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, 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.

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