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 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.


  1. Cheri,
    What a great race report and what an adventure you had today. Beautifully written! Your post reminds me that in every race there are so many individual stories, and on runs like this the power of support and the power of the head game can become clear in BIG ways. I know it meant so much to me to see my friends out there. I'm so happy for you that you slayed your dragon!

  2. Thank you Melissa. It meant alot to me too, knowing you guys were out there, running your own races and still cheering me on. Well done on slaying your dragon, princess.

  3. Beautifully written Cheri. I am glad I was able to help you in some kind of way.

  4. I love this race report! It amazes me that when we can't rely on our technology, our bodies seem to do what they need to do anyway. (and often times better) . When I go out for what I am expecting to be a painful run later, I am going to think about knocking that dragon off of my own back. :) Love you Sis! Great job!

  5. Pat, your timing couldn't have been more perfect. THANK YOU.

    Sis, I am still amazed at how well I ran without my Garmin. I think it may be worth doing more often...maybe ease into it and change the screens to only read mileage. Hmmm... :)

  6. Cheri,

    Awe dear Cheri, I cried when I saw Pat yesterday and I cried again after reading your beautifully written report. You are such a gifted athlete & writer. Always keep the positive thoughts going! Never never never give up :o)

    Cry baby & teary eyed, Arlane

  7. Arlane, thank you for your encouragement. You are such an inspiration!