Thanksgiving is over and for many thoughts have turned to the next big day.

No, not Christmas.  Sooner.

On Saturday morning, Placer High School in Auburn, California will play host to the annual lottery for the Western States Endurance Run.  Thousands of applicants, having completed at least one of the official qualifying 50 mile, 100 kilometer or 100 mile (or some distance between those three) races in 2013, will wait expectantly, fingers crossed that theirs will be one of just 400 (or so) names drawn to take part in the storied race in June of 2014.

This past year has been by far my favorite year of running but I didn't actually do much racing and what racing I did do was rather forgettable from a competitive standpoint.  The posted results were pretty underwhelming and there were even a couple of DNFs along the way.  It wasn't until late October that an official Western States qualifier was eked out with a sub-11 hour finish at the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 mile race near State College, Pennsylvania.

Each consecutive year that an entrant fails to have his or her name drawn in the lottery, she or he is assured of a second "ball" in the next lottery so long as a qualifying race is again completed in the preceding calendar year.  Such was the case for me in not having been drawn last December, so the finish at Tussey increased my odds from poor to slightly less poor.

All I had to do was complete the registration.

Back in early November, I logged into Ultra Signup and found myself staring at the monitor, fingers hovering over the keyboard, thinking about the path that had led me there.

Back in 2009, I ran my first ultra, the New River 50K in southern Virginia.  At the time, I hadn't actually met anyone who had run that far at one shot.  For the life of me, I can't recall what made me think that I could nor can I remember how that race had been chosen as my first.  The start of a bad habit never really broken, I ran too fast early and faltered late...but I did finish and obviously have continued to come back for more.

As I suspect happens to many people who get hooked on long-distance trail running, I started seeking out races all over the country and, upon learning about the race and its history, immediately moved Western States to the top of my must-do list.

The increasing popularity of trail running and ultra racing has made Western States more and more exclusive.  The number of applicants jumps exponentially each year without further expansion of the field due to caps put in place in 1984 with the enacting of the California Wilderness Act.  That act helped to create the Granite Chief Wilderness through which the course passes as well as many other wilderness areas in the state of California and that same act continues to protect these areas today.

I, for one, am a huge proponent of the race cap even if it means that many runners must wait years to get into Western States and some will never get in at all.  It will become even harder next year as 50-mile qualifying races are eliminated entirely and folks scramble to register for the longer events that will be the only way to earn entry into the lottery.

All of which was rattling around in my head as I sat in front of my computer.  I wanted in, but so did many, many others.  Why should I be allowed in over anyone else?  Was it really MY dream, THE race that I simply had to do over all others?  Did I really want to toe the line MORE than anyone else?

"This past year has been by far my favorite year of running...."

It's been my favorite year of RUNNING, but that doesn't necessarily have much or anything to do with racing.  My done-in-a-day run of the Black Forest Trail in May was an incredible experience and I've revisited that day in my head, in storytelling and in writing many times.  
A couple of morning runs with friends in and around Boulder in July stand out in far greater detail than most of the organized events in which I participated.  So too do so many solitary runs here at home as well as numerous small group outings with friends on the nearby Horseshoe, Conestoga and Mason-Dixon trails.

I had a blast for the second year in a row at TransRockies this past August but, honestly, my favorite moments at TRR consist not of the race but of minutes of the days and nights spent there in conversation with friends on and off the course.

Pacing for my dear friend Kelly at the Leadville 100 was another experience that will remain vivid for the rest of my years, but I was there for him, not for me, not even for the race itself.  I was there with a friend, trying to help him achieve his dream and that was what made it so meaningful.  It's a cherished memory, but the race itself wasn't and isn't one I ever need to do myself.

Sugar Pie, my four-legged companion, arrived late in the year and has transformed every outing into something special.  A late season through-run of the Old Loggers Path with her and a handful of new friends confirmed that I would take that type of adventure over an organized event any and every day.

I dream of running, not of racing.

And it isn't all I dream of...not nearly.  In fact, much of what I dream of doesn't involve running at all.

Yes, I would love to run Western States and may yet one day, but, honestly, I would be lying if said I actually dream of it.  But I know others do and sitting in front of my monitor I realized that I needed to leave those dreams to others until or unless the race becomes that for me, especially if my bowing out increases the chances of someone else's dream coming true.

On Saturday morning, Placer High School in Auburn, California will play host to the annual lottery for the Western States Endurance Run...you can bet I'll be paying close attention to who "wins" their way in even though I've removed myself from the running by deciding against registering.  I'm excited to send congratulations to all who see their dream come true and can't wait to see how those dreams continue to take shape between now and next June.

I'll keep dreaming too, but of other things.

And, holiday or not, I'm going to keep on giving thanks as well.  Giving thanks and hoping for the future.  I have much reason for both.

I am thankful, immensely, for my wife and hopeful that she and I will both still be drawing breath together decades from now and hopeful too that every now and again her hand will reach out to me or squeeze back when I reach out to take her hand in mine.

I am thankful, boundlessly, for my daughters and hopeful that they will never let what they know (or think they know) or all that they've experienced get in the way of striving for what they don't know and have yet to experience.  I am hopeful that they are never unaware of the love and faith in their abilities that their parents have for them.

I am thankful for my immediate, extended and adopted families for shaping me, accepting me and reshaping me anew when necessary (often) into a me that I too am able to accept.  I am hopeful that together we grow, flourish and continue to celebrate the myriad of ways in which we are different and the same.

I am joyfully thankful for this planet for both possessing natural, untrammeled wonders and for hosting the triumphs of civilization.  I remain cautiously hopeful that distinction and balance can be made between the two and that the failures of civilization aren't mistaken for triumphs and allowed to render nature extinct, not in my lifetime nor the lifetime of any creature that comes after.

I am thankful for hope.  Real hope.  Not sloganeering, not wouldn't-that-be-nice daydreaming, not wishful thinking without effort made toward realization.  Real hope with real effort.

I am thankful for dreams and hopeful for dreams, realized or simply sought after.

Dream on.


  1. I love this post. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and insight.

  2. Wise words. These reflections are refreshing.

    1. I'm not sure how wise they are (the writer of them tends to feel anything but!), but they're honest. Thank you for reading and sharing your comments...I really appreciate it!

  3. Dude....thank you for your perspective. It was a blessing to read and understand your insights...thanks again....jason

    1. You are welcome, Jason! Thanks for checking in and sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated!

  4. Beautifully words, as always, Steven! :)

    1. Or...beautiful words. Same thing.

    2. Same thing, indeed. Thank you, Kalyn...you know I appreciate it!

  5. Leon- You never cease to amaze me! I had similar feelings towards Western when I did a very similar thing with registering for it this year. I also chose to pass allowing those who dream of the race. I am with run, I love to running far more than racing. Here's to another best year in running to come!

    1. Awesome, Luke...being on the same page with you is all good in my book. Hope those little ones are bringing you as much joy as mine do. Give that skimo season hell and then lets run somewhere together, whadayasay? If nothing else, I need to see how that Blue Beards is treating you.

  6. This is fantastic. Hope is wonderful thing.

  7. It is, isn't it? Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Appreciate it!

  8. Fantastic blog post!! Would love to meet up with you one of these days to run some of the beautiful Lancaster trails that are often written about in your posts. Happy running!

    1. Sounds like a plan. If you weren't anonymous, I'd send a proper invite. ;) Drop me a line at thisbeesknees@yahoo.com if/when you'd like to get out. Thanks for reading!