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”.

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