The general consensus seems to be that 2016 sucked and I admit that I found myself expressing this sentiment as the year started to wind down. It’s easy to get caught up in the negative commiseration and indeed, a lot of shitty stuff went down in 2016. From global politics to celebrity deaths, it seemed that things just got worse as the year went on. At quick glance, my year of running was not much better: I spent most of the year injured or rehabbing and came no where near the goals I set for myself in January. I was looking forward to a “clean slate” in 2017: a chance to start over and do everything perfectly. This post was going to be about how awesome 2017 is going to be and how much 2016 sucked. But a funny thing happened over the past 10 days or so: I actually had time to think and reflect for more than 5 minutes at a time and I realized that there is no such thing as a clean slate and how awesome that actually is. We are the sum of our experiences, both good and bad, and without the bad, we are unable to fully appreciate the good. The whole “new year, new you” slogan spread by so many advertising campaigns in January is total BS. We can endeavor to grow or be more appreciative, but we cannot undo the past. We can, however, learn from it and so I have summarized my top 5 lessons from 2016 and how I will apply those lessons in 2017.
1. Give as much as I take. 2016 was officially the first year in which I volunteered or crewed at more races than I ran. That was most certainly not the goal at the beginning of the year, but I have gained a valuable perspective and about three thousand times more appreciation for volunteers and crew members. I can’t wait to race again in 2017 just so I can bear hug, high five or share an enthusiastic “fuck yeah” with every single volunteer. I’m also going to make sure I keep volunteering even though I will (hopefully) be racing more. I urge every single MUT runner, elite, mid-pack or back of the pack, to volunteer at least once this year. In fact, I especially urge the elites to do so. I can’t tell you how excited people were to get to Cardiac last year during the Marin Ultra Challenge only to have Devon Yanko fill up their water bottle for them. Once you get over the overpowering desire to be racing, it’s actually super fun to get to see all the action without putting your body through the ringer.
2. Run within myself. The balance between training stress and recovery is the MUT runner holy grail and with so many amazing adventures, it can be hard to keep mileage and vert in check. I struggled a lot with this in 2016: Sure I busted out a 12 minute marathon PR at Boston in April, but I did not run for 2 months after and never really recovered physically until about a month ago. I pushed my body too hard too fast and ignored some important signs from my body that it was being overworked. Even after recovering from the treatment to repair multiple tendon and muscles tears in my left hip/butt (a technical term), I pushed my rehab too far to try to be ready to race OCC in Chamonix. My DNF had nothing to do with my hip, but I found myself facing the same issues in October 2016 as I had been in October 2015 and that’s just dumb. Injuries suck, and chronic injuries that don’t fully prevent you from running are a whole new level of shitty, but after almost 2 years of half assed attempts at rehab, I finally decided to only run as far or as fast as I could without any hip/butt discomfort and to totally dedicate myself to PT: we’re talking exercises every single day. It’s frustrating as fuck to add 10% mileage a week when you start at 15 miles a week, but it seems to be working. I was really inspired by Amelia Boone’s attitude to her devastating injury in 2016: rage followed by acceptance and a smart re-building plan. Like any injury, it is 2 steps forward and 1 step back, but instead of pushing through, I am backing off when I need to and am being rewarded with the kind of pain-free progress I had forgotten existed. My goal for 2017 is to continue this trend and to run the entire year without any extended time off due to injury. When I say to run within myself, I just mean to really listen to my body and to be honest with myself about its capabilities. I am still planning to punish the shit outta stuff, and have some really cool adventures planned, but I will do so in a healthier way which I hope will allow me to enjoy them all more fully.
3. Embrace the adventure. Funnily enough, when I look back at 2016, the three experiences that keep bubbling to the surface are getting lost (and finding my way out) trying to run the PCT to JMT alone in Mammoth, running the most insanely difficult and scenic trails I have ever seen in my life at OCC in August (even though I DNFd), and eating fresh, home made ice cream in a tent while trying to avoid thousands of mosquitoes at 10,000 feet in Sequoia National Park with a few girlfriends. The thing I notice about these memories is all they all include a fair amount of suffering: I got pretty scared when I got lost in Mammoth, but I calmed myself down and used my head and figured out how to get myself out and this run remains probably my most rewarding run to date. The climbing in France was brutal, and the descents were not much easier, but the views earned by climbing over 1,000 feet per mile were that much sweeter because of the hard work it took to get there. The mosquitoes in the high Sierra are legendary, and they were beyond miserable this summer in Sequoia, but something about 4 women huddling in a 2 person backpacking tent to avoid their attacks after climbing about 7,000 feet made the fresh ice cream taste that much sweeter (yes we carried heavy cream, vanilla, sugar and an ice cream ball up above 10,000 feet and used snow to make ice cream and yes it was one of the most amazing things to ever happen). The lesson here is that the best adventures tend to happen when you aren’t necessarily expecting them and typically include a descent amount of suffering. Embrace it all.
4. Slow down and take recovery seriously. One thing I realized in 2016 is that I absolutely suck at sleeping and it took a pretty heavy toll on me; from reduced recovery to irritability to a compromised immune system. I spent the final 3 months of the year fighting off and succumbing to pretty much every viral infection in the Bay Area. I am now just about back to normal, but I absolutely need to improve my sleep in 2017 to avoid repeating the same cycle. Diet is a big part of immune health and recovery so I am refocusing on cooking at home to avoid the slippery slope that is ordering takeout online. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so I know that in order to truly sleep better I need to change my habits and incorporating pre-bed meditation is a big part of my plan. I’m also going to respect my rest days. My tendency is so use the opportunity of not running to do a whole host of other activities, and some activity on rest day is good, actually relaxing and resting is also crucial to long term health.
5. Channel my inner unicorn and #Putsomesaltonit. This one came out of a fantastic New Years Eve at Stinson Beach with some friends and started as a joke, but the more it has ruminated over the past 36 hours or so, the more I like it. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I know that it is impossible to be negative about anything while dressed as a unicorn and that putting salt on hot buttered toast makes it even better and so I plan to literally and figuratively do both things in 2017 which I expect will result in a more positive outlook and more appreciation. I think it involves more sunrises, more high-fives and more mid run group sing alongs.
Beyond these lessons, I certainly have race goals and milestones I want to hit and I am really excited to be working with Mario Fraioli to help me get there. I am looking forward to another year of racing in a Baybirds singlet and being a part of the SFRC family with all that entails. I am pumped to explore more trails in Marin with my husband who is currently in better running shape than me and to coach him to him first ultra and first sky running race this year. I can’t wait to see what crazy shit my November Project family comes up with this year and to give as many sweaty hugs as possible. Bring it on 2017!