The Best Year Yet?

I wasn’t going to write a year-in-review post like so many bloggers do. But it hit me as I lay in bed New Year’s Eve morning in Mammoth Lakes, where we spent a peaceful, snowy week following Christmas: What a year—what a difference.

Exactly one year ago, as we closed out 2013, I thought, “Good riddance to a shitty year.” My dad and dog had died, my running was on hold from six months of chronic injury, and this blog was on hiatus because I felt I had nothing worthwhile to share and sucked as a writer. And I felt fat.

Now, I’m thinking, “That may have been the best year yet.”

I had a breakthrough year in terms of running success, which I credit to a combination of careful training, a new type of shoe (Hokas) and better form (working on turnover to fix over-striding, along with strength training and balance exercises to address weak spots). I tried to make each of the 2,277 miles I ran more purposeful and to rest more deliberately in between them.

But I also endeavored to enhance the time spent with family and work projects, so that I had a broader and more fulfilling identity beyond being a runner.

I’m filled with gratitude for my family, health and experiences. Therefore, I’m going to indulge in reviewing what went well in 2014 and not let the year slip away without some reflection and cross-references to favorite posts from the year.

January: I started running on the Alter-G treadmill and carefully worked back to running for a solid hour. (For advice on how to get through injury and return to running, see Running Again After Injury & Learning From the Layoff.) We bought a puppy, and with my generous husband’s blessing, I impulsively bought my version of a midlife crisis car (see related story about this from Trail Runner magazine, Van of My Dreams).

My new pup, Beso

My new pup, Beso

My new van, Ruby

My new van, Ruby

February: I ran a 30K (18 mile) trail race, my longest distance in several months following injury. This month’s calendar was jam-packed with kids’ events, involving my daughter and her boarding school in Ojai (where I work as a trustee), my son and his sports and school events, plus working with my husband Morgan at Cogent Legal.

March: This month marked the 20th anniversary of my start as a runner. (I began running the first Monday in March of 1994, the day after I watched friends run the Napa Marathon; on that day, I ran my longest ever: 3 miles. I hated running the first half of my life, but then something clicked.)

Thankfully, I really got back to running this month! It’s hard to articulate how good and liberating it felt. First, I ran/hiked a slow 50K training run with a bunch of friends. Then I toed the line at a nighttime marathon in the Marin Headlands and cut loose with pent-up energy and newfound joy of running those familiar trails in the shroud of darkness. I finished 2nd and, best of all, felt uninjured.

At the start of the nighttime marathon with friends Eldrith Gosney (L) and Claudia Graetsch-Vasquez (R).

At the start of the nighttime marathon with friends Eldrith Gosney (L) and Claudia Graetsch-Vasquez (R).

Also in March, my beautiful baby girl Colly turned 16. How can that be?

Sarah and Colly at gymkhana

Me and my sweet 16 daughter Colly, who’s seen here doing gymkhana at The Thacher School in Ojai (where I loved riding when I was here age and a student there).

April: I had one of my best and most fun races of the year: a 50K on Diablo. I cruised for 20 miles and then dropped the hammer and went on the hunt for some women ahead of me, ultimately finishing 3rd (see Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Report).

Two other significant running-related things happened this month: I gained my coaching certification and began nurturing plans to start coaching. I also overcame fears of sounding stupid to begin guest co-hosting UltraRunnerPodcast.com with my friend Eric Schranz. I’m really grateful to Eric for this opportunity and have had loads of fun periodically driving up to his home studio in Sacramento to interview some of the sport’s most interesting characters. (See my portfolio for links to some URP episodes I co-hosted. If you want to hear just one as a sample, don’t miss URP’s 2014 Year in Review in which we chat about the sport’s notable developments and athletes.)

Having fun in the UltraRunnerPodcast.com studio with Eric Schranz.

Having fun in the UltraRunnerPodcast.com studio with Eric Schranz.

May: This was a challenging month work-wise, life-wise, running-wise. I turned 45 and did 45 pushups a day for 45 days, which probably implies something about hang-ups and compulsions (but it really helped my arms and core!). I’m glad that around this time I read a book I highly recommend, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. 

At the Miwok 100K, I blew up physically and emotionally but had an epiphany during that painful race that I had to stop selling myself short and thinking “I can’t” or “I’m not good enough” when presented with challenging opportunities; that is, I needed to make my adventurous ultrarunning attitude carry over to my life outside of running. Otherwise, my running is really just running away to escape things I want to avoid. (See An Ultra That Became a Midlife Crisis and Catharsis).

miwok finish

Overcome with emotion at the end of the Miwok 100K.

Also this month, my beautiful baby boy Kyle turned 13. How can that be?

Kyle, now 13, is getting so grown up!

Kyle, now 13, is getting so grown up!

June: This month was all about work and family. No races, just squeezing in running between transitioning the kids to summertime schedules and meeting deadlines. Morgan and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary with a Steve Winwood concert, and we laughed about feeling like old fogeys amidst all the graying classic-rock fans.

Morgan and I celebrated our 24th anniversary in June by going to a Steve Winwood concert, and we laughed about feeling like old fogeys with all the graying classic-rock fans.

Morgan and me at the concert.

July: Roadtrip to Telluride and the Hardrock 100! I’m so grateful Betsy Nye gave me the opportunity to pace her for one-third of the course, over three summits and through a wicked lightning storm. I got to see the sunrise at 14,000 feet on Handies Peak, the image indelibly printed in my mind of the orange- and pink-tinged sky framing the snow-streaked ridges so high above timberline. I am profoundly grateful for my time in Telluride and around the San Juan Mountains. (See An Ode to Telluride, Family Ghosts and the Hardrock Spirit.)

Betsy and me after we reached the Cunningham Aid Station, when I finished my pacing duties.

Betsy and me after we reached the Cunningham Aid Station, when I finished my pacing duties.

A view from the top of Handies Peak at sunset courtesy iRunFar's Facebook album, by Ryan Krol & Liz Sasserman

A view from the top of Handies Peak at sunset (courtesy iRunFar’s Facebook album, by Ryan Krol & Liz Sasserman).

Also in July, we took a fabulous family trip to the Bay Islands (off the coast of Honduras) for my niece’s wedding, followed by a week in Costa Rica. For Costa Rica travel tips, see my Costa Rica guide.

Our family on a tiny, remote island no bigger than a football field, in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras, where my niece held her unforgettable wedding. We're all wet from tropical storm that soaked the wedding party but didn't dampen spirits.

Our family on a tiny, remote island no bigger than a football field, in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras, where my niece held her unforgettable and slightly crazy wedding.

August: This month was all about pack training for the Grand to Grand Ultra, hosting a big party in San Francisco with a lot of extended family, and transitioning the kids back to school.

September: Grand to Grand Ultra. 165 miles, seven days, off the grid. Life stripped down to the basics in tribal survival mode. Words can’t do it justice. But I tried to put the experience into words and wrote a trilogy. To get a snapshot of it, I hope you’ll check out the pics and some of my description in My Wild Week at the Grand to Grand Ultra, Part 2: The Long Stage.

Re-entry from the G2G was tough because I missed the landscape, the adventure and most of all, the people so much. Especially my tentmates.

our tent group at finish

My tentmates and me at the finish line, holding the flags of the countries we represent.

October: Re-focused on my family and on my next goal: a 100-miler in November.

November: Everything came together for the Rio Del Lago 100. Physically, mentally, logistically and socially, it couldn’t have been better. See How to Plan and Run a Successful First-Time 100-mile Ultra.

Cruising along the Rio Del Lago 100 course.

Cruising along the Rio Del Lago 100 course.

And then, at the other end of the racing spectrum, I ran my first 5K in a few years: the Piedmont Turkey Trot. I wasn’t trained properly at all for it, not having done speedwork and legs still tired from the 100, and it hurt like hell. I had my slowest time ever but still finished in 20:02, close to my sub-:20 goal.

December: Instead of racing The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler, as I had planned, I gave my legs a break and had a fun day covering the event for UltraSportsLive.TV and Trail Runner.

Interviewing women's champion Magdalena Boulet (pictured with her son).

Interviewing women’s champion Magdalena Boulet (pictured with her son).

In recent weeks, I worked on launching my new coaching and portfolio site, sarahlavendersmith.com. I’m thrilled to begin working with clients to help them define and reach running-related goals. I encourage anyone who seeks training advice and support to become a better, more satisfied runner to contact me.

My high school has a tradition of beginning each year by reading the The Chambered Nautilus poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which exhorts us to grow and build something better each year, ultimately finding freedom from the shell that restricts us. Following the poem’s reading, the speaker always delivers the line, “Let’s make this the best year yet.” Those optimistic words always stuck in my mind. I think I may have achieved that lofty aspiration this past year, but I’ll strive to make 2015 the best yet.

Happy past year, happy new year.

A snowy run last week by Lake Mary above Mammoth Lakes.

A snowy run last week by Lake Mary above Mammoth Lakes.

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3 Responses to The Best Year Yet?

  1. mizunogirl January 1, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    What a wonderful year. I had high high hopes myself for 2014. In the end, my ultimate goal was not to be, but looking back I had some fairly remarkable experiences leading up to the failure, and of course, learning that one has not won the genetic lottery is a bit disturbing, but I imagine knowing it will make things a bit easier as I plan for an interesting 2015. Best wishes for a 2015 beyond your wildest dreams, filled with only the good kind of surprises!
    mizunogirl recently posted..2015 is hereMy Profile

  2. Strong Runner January 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    Looks like it was an awesomely successful year. Always great to be an ultrarunner. Keep up the great posts.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Daily News, Fri, Jan 2 - January 2, 2015

    […] Sarah had a heck of a year too, from a well executed first 100 to a rad new camper to pacing at Hardrock, though I’m most excited how she’s co-hosting with me. […]

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