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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Road To Recovery

Daylight Savings Time shoved our morning start time of 6:30 back into the dark.  Lisa, Kelly and Stephanie were smart enough to remember headlamps.  Pat, Melissa, Arlane and I made sure to stay in close with them.

We started our way down the dark trail grateful for the headlamps illuminating the path ahead.  Spring rains had left ruts and muddy sections we carefully navigated around.  We fell into comfortable paces and within a few miles we had spread apart yet remained within eyesight of each other.

Leaving the park, the skies lightened up enough and we can easily see the road ahead leading us to the marina.  The boats sleep and very few people are walking the path.  Melissa and I are enjoying the views while talking of our marathon plans for the year.  In a few short weeks she will be heading back to run the Boston Marathon.

As we round a corner, we are happy to see Arlane running alongside of us.  Kelly and Lisa had reached their miles and headed back to the starting point.  Arlane caught up to us and the 3 of us easily fell in pace.  Arlane and Melissa were both at the Boston Marathon last year finding themselves in the midst of the terrorist attack that pierced the heart of every runner and angered a nation.

The miles clicked by as we each shared deep emotions from that day in April.  They talked of the things they saw, the smallest things their minds grabbed onto to keep them focused, the anxiety of getting through to loved ones to let them know they were ok, the intense stress of trying to find each other and the horror of the not knowing.

Although I was not there, I told them of the helplessness we felt trying to find out their whereabouts, if they were ok, injured...or worse.  The emotions bubbled to the surface as I recalled all we did from 3,000 miles away.  In a small way, sharing our stories this morning brought us down a road of recovery.  With Melissa going back this year, she will face the ghosts of marathon past and we will be sitting at our computers tracking her every step along the course.

The 9 mile turn around point came as a surprise as we had been lost in conversation.  The route we picked for this day was designed to be tough.  The first 9 miles were downhill, the 9 mile run back was now all uphill.  With Melissa running Boston, Arlane running Nashville and me doing Vancouver USA, hill training is essential.  

Mile 10 was straight uphill and somewhere in the mile I was struck hard with the realization this wasn't difficult.  For the last 2 1/2 years I struggled with my running.  I was always tired, found myself walking on runs I could do easily before.  

A trip to the doctor told me I was severely anemic.  Despite iron and a diet strong in iron, I was still struggling.  Last September I ran The Tunnel Lite Marathon and at this race I hit rock bottom.  The day before the race, we discovered my Mom's cancer was no longer treatable and thus putting me emotionally unavailable to run a marathon.  The day of the race I was having medical issues and my anemia griped me tight.  Two years of fighting the anemia and it effecting my running as it did, I felt destroyed.  The mental crush of the condition had finally broken me.  My mind was in a very dark place.

In October I had a procedure done that controlled my medical issues and brought my anemia under control.  And right there - somewhere near mile 11 - I realized how good I felt.  For the first time in 2 1/2 years I realized how hard running had been for me because of how good I was feeling right at that moment.   The feeling was incredibly freeing.

The next miles pass us by as we watch the town starting to come alive.  A St. Patty's race was happening in a few hours and we could see the road crew putting up cones to keep runners safe.  People were dressed in green.

The park had a steep hill and we grew quiet as we each focused on running the hill strong.  Our pace was not faltering despite the hills we were tackling; telling us we were running harder than before.  Melissa likes to push herself the last mile of a long run, but coming off a rigorous training week she was content to keep the current pace.

Little did she know.

We are running up the trail closing in on the last mile.  My watch chirps 17 miles and with a smile, I pick up the pace.  Melissa and Arlane are in conversation and then notice I have pulled ahead.  I giggle to myself knowing picking up the pace will spark the competition in them both.  .35 miles to go and I hear Melissa calling to me, "Really??"

"You've got .35 miles to go, we are almost done."  She picks up the pace, catches me and passes me despite the hill we were cresting.  She turns and yells, "You aren't falling behind, stay on my heels."

"Oh, I ain't goin' anywhere sister." and I stay in her shadow.

Arlane is right behind us shouting encouragement to stay strong.

My watch chirps telling us the mile is over and we have just clocked the fastest mile of the day.  Mile 18.  Uphill.  Yea, we just did that.

Sipping our coffee and looking at my friends sitting around the table, it's hard for me not to get emotional.  These days I cry a lot but today I felt so happy.  My running family who was there for my last few struggling years are there still holding me up and celebrating these small steps I have in getting better.  They understand how hard the marathon is, they understand how dark the mental game can be and they stand firmly at my side; they share every step on this road to recovery and I can't help but feel incredibly blessed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fragrance Lake Trail Half Marathon

"Name please."

"Fiorucci," I answer.

While the registration volunteer scoured the sheet looking for my name, the person holding the bib numbers says, "I've been waiting to get my picture with you."

Confused, I look over to see my friend Esther.  In complete shock, I may have squealed in delight.  I first met Esther in 2009 at the Capital City Marathon in Olympia, WA.    We live 4 freeway hours apart from each other, have not run a race together since that day, yet keep in touch through social media.  She wanted to surprise me and in that she succeeded.  Happily, I might add.

With plenty of time before the race was to start; I took my goody bag and headed back to my car.  Inside the goody bag was a pint glass commemorating today's race.  Yea, I was pretty sure I'd be using that bad boy at the end of the day.

Waiting for my friends to arrive I studied the course map.  A few of the trails I had run before, others like the brand new Cyrus Gates Overlook Trail, I had not.  Every report told me the views from Cyrus Gates Overlook were incredible and I would love it.

The elevation profile was worth my attention and I made a few notes.  Maybe I should have included funeral arrangements.

My friends had started rolling in and Trevin, Kellan, Stephanie, Jenny and I made our way to the starting line.  The race director, Candace Burt, was giving us some final instructions.  The chatter from other runners made it difficult for me to hear.  My mind wandered; I wondered if there were toe tags in the goody bag that I had somehow missed over my excitement of the pint glass.

We were off.  Trevin, Kellan and I kept an easy pace to start.  The choice was made for us really, as the start consisted mostly of single track trail.  As I knew I wouldn't be taking first place - a shocker to some I'm sure - I happily kept in line with those around me.

The "Urb", as we locals call the Interurban Trail, is a much wider gravel path and easily thinned the group.   This was the easiest mile of the race.   And by easiest I mean flattest.   Mile 2 we turn onto Cleator Road, a gravel road heading straight up the back side of Chuckanut Mountain.  Trevin and Kellan take off at good strong paces. 

I, along with 95% of the rest of the runners, walk the ascent.  This is not a leisurely walk, this is a huffing-and-puffing-I-will-blow-your-house-down kind of a walk.  I reach Two Dollar Trail and begin the ruthless switchbacks to Fragrance Lake.  At the time I thought them ruthless, little did I know - I had not yet met the switchbacks of Cyrus Gates.  Ignorance is bliss.  And I, apparently, was extremely blissful.

After a mile or so the ascent becomes much more manageable, with uphill and downhill sections before coming to the edge of Fragrance Lake.  Despite the name of the race being "Fragrance Lake Trail Half Marathon" we spend very little time at the lake itself.  Here's a picture I stole borrowed off the Internet.  It was taken during the summer.  It does not look like this in February, which is a good thing as I may just have stopped at the lake at that point and called it good.

My legs are pretty tired as I turn onto South Lost Lake Trail.  Never have I run this trail before so I keep telling myself this is the adventure part of the course.  Next will be Cyrus Gates Overlook.  "Enjoy this.  Enjoy this.  Must enjoy this." became my mantra.  I enjoy a nice downhill section where the course has dropped 645 feet in half a mile.  My pace is good.  I am strong. I am Queen of the Mountain.

Just as quickly as I fitted that crown onto my head and held my royal scepter high for the world to see, the realization sinks in, for every step I have taken downhill, I have to go all the way back up - as in to the ridge line.  You know, ridge lines that are found at THE TOP OF MOUNTAINS.

No sooner had I realized this, the trail begins to climb.  In less than half a mile I climb from 480' to 1500'.  The views are spectacular and I try and enjoy them.  My quads are mad at me and very tired.  I am not sure I have ever worked them so much and they are making me very aware they are day dreaming of lounge chairs and pool sides.

I start thinking about coca cola.  I begin praying that there is some at the aid station at the start of the Upper Ridge Trail.

By the time I hit Cyrus Gates Overlook I know my quads are toast.  This new trail is so steep in spots stairs made of wood and dirt are built into the mountainside to help one along.  Normally, this would make me happy, but in order take the stairs, one must actually lift your feet onto them.  To lift my feet, I needed my quads and they deserted me about 400 feet down the mountainside.  My quad muscles were shaking so much on one of the flight of stairs, they dang-near buckled and I grabbed a tree so I wouldn't tumble backwards.

As I fear for my life, I remember I am suppose to enjoy the view.  I look around; justifying I should see the views my quads died climbing up to.   It's breathtaking.  Or maybe it was the elevation stealing my breath.

Glenn Tachiyama is an incredible photographer who was waiting for us near on one of the switchbacks on Cyrus Gates Overlook.  He snapped this picture of me.
I am smiling.
It's a lie.
The only thing I was thinking about was coke.

8 miles later I am finally at the highest point of the course.  I continue to follow this trail knowing there should be an aid station close by.  Since I chopped my legs off and threw them down the mountain about a mile before, I watched the trail paying close attention to rocks and roots.  No need to fall today.  I have yet to fall on a trail run and I wanted to keep it that way.

I begin to hear someone yelling my name.  And a cowbell.  I am hearing a cowbell.

Am I dead?  Do angels ring cowbells at the pearly gates?

When my senses returned, I realize my friend Sherry is cheering me on and ringing the cowbell.  She is one of the angels at the only manned aid station on the course.  I am beyond excited to see her.  I ask her if there is coke.  She exclaimed, "YES!"  to which I may have begun to cry. 

Pop had never tasted so good.

After filling one of my water bottles with this liquid sugar, I begin to hit Upper Ridge Trail knowing the hardest part of the climb is over.  I am at the top.  The rest of the course is rolling and then downhill.  This is my favorite elevation to run.  I take it careful as this is the most technical with a plethora of rocks and roots. 

It isn't long before I recognize a familiar face ahead of me.  I have caught up to Esther.  We run the ridge and catch up on life.  She takes a fall and assures me she is fine.  I watch my footing, knowing my legs are weak.

We are among tall evergreens and the roots are plenty.  Often the very roots we try and avoid are the ones giving us an extra grip on our footing.  The trees are massive.  One moment I am eye level with a branch, the next I am looking straight up at them.  Hmmm.  I am not sure how that really happened, but I do know it was the quickest my body has moved all day.  It finally happened.  I fell and have a wicked awesome bruise on my butt to prove it.   I won't be including a picture of that however.

But it is awesome.

We follow Lower Ridge Trail back to Cleator Road.  The road is now another uphill section climbing back up to Fragrance Lake.  We decide we are hard core and begin working intervals into our run.  Maybe just one interval.  And it was to the second tree on the right.  From there we indulged in an uphill 'rest' period of walking.  Once we came to this trail head, we knew it was all down hill.  We pinky swore that it was ok to do whatever needed to be done to finish and we wouldn't feel bad about leaving the other behind.

Shortly after, we began running downhill.  Finally, I began to feel my groove again.  Esther tells me we have about two miles to go.  We pick up the pace and I am feeling great going down the hill.  She keeps her own strong pace and the distance between us begins to widen.  We holler to each other we will see each other at the finish line.  THE FINISH LINE!

A massive evergreen has fallen over the trail during one of our winter storms.  The branches hold the tree about 3 feet off the trail.  This poses a problem.  I can not climb over the tree as it would require a ladder or Superman.  I had neither.  I had no choice but to bend down and crawl under it.    My quads had left me for Mexico.  It wasn't pretty, but I did it.

I am back on The Urb and so close to the finish I can taste it.  I round the corner heading into Larabee State Park and toward the finisher chute.  Trevin is waiting for me and gives me a high five.  He tells me be prepared for yelling.  I don't know what these means until I round the final corner and see the chute.

My friends are lined up waiting for me and they begin yelling.  Kathy, Karen, Kellan, Stephanie and Jenny cheer loudly as I cross the finish line.  I am surrounded by those who know what it's like to push yourself and still come out standing on the other side. 

The most physically demanding race I have completed to date and I can still smile.

Just don't ask me to climb anything for awhile.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Awesome Pants

3:12 a.m.  I roll over.  Over the last 6 weeks I haven't slept much so there was no surprise when the clock told me what I already suspected.  Still, I try and sleep.

At 4:00 I hear my oldest call to me from his room.  3 days away from being 17 and he has been sick in bed with the flu for 2 days.  In the darkness I find my way to his bedside.  He is hot to the touch.   I refill his cup with cold water, get a wet washcloth for his forehead and measure out medicine.  At 6'2" and knocking on the door of being a grown up, I relish the time I get to dote on him.

I crawl back into bed knowing the 5:00 a.m. alarm will ring in 30 minutes telling me it's time to go run.  Every fiber of my being does not want to run.  Winds are whipping outside my window and the gusts rattle the panes.  A downpour begins so fierce it sounds like rocks bouncing off the skylight.


Right on cue, the alarm rings.  The rains have stopped; the winds have not.  I continue to lay there.  I justify all the reasons why I don't have to run.  Yet I know, one of the best things to prevent me swimming in my broken heart is to exercise.  As hard as it is to get up in the dark of winter to run, not running is harder.

Getting dressed, I tip toe to the back door and open the slider.  The wind is a steady 14 mph with gusts well into the 20s.  The wind is from the south, bringing with it warmth in comparison to the 11° we had 4 days previous.  The rain clouds had parted great enough to show me the full moon hidden behind them.   Warm wind, full moon - these are unexpected surprises I would not have known had I stayed in bed.

Leaving the neighborhood I am faced with a head wind.  I tuck my head down to help fight against it.   Objects fly around me as I catch glimpses of them in the light cast by my headlamp.  Clouds roll quickly across the sky and occasionally the full moon bursts through illuminating the road in front of me.

A mile passes by and my watch chirps.  I glance at it and am surprised by the speedy pace I have kept despite the wind.  Another mile and a faster pace still.  I am grateful I didn't stay in bed.  Mid-stride a gust tries to knock me over.  I recover and giggle at the absurdity of it all.  My neighbors drive by and I know they think I'm crazy.  It doesn't matter, I feel good.  I decide to tack on another mile to the end of my 5 mile run.  My run complete and each mile faster than the previous one.  A joy I wouldn't have known had I stayed in bed; a joy that comes only from pushing yourself.

I felt awesome.

Later, as I drove my youngest son to school, we talked of the strong winds blowing and my run earlier that morning.   As I dropped him off and he jumped out of the car I told him, "Remember to wear your Awesome Pants today."

He smiled and said, "Mom.  I always do."  He then reached his hands in the air, began to dance and sang the line from a Lady Gaga song, "Cuz baby I was born that way."

He was still dancing his way into the school as I pulled away.  Driving to work, I thought a lot about what he said.  As hard as it's been lately and as unmotivated as I have been, God still made me awesome.  He made me perfectly me. 

The least I can do is put on my Awesome Pants every day.