhile, something else in me couldn’t stop thinking about whether they should have called the event “further” or “farther.” After all, they were running far, and farther is used for distance, but on the other hand, perhaps they were also running to a greater degree of their beings, in which case further could be appropriate. For a guy who liked math class a lot more than English, I guess I have some strong feelings about grammar. Allow me to continue.

Unpopular opinion, but I am okay with the Barkley Marathons. I acknowledge that it is a different sort of event. I understand that some think that the level of attention that it garners from the media is bad for the sport of ultrarunning — that people don’t want this race, a scavenger hunt as they may call it, to be what people think of as ultrarunning. Yet, I think it is a unique challenge that embodies much of what ultrarunning truly is — a test of will, strength, endurance, and mental fortitude.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - collapsed at finish

Jasmin Paris becoming the first woman to finish the Barkley Marathons is perhaps the biggest ultrarunning media moment of 2024 thus far. Photo: David Miller

Being a Skeptic of Skepticism

Before you get mad at me in the comments section below, please allow me to expand a bit more. These thoughts are essentially my knee-jerk reactions. They are things that I think but don’t always say. They are the sort of thoughts that I express to my closest friends, those who will still talk to me even if they disagree.

And when I have these thoughts, I question myself: Am I thinking about this correctly? Am I right to agree or disagree with a popular or accepted opinion? Am I just being a cranky, old curmudgeon? Should I be more open-minded?

The other night, as I was reading through a collection of notes that I keep on my phone, I stumbled upon the following words from author and podcast host Krista Tippett in a piece called “Becoming Wise:”

“I’m consciously shedding the assumption that a skeptical point of view is the most intellectually credible. Intellect does not function in opposition to mystery; tolerance is not more pragmatic than love; and cynicism is not more reasonable than hope. Unlike almost every worthwhile thing in life, cynicism is easy. It’s never proven wrong by the corruption or the catastrophe. It’s not generative. It judges things as they are, but does not lift a finger to try to shift them.”

Now, I know that Tippett didn’t pen these words in response to Cocodona 250 Mile, FURTHER, or the Barkley Marathons. In fact, she most certainly wasn’t thinking about ultrarunning at all. Yet, her thoughts made me question why I was being so critical of what other people were doing.

Just because I don’t have the desire to do something doesn’t mean it can’t hold value for someone else. After all, there was a time in my youth when I thought running 100 miles was silly. “I could probably do that, but I don’t want to run that slow,” was what I thought to myself. Years later, here I am doing the very thing that I once thought to be so silly. I guess I’m having a little snack on the words of my youth.

Harry Subertas - 2024 Cocodona 250 Mile champion

Cynics and fans were equally glued to the finish of the Cocodona 250 Mile where Harry Subertas took over the race lead with a few miles left. Photo: Howie Stern

I think this sort of thing happens a lot in life and extends far beyond the arena of sports. From ultrarunning to political views to how our partner does the dishes, we quickly become cynical of so many things. All we see is what we consider right while neglecting to make space for mystery, love, or hope. We hold so tightly to our (unpopular) opinions that we fail to make space for forward progress.

As I take to the trails that life presents, I wish to remember that there are many twists and turns that I won’t be expecting. My skepticism and critique may be of value for some but not for all. There will often be more than one good path, and just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean it isn’t someone else’s. If someone wants to run a 250-mile race or for six days in a row, may I find it in me to cheer on such a feat.

So here’s to all of those drinking big, bold cups of tea — for where there is challenge, there is opportunity, and where there is opportunity, there is growth.

Call for Comments

  • Have you ever found yourself getting skeptical of other people’s goals?
  • How do we create space for constructive discussions of unpopular opinions?
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.