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.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Eugene Marathon

We meet in the lobby of the motel, chatting nervously and anxious to make our way to the start a mere 2 blocks away.  It's early and the desk clerk clearly does not understand our excitement.  Within minutes we are making our way out the door at a very slow jog to warm up for the race.

People are milling around everywhere.  Some doing strides, others walking and the corrals even have a few people lined up waiting.  We jog up a backstreet away from the crowds to get some dynamic stretching in.  My friend Jeff sees his coach, and introduces us to The Joe Henderson, who quizzes me on my pace, time goals and such and then gives me some encouragement.  Jeff and I find the rest of the group on one of the many practice tracks at the University of Oregon.  The campus is gorgeous and we quickly fall in love with it.  We even had our own "private" porta potty to take care of pre-race necessities.

With 12 minutes to go before the race start, we slowly jog our way back down to the starting area.  We break off into our pace groups and wait for the start.  Jeff, a Eugene native, has graciously offered to run with Kathy, Karen and I to pace us on the course and guide our every step.  Waiting for the announcer to start us, we talk nervously among ourselves soaking in our surroundings.  It wasn't long before Jeff and I hear someone call out, "Hey Maniac!".  As Jeff and I are Marathon Maniacs we both look and meet a fellow Maniac named Dave.  This is Dave's 29th state he's running in.  Races are the best places to meet people.  You find an instant comraderie knowing you are embarking on 26.2 miles together.

The crispness in the air was welcome and the cloudless blue skies we knew would deliver a sunny race.  One can not ask for a more perfect recipe in racing.  The announcer introduces us to a brave 9 year old girl who would sing the national anthem.  In something I had never heard before, her precious voice brought an utter reverent quiet on the crowd of 8,000.  No one spoke a word.  A quiet moment that made you proud to be an American.

The announcer counted down and we were off and running.  We stayed in a tight group weaving our way around the crowd.  Jeff gave us excellent instruction informing us of left hand or right hand turns.  We had our own personal pacer and tour guide, filling us in on local stories others would not ever know and reminding us to speed up or slow down depending on our pace.  The miles began to click by and we were having fun.

Around mile 4, she asked if she could run with us.  Rachel grew up in Seattle and was making Eugene her first marathon.  Her happy disposition fit in quickly with the group, and she easily fell in pace with us.

Approaching mile 6 our friend Joy and her Dad Steve were waiting for us.  At the first sight of them, we peeled off gloves and coats and threw them in their direction.  We had our own pacer and our own concierge service, we couldn't have asked for a better race.

Mile 8 gave us the biggest hill we'd have to face and we were all grateful it was so early into the race.  The backside produced a great downhill where we enjoyed some faster paced minutes making up for the time lost working our way up the hill.

Streets were lined with supporters and we received encouragement from all.  A man held up a sign stating "I am so proud of you complete stranger", a woman and her children held a banner simply telling us to "SHINE" and took the time to color in the wide-written letters with sparkly paint.  Everywhere we turned, we felt the genuine and honest support of the town's people.

Mile 9 took us right by our motel and I knew my husband and children would be on the corner waiting for me.  The sidewalks are swollen with well-wishers and I strain to find them.  I spot my oldest and then my youngest.  Shedding my arm warmers I toss them to boys and Jeff points me in the direction of my husband.  He has climbed onto a ledge in the middle of the street taking pictures of us as we run by.  We smile and wave big for the camera.

Between mile 10 and 11 the half marathoners turned back toward town and the full marathoners headed to Springfield.  We waved goodbye to Karen and she went on to run a negative split race.  Kathy, Jeff, Rachel and I made our way down paths and city streets.  Mentally I broke the race down into 3 separate sections and we were now running the second section.  Our pace was good and strong.

As we were now running more city streets, police officers worked intersections holding and directing traffic.  There dedication was great, as two days previously they laid one of their own to rest; an officer killed in the line of duty, the first in decades. I thanked as many as I could.  Mile 15 Kathy gave me a high five and told me she had made her goal for the day and was going to slow it down.  Coming back from an injury just a few weeks previous, she was racing an incredibly strong marathon.

Mile 16 brings us to a footbridge where my husband and boys quickly spot us.  They let out cheers and high fives and my husband snaps more pictures.  Their smiling faces help me push forward.  I'm starting to tire and I refuse to give in to it.

We are now on the bike path winding its way around the lazily running Willamete River.  Our vision beholds God's beautiful nature and captivates my attention.  My struggle is intensifying and I pepper myself with positive reinforcement - I can, I can, I can.

One would think a path near the river's edge would be sparse of people cheering on runners, but it wasn't.  The town loves running and it showed on the faces of all ages.  My heart still smiles when I think of the dozen or so chairs lining the path, filled with the smiles of the elderly.  Armed with their noise makers they gave us encouragement in such a way that made one think they were saying, "Run for me and these tired old legs of mine".

Just short of mile 19 Jeff's wife Tonya was manning an aid station and had a personal stash of goodies for us.  I swapped out my empty water bottle for a full one and was on my way again within seconds.  Shortly after we crossed the last footbridge over the river taking us to the final stretch; my watch chirped 21 miles.  And I was still running.  This was the farthest I'd ever run in a race without stopping.  Me elation was masked by the exhaustion in my legs.

Mile 22 came and no matter how much I tried to hold on for 4.2 miles I just couldn't do it and had to succumb to the using the bathroom.  Never in a race have I had to use the bathroom.  There was no waiting and I found a handful of empty port-a-poties shortly after.  In stopping the running, my legs began to cramp up.  

For the final miles it was a battle of wills between my cramping legs and my dictating mind.  Jeff gave me encouragement and would walk when I needed to and then got me back on pace as the running resumed.  Even though my only goal was not to walk at all in this marathon, I discovered I was not upset with myself at all.  I had run the furthest I'd ever run in a race and found tremendous satisfaction in that.  The cycle of mentally beating myself up for not meeting my goals had stopped and in that I found great victory.

My mind wandered to Steve Prefontaine's memorial we had visited the day before.  He had accomplished so much before his life tragically ended.  I envisioned him running on the trails and city streets I was now running.  There was no giving up.  I had to push myself mentally. 

The running stretches grew longer and we grew closer and closer to the finish line.  We passed the 25 mile marker and I am surprised we've come that far already.  I look at my watch and I know a Personal Record is within my reach.  This is almost over and I am thrilled my race day demons are dead.

Leaving the bike path, we work our way onto the city street and Jeff points out our motel. We are a few blocks from the finishline.  The closer we get to Hayward Field the thicker the people lining the streets.  People are yelling and encouraging and pushing us forward.  The famous entrance gates to the historic field are now in my sights.  We enter into the stadium and I am now running where some of this country's greatest runners train and race. 

I soak in the living history that surrounds me.

My family and friends are some of the many voices in the stands screaming my name.  It's all a blur and I can't hear anything.  The stadium rocks with excitement and the noise is deafening.  My strongest race to date and I am finishing it on the track at Hayward Field. 

Captured on the Jumbo-tron is
Joe Henderson giving me a hug
I cross the finish line in 4:12:39 with Jeff at my side and give him the biggest hug.  As we pull apart, I hear a voice say, "Good job Cheri" and then receive a hug from legendary Joe Henderson himself.  Words can not describe how immeasurably immersed I was in history at that moment in time.  The echoing footsteps of legends collided with my own, and I became overwhelmed.

At dinner that night the laughter gave evidence of the great races had by all.  The hallowed streets of Eugene had given Melissa a PR qualifying her to run New York; Brad and Audra both bested their times and Pat came within 20 seconds of a new PR.  We laugh, and eat and drink while re-living each moment of the day.

There is something special about this town, and looking around the table I couldn't think of a better group of people to spend it with.  We raise our glasses in cheer and I clink my glass with my friends; my running friends who've seen my worst and helped me deliver my best.  That is why we run...together.


  1. Beautiful Cheri! I am so proud of you. You are amazing!

  2. Thank you Carol! If you ever get the chance to do a West Coast marathon, this one should be it - truly is spectacular!