Today I’m Gonna Run Like It’s 1999

Organizing and packing for an upcoming move, I’m digging through stacks of photo albums inherited from my parents and boxes of photo printouts leftover from the early-2000s era of Snapfish, when we printed and saved every digital image. I’m drowning in memories and moved by the range of feelings they stir when I come across this yellowing page in an album from 19 years ago.

It pictures me at the finish of the 1999 Portland Marathon, my fourth marathon and first as a new mom. I had turned 30 a few months earlier. I held my 19-month-old baby girl and felt so profoundly happy and satisfied.

My first Boston Qualifier. My first baby. Being a dedicated runner and a dedicated mother could co-exist after all! I brimmed with potential, motivation and optimism (shrugging off the apocalyptic fears and survivalist urges that everyone harbored in those waning months of the century as a “Y2K meltdown” loomed).

I PRed at Portland with 3:34. Surely I could go sub-3:30. At the 2002 Chicago Marathon, following the birth of my son, I finished in 3:23.

That decade of my 30s, I believed I could keep getting better and faster, and I had the confidence and determination to do it. At the 2009 Napa Marathon, at age 39, I PRed with 3:05. And I loved it—I was so into training for each and every marathon.

On my way to a PR at the rain-soaked 2009 Napa Valley marathon.

Then I turned 40 and became more and more drawn to the trails and longer ultra distances. I ran the Oakland Marathon a couple of times, but not very seriously. Marathoning became something I did in my 30s, not my thing anymore.

But that 1999 photo from Portland hit me big time—coincidentally on the same day, last Sunday, that the California International Marathon took place. All morning, I had been wrapped up in tracking the performance of one of my clients running CIM, celebrating her big PR. “I just kept telling myself this was MY DAY and allowing myself to enjoy the cheers and crowds and passing people and feeling so proud of my final 6 miles. I’ve never done so well in the final 6,” my client Kim wrote the next day, describing how fantastic it felt to finally smash the 4-hour barrier and for the first time to run the whole marathon without walking breaks, finishing in 3:46.

Several months ago, with ambivalence, I signed up for the 2019 Napa Valley Marathon. I figured I should go back to that place and race where I first felt inspired to run (I started running in 1994 the day after watching two friends finish the Napa Marathon). I should go there to celebrate 25 years of running, and I should face my fears about running a road marathon again.

I signed up more with a sense of “I should” than “I want.” Now, after seeing that 1999 Portland photo and hearing friends’ enthusiasm about CIM last Sunday, I’m feeling a lot more motivated to train for it as best I can under the circumstances in the next 12 weeks.

Something that Mario Fraioli wrote in his Morning Shakeout newsletter this week—after he PRed last Sunday at CIM—resonated and inspired me, even though I’m 13 years older and much, much slower than he at marathoning: “Crossing the line on Sunday in 2:27:33 at the age of 36 in my tenth marathon was a thrilling, validating, and straight-up special moment for me. I’ve been at this crazy sport for 21 years and haven’t broken a personal best since graduating college in 2004. Motivation has wavered in and out over the past several years, my body can’t handle the amount of work it once did, and other things have taken priority in my life. But, as I shared in this very space almost a year ago, I was committed to ‘eliminating excuses, competing with a sense of renewed purpose, [and] making my own training and racing a priority for the first time in a long time.’ It’s exciting to look back at that decision and realize that this road has come full circle.”

Coming full circle—that’s how the prospect of this coming season of running feels to me. Facing a marathon and facing 50, I want to see what this body can do. From prenatal to postpartum to perimenopausal, this body has graced me with good health. My heart, lungs and legs have carried me nearly 40,000 running miles since I started keeping a log in the mid-1990s.

… and that baby girl is all grown up. (Colly and me on a hike above Ouray last summer.)

I am much slower now, but I know I have to shake the “I’m so slow now ” belief that crept up and handicapped my determination and confidence. My Marathon Goal Pace for that Napa Marathon a decade ago, 7:05/mile, now feels like a fast 5K pace, and I have a hard time believing I can run 26 miles with a pace in the mid 8s. I have not set a time goal (yet) for Napa, and have no illusions of getting anywhere close to my PR time, but I would like to finish well under Boston Qualifying times for my age and gender, to have a shot at going back to Boston one more time in 2020.

Bottom line, it feels good to feel more excitement than trepidation at the prospect of starting the Napa Valley Marathon on March 3, 2019, two months before my 50th birthday. Now I wonder, why the heck wasn’t I more excited before?! How cool it will be to get a shot at feeling and earning the finish-line glow captured in those earlier pics.

With the Hardrock lottery in the rearview mirror and the unsurprising confirmation that I did not get in, my 2019 race schedule looks like this:

  • SF Kaiser Half Marathon Feb. 3
  • Napa Valley Marathon Mar. 3
  • Whiskey Basin 55M on the Prescott Circle Trail around Prescott, AZ, April 13
  • Bighorn 100 in Wyoming, June 14 (If you’ve run Bighorn, please message me any advice or descriptions about it. I need to do my homework and learn more about it.)
  • Maybe pacing at Hardrock, maybe the Ouray 50 (not the 100); I am inclined to keep July/Aug open to enjoy summer more, to recover from Bighorn, and then to train more specifically for that big September goal listed below.
  • Maybe the Telluride Mountain Run Aug. 24; it depends on the kids’ schedules for their transition back to college.
  • And then—I’m going back to the Grand to Grand Ultra stage race in the third week of September!
  • I am not planning past September, except to look forward to trying some winter sports such as Nordic skiing since we’ll be living in Colorado for the first time all winter.

(If anyone reading this is interested in the Grand to Grand Ultra or its sister race in Hawaii in May, the Mauna to Mauna Ultra, please read my archived posts for info on it. If you decide to register, I’d appreciate if you put in my name where the form asks, “how did you hear about it?” because then I will receive a discount for a referral, which will help make this pricey-but-worth-it adventure more affordable.)

I’m stoked by the lineup above—to tune up as a road marathoner and come full circle and run Napa again; then to explore two destinations at ultras in regions where I’ve never run; and finally, to go off the grid and be self-sufficient once again for the insanely scenic, soul-filling and challenging week-long 170-mile Grand to Grand Ultra in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.

Feel free to share your 2019 race plans below. My advice: Try something old and something new. Pick races carefully, and only if you genuinely feel drawn to them. Aim for variety in terms of destination, distance, terrain and climate. (Check out my recent UltraRunning magazine column for more on this topic.) Most of all, never lapse into thinking that your best races, or your best days, are past.

Did you check out my “good stuff” aka gift guide for trail runners? Reminder: I am selling signed, personalized copies of my book, The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras, for the same price you’d buy it from Amazon. Details in the gift guide post, or please email me if you’re interested.

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4 Responses to Today I’m Gonna Run Like It’s 1999

  1. karen o December 6, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    Hi Sarah,

    We are almost on the same boat! Turning 50 in Feb 2019, I’ve always included one (1) fast BQ road marathon a year to just diversify my running yearly calendar and leave the rest of the year on the trails! Coming full circle is indeed the exact emotion I’m feeling…I missed my BQ time this year by 8 seconds since BA changed the qualifying cut-off! Broke my heart but signed-up for another road race as my redemption. Thanks for all the tips and I’m still working on finishing your book…see you at Kaiser Half!


  2. David Lavender December 6, 2018 at 5:01 pm #

    I think it’s wonderful that you are so inspired by this 25th year anniversary (as Nina Simone asked, “Where does the time go?”). Love the pics of Colle–first as a toddler, then as a fellow runner/hiker. Just strapped on my Katoolas and did the Coal Chutes loop with the pooches. Lots of fresh, untracked powder that they loved romping in (though we missed Beso). The outdoors is such a blessing. So glad that you continue to revel in it after all these years!



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