The World Through My Shoes is my look at living this incredible gift God has given us. As a busy wife, mother and daughter I relish the alone time I receive on my early morning runs. It is in the stillness of those predawn mornings where I often am inspired. Thank you for taking the time to read my words.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Staring At the Wall

Surprisingly, the hallways held no smell.  It had been years, decades really, since I had stepped inside a home designed to assist those who need care.

Growing up, we lived blocks away from the town's only nursing home.  Often as a child as I rode my bike down that road I would see someone sitting by their window looking out at the world just beyond their reach.  I would always wave; sometimes I park my bike, enter in and visit these strangers I knew through only a smile and a wave.  Pulling that big door open the smell would be the first thing greeting me; smells of life and the dying.  Today however, there was no smell.

Pale colored walls showed signs of  wear and tear from those hanging onto their independence.  Corners dinged from wheelchairs and black scuff marks marred the walls from a wheel of an errant push.   A very well-fed cat curls up under a settee and sleeps.

A man watches me intently from his wheelchair perched outside his door.  I smile.  He does not; his only movement are his eyes as they watch me walk toward - and then away - from him.  I scan the room number signs looking for Room 6125.

Sunlight streams in through a large glass window at the end of a short carpeted hallway.  A wheelchair is turned to face the wall.  Sitting in the wheelchair is a woman well into her twilight years.  White curly hair replaces what I image the darkened color of her youth.  Frailty seeps through her being.  I am struck by the loneliness and sadness awash on her face.

Unaware I am near, she stares at the pictures of yesteryear tacked onto the wall.  Do the pictures belong to her?  Are these living memories of a time long ago?  I can not tell.  Nothing breaks her gaze upon those pictures.

Without ever knowing, she has touched my heart.  Once she was a woman of strength, youth and vitality.  She has seen a world war and endured the Great Depression.  I wonder if she was an athlete as a young woman or if, like me, waited until well into her 30s to become one.  Is her heart content or does she long for the day when her body could keep up with her?

Her gaze upon that wall haunts the vibrancy of my own life.  I make the realization I have taken much for granted.  At 45 I could be half her age; yet it's becoming clearer to me to be mid-life is my own choosing.  Time may slowly take my youth, but life's enthusiasm is mine.

A beautiful woman looking upon pictures of years ago; snapshots of darker hair, wrinkle free skin, and standing tall.  Chances are I won't see her again yet she is all I think of as I bend down and lace up my running shoes.

It's a good day to go for a run.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sun Mountain 25k Trail Race

We pulled into the Chickadee Trail head parking lot at 8:30; 3 1/2 hours after leaving home.  The time had gone by very quickly, but how could it not with views like this along the way?

There was plenty of time before the 10 am start to get our race numbers, eat and use the outhouse.  As more people began to arrive, we were also able to incorporate some awesome cross training for our swimming by learning how to hold our breath when using the outhouse.  It helped us feel hard core cuz we don't even swim.

The kids 1k race started 15 minutes before our race and it was fun to watch the joy come across their faces as they ran their hardest down and around the trail.   Their excitement was contagious.  As you can see here :
Those may look like confident smiles, but really we are a bunch of road runners who like to run on dirt every once in awhile. 

With some course advice and a loud "GO!" from James the race director, we were off on our 15 1/2 mile journey.  304 runners converged onto the trail.  Very shortly after the start, it became a single track trail weaving around Patterson Lake.  We were like a parade of ants at a picnic, all marching in perfect unison down the trail.  Until someone stopped; then it was kind of like dominoes except the dominoes were sweaty.  Kathy and I were loving every single minute of it.

We came to a small meadow between scattered trees exploding in wild sunflowers and blue bells.  I wanted to stop and snap a picture but the ant march was clipping along pretty well and I didn't want to start a game of dominoes.

A few miles into the race the trail widened and we were all able to spread out.  Never one to take a camera (you think I would eventually remember) I dedicated myself to taking selfies on this run to capture the scenery.  Taking pictures while running was a completely new experience for Kathy and I.  Here's our first one - EPIC.
The look on Kathy's face : Are you sure you are doing it right?
The look on my face : Hey look, all I have to do is press this button!

Ok, so maybe we would have to practice.  Please note though, how steep the climb is in a relative short distance.  This is one of the many hiking (read : walking) sections of our race.

The trail came to a clearing as it wound up the side the mountain.  Displayed before us were mountains in the Okanogan Forest and wild sunflowers kissing the mountainsides.  In order to capture the view, we tried to take our picture again.  This time it's quite evident we are both thinking the same thing : Did it take the picture yet?

  Let's just admire the sunflowers shall we?

This picture may look like the highest peak of our race, but it is not.  I think this is mile 5 or 6.  The climbs were difficult yet the scenery was so spectacular it more than made up for it.  Surrounded by wild sunflowers, we decided this would be a good time to play the You-Run-Up-Ahead-And-Take-My-Picture-While-I-Run-By-With-The-Sunflowers-Behind-Me-And-Then-I'll-Do-It-For-You game.  Never heard of it?  Weird.

The dirt trail turned onto a forest service road, to turn back onto a dirt trail again.  All the while we were surrounded by forest which gave way to sweeping views of the mountains around us and the valley below us.  At the half way point we felt a twinge of sadness as we knew we were half way finished.  We didn't want it to be over.

Spectacular isn't it?

Kathy and I had become the masters at selfies.  It's hard to tell what exactly we are taking a picture of here, so let's just admire how we've mastered taking our own pictures shall we?

Somewhere between mile 8 and 9 we came across the only aid station on the 25k course.  It was an oasis of water, electrolytes, coke, grapes, watermelon, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, chocolate and potato chips.  If you've never run a trail run before those delights alone should be enough to get you out there.  I'm not sure anything tastes as good as salty potato chips after climbing to 3700'.

We left the aid station after satisfying our cravings and headed to what we thought would be downhill.  At some point this trail is going to actually go back down isn't it?  The steepest climb lay ahead.  We left a forest service road for an incredibly steep, single track ascent.  At the top we stopped a minute to take another selfie (I mean, "catch our breath"). 

Some kind runner offered to take our picture for us.  Maybe they could tell we were novices and decided if we wanted a good picture, they were going to have to help us out.  Or that maybe we couldn't breathe and hold a camera at the same time.

One begins to realize how high we have climbed when the tops of the massive evergreens are that close.

We finally begin our descent down.  YES!

The single track trail was easy to follow.  The winter had taken it's toll on the trail however and it often felt like we were running in a wash out as we maneuvered past rocks and roots.  This glorious down hill was FAST and over with quickly.  As we rounded a corner we were greeted with a long uphill section.  We were a little confused as we had thought once the downhill had begun, the DOWNHILL HAD BEGUN.  Surprise!  Just one more section of uphill.  We could see the carrot dangling and we chased it.  The downhill was close, we just had to find it. 

As the race promises, there is a downhill.  We fell in line with 3 other runners.  Kathy led the group, followed by me, a guy from Seattle, a guy from Georgia living in Issaquah and a woman who celebrated the February birth of her daughter by running up and down this mountain.  Our laughter echoed in the hillside.

We discovered Mr. Georgia-Living-In-Issaquah is friends with the race director James.  He also informed us he just opened up a trail running store called Uphill Running.  Upon hearing the name we immediately put two and two together.  The elevation profile of this race was clearly his fault and we felt compelled to tell him so. 

The descent was rapid.  The uneven terrain was felt in my ankles.  We kept a very close eye on the trail rather than the scenery around us.  After 3 hours in the trail, we met the first person of the day actually coming toward us.  Carrying pizza.  Either this Pizza Delivery Boy was the best Pizza Delivery Boy EVER or we had to be near the finish line.

He said it was a half mile away.  It was a mile.  He was close.

We were sad the best race we've ever run was almost over but excited as despite it being far from easy, we easily had fun.  So we took another picture.

Obviously I haven't mastered this selfie thing.

The finish line was filled with people screaming for each and every runner that came in.  The finish line was crossed only when you got your high five from James.  He gave me mine in 3:06:47 after I started.

Our husbands were there waiting for us as well as Kathy's son Kellan who would be celebrating his 19th birthday by running the 50k the next morning.  After we finished, the band played while we sat in our lawn chairs, eating delicious pizza and drinking cold beer - the best finish to running the best run at the best race.

We've already got a race penciled in our calendar for next year; care to guess which one?


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mt. Si 50k

We rolled into the almost full elementary school parking lot shortly after 7 am.  The 2 hour drive was uneventful and now with a good 90 minutes before the start of my first ultra we could relax.  I stood in the line to pick up my race number; I realized I was surrounded by relay runners.

Mt. Si Ultra and Relay has been going strong for 31 years.  The 50 mile runners had started at 6 am and the 59-mile relay race would be starting in the next 45 minutes.  Costumes and team shirts were everywhere.  98 teams (5 runners each) belonged to the relay and their energy was contagious. 

At 8 am sharp, the first leg of the relay runners took off.  There were some very serious and some very not-so-serious runners in that group.  My nerves were starting again; I just wanted to get the show on the road.

On cue, 5 minutes before the race was to start, the winds picked up and the heavy rain started.   Every last one of us had found shelter in the school to stay out of the elements as long as possible.  The announcer grabbed the bull horn and sighed, "Come on folks, there's nothing we can do about it" and he opens the front doors. 

Making our way out of the warmth of the building, I anxiously glance over at my caring and loving husband.  He was laughing.  Hysterically.  

My clothes were soaked at the start.  But that's okay, the wind was trying really hard to dry them for me.  The announcer didn't waste anytime - why should he?  Who in their right mind would want to be out in that weather?  We got to the imaginary line in the road and he yelled, "GO" and my first 50k began.

The course was very simple.  Two blocks out, turn right over the bridge, run to and cross over the other bridge and follow the Snoqualmie Valley trail for 15 1/2 miles.   Within a mile we were on the trail.  The rain had let up considerably and I found it easy to get into a rhythm.  Spring rains made everything so green.  It was beautiful.

We cross a side road where the trail cuts through the middle of a golf course.  There were golfers putting near by.  Who is crazy enough to golf in weather like this?  I'm certain none of them thought the same thing about any of us running by.

At the 5 mile mark, the trail intersects a major road and the flaggers were ready for us.   Across the street, I notice a man in a red jacket on a bike talking to another cyclist.  Wait... that red jacket is my husband!  Dennis road his bike out to cheer me on.  A nice surprise at mile 5.  The two of them loudly cheer me on as I disappear back into the trail.

This part of the trail I recognize.  Here was the finish line of the Light At the End of the Tunnel Marathon I ran in September; single-handedly my worst race.  The day before that marathon my anemia had become severe and our family received bad news concerning my mom's cancer.  Every step of that race was a struggle; that marathon shattered me.  Yet here I was running the same trail again.  I wanted redemption.

The trail we followed made it's way up the mountain.  Although the trail was not too steep in it's climb, it was definitely felt.  My mind stayed occupied with the scenery.  All around me were lush evergreen trees.  The deciduous trees dripped with goats beard lichen.  Bridges crossed swollen waterfalls.

Sun peaked out from behind the clouds and filtered onto the trail.   At times the mix of sun and trail looked identical to September's race and a sense of dread would wash over me.  I pushed it from my mind.  When the uphill climb got to be difficult, I began to chant "Up this hill.  Up this hill."    Shortly before mile 11 I took a small walk break of 15 or so steps and I was good to go for another mile.

My legs were tired and my right quad was starting to bother me.  Up this hill.  The rain started again and brought with it puddles everywhere.  My shoes squished.  Up this hill.  I knew once I got to the turn around point the course would begin to feel easier.  The turn around would bring 15 1/2 miles of downhill.  Up this hill.

The course markers pointed us down a forest service road leading to the main highway.  It was a steep downhill and a welcome change to all the uphill.  Every runner who had reached the turn around and making their way up the hill was walking.  Finally I reached the turn around.  An aid station was there with goodies and I drank some of the soda offered while another volunteer happily filled my water bottle.  God bless those volunteers.

30 seconds later I was walking up that steep hill.  At the crest of the hill I began to run and it felt so good.  The downhill made the running feel effortless.  My watch chirped at mile 17 and I saw my pace started with an "8".   I knew I had to slow it down with nearly half the race still ahead of me.

Oh my gosh.  I still had 14 miles to go.  FOURTEEN MILES.  The thought was overwhelming.

Mile 18 the sky remained cloudy, but the rain had let up.  Mile 19 my stomach started to get upset.  I wanted to take off my fuel belt as it felt so restricting on my waist.  I tried adjusting it.  Cruising into mile 20 the hail started; slight at first.  Then the skies opened and hail was bouncing off everything including my face.

That was it.  I was done.  I was cold.  I was tired.  My stomach was upset.  I couldn't feel my fingers.  And there was a man on a bike in a red jacket along the side of the trail.  Screaming as loud as possible at the sight of me.   There was a man in a red jacket!  I ran up to him and gave him a kiss.  I was surprised to see Dennis this far up the trail.  He was drenched and his bike was filthy.

We turned and headed down the trail.  He took my fuel belt and wrapped it on his handle bars (true love!).  My stomach instantly felt better and I felt 10 lbs lighter.  The downhill made for very little pedaling on his part and he coasted next to me.

As this was an out and back course, I met several runners heading up the trail to the turn around.  The 50 mile runners were inspiring and no one crossed paths without a shout of encouragement.  We were all miserable, but we all smiled at each other.

Mile 21 I reached an aid station and knew the hardest part of my run was over.  Today's goal was to have a strong 20 to 24 mile run and then lighten the pace considerably for the remainder of the race.  I called it good at 21 miles.  Grabbed a swig of soda and headed back down the trail.

Keeping pace behind me, my husband - who had been with me at the September race - remarked how I am running much stronger than last time.  "Your pace is stronger, your posture is better - it's like your running is completely different."  He gave me the redemption I was looking for.  I was am a different runner.  My anemia is gone and Mom is with Jesus.   My haunts of that September race disappeared.

The rain let up again by mile 25 and the sun came out.  Mile 26 brought us to the highway again and Dennis went left heading back to the school while I continued straight onto the trail.  Glancing at my watch at 26.2 miles I smiled as each step forward would be a distance I'd never run before.   I ran some, walked some and enjoyed each step of the way. 

Relay Exchanges were vibrant as many energetic-cuz-they-didn't-just-run-28-miles runners cheered loudly as we passed through.  As I made my way down the trail, I could hear fast footsteps behind me; their speed giving evidence they were relay runners.  Without fail, every single one would tell me "Good job" or "Looking good" as they passed me by.  They instinctively knew how deflating it could be to be passed at that stage of the race.

Mile 29 my watch chirped telling me the battery was low.  OH NO YOU DON'T.  You better last as long as me out here Mr. Watch.  If I'm doin' it, so are you.   Of course talking to your watch is normal at mile 29.

Mile 30 I was on the bridge greeted by a volunteer telling me to be careful on the stairs.  STAIRS!  At mile 30.  Oy vey.  I carefully made my way down and ran toward the last bridge.  I was in the home stretch. 

I crossed over the last bridge and had less than half a mile to go.  Two women were lazily window shopping in town.  Upon seeing me, they set their purses at their feet and began to clap for me.  I threw my hands in the air and told them I was treating myself to a latte when this was over.  Not just a latte but a grande latte.  Yes. I. Am.

A relay runner, who looked an awful lot like the running Forest Gump, stood on the side of the road screaming for me.  He ran by me and gave me a hard high five.  I thought my hand was going to fall off.  Maybe I was a little tired.

The finish line was a buzz of relay runners waiting for their team to finish.  The announcer calls my name as I crossed the finish line.  I JUST COMPLETED MY FIRST ULTRA! 

My watch read 31 miles exactly with a time of 5:33:09; 11th female overall and first in the 45-49 age group.  I hugged my husband and cried.   This was my strongest race in 2 1/2 years and brought me the redemption I sought.

Winning doesn't always come from a time on a watch or from being the fastest.  Winning can come from pushing past that which haunts you and finding strength on the other side. 

Today, I won.