Welcome Back to Trail Talk
During these interview podcast posts, I share stories from other members of the outdoor community. Range from wild adventures to survival skills, conservation, and current events.
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EP 10: Sarah Lavender Smith, Ultramarathon Running
Despite growing up in an outdoor-oriented lifestyle, Sarah tells me her dive into running didn’t take place until the second half of her life. Now, she’s participated in some of the continent’s most grueling races and helps coach others to do the same.
“I Want to have my Senior Years, 30 Years from now, Healthy and with Mental Acuity and Still Getting out in the Mountains.”
In her recent piece, A Stash from the Past, Sarah discusses the fear of losing mobility as we age. On a personal note, this is something I find myself worrying about too.
I view the ability to tear down the mountain on a snowboard or mountain bike, scale rock faces, and venture miles from civilization to be incredible gifts. I also have come to associate them with my identity as a person. The prospect of losing any one of them is devastating.
“I gained a lot of success and ego gratification from kinda crushing the competition and getting really excited about the drama of the race or trying to get a podium spot,” Sarah said. “As you age and slow down — which is somewhat inevitable — you have to reshape that relationship for it to be satisfying.”
In our discussion, Sarah describes how this can be accomplished.
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1:30 — A nomadic traveling lifestyle
3:00 — Avoiding the “Growing old sucks,” mindset
6:10 — Reshaping a relationship with running
8:00 — Escaping our fixation with numbers
10:20 — Letting our minds wander
12:10 — Climbing vs. running; an exercise in hyper-focus
15:00 — Empowering ways to push through skill-ceilings
16:30 — New activities are new ways to explore
19:30 — The time-efficiency of running
22:40 — Grounding yourself in the mile you’re in
24:05 — “Flow like a river, don’t be flexible like a tree”
26:40 — A 36-hour race; how??
29:15 — Slaying the sleep monster
“That’s one of the most Satisfying things about Unplugging from My Devices and Getting on the Trail: that’s when I do some of my best Thinking”
Of course, running isn’t just a competitive sport, or a way to stay mobile and healthy. It’s also an incredible vehicle for exploration.
In our discussion about a recent ice climbing trip, Sarah explains how a key factor that nudged her to conquer her fear and pick up the ice axes was a desire to explore a gorgeous region of Colorado.
As an interesting tangent, I learned to lead climb for the exact same reason. There’s a spot in Colorado I’m desperate to see. But you need to complete a trad multi-pitch climb to get there.
“Take what the Trail Gives You, Adapt to the Circumstances. Make the Best of it.”
One of my favorite parting thoughts from this discussion is that success does not come from raw power and strength alone.
In our discussion about ultramarathons, Sarah puts it like this: “It’s not necessarily the person who’s the most physically fit who does the best. There’s so much mental and logistical strategy involved.”
Being adaptable, strategic, and keeping a good outlook are just as important when it comes to reaching your goal — be it the finish line, or an important life milestone.
Sarah Lavender Smith is a running coach, writer and mother of two who lives near Telluride, Colorado. She has raced more than 100 ultramarathons and marathons since she took up running as a graduate student in the mid-1990s, including some of North America’s most challenging 100-milers.
When she turned 50 in 2019, she won the Grand to Grand Ultra 170-mile self-supported stage race, considered one of the world’s toughest ultras.
She is a columnist for UltraRunning magazine and the author of The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras. She publishes a weekly journal, “Colorado Mountain Running & Living,” at sarahrunning.substack.com.
Sarah also is a lifelong horsewoman and has served on several nonprofit boards for schools and community service organizations.
More from Trail Talk
If you’re interested in finding out more about tackling ultramarathons: check out this episode with Ethan McNaghten. He started as a non-runner and set his sights on the Never Summer Ultra.
Announcing: The Summit Squad
This week, I’ve decided to start offering something new to for my most devoted readers. These more personal letters will go out to those who are actively opening, reading, and engaging with Cole’s Climb in a meaningful way.
Members of the Summit Squad will get a peek behind the curtain with exclusive photos from adventures I don’t write about, as well as a teaser ahead to future projects I have in the works.
While I may use the word “members,” this is not a paid fixture of the newsletter. It’s a token of my appreciation for your valuable time and attention.
Those of you who already got one — you know who you are, and I appreciate your kind responses.