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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sky, Stars and Motivation

At times we all need a little motivation, and I for one, have been lacking in it lately.  It is times like this that I am reminded that I am the one who holds me back.  I set my own limits, hit my own ceilings.

Yet I reflect on this great big world and I realize something.  In daylight I look up and see the sky above me, nothing more.  If I wait until darkness falls, I look up and I see endless stars that go on forever. It's the same space above me but my persepctive changed.

I need to stop seeing the sky and start living in the endless possibilities of reaching for the stars above.

The following reminders will help me: 

"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by SMALL men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it.
Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion.
Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare.
Impossible is potential.
Impossible is temporary.
Impossible is nothing."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon

Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon isn’t just a race. I look around at the masses of people around me and it becomes clear it is a celebration. For me, it is personal. The race has become an annual weekend about friendships.

The corral I am in is alive with activity. This year is the first time I will run this race with friends at my side. Kathy, Karen, Joy and I are talking amongst ourselves and watching the others around us. I see many fellow Marathon Maniacs milling about in their corrals. Through social online networking I have gotten to know, and now meet, several of them. A variety of people, from all over the world, who have come together over their love of running 26.2 miles. Many make their way to this race in Seattle, the home of the Marathon Maniacs. Great friendships have been born in this group.

One by one, the corrals are given their start and shortly our corral finds its way to the front. We wish each other great races, and remind ourselves of our tried and true mantra, “Slay the dragon”. The horn blows and we are off and running. Kathy immediately pulls back as she is running the full marathon and does not want to keep the same pace as Karen, Joy and myself who are running the half.

Within minutes, my friends and I fall into a familiar rhythm. We don’t say much, we are simply running. My mind wanders to my friend Beth; I wonder where she is on the course as she had an earlier corral start than we did. I wonder if my friend Sharlene, who was in a later corral, has begun. Both Beth and Sharlene have gone into this race with training not where they had hoped. Life gets busy and training can suffer but they refused to miss this race. The weekend wasn’t about racing, it was about friendships.

Each mile had a hill climb, tiring us as we stayed on pace. Karen had been battling injury and like the mothers we are, Joy and I would ask Karen regularly how she was doing. Her answer was always, “Good!”. I suspected she was hurting, but her toughness is one of the qualities I admire about her. I’ve seen this woman run a 20 mile training run in summer’s hottest heat, while the rest of us melted into the course. She said she was good, Joy and I respected that.

Mile 5 brought us to the edge of Lake Washington and brought much relief with some flat ground. Our pace picked up some. Karen began to pull back. She yelled the word “Go”. To those around us they heard a simple two letter word, but Joy and I heard much more than that. Karen said ‘go’ and wrapped up in those two letters were the words “You guys are doing great, keep going. I am fine, I promise. I’ve got this one on my own, I don’t want to hold you back, now go”. This wasn’t a race about running, it was about friendships.

Joy and I kept strong and steady. Cruising into mile 8 we ran by signs telling us to “Run to Remember” followed by the signs giving us the names and faces of fallen soldiers. Joy and I spoke no words. After the signs were many people, standing with a military precision distance apart, holding flags. Telling Joy we needed to thank them, we moved to their side of the street. I made eye contact with as many as I could and told them ‘Thank you’. Tears filled my eyes, yet I managed to hold it together, that is until I saw the soldier who looked to be mid 30s, smiling big and offering encouragement to the runners running by. He stood tall, holding the flag with his right hand, while leaning on his cane with his left. My tears fell. I asked Joy how I was to cry and run at the same time. She wanted to know the same thing.

Leaving the water brought us to a short and steep hill into a freeway tunnel. Here is when the heat started to get to me. The tunnel was part of a long uphill section bringing us up and around into downtown Seattle. Joy was feeling strong, I was hot. I told her “Go”, she hesitated a bit and I waved her on. Her pace was strong and I did not want to hold her back. With the pace we’d managed through the first 9 miles, she was well on her way to a personal best and I wanted to see her get it more than I wanted a running partner. This wasn’t a race about running, it was about friendships.

My legs were tiring. The portion of training our coach has us in is designed teach us how to run on tired legs. Our exercises and drills tire our leg muscles, and it works wonderfully. We are able to reap the benefits of longer distances by running lower mileage while on tired legs. What the program isn’t designed for is racing right in the middle of this particular portion. And here I was racing a race on tired legs. My pace slowed and I fought myself to stay on pace. I was tremendously tired and could feel the dragon leeching itself onto my back.

Mile 11 had some downhill and it brought little relief. I was stuck in my own head pushing myself forward. Out of nowhere I heard my name; snapping me back into the moment and out of the dragon territory I had allowed myself to go. My friend Dane had spotted me out of 30,000 runners that day and shouted words of encouragement. Dane is a fellow Marathon Maniac and because we live thousands of miles apart, I thought I’d never see the day we’d be at the same race. He was there to help pace his girlfriend Shannon who was running the full. I look up to see Dane standing on the side of the road, clapping and cheering me on. It is what I needed. Dane’s words helped pull me out of the dark place I’d let my mind go. He didn’t know what I was battling, he simply saw a friend and shared encouragement. This wasn’t a race about running, it was about friendships.

The uphill into downtown lay ahead and I pushed myself forward; fighting the urge to slow my pace. I see a runner being helped to the ground by police. As much as it is a visual reminder that I am not as bad as that poor gentleman, it also brings a little fear into how warm I’d been feeling. I glance at my watch. One more mile. One more mile. One more mile.

The dragon falls off my back. I pick up my pace. Weaving my way through the city streets, I turn into the finisher’s shoot. I see the finish line up ahead. My pace quickens even more as it also does for those around me. My foot crosses the finish line giving me my second fastest half marathon. A medal is handed to me as is a bottle of water. I stop at the finish line knowing that Karen can’t be too far behind me. Very shortly I see her crossing the finish line, her race finally over. She spots me and the look on her face tells me everything, her struggles are shown on her face. I look at her and say, “You did it!”. The battle she fought from mile 7 on spoke of her strength and ability to push through pain. She finished in a great time even though her body fought her. As she recounted the battles she’d fought, I listen. Her strength amazed me and she taught me much about determination. This wasn’t a race about running, it was about friendships.

It didn’t take long for us to find Joy and then Beth. Joy had ran a 5 minute PR to which we all shared in her triumph. Beth felt good that her race had been strong despite the lack of training she’d been able to get in. We made our way to the city street and waited for Sharlene to cross the finish line. We saw her coming down the finisher’s chute, exhaustion clearly etched onto her face. Despite training being nowhere near what it needed to be, she ran hard and finished one of the most difficult races she’d run. Together we waited for Kathy to finish her full marathon. We watched the clock and counted down the minutes. Straining to see as far down the chute as we could, we finally spot her. She was running strong. Realizing how close she was to a personal best, we screamed and hollered our encouragement and watched her cross her finish line.

Meeting up for a celebratory dinner in downtown Seattle, we all met to walk to the restaurant together. Kathy and Karen, with silly grins on their faces, were the last to arrive. Kathy walked right up to me and said, “Today, I qualified for Boston.” I grab her and hug her and squeal in delight. Tears brim my eyes. I glance at Karen and notice her tears too. Sharlene, Beth, Karen and I surround Kathy all talking at once with everything and nothing to say. We are happy, we are elated and we are proud. After all, this wasn’t a race about running, it was about friendships.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mud, Fun & Life

Saturday, June 18th held the promise of fun and dirt.  My friend Joy had signed up with her husband Adam to do the Survivor Mud Run in Carnation, WA.  Due to an injury Adam had to back out leaving her with a spare entry and an invitation to me.  Jumping at the chance to play, I accepted the invitation challenge.

Leaving town at 5:30 a.m. and making the 2 hour drive to the race, I found myself in the car with some of the best people I know.  Joy, Kathy, Karen and I spent the time sharing life and lots of laughs.  It wasn't until the drive back after the race did I realize how much the day's Mud Run correlated to real life. 

Life as well as the Mud Run share some great life lessons.  Here are just a few of the things I learned today.

1.  Surround yourself with those who encourage you.
Kathy and Karen were not participating in the race, but wanted to come along anyway; each sacrificing their Saturdays to watch us in the obstacle course.  These weren't sun shining times, it was a wet and drizzly Northwest morning, yet they were there.  It wasn't a course where they could sit and watch us run by, they plotted and planned which routes to take to ensure they could capture some of our moments on film and shout encouragement along the way.   Being there for us came at a cost, and they chose to be there.  Life is meant to have friends like that.

2.  Count your blessings when you find those who want to go through challenges by your side.
Not many people think running is fun, throw in running while walking on planks, wading through rivers, climbing walls and crawling through mud and the amount gets even smaller.  When you do find those who enjoy the things you do, keep them close and share the journey with them.

3.  Be aware changes are coming.
Life doesn't always give you warnings.  When it does, prepare yourself.  Sometimes you have no idea what is coming, you just know things are going to change.  Accept this and you'll be more prepared.

4.  Teamwork is essential; make yourself part of the team and work together.
One of the obstacles we faced was a long section of bungee cords strung from tree to tree.  There was no running, there was only careful navigation.  Surrounded by others, we quickly learned we could get through the obstacle faster if we worked together.  We talked, telling each other what we were doing; we encouraged others with steps to take; we guided one another the best we could.  And we did it together. 

5.   Life is always better with someone at your side.
Words do not have to be spoken; just knowing someone is there helps you move in a forward direction.  Despite being tired, having Joy at my side kept the running pace strong and we fed off of each other's energy.  Did it change the fact we were tired?  No, but we pushed each other in a way that only someone who knows how you feel can do.

6.  Accept the challenge, despite the fear.
One of the obstacles we faced twice that day was the rope wall.  Climbing up the wall isn't what scares me - it's being at the top and having to get to the other side that does.  I knew Joy was at my side and I knew if I couldn't move, she'd be there to help me.  Swinging my leg over the wall, I was committed.  I would do this.

7.  Celebrate the successes.
Complete joy is how I felt when I realized that I did it.  I had faced my fear and did it; my own strength holding my weight and getting me to the other side.  In that I celebrated.  I threw my hands in the air in jubilation all while hearing Joy, Kathy and Karen give me their screams of encouragement.  They knew my fears, they saw my hard work and they were there to celebrate with me.

8.  There are dark and scary places we must all go, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
It was dark in there, it was full of muck, it was full of mire and the only way to the other side was to go through it.  With trepidation not knowing what was in there, we went in anyway.  We had to, so we did.  We came out dirtier on the other side, but we did come out.

9.  Don't be afraid to get in the mud.
We found ourselves in a log jam crawling under and over fallen logs.  Deep into the muddy waters we knew the only way to get out of it was to do what needed to be done.  Our feet would get stuck and the water was murky and the encouragement never stopped.  The strangers around us even offered helpful words.  In life sometimes the help we get is from those who don't know what life has been for you, but just happen to be near enough to help.

10.  Be flexible.
Being willing to bend where needed will help the challenge become manageable.  When you let go of your idea of easy and accept what needs to be done there is forward progress.  I am still in the mud, there is still a log in my way, but I have now moved forward because I was willing to bend.

11.  Fill your life with laughter.
When the exhaustion sets in and you are tired from the journey sometimes the best thing to do is laugh.

12.  Face your fears.
Climbing the cargo wall terrified me.  Unlike the wooden wall, I could see beneath me.  Each wobbly step onto the rope ladder allowed me to see how high I was going....and just how far I could fall.  Standing at the top of the wall the only option I had was to get down.  Fear would not paralyze me despite my head telling me to stop.  Fear is real and it is my job to harness that fear.  Fear moved me over the cargo net and conquering that fear brought on the biggest sense of joy I'd had.  Without the fear, I never would have felt that joy.

13.  Life, even with it's trials, is great.
When the trials are over, look around, the people you invest your time, energy and love into are standing right next to you.  They know what it took for you to get there and they celebrate and laugh with you, despite your imperfections and all the mud you wear. 


Friday, June 3, 2011

Pat's Story

The air was cool; the weather was warm.  A juxtaposition lending to a perfect race day morning.  The coolness of the October morning would hold due to the overcast skies above.  Pat glances up at the sky and smiles; he'd been training 6 months for this day and the weather seems to promise perfection for a runner.

Standing in a crowd of 8,000 people, Pat took in his surroundings.  Each runner nervously waiting for the gun to go off and trying to calm the jitters inside.  Pat was no different, but he knew the pre-race anxiety would help deliver a strong race.

The gun went off, the crowd surged forward and in that instant the testing of all his hard training had begun.  It was do-or-die time.  Crowds lined the streets of Portland, Oregon cheering them on as they began their 26.2 mile journey.  Japanese Taiko Drummers played in perfect unison letting their powerful beats echo off the downtown buildings.  Pat could feel the drums as he ran by.

Pat's goal was to take the first mile easy and not go out too fast; a mistake often made in the marathon leaving the runner too tired in the final miles.  The last miles were tough enough and there was no reason to add to it.  Mile marker 1 approaches and looking at his watch Pat wonders if he took the first mile too slow.  As planned, he picks up the pace.

The miles came and went and Pat felt strong.  Each water stop he was careful to walk a few seconds and drink what was needed.  Leaving the only out and back section of the race - a industrial park made interesting only by seeing the faces of other runners going in the opposite direction - he made his way toward the Saint John Bridge.  The climb to the top of the bridge would be the biggest hill he would encounter.  He was ready and knew with his quickened pace, he'd gathered a two minute cushion.

Countless hours were spent in hill training, hundreds of miles were run through the hill-side trails of the town in which he lived.  Hills are tough, a hill at mile 18 is cruel; it provides a visual interpretation of the battle beginning inside.  The key is to not let it infiltrate your determination.  With tired legs and breathless lungs, Pat crested that hill.  The view from the bridge over the Willamette River was beautiful and allowed him to take his mind off the hurt that follows cresting a hill.

Pat found himself running through residential streets peppered with homeowners cheering  for each runner.  He drew on their enthusiasm.  Running over some rolling hills tired him.  He was well into Dragon Territory; the land that exists between miles 20 to 26.  A marathoner enters these miles with a dose of intrepidation and incredible amounts of respect.  Race-day demons and dragons lurk in these miles, stalking the runner while looking for signs of weakness.  The legs of the runner are moving, but it is only the sheer determination propelling them.  The mind must stay strong to keep the demons and dragons away.

Mile 24 they attacked.  Pat fought hard at keeping the exhaustion from winning. The mantras he had scrawled on his hand went unread as the energy needed to turn his palm upward to see them seemed too great. He relied solely on the utterings of his heart echoing in his mind, "Finish, finish, finish." 

The dragon leeches onto his back and whispers, "You can walk now, it's ok.  You'll just be happy you finished."  The chatter in his head becomes louder, every ounce of him wanting to stop.  He fights the demons.  His legs feel like concrete.  He fights the dragon.  His body begs him to quit.  His determination the only thread holding onto his race day dream.  The thread is worn and dangerously close to breaking.  Pat chooses to listen only to the rhythmic voice repeating, "Finish, finish, finish."

Closing in on the final stretch, the crowds thicken and their cheers are louder.  His friends are near the finish line screaming his name.  He hears no voices but one, the solitary voice carrying him home with "Finish, finish, finish".  He crosses the finish line, leaving the race behind him.  He stops.  He is now standing in the reality of what he'd done.  The race clock tells no lie.  Pat looks at his watch.  He had fought and won his Boston qualifying time.  Every emotion washed over him and the accumulation of those emotions only seen by others as they tumble softly down his cheek.  There is no fight left and he lets the tears fall.

A person drapes a medal around Pat's neck, bringing him back to reality.  He smiles through his tears and says, "Thank you".  He walks away from the finish line and in a private moment he whispers to himself, "Nice job" and looks to find the friends who are the only ones who will understand.