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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Girl At The Track

She caught the corner of my eye.  Her hair, tied in a loose ponytail, bobbed up and down as she ran around the track of a local high school.  She wore a cotton t-shirt and long grey sweatpants.  It  was over 90° on that black-ovaled track and I knew she had to have been hot.  Weight loss seemed to be her goal as she appeared 100 pounds overweight.

Breathing hard due to the pace I was running, she could hear me coming near her.  As I approached, she turned her head and body away from me.  I knew what that meant, there was no mistaking it.  She was hiding.  She wasn't a real runner.

I know, because I use to be that girl.

The Gift Of Strep Throat

It was April 2003 and I had come down with a nasty sore throat.  My husband suspected strep and urged me to go see the doctor.  I had never experienced strep throat before but I knew it was contagious.  My babies were 6 and 1½ years old and I didn't want them getting sick.

At the doctor's office, the nurse had me step onto the scale - the Dreaded Scale.  It had been a year and a half since the baby was born and I couldn't shed the baby weight.  I had made peace with my new mommy-size.

Hesitantly I stepped on the scale.  I did a double take at the numbers before me.  This can't be right.  The Dreaded Scale had budged.  I had lost 5 pounds.   The strep throat had made it difficult to eat helping me lose 5 pounds in the process.  The revelation the weight could come off gave me a grin so wide the nurse asked me if I was ok.

The big question I faced now became "What am I going to do to keep it off?".  With two young boys and my husband and I both working full time, where in the world would I find time to exercise?  What would I even do?  Thinking back to my high school days, I thought of PE class and track.  It had been 16 years since I had done either.  SIXTEEN. 

I had zero exercise equipment, but I think I had acceptable shoes somewhere in the house.  I dug into my closet and found an old tattered pair of tennis shoes.  This is a miracle in itself as there was no logical explanation as to why I even had the pair.  

Set My Alarm Clock for WHAT TIME?

Since I work outside of our home, my family time is crucially important to me.  I could not take time away from my young boys to exercise.  My only option was getting up before anyone else was awake. 

This is not natural.  I love sleep.

Making the decision to run around our block once, and having no idea how long it would take me, I set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier than normal.  I was now getting up at 6:00 am.  THIS IS INSANE.

One Block, Two Block, Three Block, Four

My first run in 16 years was around the block; a distance of less than 3/4 a mile and it took me 10 minutes.  I broke no speed records and had no fan fare.  No one saw me and I was relieved.  I had no idea what I was doing and I was not a real runner.    I was only an overweight mom whose single goal being to keep off that blasted 5 pounds. 

The next day I did it again.   And again.  And again.

A week later I decided to go a little bit further.  And then a little bit further.  The first day I ran an entire mile evoked strong feelings of accomplishment.  Never before in my adult life had I been as proud of myself as I was in that moment. 

Still, no one saw me running.  Fear gripped me knowing if anyone saw me running, they would surely laugh at me as I was not a real runner.    I didn't have real running clothes or real running shoes or even look like a real runner.  My sweats were old, my shoes older and I was overweight.

A Look In The Mirror

At the track, as I passed this overweight woman who refused to look at me, my heart twinged in memory.   It was as if I peeled back time and was looking at my former self.  I wanted to hug her and tell her I - yes, I, a complete stranger - was incredibly proud of her.  I wanted to tell her she was a real runner and to run tall and proud of all she was accomplishing.  Showing up at the track screamed loudly of her inner strength and determination; guts I never had in my beginning.

More than anything I wanted her to know the hard work is worth it.  The weight comes off.  The mornings become your favorite quiet time of the day.  The running brings tears of joy and tears of pain because it is the hardest thing you've physically ever done.  Running helps you deal with the death of your mom.  One day you'll realize how many years you wasted feeling bad because you had no idea how good the good feels.

Coming around the third bend of the track, she was in my sights again. I moved 3 lanes over to be in the lane next to her.  Her eyes were intently staring at the ground directly in front of her; looking neither ahead, left or right.  I came up next to her and quietly said, "You are doing great.  Keep up the good work."  My words startled her and she snapped her head in my direction.  Before pulling away from her,  I gave her a thumbs up. 

There was no mistaking the look on her face.  The corners of her mouth began to form the biggest of smiles.   

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?