What We’ll Always Have

Zach Miller’s thoughts on running for its own sake and the beauty to be found on the trails.

By on November 17, 2023 | Comments

I’ve been running a lot lately. People keep asking me what for. Perhaps those aren’t their exact words, but it’s the vibe. They want to know what the miles are pointing toward, what race is coming up.

To be honest I don’t have any races on the schedule for the rest of 2023. Perhaps I’ll jump in a turkey trot over the American Thanksgiving holiday. I actually never have. It would be a first for me, and it’s been ages since I’ve raced on the road. And my training looks far from that of turkey trots, so what gives?

I have a few answers. I tell people that I’m enjoying fall and/or that I’m building my base for next year. I also speak of early season race options and to some, I admit that I’m eyeing up a hard effort across the Grand Canyon and back. I guess that’s what you call a fastest known time (FKT) attempt, although for some reason I feel sheepish about it.

Of all the explanations I’ve been giving people, I think I like the enjoying fall answer best. It seems the most pure.

You see, one of the greatest things about running is its ability to thrive on its own. While it can be done in a competitive context, it doesn’t have to be. It can also be done for fitness, stress relief, transportation, or even just for fun. Its value is not rooted in one specific thing.

Zach Miller - Grand Canyon at sunset

A sunset view of the Grand Canyon. All photos: Zach Miller

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about running and where I wish for it to take me next year. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what I want to race. A few weeks ago, I felt pretty strongly that I wanted to return to UTMB. Just as I was feeling fairly comfortable with that potential decision, I — and what feels like the rest of the trail running world — learned of a new UTMB World Series event that would take over an event space previously occupied by the Whistler Alpine Meadows event, put on by Coast Mountain Trail Running, in Whistler, British Columbia.

The news of this happening caused quite a bit of outrage amongst the trail running community. To make a long story short, people felt that Whistler Alpine Meadows had been unfairly pushed out and replaced by much larger, corporate entities, one of which being the UTMB World Series that is affiliated with UTMB, of course. As I learned of and analyzed the situation, I struggled with knowing what to do.

On one hand, I really wanted to run UTMB. On the other hand, I was concerned that the UTMB World Series organization might be behaving in a way that went against my morals. All of a sudden, something as simple as deciding what to race seemed a lot more complex. But don’t worry, this article is less about what happened between Whistler Alpine Meadows and the UTMB World Series, and more about what I realized in the aftermath.

As I’ve been processing what occurred between Coast Mountain Trail Running and the UTMB World Series, I’ve continued to spend a lot of time out on the trails. I’ve run to the depths of the Grand Canyon and to the highest point in Arizona. I’ve seen beautiful sunsets and run beneath dark, desert skies. I’ve cruised along the Tonto Trail, marveling at the beauty of the Grand Canyon and feeling that rare sense of wild awe. I’ve plunged deep into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail and powered my way back out to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, feeling the rhythm and strength of my body as I went.

Zach Miller - Tonto Trail - Grand Canyon

The Tonto Trail, below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

In doing these things, I’ve realized something. These moments are the essence of the sport. Sure, races are fun. They give us an objective and a way to test ourselves. They, however, are just one piece of the puzzle, and not even a necessary piece at that.

Even if all the races ceased to exist, we’d still have running. We’d have the power in our legs and the breath in our lungs. We’d have the mountains to climb and canyons to cross. We’d have sunrises, sunsets, and starry skies. We’d have the ability to wonder how far and how fast we could go and the means to find out. We’d have joy, awe, and wonder. We’d have tired legs and overflowing hearts.

We’d have all these things and so much more because they don’t rely on a race, an organization, or a policy.

And so, as the sport of trail running continues to grow, I am optimistic. Optimistic not just because I think it can grow and develop in a positive direction, but also because even if the competition side of the sport throws some challenges our way, what it is at its core can still remain.

The challenge, the beauty, and the awe won’t cease to exist. We’ll always be able to take to the trails and find those bits of gold. We can forever be, enjoying fall.

Call for Comments

Would you still find joy in running if there were no races to train for?

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.