This year marked the first year since 2011 that I was able to run a full season of ultras without injury. And, while it was certainly humbling for me to see the fast-moving, elite ultrarunning world pass me by, it was also immensely satisfying to enjoy a year filled with the simple joy of running. Looking back now, 10 ultras may have been a few too many but in the end it was worth it. More significantly than that, perhaps, was that my 2014 was highlighted by several running-related accomplishments which extended beyond my own running and lent purpose and meaning to my outdoor pursuits moving forward.
So here, in typical end-of-year fashion, are my five running highlights of 2014:
5. Grindstone 100 — I had been wanting to run this race since I first moved to Virginia in 2011. However, it never quite fit into my plans. This year, I vowed to run it if my recovery from Western States was sufficient. So, it was with a great degree of uncertainty that I toed the line at 6 p.m. on October 3rd to run this “Beast of the East.” In general, the first rainy, windy 50 miles were miserable. However, after I picked up my son, Logan, to pace me back up and over Little Bald Mountain, things began to turn around. By the time I hit mile 75, I was actually enjoying myself. For the first time in about five years, this run made me realize that runs do eventually get better, even when they last longer than 20 hours.
4. Maymont Cross Country Festival — Ever since I arrived at Tandem Friends School four years ago, I have sought ways to connect meaningfully and purposefully with the students. Knowing that teaching classes would be logistically difficult, I suggested to our AD that I take on the job of middle-school cross-country coach. At the time, it seemed simple enough as we had five kids on the team and the schedule was relaxed, at best. Well, fast forward to this past season and we now have 28 runners (out of a total middle-school enrollment of 105) and my coaching of these young charges is barely adequate. Our schedule now includes 10 meets a season and several of our athletes have earned all-conference honors. Thus, it was in that context that, for the first time in school history, last September, we took the team to the annual Maymont Cross Country Festival in Richmond, Virginia featuring some of the best teams in the region. While our end results were far from the podium, the experience and the bonding of the weekend cemented cross country as a sport to stay at Tandem Friends School.
3. Highland Sky 40 Mile — The first time my two older sons, Carson and Logan, crewed me at a race they were in a baby jogger and a backpack. So, it was with great excitement that the three of us hopped in the car on a Friday in mid-June to travel across the hollers and ridges of West Virginia to the Highland Sky 40 Mile. You see, even though this was only two weeks before Western States, I still had some finishing touches to do on my training. Furthermore, the race promised a competitive field and a challenging course. The only problem was, my youngest son, Tully, had a lacrosse tournament in Virginia Beach, Virginia that same weekend that my wife, Shelly, accompanied him to. Hence, the need to hit the road with the older boys and see how they would do crewing solo. I wasn’t all that worried about the crewing part but having a 17 and 15 year old on the loose in a car in West Virginia could have just a bit of risk involved. Well, needless to say, the boys did great and it turned into a highlight of the year for many reasons. From the aid-station folks calling them “pros” to the after-race trip to the skeet-shooting range, this perhaps above all the other adventures this year made me realize what a truly lucky guy I am. Thanks Carson and Logan for being a great crew and great kids!
2. Thomas Jefferson 100k — Ever since I signed up for my first ultra in 1995, I have admired the ultra race director. As far as I can tell, they are all smart, hard-working, selfless, and loving people. After 19 years of running, this past year I decided to try my hand at race directing and on March 15th, we staged the inaugural Thomas Jefferson 100k in Walnut Creek Park, Virginia. Thanks in large part to an incredibly hard-working and loyal volunteer team from Crozet Running and the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners, we pulled off what we hope will be the first of many successful TJ100k’s. My goal was simple: To share the joy and passion I have for ultrarunning with others via my own race. Sure, it’s not a perfect event and we still have kinks to work out but I must say there are few things more satisfying than staging an event like an ultramarathon. Craig Thornley, I get it now!
1. Western States 100 — I have probably spoken and written enough about this race that little more needs to be said. However, as I sit here six months later, I still smile in awe of the memory. Knowing how much hard work, sacrifice, and commitment went into 10 silver buckles at Western States is something that will keep me going for years to come. We all have our goals. We all find motivation and inspiration in different things. For me, for the better part of a decade, I found my inspiration in running 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn in under 24 hours. For now, that is all the inspiration I need, and, perhaps, that’s all I’ll ever need.
I am truly looking forward to seeing you all out on the trails in 2015.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
For the final beer of the year, I am bringing you the draft-only return of New Belgium and Alpine Beer’s collaboration Super IPA. First introduced in 2012, this fruity, 9% IPA is wonderfully drinkable and unusually different. Combining a unique variety of hops and two distinct brewing techniques, this is a beer worth hunting for.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
What are your running highlights for 2014? What were your most meaningful experiences on the trails? Share them in the comments section of this article!