Merry Christmas from Kauai and Hello 2013

It’s Christmas eve, and I’m waking to a view of the crescent-shaped beach and bay called Hanalei on the north shore of Kauai. Through the window floats the swoosh of surf and chirping of birds. A steep green ridge rises sharply behind the beach, thin ribbons of waterfalls visible in some of its crevices. I finished a book on the flight over, and the only thing on my agenda today is to start a new one and maybe mess around with this blog.

This is the way vacation should be—and I appreciate it so much more, since the past weeks felt like the antithesis of vacation. When I picture myself earlier in December, I’m driving like an asshole, lecturing my kids, complaining about the pain in my back, saying mean things about other people’s Christmas cards and arguing with Morgan about work. It was a month I’d rather forget, until now.

Yesterday, while Morgan, Colly and Kyle took a surfing lesson and I opted instead to swim and watch them, I took off running down the beach for the fun of it—wearing no watch and having no measure of distance, just running barefoot the whole length of the bay—and midway down the shore I suddenly realized, This is it! This is the beach I saw in my favorite movie early this year, The Descendants.

Where I ran along Hanalei Beach. (Photo from the web since I didn’t carry my camera while running!)

George Clooney at Hanalei Bay in the 2011 film The Descendants.

It’s the spot where George Clooney walks with his daughters and chases the man who had an affair with his wife. Watching that film last spring made me yearn to return to Hawaii. Over summer, while flying to Alaska, I listened to Alaska Air’s promotions for flights from Oakland to the islands, and I fell for their pitch. Let’s do it, I told Morgan. Let’s blow off visits to extended family and Christmas traditions at home—let’s just book it before it fills up. We’re happiest as a family when we’re on the road anyway.

So here we are now, as if a dream from earlier this year came true. Some of the best travel happens that way, from impulse and serendipity more than careful planning.

Morgan and Kyle catching a wave.

Colly–that’s my girl!

On Christmas afternoon, we’ll transition from the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south end of the island. We’ll take a cab for the hour-plus ride because it slipped our minds to reserve a car, and of course this holiday week all the rental cars on the island are taken. No worries. Turns out that taking cabs is cheaper than the cost of renting a car during the holidays and paying resort parking fees. Best of all, the Polynesian cabbie who picked us up at the Lihue airport—the same guy whom we’re chartering to drive us back to the other side—made us feel as mellow as if we inhaled some Maui Wowie. He drove slower than the speed limit and told us Kauai lore in an accent that sounded like a Pacific Islander mixed with a Canadian. When we asked him to pull over at a juice stand, Morgan accidentally ordered a smoothie with Spirulina, not knowing what it was. It seemed perfectly fitting and hilarious that Morgan was starting vacation with a green drink that tasted like grass. We’ve been on Island Time ever since.

Taking a break this week from regular life—from work, chores and even running—gives me a chance to reflect on the past year and set some goals for 2013. Overall, 2012 was incredibly fulfilling. First and foremost, I met a new year’s goal left over from 2011—to try a multi-day running event—by overcoming doubts and fears to do the Grand to Grand Ultra. Then I overcame more self-doubt about my abilities as a writer to write a long feature story about it (click here for a PDF of the story in this month’s Trail Runner). The other highlight was Alaska. I will never forget sliding on my butt down the snow-capped Mount Juneau while at Geoff Roes’s ultra running camp, then the week exploring the Kenai Peninsula with my family.

2012’s Resolutions—How Did I Do?

In my new year’s post a year ago, I wrote that my first resolution was to “be the best parent I can be.” I actually think I succeeded in that area, and my kids might agree. I feel extra close to them and good about how they’re doing. When other things unravel and cause grief, I can say that at least my kids are healthy and happy.

My second resolution for 2012 was to “be the best co-worker to my husband for his new business that I can be.” On that, I’m afraid I didn’t succeed. I’ve had mixed results and ambivalence about the work I’ve been doing at the firm, and about how our work together has affected our home life. It’s a thorny issue. Better defining my role at work, setting a more regular schedule and gaining more satisfaction professionally is a goal for the coming year.

Finally, my third priority was to “be the best runner I can be.” Making that my third, rather than first, priority was sometimes a challenge, since at times I became myopically absorbed in training. To “be the best runner I can be,” taken to the extreme, would have compromised my first two priorities involving family and work. In light of that balancing act, I feel quite good about how I did as a runner. I’d even call it a breakthrough year. I ran my first 100K (Miwok race report), built up enough endurance to finish seventh overall in the Grand to Grand’s 167-mile, seven-day odyssey, rediscovered enough speed in my legs to still break 20 minutes in a hilly Thanksgiving day 3-miler, and logged more miles than ever for a year: over 2300. (I don’t have my log nearby, so I don’t know the exact count.) It doesn’t seem like that many years ago that I would strive to run 1000 miles per year, not 2000. I stayed mostly injury free and fulfilled another resolution from the past year to do strength and core training two to three times per week.

Going Public With My Goals for 2013

In light of the serious issues all around, it can feel silly and selfish to broadcast self-improvement goals. The events and politics in our country and around the world, plus the problems in our local community, truly make me depressed and anxiety-ridden. All this running and travel at times feels escapist, even irresponsible. But I also believe that focusing on yourself and your loved ones is a prerequisite to happiness. If you’re unsatisfied, unhealthy and lack meaningful relationships, then what’s the point of anything, really? I’m sure if I took the time to think about and edit this more carefully (see below penultimate paragraph), then I could express myself better here. What I’m trying to say is that the act of setting goals and stating new year’s resolutions is profoundly optimistic, and the act of thinking and acting optimistically even when—or especially when—you doubt the likelihood of a positive outcome is one of the most powerful things we can do as individuals to make things better.

So, goals for running? Well, if you read my North Face Endurance Challenge 50M report from four weeks ago, you might recall the vow I made to run all-new events in the coming year. I’m only signing up for races that seem special and different from what I’ve done before.

The biggest news—and, for me, a doozy of a new year’s commitment—is I’m crossing over to the dark side, to the realm of running through the night. After so many years of thinking about it and watching others do it, I’m signing up for a 100-miler: the Pine to Palm in Oregon in September. I didn’t make this decision lightly, and a lot of considerations went into choosing this particular event. My excitement is tempered by the conflict and careful compromise that ultrarunning creates in our marriage. Morgan would love it if I were a moderate runner again who runs fewer than 30 miles a week and still thinks a once-a-year marathon is a big deal. And I honestly see and empathize with his point of view, so I feel conflicted, too. That’s a topic for a different blog post, but for now I’m undeniably excited to embark on the journey of a 100-miler.

The only other two races I’m excited about and committed to, so far at least, are the Way Too Cool 50K in March and the Lake Sonoma 50M in April. In years past, I spent January and February building speed as well as endurance to train for a fast road marathon in March. This year, Way Too Cool will take the place of that March marathon, and I’ll aim for a sub-4:45 time for a new 50K PR. I’m also going to experiment with training with a heart rate monitor for a change.

Aside from running, my significant goal is to write more. Even if it’s shit, even if it’s not for publication. I’ll aim for daily writing and weekly blog posts. Really, I just need to sit down, get started and avoid distraction. If I spent as much time writing paragraphs as I did wasting time trying to be clever on Facebook, I’d have many pages to revise by now. I’ve fallen out of the habit so much that when I try to write, I’m frozen by lack of practice and perfectionism. I’m going public with this goal here not only to hold myself accountable, but also because it may affect this blog insofar as I may publish some essays here that don’t fit in to the blog’s theme of race reports, training tips, travel posts and the like.

I’m finishing this post a full day after I began it, on the dawn of Christmas morning. I could wait to publish this in a few days when I have more photos to go with it and when I’ve edited the thoughts and phrases more carefully, but I’m not going to wait. Procrastination and perfectionism, along with a shortage of photos, keep me from blogging more frequently, so I’ll get this up now as is.

Like my kids who set out their empty Christmas stockings last night eager for what might fill them by daylight, I too feel an eagerness for this day ahead and for the possibilities in the coming year.

Postscript: After I posted this and we celebrated Christmas morning, I went out for a run around Hanalei Bay. I took the road to town, ran back on the beach, and set down my water bottle and shoes to hand a nice person my phone and ask them to take my photo. A wave came up higher than expected on shore, soaked my shoes and almost swept them away. I crossed the chest-high Hanalei River to get back to the hotel, which meant putting my iPhone in my water bottle pocket and holding it high over my head, but the phone got wet and sandy anyway. I loved every bit of it, except the sand in the phone. This is a morning I won’t forget! 

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6 Responses to Merry Christmas from Kauai and Hello 2013

  1. Pete Ferguson December 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Real time Blog! When I first started reading and scrolling down I saw the photo of “George” and I was “NO WAY!” but read the caption…funny, funny! I was going to comment earlier but had to replace batteries in my keyboard. When I came back the blog got bigger and BTW cool picture of you running on the beach!
    Have a nice Island vacation with the family, you deserve it. You have some excellent goals for the New Year and I wish you the best.
    There’s a video on trail running TV (pablo Vigil& Kilian) that made me think of you and the inspirational people I have met this year. Pablo talks about living the dream for others who don’t have the opportunity. That’s you and maybe something to think about whenever you may hit a dark patch…You’re doin it for others too! Keep Rockin girl!
    Pete Ferguson recently posted..Low Key Week, Except For The Sprained AnkleMy Profile

  2. David Lavender December 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Morgan and the kids look GREAT on those soft-tops. Makes me miss fooling around in the waves on my kayak. Enjoy your time on the aina. Optimism is a good thing (and in far too short a supply these days).

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Mark Tanaka December 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Looks like a great way to spend the holidays, Sarah! Haven’t had my kids try surfing yet, but looking forward to it.

    We stayed in Princeville in April and I did several early morning runs on the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast, but never woke up early enough to do the whole 22 mile out and back (to reinforce your priority message, was not willing to sacrifice family time on our vacation.)

    If you get sick of running on the beach and haven’t found this already, the ‘Okolehao Trail is close enough from Princeville / Hanalei Bay. I also took my family there for the short but challenging hike:

    This next one is not feasible logistically without a car or without blowing more time as an out and back. I met my family and we did a pretty hike.
    Powerline Trail from Princeville:

    Next time we go I plan to stay on the south end where you are moving now I guess, so I can do several runs in Waimea Canyon.

    btw, I ran in a downpour a couple of days ago, with my iPhone in the pocket of my Gore-Tex jacket. Somehow it got wet and no longer works.
    Mark Tanaka recently posted..Return to the Diablo 60kMy Profile

    • Sarah December 25, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

      Mark, thanks so much for including those links. We’re in Poipu now, otherwise I’d love to explore those trails. Sadly for many hikers and campers who had permits this week, the Kalalau Trail has been closed for over a week due to a manhunt and investigation.
      Just read your latest race report. Nice work!

  4. John Nguyen December 26, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    No THAT is a vacation! We’ll be going to Disneyland in a few days (mostly for my 5 year old daughter). Kauai sounds amazing! Some day…

    Sounds like you had a pretty awesome year! And it sounds like you have some great running goals for the new year! I really admire your ability to train and juggle both family and work. And I love the 100-mile goal!

    Good luck to you in the new year!

  5. olga December 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    So glad you hit the first goal and some of the second! 🙂 And wow on crossing over to the dark side, it was bound to happen. Here, here…

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