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Then and Now
From parenting to ultrarunning to who knows where
I met a friend for a trail run last weekend whom I hadn’t seen since she had her first baby six months ago. I drove to the Thunder Trails near Norwood, on the west end of San Miguel County, and ran an hour-long loop on my own to warm up before she showed up, since I didn’t know if we’d jog or hike with the baby in tow.
Seeing Cara at the trailhead and meeting her adorable big-eyed baby boy, who was nestled in a stroller with big, sturdy wheels suitable for trails, triggered all my mushy maternal feelings and stirred a mild longing for grandkids.
But, I also felt grateful that phase of life as a new mother was two decades in the past, as I value empty-nester independence now. My kids are 23 and 20, and while I treasured every age and phase they went through—even the most heartbreakingly difficult episodes of their anxiety and stress as preteens and adolescents—I more deeply love and enjoy spending time with the young adults they’ve become, as if every year that they develop enhances our relationship that much more.
We headed out on a relatively flat gravel road that bisects the trail loops, so we could run side by side instead of hiking on singletrack, and I took turns pushing the stroller with one hand while swinging the other arm—a challenging way to run (imagine running while pushing a shopping cart). I logged countless runs like that, back in 1998 through the early 2000s when my kids were babies and toddlers. Running was an escape hatch, a way to reclaim my body, fortify a mommy-tracked ego and sort out an uncertain identity, since I had shifted from being a full-time news reporter to a stay-at-home freelancer. Running gave me goals and connected me with runner friends as I tried to work out what I’d do, and who I’d be, in addition to the nearly all-consuming role of being a mother.
I listened to Cara describe adjusting to motherhood and remembered how it’s so hard, and no one truly understands until they’ve been through it themselves. You feel isolated, doubtful of your ability to be a good parent and full of anxiety you’ll inadvertently harm the baby. Simple chores like laundry feel crushing. Then you feel guilty and exhausted when you leave the baby in someone else’s care to do other things, like earn a paycheck, and you can’t concentrate or keep your eyes open at work. You’re coping, not thriving.
From that new-parent point of view, you might conclude the child will forever monopolize your attention and energy, and your individual life and goals outside of motherhood will forever be deferred or compromised. But that’s not necessarily the case. You will keep growing, and changing, in ways you can’t predict. At least, that’s been my experience.
I said goodbye to Cara and her baby after four shared miles and kept running solo for an hour longer, absorbed in thought while comparing the person I was when I was her age, 37, to the person I am now, 52. Over those 15 years, my life and the course of our country took detours I never would have predicted.
When I was 37, in 2006, my kids were 8 and 5. I had yet to run my first ultra, but I was earning podium finishes at half and full trail marathons. I had gone back to work full time for a couple of years as an editor for a book publisher but quit in mid-2006 when the stress of commuting and being so nanny-dependent made me switch back to freelancing. I rededicated myself to running competitively and logged fast times—like 1:28 for the half marathon—with paces I can’t even hold for a mile now.
A year later, the same year we bought our first iPhone, I ran and won my first 50K with a sub-5-hour time on a hilly trail route in the Oakland hills. In the years that followed, I ran some 70 ultras including several 100s.
We traveled around the world for a year. I launched a coaching business and wrote a book. We built a home here. I didn’t see any of those developments coming.
Sometimes, I find myself falling into the trap of thinking that aging equates with declining—as if it’s a bad thing that I’ve slowed down, finishing mid-pack instead of near the front, and that I’ve become less attractive than the 37-year-old I used to be, back when I could rent out an upscale restaurant for my husband’s 40th birthday and fill it with friends with whom I’ve since lost touch.
As if climate change weren’t enough to worry about, I now find myself googling terms like sarcopenia, dementia and hormone replacement therapy in the middle of the night.
Reflecting on two decades of parenting, however, makes me feel at peace, satisfied, and more excited and optimistic about the next 15-plus years. It also makes me deeply appreciate running as a constant, reliable source of vitality, well-being and personal growth.
What will my kids be doing in their 30s, as they blossom as adults? What might my 60s bring, and where might I run, or what other sport or craft might I develop? It’s more exciting than scary to think about.
The place we ran is the gateway to an area known as the West End, because it’s in the western ends of San Miguel and Montrose counties, near the Utah border. I highly recommend it for runners, hikers and bikers. The Thunder Trails near Norwood feature four singletrack loops, relatively flat but with some rocky stretches, totaling 19 miles. Farther west, past Naturita up Highway 141, scores of miles of trails and abandoned mining roads crisscross a high-desert red-rock landscape. For more info on this gorgeous, remote region, I invite you to read an article I wrote about it for Telluride Magazine, visit the West End Trails Alliance site, and read a report I wrote about running 54 self-supported miles along the Rimrocker Trail last May.