“Anything can happen in the mountains,” I tell my 19-year-old son, Kyle, as I show him how to use the SOS button on my GPS tracking device. When I hand him a windbreaker, he looks at me as if I’m insane, because we’re living through a heat wave and the sky is cloudless.
Author Sarah Lavender Smith
When the pandemic erased the motivator of ultras from our calendars, we had to reconnect with deeper reasons why we run long. Personally, I desperately needed to re-establish and fortify my bread-and-butter weekly running routine for reasons that have little to do with preparing for ultras.
Ultrarunner Jared Campbell started the Running Up for Air timed event at Grandeur Peak (Outside of Salt Lake City) to raise awareness and money to fight air pollution in his hometown region. He saw and felt the effects of the winter inversion layer firsthand on daily training runs up Grandeur Peak.
When my son, Kyle, proudly grasped his diploma and pumped his fist in triumph during his high school graduation this past June, I cheered loudly while infused with feelings of relief, happiness and love. As odd as it might be to think of ultrarunning during that emotional milestone as a parent, the “golden hour” of the Western States finish line flashed through my mind.
A decade ago, at 42, Kami Semick reached the pinnacle of ultrarunning. She won every race she entered in 2009, including two world championship events in the 100K and 50K, and earned UltraRunning’s Ultrarunner of the Year title for the second year in a row. But five years later, she called it quits and disappeared from the sport.
In this era of 200-is-the-new-100, it feels almost inevitable that many runners and race directors will super-size perfectly good and satisfying ultra routes, and we ultrarunners will feel compelled to choose the longer option or feel slightly guilty or less accomplished if we take the shorter route.
The sound of a helicopter circling over our property near Telluride, Colorado, filled my ears for several days straight. The sight of teams of volunteers dressed in hiking gear, fanning out in the aspen groves and bushwhacking off trail while shouting, “Tim,” pulled at my heart.
Barely past the halfway point of Run Rabbit Run 100 last September, my legs and feet rebelled. Stiff muscles, achy joints and soles so tender that I winced with each step conspired to abort yet another attempt to run. Dejectedly hiking in the fading light of dusk on a gentle stretch of trail above Steamboat Springs, I said to my pacer, Jacob Kaplan-Moss, “Sorry, this is all I can manage right now.”