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, January 22, 2011

The Sun Shines

The moon’s brilliance humbly bowed to the awakening dawn. The rising sun ushered in blue skies and chilly January temps. As I drove in to town, I lost myself in the beauty of the emerging sunrise over the Cascade Mountains. I parked the car near the trailhead and within minutes Kathy arrived.

We began our run. After a week of grey skies and winter rains, the sunshine beckoned and the trail came alive with runners, walkers and bikers; joy clearly seen on every face we passed by. Our steady pace seemed effortless. The trail delivered us to a park nestled at the ocean’s edge. The boardwalk freshly opened after months of repair, was bustling with people. From the corner of my eye I see a seal somersault in the ocean’s dark grey waters swimming well below the surface and out of sight.

Our talk is of current life happenings; we are lost in conversation and the miles quickly pass by. We begin to run a trail taking us into the forest. Approaching the abandoned trestle, I notice the homeless man who often sleeps there is nowhere to be seen. I pray that he has found a warm bed.

The creek waters dance as we run by. Moss thickly covers the trees lining the trail. I marvel how each season brings its own beauty to the woods and how easily I can overlook it. We turn around, head back into town retracing our route. Our mileage will vary today as Kathy prepares for her marathon next weekend. At the end of 8½ miles we part ways and I turn down the trail for my final 4 miles alone.

Sun filtered through leafless trees exposing the underbelly of the wetlands below the trail. Moss crept along a decrepit cement retaining wall trying its best to cover the spray paint left by some thoughtless ruffian. In the distance I hear the rumblings of a train. Within moments the train is speeding by on its way to deliver the coal filled freight cars. Screeching brakes cut through the silence as the engineer attempts to slow the massive power while traveling through downtown. The train leaves and with it all clues it had been there. Silence once again falls on the trail.

Making my way back to the car, I pause to gently stretch sore muscles. The sun feels good on my skin. Despite the briskness of winter, the sun is shining strong giving the promise that spring will soon be at hand. A man shuffles by me. I smile and say hello; he nods. I climb into my car and realize I have no idea where my sunglasses are. That’s ok, though the sun shines bright, you won’t hear me complain.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nookachamps Half Marathon

The Northwest sky, colored grey, held back the rain that often comes with our winters.  The January wind blew from the south bringing with it an extremely rare 53 degree day.  There I stood at the start, in a running skirt, and an incredible itch for spring.  My friends and I chatter nervously while waiting for the start of the race.  As with most small town races, someone yells "GO" and the race begins.  As there were no timing chips handed out, the only beeps heard at the start were the hundreds of Garmin start buttons being pressed.

We were off and running.  Kathy, Karen, Joy and I had decided to run a nice and steady sub-2 hour half marathon, placing us right around 9 minute miles.  My hope was to do good, strong 9 minute miles and then dropping it to 8:45 minute miles around the halfway mark.  As this was a training run for a marathon this spring, I wanted to increase my speed on tired legs.  Well, that was the plan anyway.

A quarter mile into the run, I look down at my Garmin to see what pace we were doing and to make sure we weren't going out too fast.  Much to my disappointment, my Garmin read big fat zeros; it gave no pace, no distance, no time.  The only data I could retrieve was what time of the day it was.

"Well Kathy, my watch isn't working, what do you say we go by how this race feels to dictate our pace?"  She looks at me in disbelief.  I offer her the only thing I can, a grin.  I turn to Karen and Joy to ask what pace their Garmins read, only to find them no where behind us.  Uh oh.  We've gone out too fast.

Without the instant data feed we are accustomed to, we run along at a conversational pace hoping for the best.  Shortly after the first mile we hit a downhill and our pace feels effortless.  I remark to Kathy that the voice behind us sounds alot like our very speedy running friend Arlane.  When we hear the voice greet us, we both know we've gone out too fast as we just found ourselves in front of Arlane.  A few seconds later she is out in front and on her way.

Kathy and I quickly fall into a rhythm.  The route becomes relatively flat as we weave our way through back country roads.  A hard working farmer is seen feeding his horses.  We watch as the horses prance about the field as if bragging of their beauty to us as we run by.  Their sheer size boasting of their incredible strength.

A row of poplar trees line the unseen Skagit River.  An eagle soars overhead following the river's path.  Isaiah 40:31 comes to mind,  "They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  The eagle glides effortlessly, giving us a bit of inspiration with its flight.

Trying to run without any form of information proves to be a bigger mental struggle than we'd anticipated.  A woman we'd been following and gaining on, I noticed was wearing a gps watch.  As we came along side of her I asked her what our average pace was.  She looked at her watch, then informed us we were at mile 5.5 with an average pace of 8:23.  "WHAT?!?!?" Kathy and I gasp in unison.  This pace threw our plan right out the window and we quickly realized we are now racing this race.

The road delivered us to a sleepy small town which seemed to step back into time.  Die hard farm pickups lined the parking spots around the local diner.  The towns people stopped to watch us run by, a friendly nod offering us encouragement.  Living history seeped from the wooden dilapidated buildings. 

We left the main road turning into a hillside neighborhood on the back side of town.  Quaint little homes, most in disrepair, emitted the slightest aroma of smoke from their fireplaces.  The hill climb makes me tired and I begin to feel the effort it has taken to maintain our pace.

Mile marker 8 is painted on the road bringing us to an out-and-back section of the course.  Knowing out-and-back portions are often difficult for me I try and focus on the other runners I am encountering.  I am tired, but do not dare say the words outloud.  I am feeding off of Kathy's energy and I suspect she is feeding off mine.  There is no room for this kind of honesty.  Not during a race.  I internalize my struggle.  

Nearing a corner, I recognize a car parked on the side of the road.  The realization slowly comes across me.  Our running friend Pat, put on doctor's orders of rest, drove to the race and came down to cheer us on.  He sees us as we see him.  We trade high fives and Pat runs with us for a few steps telling us we look good.  Kathy and I leave him continuing our journey.  Tears well up in my eyes as I am touched by Pat's encouragement.  As any runner knows, being put on forced rest is never easy.  Yet, there he was to cheer us on despite the fact he wanted to be running the race with us.

In the faces of the runners returning in the out-and-back portion we see Brad, Melissa and Arlane.  All keeping good paces and looking strong.  We call out to them and give them high fives.  Reaching the turn around point, we quickly see Karen and Joy not too far behind us.  More high fives.  I am struggling.  Kathy's son Kellan catches up to us and tells us we are running an 8:40 pace. We've slowed some, bringing me no surprise. 

We now come back to Pat who encourages us again.  Shortly after passing him, I hear loudly breaking through the negative I-can't-do-this chatter in my head Pat's voice yell, "Hey Princess, get that dragon off your back!!"  I smile a Texas size grin.  On a training run a few weeks back, I confided in Pat and Melissa my races are always lost by the negative self talk in my head.  Confiding their own race day demons, we discussed with much laughter this princess is not going to any mamby pamby land and to slay the dragon breathing down my neck.  Pat's words, at that moment, snapped me into reality.

I can do this.

Mile 10 through 12 were uphill.  Kathy began to pull away.  I fought the desire to walk.  I thought of my son who urged me to race today even though it would mean I would miss his basketball game.  This race had to be run.  For my son, I could not give up.  The hills just kept coming and I knew my times were slowing.  All alone, the struggle intensified.  The adorable look on my son's face kept me focused.  Hill after hill, I pressed forward.

Slay the dragon, princess.

Shortly after the 12th mile, a small downhill section gifted me some effortless running.  Soon the final turn was in view.  My gaze hardened as my focus sharpened.  I took the final turn bringing me the cruel surprise of an uphill finish.  Making my way through the college campus, the hill crested shortly before the track's finish line.  The final 3 miles of hills left me spent and I crossed the finish line amidst cheers from Brad, Melissa, Arlane, Kathy & Kellan.  The clock read 1:56:26.  I was exhausted.  And elated. 

We wait and cheer on loudly as Karen, Joy and Audra cross the finish line.  Audra's joy is clearly seen on her face as she has just ran a new personal best, bettering her time by a huge 5 minutes.  Brad tells us he too has hit a new best today and Kellan wins 2nd in his age group. Congratulations are given as we all celebrate their hard earned victories.

The race is over, the muscles now resting.  Today was one of the most difficult half marathons I'd run, and like most difficulties in life, it brought me much learning.  I learned when I am tired and my body screams at me to slow it down, I don't have to listen.  I learned it is possible to run without the benefits a Garmin delivers.  I learned what "my pace" feels like when I have no idea what time is attached to the pace.  I learned family, whether by blood or friendship, is a powerful inspiration.  And inspiration gets you out the door to run another day.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Ocean View

Our first run together in the new year and our excited chatter rose from the bed of the forest floor only to be caught in the canopy of spiney branches of leafless trees.  Winter's cold seeped through our gloves and nibbled at our fingertips.  The creek, swollen just a few weeks before, now meandered at a leisurely pace leaving an icy reminder of its presence on the creek bed rocks.

We pass under an abandoned tressel and I see him there again.  He is wrapped in a summer's sleeping bag to stay warm, which I'm sure is no match for a January 25* morning.  My heart goes out to him.  I say a prayer.

The trail takes us away from the creek and up to the forest hillside.  Conversation turns to fall marathons and who wants to do what race.  We plan and strategize and convince each other what we should do.  Watch beeps are heard reminding us we have clipped off another mile.

Despite the cold, the sun was shining brilliantly and people peppered the trail in various forms of leisure, some walking their dogs, others running and still others biking.  I wonder who is on the trail due to some new year's resolution.  We convince ourselves to run "The Dip" to reach our turn around point.  This decision gives us 2 uphills and 2 downhills within 1/2 mile.  We are sweating and working hard and loving every minute of it.

The halfway mark turns us around and we head back to town.  We pass fallen rocks which have tumbled from high above the hill's sheer rockface.  The rocks, some large and some small, remind me that nature has a fury.

Red and orange leaves of fall have turn to a decaying, dirty brown and are now well trampled onto the forest floor giving a softness to the trail.  There is a break in the trees giving us a view of the ocean, promptly pulling our very breath from us.  The beauty of it enraptures us and our pace slows.  A Bayliner moves across the glass like sea leaving evidence of its movement wafting behind it like a lazy string blowing in a summer's breeze.  We continue on, feeling very blessed to live in such a beautiful country.

A quiet waterfall has cut its way in the hillside and we are only aware of its presence as we run by it.  Icicles mark an outline of the waterfall and add a melody to the sound of its rushing water.  A bird chirps; reminding me spring will come soon enough.  The beauty of this winter's day is not lost on a spring's longing.  I am loving every moment of this run.

What seems to be in a blink of an eye, the run is finished and each head off into the direction of home.  Except me.  I think I'll take the long route and drive by the ocean...