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.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Battle

Cancer has been a part of my entire adult life. Not as one battling the giant, but as one who must stand on the sidelines and witness the struggle. I hate it. Always known as someone who gets things done, my usual method of operation is to jump in with both feet and take charge. Not this time. I can’t. It’s not my fight.

My dad was first diagnosed when I was in my early 20s. It was my first taste of witnessing mortality in my parents. Seeing my big strong Daddy lying in a hospital bed shattered the illusion of immortality and rudely delivered me to the reality of my father being human. Dad’s fight was tough but he emerged on the other side of the battle strong and cancer free.

Then it went after my mom. Always the fighter, always the rock, always the strongest, she entered into a literal battle for her life. Ovarian cancer is ugly and it is an extremely evil villain to fight. Often unseen in its earliest most treatable stages, it shows its cowardly self only when the fight will become the toughest to win. I was 29 when Mom began her fight.

The phone rang last week delivering me the news I never wanted to hear. It was my Mom, the warrior, telling me the new chemotherapy stopped working. I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw things, I wanted to take the anger inside and turn it into a fuel that would help my mom with her fight. I don’t remember most of the remaining of the conversation we had, I just remember how it felt. Helpless. The beginning of the end seems to have knocked on our door.

My Type A personality renders completely useless in this situation. I am a doer, not a bystander. The sidelines are not a place I am use to standing, but yet, here I stand. I stand in support of the fight I witness. I stand in awe of the courage I see. I stand in quiet for the strength she shows.

Onward my mom fights, and I continue to stand.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bellingham Bay Half Marathon

Bellingham Bay Half Marathon

September 27, 2009

Crisp with the smell of fall, the air was alive with excitement. People were milling around the start area trying to ward off the chill of the early September morning. The cloudless sky brought on the promise of warmer temperatures. Although chilly, I knew my best bet was a tank top and running skirt. I hadn’t run a race yet this year without battling the sun’s heat and was grateful for this welcome change. I’d take the chill any day.

My sister Marcy was toeing the line of her first half marathon. She decided early in the year she would take the challenge and train to walk the 13.1 miles that now lay ahead of her. If she was nervous, she didn’t show it. At all. But that was ok, I was nervous for her. Since I was the one who planted the seed in her brain, there was a chance she would walk the course, hate it, blame me and then never speak to me again. Or she would walk the 13.1 miles and realize the huge accomplishment she succeeded in, giving her a whole new insight to her strength and determination lending her heart to swell with pride. I knew the latter would happen but could in no way explain it to her. She had to experience it. Amidst well wishes, we hugged each other and took our places in the starting corral according to our pace. The horn blared and the journey began.

The first mile being a gentle downhill gave me an excellent “warm up” mile and I clocked an 8:38. My excitement was uncontainable as I realized this was going to be a good race for me. My second mile came in at an 8:33 cementing the realization that I felt I wasn’t working that hard and all the speed work I had done was paying off. Leaving the city and winding our way past the ocean we began a two mile ascent slowing my times to 8:43 and 9:08. At the top of the hill we turned back toward town and through the old neighborhood I lived in. I consistently ran in the 8:30s until mile 9. Here we made our way back downtown up a long hill taking us away from the ocean’s edge. Downtown was alive with people cheering words of encouragement while making noise with whatever lended them to be louder than the person next to them. One college student stood on the side of the road banging pots and pans together. I gave him an A+ for creativity. Bellingham had shown up in force to support the 1600 or so of us running the course. It helped tremendously in spurring me up and over that hill.

We weaved our way down a trail taking us back to the ocean where we ran over the water on the boardwalk. Boats peppered the water watching us making our way down the board walk. It was a perfect day. Maintaining an average 8:40 pace for 9 miles was taking its toll and mile 10 I had slowed down to a 9:28 pace. Of course, the hill could’ve played some part in that too. Mile 11 took us to Taylor Dock which is a short, but very steep dock leading off the boardwalk and onto dry land. My Garmin chirped the 11 mile lap and then went crazy. There were beeps flying all over the place. My watch was swearing at me. I had to slow to a shuffle and then a walk to figure out what was going on. Apparently my lap counter was full and I had to delete old laps. Great. Trying to do this amidst all the beeping, my watch was getting irritated with me and refused to accept any of the button presses I was making. Now it was my turn to use my very own human beeps. I hit the stop button and had to kiss my instantaneous knowledge goodbye. I was now running by how I felt and not by the comfort of the numbers I could look at on my wrist. I questioned my survival.

The next 2 miles was one hill after another. I was tired. I really, really wanted to walk. Each time the urge got too great I could hear the words of my friend Beth echo in my mind “A shuffle is better than a walk, a shuffle is better than a walk”. So I shuffled the uphills and ran strong on the downhills. Looking down I saw the 4k marker for the 5k that was run earlier on the course. That was all I needed and I began my final 1k sprint. Well, it felt like a sprint but I really don’t know since my Garmin threw a temper tantrum and walked off the course at mile 11. Rounding the corner we were taken back onto the trail. Here I knew there was a chance I could meet my sister. Every walker heading toward me I studied for the familiar face I wanted to see. I didn’t see her.

Leaving the trail I made the way back onto the city streets leading me to the final uphill and the finish line. I knew I had lost time around mile 11 but was hoping to hit a sub-2 hour anyway. Running strong I crossed the finish line with a clock time of 2:00:24.

With my finisher’s medal around my neck, I left the finisher’s shoot on a quest for some cold water. Drinking it down, I searched for my husband and boys. People were everywhere and I had a hard time finding a familiar face at all. About 10 minutes later I found them running toward the finish line. Traffic was crazy and they had missed my finish.

Knowing if we hurried, we could catch Marcy coming up the road to make her way to the trail. We hustled to the end of the block with one minute to spare. Marcy was making her way up the road. I yelled as loud as I could to get her attention and made my way through the throngs of people to get to her. Here I walked with her until the trail head. She was doing great and looked strong. Once we got to the 9 mile marker and I told her I would see her in 4 short miles and sent her on her way.

Knowing, from the marathon I’d run 2 weeks prior, just how dark and lonesome and evil those final couple miles can be I couldn’t leave her to finish them alone. After waiting for what I guessed to be the time when she’d hit the final mile, I left my family at the finish line and made my way backwards on the course to meet her and walk her through the Victory Mile. About a half mile down the trail I met her and started screaming for joy. She was almost there. Exhaustion was etched onto her face. Knowing the feeling all too well, I took the lead, set the pace and talked about the excitement the finish line held.

Rounding the corner I exclaimed in glee “There it is!” and pointed to her very first finish line. My pride bubbled over to tears and I left her to cross into the finisher’s shoot on her own. I raced down the sidelines to give her a big congratulations hug. She had done it. She embarked on the journey and successfully finished it.

The day is over, the wine is chilled and the pride is still welling below the surface. The results have been posted and my sister did a fantastic 3:21:13. My hopes of a sub-2 hour half happened as my time is posted as 1:59:38 placing me in the top24% of my age division and the top 36% overall.

The real joy comes from seeing goals accomplished. There is nothing like a race that tests you, challenges you and delivers you a different person on the other side of the finish line. Today was such a day. And in that, I celebrate. I think I’ll have another glass of wine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon

Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon became a marathon of learning. Most runners on the course would probably state this inaugural marathon is race of running, but for this single runner it was more than a marathon it was a run of learning.

Beth, Sharlene and I were three Nervous Nellys sitting in the backseat of the truck trying to talk ourselves out of pre-race jitters. We each came to this race with our own story and our own hopes. Beth was running her first marathon after taking a few years off from marathoning and Sharlene was running her third half marathon in three months celebrating her 33rd birthday. This was to be my 3rd marathon in 42 days qualifying me to become a Marathon Maniac. I learned a goal needs to be set to know how high to reach.

The Start Village was alive with people. The freeway leading up to the start was backed up for miles with cars making their way to the start. In a sight you do not see every day, runners were getting out of cars on the freeway and making the 2+ mile trek on foot to the start. As our hotel was close to the start we avoided most of the road congestion and we made it to the start with moments to spare. Beth, starting in corral 3, made it to the start as her corral was crossing the starting line. I made my way into Corral #9 and was crossing the starting line about 15 minutes later. Sharlene, who was definitely assigned the wrong corral, made her way to Corral 36 and began her journey approximately an hour after the official start. I learned what it is like to start a race with 25,000 runners.

Almost immediately we hit the first hill, and I made it up and over easily. Despite the nerves, I felt good and I felt strong. The Pacific Northwest is known for being a mountainous region and this course did not disappoint in proving why that is such a descriptive fact. The hills on the course were often long and with some being steep tested every mental stronghold I had. The course had 5,498 feet of elevation gain and 5,509 descending feet. This course was built to test endurance. I learned sometimes the only way to relieve leg cramps is to walk them off.

The sun shone brightly in the sky twinkling it’s summertime rays off of the waters of Lake Washington and the ocean waters of the Puget Sound. It was a cloudless sky giving little mercy from the sun. As I made my way down the course I lost count of how many runners I saw that had succumbed to the heat and were receiving medical aid. My heart broke for them. Runners were taken off the course by ambulance proving the heat was nothing to mess around with. I learned the balance of hydration can be a fine line.

Along the course the water was plentiful and CytoMax was the electrolyte replacement drink offered. At mile 2 I took my first swigs of CytoMax and quickly realized the mixture was wrong as the drink was incredibly strong and should have been diluted even further. This was my demise. Although I was quick to drink from my water bottle in hopes to dilute what I had drank, the damage was done. Nausea hit and hit me hard. I learned nausea is haunting as it followed me for the remainder of the race.

Around mile 11 I first spotted Mitch. With his white beanie hat and his brightly colored Marathon Maniac shirt he was easy for me to spot regardless of the sea of people. It was the first time we’d seen each other in person as most of our correspondence has been on-line. As the course had several loops of out and back in it, Mitch and I spotted each other several times along the course as had Beth and I. She had the eagle eye and was able to spot me every time our paths would cross. I learned a perfectly timed hello and word of encouragement from a familiar face delivers incredible amounts of motivation.

Mile 25 ½ was the crest of the last hill. From the course we could see down the final leg of the race which was all downhill. My quads grimaced at the thought of the downhill and I wondered if I would be able to run the entire distance through the finisher’s shoot. Leaving the Alaska Way Viaduct, the off ramp delivered us right outside of Qwest Field. The shoot was lined with people screaming and cheering for us as we finished. I turned the corner and heard my husband Dennis, Sharlene, Palmer, Beth and John screaming their shouts of encouragement. The tears I held back from mile 10 on found their way to the surface and spilled over. The strongest test of my will was near it’s end and I was still standing. I crossed the finish line completely spent. Although every square inch of my body was screaming at me, I finished. Mitch was waiting in the finisher’s shoot to give me my first Maniac hug. Despite it being my worst marathon time of 5:14:42, I learned I am stronger than I ever thought possible.

Earlier this year I turned 40, a milestone to be celebrated. While quite typical for women to celebrate this with vacations or jewelry or new cars, I knew I had to do something that spoke only of me and my character. After much contemplating and research, I began my quest to join the Marathon Maniacs. With the toughest course and the worst race time I’ve run, I gained the final criteria needed to become a member. As of Sunday, June 28, 2009 my birthday goal came true and I was welcomed as Marathon Maniac #1657. As I write this, the membership stands at 1,658 worldwide with only 623 members being women, and I am one of them. I learned with hard work and dedication, dreams do come true.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

North Olympic Discovery Marathon

A runner’s dream. The sky was overcast with no threat of rain. The temperature was hovering in low 50s. After taking the shuttle to the start, I find myself sitting in the community room waiting for 9:00. I looked around at the people I was about to embark on a 26.2 mile journey with. Energies were high and laughter wafted above the nervous chatter. I was definitely nervous. After running Capital City 3 Sundays ago I was not sure how my legs were going to do. But here I was ready to make the trek all over again.

Walking out to the start, I dropped my extra clothes off at the clothes drop and headed to the start. Hearing someone yell my name, I thought surely it was for someone else as I knew no one at this race. Looking in the direction it came from I found my friends Sharlene and Palmer waving. What a great surprise! Hugs were given and after the shock came off my face, I made my way to the starting shoot. “Eye of The Tiger” was blaring from the loudspeakers, causing me to smile - the 80s were just awesome. No national anthem here, just Survivor singing loudly. The horn blared and we were off.

The first half a mile was relatively flat and I was making excellent time. Most of the elevation gain is in the first 1/3rd of the race. Each hill I hit I felt strong and good. Soon after the start, I found myself in-step with a guy named Joe. It didn’t take me long to figure out Joe really liked himself. By mile 5 I had mentally dubbed him Jabber Joe. A few miles later I took the opportunity to fall back a short ways as I was needing to be alone inside my head. Jabber Joe had begun a conversation with an Army XO and they were discussing all the data their watches were giving. Seems at mile 10 I was well on my way to a 4:15 marathon.

We finished weaving our way through Sequim and began the portion of the marathon on the Olympic Discovery Trail. The vistas were breathtaking. The trail wound it’s way through the Olympic National Forest, where we would spend the remainder of the marathon. The birds chirped as the water made it’s way down the Olympic mountains through gorgeous creeks crossed by old train trestles. The steepest part of the course came at each of the 3 water crossings, it was steep going down to the water and steep coming up out of the ravine. This is where I first decided to walk. My pace was good and strong up until the point my legs yelled “Excuse me!?!?!? I remember this from the other week and I’m not happy about it”. So I let them be unhappy and walked it off. The rolling hills were a little bit of a surprise to me and I realized I needed to do whatever it was going to take to complete the run.

There comes a point when no matter how beautiful the scenery or how crowded the course, you are alone with yourself. Alone with each thought, with each pain, with each moment. Here in lies the discovery. You either quit or excel. Your pace does not necessarily increase or magically get stronger, but your mind rises above. This is exactly where I needed to be. This is the moment in time where the race is made or broken, regardless of the finishing time. Today my race would be made. My hopes of a PR dissipated when I had to walk, but I knew it would be a stronger race than my last one. Looking deep within, my body felt stronger and my mind propelled me forward.

Several times along the course Sharlene and Palmer met me with shouts of encouragement and picture taking, included being perched at the top of a not-so-nice hill around mile 16. I’m sure that picture snapped has an evil look in it. I’m sure. Along the route I managed to adopted a brother. His girlfriend was a ways behind me and he moved along the course waiting for her. It didn’t take long before he was yelling “Go Sister!” to which I replied “Thanks brother!” and we would trade high fives. I wonder what his name is.

The last couple of miles are along the ocean’s front with the trail winding our way toward the finish. A party was in full swing at the finish line and I was heading home. Approaching the shoot my boys were waiting waving bright orange pom poms and jumping up and down. I heard Sharlene yell my name and I, as predicted, began to get emotional. So much so, I couldn’t speak to the race officials at the end of the shoot waiting for me to walk me to the marathoner’s finish area. The tears flowed and I smiled. “Thank you” were the only words I could repeat as they placed the medal around my neck, removed my timing chip for me and walked me to the food tents. The tears spoke louder than my words.

With climbing 3,239 feet and descending 3,382 feet, I finished my race in 4:44:23. But there is no way you can reduce the marathon to a statistic. It is more than a number to be celebrated, it is a journey. Lessons are learned that can only be taught by pain, agony and the rising above. It is a journey that each marathoner goes on, regardless if it’s a first time marathoner or one celebrating their 101st, and the journey is the same, it is one of self discovery. It humbles you. It transforms you. It makes you rise above delivering you stronger and better on the other side of each finish line.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Gift

The marathon is a gift. One that we relish and one that we sometimes wonder why we even accept in the first place. Either way you want to look at the gift, it is one that teaches you the most about yourself. Today was such a day.

Standing at the start the temperature was toying with us. Predicted to be in the high 70s, it felt cool enough at the start, but I knew better. The cloudless blue sky promised hot temperatures. There I stood in a sea of marathoners at 7:00 in the morning, lost in my own thoughts and in complete anticipation. My first marathon in a year and a half and my nerves were getting the best of me. Sharlene and Beth stood on the sideline waving and shouting their words of encouragement. I smiled and waved trying my best to conceal my pre-race jitters. I didn’t fool them and they yelled even more encouragement.

The horn blasted and the sea of people moved forward. We ran through the city’s center before passing the farmer’s market on our way up the first hill taking us away from the ocean’s front and into the back roads of the city. The rural landscape was truly beautiful and brought a fair amount of shade. A break from the rolling hills came around mile 4. I was in my own groove and loving the energy each hill gave me. Something about cresting a hill that gives you such a feeling of accomplishment.

Mile 4 was the last break I would see from the hills until the end of the race. With each hill came more determination. I was feeling good and I was feeling strong. If I could maintain this pace I knew I would reach a new PR. But that was mile 10. How quickly a race can turn.

Mile 12 the heat was starting to get to me. The shade was breaking apart bringing longer and longer stretches of shade-less road. The sun was beginning to take it’s toll. I took my tech tee off and tied it at my waist. This brought instant relief. I hit the halfway point and decided I just couldn’t make it up another hill. I had to walk. Disappointed, I quickly reminded myself of my goals. I could not – would not – loose the race this early in the game. Being down that self-beating up road before, I had no desire to revisit it. With another marathon just three weeks away, I needed to keep my head in the game. My goal is to finish. As hard as it was, I had to let go of the PR I felt I could achieve just a few miles earlier.

His name was Ted and he brought me a much needed distraction. I introduced myself and we headed up yet another hill. Asking Ted questions about him and his life kept me focused on something other than myself. Ted is a soldier running his 6th marathon. He too was surprised at the difficulty of the course. Ted stopped at the water stop and I didn’t see him again.

After letting go of my time, I began to enjoy the race a little bit more. Despite the rural roads of the full marathon, the course was incredibly well supported. The aid stations were heard before they were seen. Loved ones of other marathoners were seen several times along the course. I adopted more than one family along the route as they were cheering for someone running behind me.

Esther was a woman who I caught up with several times during my run/walk routine. She doesn’t run marathons much anymore and usually runs ultras. She had an equipment malfunction and after sending me on my way, I told her we’ll see each other at the finish line.

Mile 19 a woman turned to me and said “What were we thinking anyway?” I laughed and introduced myself. From that moment on Susan and I were inseparable. A mom of 4, Susan was running her first full marathon. I congratulated her for not only making her momentous decision, but doing so on such an incredibly hilly course.

The temps were quickly soaring and the shade was all but gone. We passed time talking about everything and nothing. It wasn’t long before I heard Esther’s voice call my name. The three of us, complete strangers just a few hours before, became instant best friends. Pain and agony does that to a person. It’s part of the gift. You connect with people who you would never have connected to before. Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, but here we are pulling each other through the same moment in time.

Mile 24 began a descent toward the finish line. Even the little hills felt big and we walked up them focusing our energy on the downhill. Esther was feeling good and kept going. I wanted to be done, I wanted to be finished. The heat was zapping the life right out of me. Mile 25½ Sharlene spotted me and cheered me on. Seeing her I felt the tears. I handed her my water bottle and told her I was done. She informed, as only best friends can, I was not done and I was going to keep going. Despite running the half marathon earlier, she ran right along side Susan and I lying to us about how good and strong we looked. Upon seeing the finisher’s shoot I took off faster than I had been running. Crossing the finish line the tears were flowing steadily down my face; the announcer said my name. I collapsed into my husband’s arms and cried.  I was finally done. 

The clock confirmed my worst marathon time ever of 4:52:37, but it clearly didn’t matter. It was the most challenging course I’d run and the biggest gift I could have given myself. Susan crossed the finish line shortly after me, smiling while crying uncontrollably. Hugging me her tears flowed freely as told me she couldn’t have done it without my encouragement. I told her I felt the exact same way.

The gift is not found in the finisher shirt or the medal hanging around your neck. The gift is found in learning about yourself. In 26.2 miles you dig deep within yourself to rise above the conditions and the negative self talk that comes with exhaustion.  Crossing the finish line, you find out you are pretty darn tough and can take whatever life can give. The gift is learning what you are made of.

In three weeks I will do it all over again and I wonder what the gift will bring that day.