Ten Years Ago, I Did a One-Eighty. I’m Ready to Change Again.

It’s officially autumn and October, summer a memory. Two full months have passed since I blogged here about the Ouray 100 experience.

I could write about how I feel like a runner again—how I regained some fluidity, consistency and something close to a runner’s high or at least a runner’s rhythm on steady runs around these mountains.

I felt the thrill of the race—trying to pass people or keep from being passed, the legs remembering how to increase turnover while the heart beat so fast I couldn’t talk—at three events following Ouray: the Bridalveil 20 (a low-key local event measuring some 18 miles), the Telluride Mountain Run 38 Mile and then a road 5K. I dared myself to enter the town’s 5K to get a good speed workout and to deal with the ego hit of my slowest 5K ever, partly to blame on the altitude but mostly on a lack of speed training. I ran hard the whole time and finished respectably.

Running down Telluride’s main street in mid-September, I finished 5th F overall and 1st master’s with a slow time compared to my past 5Ks, but with a big smile. Photo by Morgan.

More recently, I retreated to the mountains with a small group to host the second San Juan Mountain Running Camp, which deepened the satisfaction that coaching brings.

Me in the front leading our mountain-running camp above Ophir at the base of Grant-Swamp Pass, with the ridge of Oscar’s Pass in the background. Photo by Jared Vilhauer.

But I don’t feel like writing much about running.

I’m presently not as drawn to train, or to write about the sport, as I usually am. My relationship to running remains as reliable and caring as ever—and I don’t take for granted the good fortune of being healthy and non-injured—but I feel more private and casual toward it. A lot of days, it seems, I run as an afterthought rather than a priority.

Sometimes I look at this blog and my bookand my archived articles and think, how can there be that much to say about running? Am I meant to focus so much time and attention, for this many years (half my life), on running?

Because it’s the season of change and transition, with the mountainsides painted in flaming swaths of golden yellow where aspen groves burst through the dark green pines, and because I face the move back to California in a few weeks and some very big decisions about our home, I am constantly mulling, What next? What will I do after I turn 50?

To plan ahead, first I look back and reflect.

I reminisce about life one decade ago, when I stood on the brink of 40 and re-evaluated my direction and values.

My 40s became my best decade so far, when I developed in ways I didn’t anticipate. Could my 50s be better—and different? I hope.

“Hope” and “change”—I remember.

Ten Years Ago

How Morgan and I looked, and often dressed, in 2008. And yes, our Portuguese Water Dog named Teddy coincidentally matched the Obamas’ Bo.

The Obama “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey decorated the landscape, and Barack Obama’s personality and politics dazzled me. When I got to meet Obama at a fundraiser in the Sea Cliff neighborhood of San Francisco, I told him my kids were the same age as his girls, 7 and 10, and for their sake and for the sake of all future generations, I hoped he’d get elected.

Obama looked straight at me, his eyes crinkled with a smile, and he said parent-to-parent with genuine warmth, “Aren’t they at a great age? They can be so hilarious!”

Perhaps I latched on to that election’s hope, meaning and promise of change in part because my personal life felt adrift and hollow.

I was 39, and when people asked what I did for a living, I resisted the urge to say that it was my job to spend my husband’s money, even though that seemed the honest answer. Somehow along the way, my journalistic career aspirations got mommy-tracked and dried up because it didn’t make economic sense for me to work outside the home, given my low earnings combined with our high tax bracket and the cost of child care.

Morgan’s career as an attorney, and the success of a law firm he co-founded in 1997, took off in our 30s, and my philosophy-major-artsy-high-school-sweetheart-Deadhead-boyfriend had become a hot-shot litigator. I had quit my last real full-time job two years prior, because the commute and the dependence on a nanny felt too stressful.

In my 30s, I started to slip into a role I hadn’t expected and didn’t want. I started to emulate some women I knew who invite each other to designer trunk shows in their impeccable homes (me, who had to be clued into what a “trunk show” is and who prefers to shop at REI), who drink too much wine and who take volunteering as a classroom room parent way too seriously.

Unsure about my career path and identity, and needing ego gratification and escapism, I blossomed as a runner and ran away to the trails. I peaked competitively, capping off 2008 with a sub-5-hour win at a hilly 50K in the Marin Headlands.

Still, I yearned for something different and more significant—what, I didn’t know. It sounds trite, but I wanted to expand my horizons. I pondered our future while sitting on the stairway landing in our entranceway the day after new year’s 2009, dwarfed by our century-old home’s high ceilings adorned with ornate crown molding. I recognized the space in which I was sitting as a metaphorical rut in which I was stuck, and I wished I could change and improve so many things about day-to-day life, and about myself. I wished I were closer to my kids and could have more fun with them and learn with them, chucking our schedule and routine.

Sitting there, facing the new year, myriad factors funneled into a singular conclusion: that I wanted to convince my husband and kids that we collectively should do a 180 and head in a much different direction. I needed to figure out what I could and should do with the rest of my life.

When Morgan walked in the door at day’s end, I told him, “I think we should pull the kids out of school and travel for the year.”

He paused and carefully considered what I had said. My comment sunk in; he could tell I wasn’t joking.

He had been chronically stressed out from work and also wanted to change, but he didn’t know how. To leave his firm would mean jeopardizing personal relationships as well as financial security. He didn’t want to hunt for another job and couldn’t think of any other position that might fit.

For the past few years, he had said, “I want to take the whole summer off and travel,” but we never did, because he knew that nothing would change during an extended vacation; he would return to work at summer’s end with a backlog of crushing work.

Gotta Try New Things

Six weeks later, by Valentine’s Day, Morgan had resigned his position.

Six months later, by summer, we had found renters for our home, developed an independent study plan to teach our kids the equivalent of 3rd and 6th grade on the road, bought round-the-world airplane tickets, rented an apartment in Buenos Aires for our first two weeks abroad, and figured we’d wing the itinerary after that. My in-laws agreed to care for our dog while we traveled.

And then we took off, unsure about where we were going, or what we would do if and when we returned.

We lived nomadically around the world for the duration of a school year, “roadschooling” the kids and practicing frugality by traveling cheap, sleeping as a foursome in small spaces, and limiting our belongings to one bag each plus a communal gear bag. We stayed in 83 different places on five continents and adopted a family motto, “Gotta try new things.” (If you’d like to read more about what that trip was like, and what it meant, I suggest this post.)

Somewhere in England in May of 2010, on the last leg of our round-the-world journey as a family.

A Decade of Adventure

In my 40s, thanks in large part to that year away, I developed more meaningful pursuits. I became adventurous insofar as I challenged myself physically and mentally in new environments with uncertain outcomes. Most of what happened over the past ten years, I never saw coming when I was 39.

I’m writing all this down to remind myself that I can change course, and that I can try and accomplish new things.

I developed a travel blog (away-together.com) and then this blog. I worked side by side with Morgan following our trip, helping him launch a new business, a litigation graphics and strategy firm called Cogent Legal. I served a nine-year term on my high school’s board of trustees, rising to a leadership position.

I parented my kids through adolescence and helped them both accept and leverage their learning differences. I got over my fear of public speaking and gave presentations and started co-hosting UltraRunnerPodcast.

I said “yes” when a publisher asked me to write a trail-running book, under the condition I could write it in my voice rather than lifeless third-person.

I graduated to longer ultras and self-supported stage races. I discovered the Hardrock 100 by pacing friends at it, and then I ran qualifying 100s to apply to it. (Still hoping to get in it before I turn 60.)

I learned all I could to become a coach and developed my own coaching business.

I fulfilled my fantasies about owning a campervan and living in a trailer.

I became a horsewoman again and built the barn of my dreams.

I nurtured my Colorado roots, and three years ago, Morgan and I decided to direct all our resources into buying property and building a home near Telluride on a parcel across the road from where my dad built a cabin in the early 1970s.

I felt better about myself.

Morgan and me this summer, pictured on Last Dollar Road six miles outside of Telluride. We are in front of the family cabin that my dad built and where my brother now lives. Our new place is behind us, to the left.

What’s Next

Building the house this summer (what I referred to in this earlier post as “my domestic ultra”) has stirred up the same feelings and questions we had when we left for extended travel in 2009. Morgan and I are asking ourselves, are we doing the right thing? Can we afford it? The process prompted us to re-evaluate our values and to change our routine (for example, working remotely, handling new daily chores and living in an Airstream).

A shot from September of our house under construction.

But the house will be done soon, the kids will be launched into college and adulthood, hence I wonder about what’s next—how will I make the most of my time? How will I contribute to something worthwhile in a significant way?

It hit me this summer that what I seek, in the years ahead, is a deeper sense of belonging and community, along with meaningful work. I have worked independently and part time for so long, perhaps it’s time I find a job again outside the home, to be a part of a team and to pull more of my weight as an income-earner.

The problem with straddling two states and living half time in each, which we had planned to do, is that part-time status inhibits full engagement in either community. Plus, it’s more expensive than we can afford.

My whole life, I’ve been a part-time resident and visitor to this corner of Colorado, where my family roots run deep—where I can find a framed photo of my great-great-great grandfather on the wall in the county courthouse, and where I can fondly recall my dad’s booming laughter when he showed me how to gut a freshly caught trout, or when he swept up my poker chips after he won another hand of five-card draw as we gathered around the kitchen table in the cabin. Our time around Telluride made me a wild child and revealed my more adventurous, authentic side. But I’ve never felt like a full-fledged local, because California remained our primary residence.

I don’t know what I’ll do in the next decade, but I’m repeating that motto again, “gotta try new things.” Gotta make a new home—not just build a part-time residence, but a real home, and steward its land. Gotta try new activities and new work, gotta be more than a runner.

I absorb the views around our thirtysome acres on Last Dollar Road when I run the switchbacks of the trail next to our driveway, or when I daily shovel manure from the horse paddock we built, and I feel what I yearn to feel: a sense of belonging and of place.

I’m heading back to California for the winter and spring, and I eagerly anticipate running in Redwood Regional Park above Oakland and on other favorite Northern California trail systems, during my favorite season there, when much-needed precipitation turns the hills green. I bet I’ll run with deeper appreciation because I expect it’ll be my last season there, before I move to Colorado year round and, rooted there, try some new things.

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7 Responses to Ten Years Ago, I Did a One-Eighty. I’m Ready to Change Again.

  1. Lisa October 4, 2018 at 9:18 pm #

    I’m so excited for you to be moving full time to Colorado, Sarah. I had a feeling this was coming at some point and your absence in California will surely be felt. But I sense you will have such great peace there. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt inspiring story of the last decade – it will be fun to see what the next 10 years bring.

  2. Jennifer Lang October 5, 2018 at 8:26 pm #

    It’s lovely to read this post 10 years on. You and your family were one of the inspirations for our year long trip around the world; it was a revelation to us to see your blog with you staying in apartments, rather than hostels and doing the kind of homeschooling we could imagine with our boys. Thank you! You visited us in Sydney half way around, and it was lovely to meet you all. I’ve followed you from afar ever since.

    The piece of advice that worked best for us was to try and find some kind of theme or reason to help choose places to visit – yours was running (quelle surprise!). Ours was science – at one point the kids said it was like science museums were following us!

    I’m not sure our lives pivoted as much around our trip, but it is definitely great to read your reflections after 10 years, with our children now towards the end of school our lives are definitely going to change again.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post as always.

    Jennifer

  3. Rob. Flowers October 6, 2018 at 8:41 am #

    Sarah, I really enjoyed reading this, and just forwarded to my wife as you have written eloquently about life transitions. Thanks. Rob

  4. David Lavender October 6, 2018 at 4:56 pm #

    What a wonderful reflection on the past decade. I hope that you know, neighbor, that we feel you have very much managed to make the right choices all along.

    –David

  5. Mae Barker October 11, 2018 at 10:52 pm #

    Simple, but powerful message here, Sarah. You are right… gotta try new things!

  6. suzy kisylia October 12, 2018 at 10:03 am #

    sarah, so well written and thought provoking. most people would be thrilled with your accomplishments and think they’ve done enough. good for you for always looking for adventure and reaching out of your comfort zone. i look forward to running with you soon and hearing more of your stories. take care!

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  1. Ultramarathon Daily News | Friday, Oct 5 | Ultrarunnerpodcast.com - October 5, 2018

    […] heard Sarah on the podcast for the past few years and you know her personality. Read her latest blog post and really get to know her. What she’s done in the past ten years and how her goals for the […]

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