Monday, November 28, 2016

an experiment in living

Do you ever want to just live?

I recently bumped into a friend at the Post Office who asked me if I had any races coming up. I told him I had just done the USATF Trail Marathon Championship in Moab. He asked how I did. I said I won my division.

And placed 9th in the USATF race.

He looked surprised and asked me what my time was. I tried to explain that a race like this wasn’t about time. 
Thank you Dana Ernst and sons for this photo and all the fun encouragement

It was a spectacularly beautiful, technical course. We negotiated slick rock, and ropes.

As well as hills, even into the finishing chute.
Photo and great support in the final miles by Tony Peterson 

I wanted him to know the best parts of my racing experience had nothing to do with time. They came when my Imogene Pass Run rival-turned-friend Sarah Pizzo said, "Hi buddy,” as she passed me in the early miles, encouraging me to stay with her, and unexpectedly having other friends giving me a boost out on the course. I wanted to convey to him how fun it was camping with Sarah, her husband Paco, and others that night, after sharing a heartfelt meal with Ted and Pam who were visiting from Boston and had also raced. I wanted him to understand how inspiring it was to talk with Chris Lundy, the superstar who smoked me in the masters division, or how meaningful the images that flooded into my mind were when I pulled into Moab, a place that's special to me for myriad reasons. I wished he knew it was a small miracle I even made it to the race (will spare you these details), that I was so proud of myself for showing up.
A good omen on the way to Moab (Navajo Nation, Arizona)

Somehow nearly another year has gone by. Time seems to have evaporated. As I reflect on 2016, I'm wondering if we can simply celebrate getting out to do what we love, particularly when things don't go as planned. It's been an interesting year for me in this regard. For instance, I got bitten by a leashed dog while running on a popular trail one evening in early March.

A grant writer, I also had nine grant applications due within six weeks last spring (three of them were federal, requiring tons of extra time and energy). Repeatedly burning the midnight oil to keep up with the demands of my job, I missed countless training runs, workouts and often sleep. When the first local summer series race rolled around, I went into the woods to cheer everyone on, rather than competing. The second race of the series, one of my favorites, went well. Next, I sprained my ankle while volunteering as a running guide during Rob Krar's Ultra Camp just two days before the third series race, so I missed that one, too. As I was preparing for the fourth race, my brother called to say our mom had an accident and was in the hospital with fractured vertebrae, head trauma and more. I flew to Chicago to be with them. I replaced the race that Saturday, and TransRockies the next week, with daily visits to Mom's transitional rehabilitation facility and helped take care of things on the home front. 
Mom (her eye is not usually swollen and black!) and Jeremy at the rehab facility 

I was still in the northern suburbs when the fifth race of the series rolled around. One has to do three of the six races to "count" in the scoring, so with just one race under my belt, I wasn't a contender our local summer series for the first time since moving here (had done it 10 years in a row, winning every year since 2007). Even so, I'll never regret being there for those who needed me.
Treating Mom (in her back brace) to breakfast the day she was able to go home

Letting the summer unfold in ways I didn't anticipate, in lieu of repeating experiences I've already had, created a freedom I had lost sight of over the years. Much like it was when I was growing up, this one felt like a true, endless summer. 

How did I spend it? I stayed home all day. I earned my shower, running during a time I’d normally be at the office. I saw a bear cub in a tree alongside the Arizona Trail. I remembered who I was before life took over. I hung out with friends. 
Grant, Paul, Bus, and Sierra chasing yet another McMillan Mesa sunrise

I made new friends. I ate good food. I saw what was all around me, noticing aspects I typically miss. I called people. I made cards for loved ones. I sent surprise packages. I quit the job I had for the last eight years. I started a new one.

I rediscovered my confidence. I bought my first-ever computer, a MacBook Pro. I went to Washington, New Hampshire, Vermont, Illinois, and California. I kicked it off with a trip to the Brooks Trailhead, followed by the US Mountain Running Championships.
Happy to earn a bronze medal in my division 10 days after spraining an ankle

I slept. For 12 hours. On flannel sheets. I skipped track, and workouts. I took a break from the strengthening routine I adapted last winter. I tried not to let more than a couple of days go by without running. I listened to convention speeches (on both sides) as well as watched every debate for the first time ever. I was proactive in carving out a more informed life. I appreciated accomplishments, both professionally and personally, in new ways.

I was lazy. I caught up with family. I relaxed. I watched the Olympics. I celebrated a decade of living in Flagstaff. I enjoyed myself. I discovered that time goes by just as quickly on this side of the office walls (despite what I used to think when I’d gaze at the Peaks from my corner office).
Roosevelt elk I met along the Pacific Coast while looking for a place to run

Finally summer gave way to never-ending fall. 
Waterline Road at the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks

More great things happened. More races. More fun. 
Thanks to Keith Hammond for this post-race Soulstice Mountain Jackie Weintraub Memorial Trail Run photo

More friends. More volunteering (exceeded 300 hours this year!). 
With Katelyn on the Inner Basin Trail during Rob Krar's Inaugural Fall Retreat

More wonders. Circumstances catapulted me into the life of young Skyrah, during a time when she was being personally tested. Three weeks ago, on the Monday before the Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona's Celebratory 5K, she found out she needed to be on crutches, to help a sprained ankle and foot tendon heal. She had been preparing for this event all semester. It was my first time volunteering as a Running Buddy. We met the morning of the race. 

She was determined to complete what she had set out to do. All of 10 years old, Skyrah refused to take any shortcuts and completed the entire trail - rocky terrain and all - on crutches. In talking, I learned much of her life story. It became apparent this was an exceptional assignment, to accompany such a remarkable young lady.

Skyrah was amazingly spirited, brimming with excitement for what's ahead, while completely absorbed in the present. So refreshingly alive. Her mom later told me that as they were getting ready to leave, Skyrah said she knew she was the last one to cross the finish line, yet with the friends she had "collected along the way" supporting her, she felt as though she was first. Everything was aching by the time she was done; it was the toughest physical feat she had ever tackled. When the finish line came into sight, she picked up the pace, exclaiming, "I see the finish line!" Many of our eyes teared up on that homestretch, given the energy of the moment plus astonishment and pure elation on Skyrah's face. 
Thanks Sean Openshaw Photography, for capturing significant moments

As our first real snowstorm descends upon Flagstaff, I reflect on who I was at Skyrah’s age. Growing up in Central Wisconsin, I loved to get outside every chance I got. I spent a lot of time cross-country skiing (this favorite snowmobile suit was one of the best Christmas presents ever). Each day brought adventure.

Let us rekindle that person inside who believes in a very bright future. Wonderful things happen when our footsteps aren't scripted, when we venture into the unknown with joyful hearts. Life is an immeasurable gift, after all.


  1. Another wonderful, inspirational journey, Sara...thank you for taking us along!

    1. Marc, thanks for always reading my blog, and for sharing these thoughts!

  2. Always the poetic, talented writer. Thanks for sharing your REAL Life with us

  3. Inspiring blog Sara! Great job and thanks for all the cheering and volunteering this year at the races and it certainly paid off by Soulstice time!

    1. Thanks a bunch, Neil. I appreciate the time you took to read my blog - and all YOU do for the running community as're such a fabulous role model for us all!!

    2. So glad I live in the time of the always evolving Internet so I can share in the lives of the people I admire most. Thanks for inspiring and sharing, Sara.

  4. Sarah
    We don't know each other well but I've always regarded you as very special. It's easy to see by the energy from your eyes.

    1. Frank, thank you (for reading my blog, too!) and happy holidays!

  5. Just wanted to mention that indeed, i read your blog ;) BeautifuL. PowerfuL.

    1. Ms. Denise, thank you. So happy you read it. : )


Live the way you run. Run happy.

Live the way you run. Run happy.
Thanks to Kevin Riley at Action in Solitude for this Buffalo Park (Flagstaff, Arizona) photo