Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 - A Year of Gratitude

(Getting a beach run in with Jen (sister-in-law), Cameron (niece), Brian (bro-in-law), and Sophie (daughter) in Carmel, CA)
Another beautiful sunrise here in Carmel Valley, CA, as I sip my coffee and watch 3-year-old Quinn craft another pony adventure among an endless sea of Lego structures. The holidays are wide-eyed magic for her, and she takes great care to ensure every toy, new and old, has a role in her latest production. The rest of the extended family is happily slumbering, their bodies embracing the long nights of the winter solstice and holiday mornings void of responsibility, so Quinn's precious little voice fills the halls like an angels whisper. A few years ago, a pre-sun wake up call from an audience deprived child would be a nightmare, and three in a row would invoke near-suicidal tendencies. This year, I am nothing but grateful. Opening my eyes and heart to get the most from every experience, whether family or running or whatever, has been the big theme of 2014. This has been a good year.

My newly recharged humility could have come from how this year started, i.e., waaay too much on my plate. I had a freshly broken collarbone, a new job that required 100+ cross-country flights per year, growing kids who fill weekends faster than I can control, a house in perpetual upgrade, and of course, a heavy race schedule that ignored all of these realities. My life mantra of "live life to have good stories" has a way of overbooking the calendar (as well as the checkbook), and my sanity often gets the spillover.

(Starting the year with a bang, or "snap" in this case)
It could be because I'm 45 years old now, an age that science says is the most challenging time to be happy (the low point in the U-Curve, as they say). I know the feeling they are referring to - that headwind of responsibility that eats away at a once-overabundant sense of appreciation - but it's nothing that can't be overcome with a good trail race with my mountain peeps or a round of fine dining with my wife. Or a Corvette, I hear, although I haven't gone that route yet. But it's good to have options. ;-)

(The U Curve measures average happiness levels by age across many international cultures)
When I think about it, what filled 2014 with gratitude was not my results, but because of what I got to witness along the way. Our sport has really come leaps and bounds in the last decade, but 2014 felt like I was seeing history at every turn (or Tweet as the case may be).

I started the year with a welcome-back-from-surgery 3:24 at the Caumsett 50k, but also got to watch Ethan Coffee (2:53) and Emily Harrison (3:16) set new course records on their ways to USATF 50k Road National Championship titles. Emily would go on to win the IAU 50k Worlds as well.

(Emily Harrison, our 50k National and World Champ)
My 10th Boston Marathon was epic, particularly when my family got to be there to watch Meb Keflezighi hold off the Kenyans to one of the greatest American ROAR's I have ever heard. Boston got it's mojo back!

(Meb Keflezighi brings it home at Boston)
A week later, I watched Vitargo teammate Michael Wardian set a new record for the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge (best combined time of the two marathons), winning the Big Sur Marathon overall in the process. That guy is amazing! And only beginning to reset every Masters record out there, I'm sure.

(Super-Master Michael Wardian on his way to winning the 2014 Big Sur Marathon)
The Cayuga Trails 50m opened my eyes to upstate New York's incredible slice of nature, and also allowed me to witness the "new breed" of trail runners in action as Chris Vargo (1st, USATF 50-Mile Trail Champ), Matt Flaherty (2nd), and Magdalena Boulet (1st) bring their sub-six minute skills to the hills.

(Matt Flaherty and Chris Vargo setting the pace early on)
The Pikes Peak Double proved to be even harder than expected, but not for Sage Canaday who sprinted in the last half mile to secure the win in the Ascent, and the World Mountain Challenge. Team inov-8 member Peter Maksimow also shaved a few minutes off his best to make the Top 10 with a last minute surge. I mean, honestly...who sprints at 14,000'?!? I can barely move. Simply incredible to watch.

(Nothing quite like this finish line)
The Pine to Palm 100m was a worthy Western States qualifier (despite losing the lottery AGAIN even with 76% odds of winning!), and a fun time revisiting the hills of Ashland, OR, with my Dad. But watching Bob Shebest win his TRT100 (17:38, CR)/P2P100 (18:42) double while Becky Kirschenmann (19:21, 2nd overall) took yet another hour off her course record really showed us all how it's done.

(Becky Kirschenmann on her way to her record setting win)

(Me taking a break at the halfway point)
The Fall 50m was a great new race, and a chance for me to set a new 50-Mile PR (6:11) and do the 50/50 (winning USATF Masters titles in the 50-Mile Trail and Road categories in the same year). But watching Larisa Dannis cruise along watching nothing but her heart rate, then take the win with a perfectly paced 5:59 just blew my mind. Imagine if she actually RACED IT! We're only beginning to see what she can do, particularly now that she lives in Mill Valley.

(Chicks dig guys with medals)
Between Twitter, iRunFar, and UltraRunnerPodcast.com, we all got ridiculously complete and thoughtful coverage of the biggest ultras in the world, watching Team USA take gold at the IAU World 100k's (with Max King's new American Record), Zach Bitter clock a world best 12-hour and 11:47 100-mile American Record, Team "Mill Valley" claim five Top 10 slots at Western States, Ellie Greenwood pass the Russian twins in the last 10k of Comrades and take the win, Kilian Jornet take on five new mountain FKT's, Teammate Gary Gellin add a Miwok 100k win to his collection, Rory Bosio take her 2nd win at UTMB, Rob Krar win States, Leadville, and RunRabbitRun in less than six weeks, Stephanie Howe win States/get married/finish a PhD in a month, the launch of SkyRunning USA, the Tahoe 200m runners making us all look like short course runners, Sage Canaday win the TNF50 in a super-stacked field...the list goes on. Because ultras are still so personal, I know just about everyone reading this knows one or more of these amazing athletes. How cool is it to see them rock it?!?

Yes, I had a few DNS's due to sickness/life events (TRT100, Moab Marathon, Flagline, CIM), but I also was consistent enough to get 316,000' vertical over 2,200 miles according to Strava. I'll take that any day.

But more than anything, I am happy just to be here. I deeply feel these are the best of times, and am ready to shake it up again for 2015. I hope you are all finding adventure in all parts of your lives, and letting its fountain of youth pour down your cheeks.

Kudos all and I'll see ya next year!

- SD

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