Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thou Mayest

As I sink back into the sofa, fire crackling in the woodstove and the Be Good Tanyas purring plaintively from the speakers, I watch through the window as the snow comes down relentlessly in fat, wet, El-Nino-variety flakes. I find there is finally room in my museum of thoughts to carve out a reflection of the past year. I’m sweeping aside a stack of other obligations in order to tackle this one, but I know my year will go forward with more clarity once I’ve exhumed these thoughts from the archives and made some sense out of them

The races of 2009 were planned largely in an answer to my reaction to ‘08’s TRT 100. I had a hard time bouncing back mentally from that one, so ’09 was put together largely with the intention of keeping things fun. And the irony of this year’s return to that race is not lost on me. It's a conscious choice. I have things I want so desperately for myself, but running sometimes seems the area where I can most easily channel my desires and excitement, my frustrations, my passions. I’ll be taking some of the lessons of 2009 to help me get through this year successfully. I chose a lot of new races last year, a variety of distances, and selected just a couple of goal races. I think it worked out well for me, and I would say “fun” is the best word I can choose to describe what turned out to be a successful season. This, too, was a conscious choice, and I had fun like you wouldn’t believe!

I made a deliberate effort to get back to some of the swifter running that training for a 100 had sapped from my regimen. Although I identify myself as primarily a trail runner, I chose some road races in order to find my speed again. I love running fast, and I definitely enjoyed some of my shorter, faster races this year. Surf City was a great start to the year, where I ran my 3rd fastest time ever in the marathon on some pretty soft training. It was a nice confidence-booster. I ran regular track workouts to increase my speed, and was thoroughly reminded of how much I love the track. (An ultra-runner who loves the track—what is up with that?) Come summer, I also joined some Truckee locals for weekly speed sessions on trail. These workouts were intense, and really pushed me. I loved them! All of these elements contributed to a speedier season at all distances for me.

As far as fun races go, it’s hard to say they weren’t all fun, but a few stand out for me. TRT 50M gets top honors for both fun and performance for me. Isn’t it nice when things work out that way? It was just a beautiful day, I paced things perfectly, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The Emerald Bay Trail Run was another standout. Short, fast and incredibly scenic: perfection in a one-hour run. Lastly, and somewhat surprisingly, Diablo also makes this "most fun" list. I’ll credit Sean for this one. Sharing such a huge challenge with someone makes for a bonding experience, and running all day with Sean in such a beautiful setting was pretty special.

For my best performances of the year, two races come to mind. I’ve already mentioned TRT 50. What else can I possibly say about this day? I’ve been lured back to the 100, so I guess that tells all. My other best performance, I think, was at the Tahoe Marathon. I guess the hometown races were good to me this year. It’s kind of surprising for the marathon, because it wasn’t a big goal race at all. I didn’t taper, and in fact, had been training quite hard during the preceding weeks. I was sick, and I had even spent time in the hospital the day before the race for tests regarding some mysterious pain which still plagued me on race morning. Nothing was setting the stage for a good day here, and I nearly didn’t show up at the starting line. Perhaps it was because of the complete lack of expectations on my part that I ran smart—easy in the early miles—enabling me to push things in the last ten miles and hold on to the win.

I managed wins at seven races, the vast majority of which came in the fall, when I was in peak condition. (Auburn Trails 50K, Burton Creek Marathon, Emerald Bay Trail Run, Tahoe Marathon, Jenkinson Lake Trail Run, Helen Klein 50M, and Donner Lake Turkey Trot all constituted wins.) I don’t necessarily hold that much value in winning because that kind of thing is frequently dependent on things outside of my control, (such as who shows up, and whether or not she has a good day). Nonetheless, to win this many races was a new thing for me, and an interesting one at that. Now, whenever my name appears in the local paper, it is followed by the words “winner of the 2009 Lake Tahoe Marathon,” which feels kind of funny to me. Not to mention the notoriety brought by appearing, arms raised, breaking the tape, on the front page of your local paper. It’s a collision of worlds wherein suddenly everyone in your non-running life is congratulating you, and you want to say “Um, that was just a marathon, and, seriously, no big deal.” But instead, you smile, with a sheepish nod, and say “Thanks,” because you don’t want to sound like an ungrateful snob. I’m not complaining. Not at all! But I’m also not sure it’s something that needs to continue. I’m not sure I’m interested in seeing myself as anything beyond your average runner.

Far and away, my most treasured days of the year were simply long days out on the trail. I created some adventures of my own when I discovered that I could connect the trail that leads from my backyard, through the Tahoe National Forest, to the Donner Lake Rim Trail, which in turn connects to both the Hole in the Ground Trail and the PCT, allowing for infinite possibilities. Cap and I had many a long day of fun and exploration together, reveling in the joys that are living in Tahoe. Other highlights in this arena were the Carson to Ebetts run on the PCT, and of course, Pure Zion. I learned that events don’t have to be races in order to be rewarding, adventurous days of running with friends. And with that knowledge, I’ve already got some similar plans, and ideas for plans, for 2010.

I attribute the success of the year to my big goal of keeping it fun. After TRT, I ran with no training plan at all, but somehow managed to get in not only plenty of miles, but plenty of high quality miles. I was simply in love with running, and the places and people it involved. I plan to continue that love affair in the months ahead.

It is true, also, that I have hopes and dreams for my future that deeply transcend running. They may even be in direct conflict with running. I do my best, but it is a difficult lesson for me that I cannot control all that unfolds in my life—one of those lessons learned again and again. It would be too easy, however, to say that things happen for a reason, and give up control. I won’t choose that path, either. Running feeds my soul, and feeding the soul of a life lived deliberately, with passion—that is my choice. I do believe, strongly, that my choices are my own. Mistakes and triumphs, dreams both noble and futile, are mine to pursue. “…the way is open.”


  1. Gretchen, you are an inspiration to us all! It is amazing to read about your love and joy of running; you put into words words what many of us are not able to express, and yet still share on the trails and while running races. Here's a virtual toast to another awe-inspiring year of trail running in some of the most beautiful country "this side of the Mississippi!"

  2. Beautiful recap ... and that title - is that an East of Eden shout-out? That novel is one of my all-time favorites, and that quote sums it up perfectly.

    Your modesty is pretty impressive for someone who won as much hardware as you did this past year. I hope your 2010 races and long runs give you as much enjoyment as they did in 2009.

    See you at Diablo, I hope.

  3. Be sure to put "my kick ass blog" on your list of achievements. It's been wonderful to follow along with you this year, and watching how running with a smile brings "unexpected" wins.

    I'm not buying that "unexpected" wins thing anymore. If you chalk up 7 in one year, you are officially a contender. Just don't let it get in the way of having fun!

    I'm with you on the speedwork and track stuff. It clearly helps running any distance, whereas too many long distance runs for 100m just wears you down.

    I'm stoked to see the TRT100 back on your list! Go get 'em!!!


  4. Amber - That's so sweet of you! Thank you!

    Donald - Yep, thanks for catching my literary allusion.:) (And for the compliments.)

    Scott Dunlap said my blog was "kick ass"!! That's better than any hardware! Thanks, my friend. :)

  5. "An ultra-runner who loves the track—what is up with that? "

    What is up with that. I made my triumphant return to track last Wednesday evening after spending the better part of January getting some endurance back. Less triumph more um...pain and embarrassment. Worse I did the wrong workout. I was huffing and puffing through 5 x 800s only to find out later I was doing the workout for the folks doing a 5k next weekend. I skipped out on the harder workout! Tail between my legs I felt very unstudly Wednesday nigh but I'm okay now with a little bit of chocolate.

    Congratulations on the wins, such confidence boosters but bigger congratulations on a great year of wonderful experiences in running and coming out of it unscathed for the most part and healthy, ready for a new year.