‘Tis the Season of yearly Stat Recaps, chock full of numbers and metrics that no matter what they contain will likely make some part of you feel inferior or unaccomplished. Or perhaps that’s just my stats from this year; I probably ran less distance and vert than any other year since I started seriously trail running. Even though I know that this was due to a persistent injury that wouldn’t quite go away, it doesn’t make the numbers any easier to swallow. The flip side of this is that, when looking back, I had an absolutely incredible and unique year of outside running, hiking, and adventuring. What I lacked in actual miles on Strava I made up for in consistently pushing outside of my comfort zone, and learning the most I have learned in the past two decades – about running, about life, and about myself. #GrowthMindset for the win!
I started the year injured – a nagging posterior tibial tendinitis issue that popped up in October and November of 2021. This has been my first “real” running injury, and it seems I picked a tricky one to start with. Despite taking all of December off, and focusing on strength and physical therapy through the beginning of the 2022, I still couldn’t get to a place where I could run more than 30 minutes without flaring up the issue in my right ankle. I’m not going to lie – this injury sent me on a true emotional roller coaster, up and down, through all twelve months. I would go from having a 10k run that felt great, reveling in the wind blowing in my face and the endorphins getting pumped into my brain, only to sit there collapsed and crying on the kitchen table, exclaiming how I might never run again. My wife endured all of this the entire time, often reminding me that I was more than a runner, and that if the sport I loved so much was ruthlessly stripped from my life, I could still be a healthy and happy person. I, of course, knew that she was correct, but it’s funny how that never felt like enough.
After finishing four consecutive Canyons 100k runs in a row, I attended for the first time this year as a spectator and crew, posting up by the fire pit at the finish and reconnecting with friends from all over the world. Truth be told, it was a great day, and I got to witness two of my coached athletes finish big races in their spring schedule. The ability to dive fully into my coaching practice and help other runners succeed was one of the silver linings of my injury, and allowed me to stay connected to the sport. In 2022 I worked with athletes doing huge races all over the world and learned something new from each individual person. I honestly don’t think I could have built up my coaching business without this time off from injury, as it allowed me to take a step back and have some real outsider perspective that was helpful in every situation. As hard as it was to not be running through the Canyons this year, I left Foresthill with my heart and soul full, perhaps even more than if I was racing.
The rest of the spring and summer were busy for us as we picked up and moved our family to the French Alps after a decade of kicking the idea around in our head. This was perhaps the biggest achievement we have pulled off as a family since hiking the JMT in the pandemic summer of 2020, and it was the result of months and years of planning and work. We relished the ability to frolic through the mountains without the stress of having to head back to the States at the end of the summer, and entered the adventure hoping that we could answer the question of what it would be like to actually live in the mountains through multiple seasons of the year.
We made great use of our Alpine residence, pulling off an epic circumnavigation of the Ecrins on the GR54 with the kids. This terrain was some of the steepest we had ever backpacked on and made the topography of the JMT look like the Netherlands. Our boys rose to the occasion, Sage hauling more weight than he had ever carried before, often blasting to the top of the passes only to wait for the family straggling up behind, and Devin finding his inner mountain goat and charging over pass after pass. The mountains felt wild and remote, and it was an honor to be able to connect the valleys around La Meije on a multi-week excursion. We posted up in the quaint town of La Grave for the final week of July, reuniting with a French friend Maureen knew from TOR while playing in the valley for a bit longer. It was an epic summer trip, and it also turned out to be pretty good training for the only race still on my calendar for the year.
Despite my emotionally charged and questioning first half of the year, I was signed up for one of the hardest races in the world at the end of August – UTMB’s Petite Trotte à Léon, an off-trail team orienteering race through the Alps. I felt reasonably strong from the backpack, but had yet to test my ankles on anything more than 20k at a time. Me and my partner Sam headed out from Chamonix only to climb the Vertical Kilometer course, which turned out to be a very on-brand start to the race, and by the time we descended back down to Les Houches that afternoon I was actually feeling okay. Over the next four days Sam and I went deep in some of the most beautiful terrain and ridges in the world, only to be stopped when he rapidly developed serious symptoms of Covid at 3000 meters on Col de Malatrà. We of course had to pull the plug, and luckily got out of the mountains safely, but it definitely left the question on the table of whether we could actually make it all the way around one year if we had a bit more luck on our side.
One of the themes of my year was learning – from a new culture, to a new language, to new skills and wisdom in trail running that I didn’t have before. PTL was my first attempt at a multiday race, and to say that I learned a ton while I was out there would be an understatement. My wife Maureen undertook her second attempt at a multiday race in September – the 350km Tor des Géants – and I would be her crew as she took a big lap around the Aosta Valley. Crewing is one of the best ways to learn about ultrarunning, and crewing a multiday race has to be one of the best ways to learn about multidays for sure. I followed her around in a posh rented camper van, while she slogged around the ridiculously steep magical Italian valley that we love so much. She had a brilliant week out there, and despite moving around the loop in an incredibly strong fashion, the race was called in the last kilometers due to a freak high altitude snowstorm. While she got the finish technically, and certainly could have run through to Courmayeur, I have a feeling that she might still be back to take another go at this beast one day.
I finished up the year experiencing what a true change of seasons was like, as it got cold, and then snowy, and we could no longer run on our local trails without spikes or skis. I embraced this change of activities, however, as this is what we came to the mountains for after all. I’ve doubled-down on strength and cross-training, trying to get even fitter and stronger for the big melt in the Spring, and after a decent early season of skiing followed by an unseasonably warm patch at the end of December, we’re all praying for snow once again.
As for 2023, I’m trying to stay present and take it one step at a time. My coaching practice has ramped up once again, and I’ve got new athletes on board, as well as returning ones getting ready for another strong season. I’d love to give the 100k Gran Trail Courmayeur run a go, but first I’ve got to see how my early season shapes up and how the body’s feeling as I start to ramp up. Sam and I have been talking about returning to PTL, but it would depend on my family’s plans for the summer as to whether we could pull that off again. For right now, I’m content breathing in the fresh air and gazing at the brilliant vistas all around me, as I spend my time in my favorite mountain range in the world.