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, March 27, 2011

Birch Bay International Road Race 30k

The morning air is crisp, the smell of salt water lingers in the air. People are milling about; some sprinting, some stretching and others talking. Laughter wafts above the conversation. My friends and I are cold, but we know once the run begins the shivering will stop. The weather was a runner’s perfection.

The race official yells orders into the handheld bull horn and seems to be unsuccessful at reeling in the nervous energy each runner has pent up inside. He blasts the air horn. He has our attention. He lines us up according to pace regardless of the distance being run. The Birch Bay International Road Race offers three distances – the 5k, 15k and the 30k. I’m running the 30k. I question the sanity of running 18+ miles after last week’s 22 mile run. I fear I will be too tired adding already to my pre-race jitters.

Melissa, Arlane and Jennifer head to their spots in the front of the pack. Karen and I take the middle. Someone must’ve yelled “Go” as we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a throng moving forward. As I cross the starting line, I press the start button on my watch. Instant data, I love it.

The beginning of the race starts on a downhill giving us instant energy and adding to the impossibility of not going out too fast. At the bottom of the hill we turn left and find ourselves running flat miles as we follow the ocean side. The sun is shining and the ocean looks spectacular.

We are keeping a pretty good pace as we find ourselves on the first uphill portion of the race. We are leaving the beach and climbing our way up to the top of the bluff. The road climbs, then levels out some before it starts the climb again; bringing some relief to labored breathing.

The trees are thicker here offering shade from the sun as well as privacy for the gated properties we pass. I point to the home once owned by Tom Selleck. Karen and I see Melissa on the other side of the road as she’s already reached the 15k turn around and heading back toward the finish line. She looked good and strong and we could tell she was keeping a great pace. Not far behind her was Jen, who also looked to be having a good race.

At the turn around point Karen and I part ways as she goes on to finish her 15k and I head out further along the 30k course. Not many runners have chosen to do this distance and the course becomes sparse and lonely. I see a few runners ahead of me and I keep my sights on them. They, unknowingly, will be my pacers.

The road rolls with hills testing my strength. I feel good. I feel strong. At the top of the bluff I come to a clearing high above the Pacific Ocean. The vista given me is one of endless ocean partially lined by the snow capped mountains of Canada. Its beauty captivates me. I see the ocean side town of White Rock in British Columbia and imagine the people running along the same ocean, albeit a different country.

Old money mingles with new money producing its evidence in the massiveness of the homes I run by. One home’s front door I am certain costs more than my entire house. Their perfectly manicured lawns remind me summer will be here soon. I love summer.

The course turns us away from the ocean and we are now heading into the exclusive gated community lining the golf course. The quietness of the neighborhood is refreshing. I find it easy to get lost in thought. We turn onto a bike path that meanders lazily near the edge of a wood. Bright pink catches my eye. I notice one solitary, tiny, bright pink flower on a completely dead bush; a symbol to me of hope and courage. It looks to be a physical manifestation of the saying, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Believe it and you can achieve it”. Hope and courage.

We are on a gradual downhill. I enjoy it as I know once I hit the turn around it will be uphill. Enjoy the moment, don’t think about the next. I press on. My mind is occupied looking for Arlane as she too was running the 30k and ahead of me. A short time later I see her and we shout encouragement to each other as we pass directions.

Soon I hit the turn around point and head back to the finish line. My watch chirps 11 miles. I begin the ascent back up to the bluff. To help get myself through the hill climb, I keep myself busy by people watching the runners who had not yet hit the turn around. I realize there are a lot of people behind me and I wonder if this means I am having a good race. My pace is better than I thought it would be. Hmmm, maybe I do have it in me today.

Focusing on the runners ahead of me I work on closing the gap. Sure and steady. The closest runner ahead of me is about a quarter mile away. Keeping him as the center of my attention helps get me through the hills. Before I realize it I am back at the spot where Karen and I had parted ways. Knowing they had finished some time ago and had headed home, I wonder how she, Melissa and Jen did.

I am closing in on Mr. Runner Man. I am tired. My legs hate me, I keep going. We are approaching the second to last hill of the course. I determine I will pass him on the down hill. Focus. A volunteer hands me a swig of water at the top of the hill. Walking to drink it down without spilling it all over me, I finish and toss the cup on a pile of other cups. God bless these volunteers. Mr. Runner Man is close. Shortly after the downhill I pass him. He has now been “chicked” and something inside myself tells me I just lit a waning fire for him. My watch chirps telling me I’ve reached the 18th mile.

The final turn is close and I am trying to figure out where it’s at. I am more than ready for this race to be over. The head wind isn’t helping either. At last I see it and with it comes the bittersweet knowledge of knowing the race is almost over but only after one cruel and final steep uphill.

Halfway up the hill, inside my head I hear the voice of my coach telling me to walk the uphill. “Running up a steep hill brings no benefit. Walk it fast and you will have more energy at the top than those who ran it”. I walk the steepest part. Mr. Runner Man thinks this is his lucky break. He is wrong. At the top of the hill, still in the lead, I have the energy to bolt. I do, he doesn't.  He is gasping finding it difficult to continue.

The finish line approaches and I see it closing in. Do I sprint or keep my pace? I determine there is no need to sprint, my legs are more than exhausted after last week’s 22 mile run. Mr. Runner Man, sounding like a freight train, barrels past me in the last few yards. I smile. I knew I had lit a fire in him.

Arlane is waiting for me at the finish and we congratulate each other on a great run. My finishing time came in at 2:53:52; good enough for a 4th place finish in my age group. My effort was good and strong and I walk away from this race with a new lesson about myself. Just like the tiny pink flower budding amidst dead branches, I can. When that nagging voice of doubt starts talking, the only voice I have to listen to is the one that says “I can”.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful

The weatherman said sun and I wanted to believe him.  The raindrops falling on my skylight told me different.  Never wanting to give up hope and knowing that it was still a good hour away before meeting Melissa, I put on my running skort.  Being so anxious for spring and some sunshine, I decided even if it was going to rain I would wear the skort.  Me?  Stubborn?

7:00 a.m. Melissa and I meet at the ocean and start our run.  The clouds had parted and we were running in the sunshine.  The crisp, beautiful spring sunshine. 

The route we took led us into an older part of town where century homes lined the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Cherry blossoms were popping their bright white and pinks against the weathered grey of the branches.  Tulips were seen and daffodils burst from the passing winter's ground.  This was good.

Staying healthy and injury free has been my focus over the last couple of weeks.  My shin had brought me a couple opportunities to meet some of the great doctors we have in the area.   They had done their jobs well and through their advice and my diligence my shin had been behaving itself.  Until today.  I was being made very well aware of it and it was giving me concern.  Would it be like this for the entire run today?  This was bad.

We weaved our way through well established neighborhoods which led us to a trail that would take us back to our starting point.  My shin behaved itself and the run was passing quickly.  Right on cue, we were back to the start picking up Karen who would run the second half with me.  Following the road into downtown, Melissa stayed with us for a couple miles before turning around and heading back to her car.

This part of the course would be the most challenging for me as it would bring plenty of uphill on tired legs.  The goal was to run the entire 22 miles; no walking.  Taking the trail from downtown we headed back down toward the water to run the park.  The trail was alive with walkers and runners soaking up the beauty of the morning. 

The islands stood tall on the horizon.  Sailboats wafted on the gentle rocking of the ocean.  Running the boardwalk we were taken in by how incredibly blessed we are to live in such a beatiful part of the country.  We head up the dock away from the water and make our way through town. 

At the edge of the trail I confided in Karen that this would be the most difficult part for me as it was all uphill until we hit the bench.  She took the lead and kept me occupied.  We talked about everything, laughed about nothing and quickly discovered I can not do math when I am tired.

Finally we reach the bench and turn around to the best part of this trail - a gradual downhill until the ocean's edge.  Leaving the water and heading up the trail, we are now on the final uphill.  I remind myself this is it, the final one, the final one, the final one.  Our pace slows a bit until we reach the top of the hill.  I tell her I am tired.  She tells me I should be and we keep running. 

We are on the last two miles of the run.  Mercifully, the remaining miles are all down hill or flat.  This is a great mental boost and our pace quickens.  In the final mile I check my Garmin constantly thinking that time will magically speed up with each look so I can be finished.  Then it came.  The final chirp.  We stopped our watches and giving each other a high five I holler, "22 miles DONE!".  And that is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Wind, Rain and a Little Run

I park the car near the ocean and look at how hard the rain is hitting the windshield.  I'm going to get wet.  Looking forward to this run all week, I pushed aside the disappointment of having to run in the wind and rain.  Again.

The fuel belt is ready to go and I strap it on, hit the start button on my Garmin and I'm off and running.  The plan is to do the first 8 at marathon pace; the last 8 at the pace my friend Joy's nagging injury will allow.

Running solo through the city is new to me and I am slightly apprehensive.  Making a point to be aware of my surroundings I relax a little and enjoy the sights and sounds.  A breeze rattles the wind chimes of the boats sleeping in the marina.  The water is a murky grey-green almost blending seamlessly into the horizon of the rain filled grey sky.  The rain is doing it's best to conceal the mountainous islands.  

As I leave the harbor, I run the road taking me up and into downtown.  The intersection I am approaching I see a man walking towards me.  His hand holds a large black garbage bag, surely containing all his earthly possessions.  The men's shelter is a block and half away and I am certain he has just come from there.  He walks to the corner and presses the pedestrian button.  He waits patiently for the "Walk" sign to light up.  I smile at his civilian thoughtfulness.  Most would have gone through the intersection as the deserted roads brought little concern for crosswalk safety.  I look him straight in the eyes and give him a cheery, "Good morning!"  I wonder when the last time a stranger looked him in the eye.

Southeast winds continue to pick up speed, seemingly to hit me at all directions.  Running into the wind at marathon pace tires me and I hope the trees lining the upcoming trail will provide some relief.

The corner coffee shop is quiet.  The roads are empty sans the occasional driver.  Rounding the corner onto the South Bay Trail I see my first runner.  They must be in training I muse, no one would be out here in the winds and rain if the training didn't dictate it.

Once on the trail I hear the faraway rumblings of an approaching freight train.  The horn sounds shattering through early morning quiet.  Engine 9130 barrels down the track on it's way to deliver the coal-filled cars to wherever they need to go.  The trail is above the train and looking down on the train, I notice the blackness of the coal looks striking against the ocean's edge.

The waterfront park is empty except for the rain-slicker wearing city worker emptying the trash bins.  An occasional coffee drinker is seen going into the coffee shop to get their first morning's cup of coffee.  The rain has drenched every square inch of my clothing and I fight the urge to veer off the path into the warm building to get a hot cup of anything.

As I run a mere 3 feet from the ocean's edge, I pause my thought and look up.  I imagine what 33 feet above my head looks like.  My heart again breaks for the people of Japan.  Yesterday the ocean I am running along had a tsunami advisary, we saw a mere 1/2 foot swell in tide.  The power the tsunami held scares me as I realize we saw the affects here thousands of miles away.  Nature has a fury.

My watch beeps my mileage and I must turn around and make my way back.  The wind and rain are a relentless duo.  I leap over lakes puddles,  and do my best to stay out of the way of the urban rivers flowing madly toward storm drains.  Closing in on where I am to meet Joy I check my watch and realize I've made good time and I'm early.  I run loops through the park,cursing the strength of the wind as it tries to push me back.

Joy pulls in, jumps out of the coveted dryness of her car and we are off running together.  The miles fly by quickly as we make our way back down the trail.  The conversation flows easily.  Despite her injury, we are keeping a good pace.  Mile 14 and I am starting to tire.  Joy reminds me the next 2 miles are relatively downhill or flat and then we will be finished.  She is right.  We press on.

The rain has let up some as we near the 16 mile mark.  We walk the remaining distance back to our cars.  The miles completed, the run over and the weather had done it's best to drag us down, but we prevailed.  We dug deep and got it done.

Hot coffee never tasted so good.