Destinations, Training & Racing, Travel & Gear

My Running and Travel Dreams Are Clouding Reality

12 Comments Posted by: Sarah Lavender Smith, November 17, 2012

These past two months I spent a lot of time researching races and places online. It began reasonably enough. I had to write a sidebar to my article for Trail Runner, which comes out in the magazine’s next issue, about self-supported stage races around the world (see below for this calendar list). Also, I wanted to start planning races for 2013 and register for those with lotteries.

Increasingly, however, this time online devolved into procrastination and fantasy about all the adventurous runs I want to train for and travel to. Expensive, impractical ideas about a week of racing in Iceland or a traverse of the Inca Trail distracted me daily. I kept it to myself rather than talking to Morgan about it because I knew he would justifiably feel impatient and alienated from me, since those running trips don’t necessarily involve him and would take me away from our work together.

I guess you could say I developed the ultrarunning, adventure-seeking equivalent of an online porn habit. The hours I spent on blogs, websites and Facebook when I should have been working wasn’t the only problem. I found myself moody, unmotivated and uninspired by my regular running routine. I let this blog dry up because my running and life in general felt mundane and not worth sharing.

I confronted my frame of mind and made a concerted effort to feel better after last Sunday, when I had to skip a 50K on Mt. Tam because I needed to finish my run earlier due to family plans. I ran nearly four hours on the hills of Chabot Regional Park, but instead of feeling fulfilled after 22 miles that I ran solo and strong, I felt irrationally pissed and unsatisfied that I missed the event and ran “short” on a “boring” route. When I caught myself thinking that way, I said out loud, “What is my problem?”

It’s natural, I guess, to have a comedown after two unforgettable and uncommon experiences: first the ultrarunning camp in Alaska, then the weeklong Grand to Grand stage race. Those trips took me away from my family to indulge in adventure, self-discovery and socialization with a tribe of wonderful, kooky characters whose lives seem to revolve around outdoor exploration and endorphins.

The other day, two of them sent me emails that epitomize the extremes I’m talking about. The first, from one of my Grand to Grand tentmates, said she’s doing the 6633 Extreme Winter Ultra—a freezing cold, self-supported multiday race with a 120 mile or 350 mile option in the Arctic Circle. The other message came from a woman I went to the Alaska camp with. She wrote to invite me and others to join her at the Wild Coast Ultra in South Africa, a six-day, 270K (167-mile) race. That event has some of the craziest rules I’ve ever read, including: “The route is not marked … participants may take any route they choose … you will have to use your initiative to get water along the way … when crossing the rivers at outgoing tide, be very aware of the extreme power of the water rushing out …” And my favorite: “Bring an abundant sense of humor.”

I love meeting people like them, reading about this stuff and dreaming big dreams. But at some point I crossed a line from feeling inspired to struggling with a warped perspective that clouded my ability to enjoy and appreciate the here and now.

The other weekend, however, the cloud lifted and I felt like my normal self when I embraced the challenge of a half marathon trail race. I ran hard, had fun and felt fully gratified from those 13.5 miles at the Save Mount Diablo Trail Challenge. I’ve raced this course several times in past years but enjoyed it as if it were new. The people at the event, the challenge of running fast and the companionship of my husband who ran it too all contributed to a satisfying experience.

On my way to finishing 2nd at the Mount Diablo Trail Challenge half marathon.

I also read a blog post that helped me regain gratitude. It was written by another Grand to Grand tentmate, Stephanie Case, who does ultras and self-supported stage races around the globe. For now, however, she is working for the UN in a Kabul security compound, her life and her daily runs restricted to a mere mile or so. Rather than complain about the restrictions of living in a security bubble, she celebrates its familiar routine and every person and detail around her. She typifies the kind of mindfulness and gratitude that I strive for and often but not always feel.

I’m going to put my far-flung running aspirations on a mental shelf—not abandon them, just set them aside—until it makes more sense to take them down. Meanwhile I’ll get my work done, take care of my kids and rest more to heal my tweaky lower back—the part of my body that seems to be a barometer for stress and overuse. I’m also going to look forward to the holidays with my family, the upcoming 50-mile North Face Endurance Challenge on December 1 and a Christmas vacation to Hawaii.

No shit, life is good and I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Dream Big, Go Far

If you, like me, want to do a self-supported stage race sometime in the future, here’s a list I put together. Unless otherwise noted, they’re seven days and approx 250K.

Atacama Crossing (Chile), March 3, 2013; and Oct. 5, 2014.

Marathon des Sables (Morocco), April 5, 2013; and April 4, 2014.

The Track Outback Race (Australia, 520K, 9 stages), May 8, 2013; and again in 2015.

Jungle Ultra (Peru, 230K, 5 stages), May 24, 2013.

Gobi March (China), June 2, 2013; and June 1, 2014.

Mountain Ultra (Colorado, 220K, 5 stages), Aug. 2, 2013.

RacingThePlanet Iceland, Aug. 4, 2013.

European Ultra (Portugal, 120K, 3 stages), Sept. 20, 2013.

Grand to Grand Ultra (Arizona/Utah), Sept. 22, 2013.

Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (South Africa), Oct. 17, 2013.

Ultra Africa Race (Cameroon, 200K, 5 stages), November 2013 and 2014 (dates TBA).

Desert Ultra (Namibia), Nov. 15, 2013.

Ultra India Race (200K, 5 stages), Jan. 14, 2014.

Ice Ultra (Sweden, 230K, 5 stages), Feb. 14, 2014.

Sahara Race (Egypt), Feb. 16, 2014.

RacingThePlanet Madagascar, Aug. 31, 2014. (website not live yet; will be found in 4Deserts.com’s Roving Race section)

The Last Desert (Antarctica), Nov. 16, 2014. (note: an invitation-only event for those who have completed two of the four events in the 4Deserts series above)

Your Comments

12 Comments so far

  1. Phil says:

    I’ve got a friend who is doing this one: http://www.thecoastalchallenge.com/

    I’ve got a great new job, but I’ve lost all my vacation time, so my running trip plans are getting cut back for the next few years – not that I have the talent to run any of these ultras.

    Good luck with your adventures. I think I enjoyed reading about the Grand to Grand more than I would have enjoyed running it.

  2. Christine says:

    I just love reading ur blogs

  3. Gretchen says:

    Oh yeah, it’s amazing how much time a girl can waste researching epic running adventures online. I know exactly what you are saying! My latest notion is to do, not a race, but one of those inn-to-inn treks in Europe. That way I could go with my husband so he’s not excluded, and I could add extra running miles in the afternoons. Pretty cush when compared to the likes of G2G or MdS, but I’m way into the notion anyway. Now finding the time and money … that’s another challenge!

    Nice job getting out of the funk, and congrats on your race at Mt. Diablo!
    Gretchen recently posted..Lost Sierra 50KMy Profile

  4. Wanderlust seems to be at the core of a Ultra Runners heart. The ball and chain of day to day reality can at times be life’s biggest buzz kill! BTW That picture of you displaying your stealth avionics rocks! I can hear your competitors mantra…” Be afraid of the braid”!
    Pete Ferguson recently posted..Biting Off More Than I Can Chew…Going For A Personal RecordMy Profile

  5. ken michal says:

    It’s hard to appreciate the everyday runs when there are so many incredible epics out there! I like to spend my time on the “less than epic” ones thinking about what the next epic will be like!

    Way to rock it at Diablo!! Can’t wait to see you at TNFEC!!

    All Day!
    ~Ken

  6. David Lavender says:

    “Be afraid of the braid” That’s priceless! Hey, yet another age-group win got short shrift in this report. Congrats!

  7. Miss_S says:

    My good friend Heather Howells ran the Kalahari Augrabies race in 2010…here is her race report if you’re interested: http://www.braidsandlaceshawaii.blogspot.com/2010/11/kalahari-augrabies-extreme-marathon.html

  8. Hey Sarah,

    Wondering if you recommend any training plans for a half-marathon trail run? I’m using a modified version of a basic half-marathon plan but I need to incorporate some strength and speed workouts.

    I think I’m discovering that I enjoy life out on the trails :-)

    • Sarah says:

      I’m a big believer in specificity of training — that is, train for the specific terrain & distance. So, get off the pavement and hit the trails, doing hills and terrain that mimic whatever course you’re training for. It also depends on what your goals are. If you’re going for speed, then do more speed training — try tempo runs on the trail in addition to or instead of track workouts. For example, a 10-mile trail in approx 90 minutes (av. 9-min pace) with the first 30 minutes easy, middle 30 minutes hard (running at the lactate threshold, past a conversational pace), last 30 minutes easy. good luck :-)


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  1. Tues, Nov 20 | UltraRunnerPodcast.com - November 20, 2012

    [...] Were you inspired by our podcast with Sarah Lavender Smith? She’s had quite a summer with a cast of adventures and characters and now imparts the adventure race list on to you.  [...]

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My 2014 Race & Family Travel Calendar

Lake Chabot 30K, Feb. 22. Race report.
"Uncool 50K," March 8
Night Sweats Marathon, March 24. Related post
Diablo Trails Challenge 50K, April 19
Miwok 100K, May 3
Pacing at Hardrock 100, July 9 - 11
Family trip to Honduras and Costa Rica, late July
Grand to Grand Ultra self-supported stage race, Sept. 21 - 27
North Face Endurance Challenge 50M, San Francisco, Dec. 6

Proud to race on the team of Inside Trail Racing. Check out their calendar of great trail races.

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My 2013 Race & Family Travel Calendar

mid-February: Telluride
Way Too Cool 50K Mar. 9. Race report.
Oakland Marathon, not racing but volunteering as leader for the 3:40 pace group, Mar. 24
Lake Sonoma 50M Apr. 13. Race report.
mid-April: exploring Vancouver for Spring Break
East Bay Triple Crown Series: Tilden Tough 10M May 19, Lake Chabot Half June 2, Woodminster 9M June 16. Short recap.
Marin Ultra Challenge 50M training run, June 22. Story & pics.
6-day Maine biking trip, trip report.
8-day Colorado River rafting trip! Trip report.
Aug. 11: Skyline 50K in the Oakland hills. Injured.
Pine to Palm 100M Sept. 14 Injured.
Berkeley Trail Adventure 50K Sept. 28. Finished 1st F!
Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run Nov. 9 Injured.
Quad Dipsea, Nov. 30 Injured.

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