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, September 12, 2011

Strangers, Friends and Angels

The weatherman predicted the weekend to be the hottest of the year.  Murphy's Law laughed and said "But of course it is" as this is the weekend in which my friends were to run a marathon.

Karen, Kathy and I, with a truck loaded with ice, water and Gatorade, headed out of town.  Armed with a GPS and course maps we made our way to our first stop on the marathon route; approximately mile 8.  Spirits were high, jokes were plenty and smiles were seen on all.  As soon as our friends had run by, we were back in the truck heading off to our next point.

Mile 12 was also mile 14 as the course was an out-and-back route.  Parking the truck on the side of the country road, Kathy found a good radio station and cranked up the stereo.  Here is where we first noticed runners were getting hot.  We shouted encouragement and clapped loudly.  One by one our three friends ran by and each time we had ice cold water ready as well as sponges for them to wring out over their heads.

Karen made signs for us to hold to give greater encouragement.  One of our favorites, "Way to go complete stranger!" had been a great motivation to us while running the Eugene marathon in the spring and proved to be just as motivational on this day.  Runners smiled and laughed and said, "Thank you" when running by the sign.  As we had now seen many of these runners three times they were no longer strangers, we recognized them coming down the road and also knew where our friends should be in relation to them.   We got several of their names and did our best to seer them into our memory.  Inevitably, as our running family got bigger and bigger, we couldn't remember them all and eventually they earned names like "Cool Shoe Guy" and "50 Stater Guy".

Once our friends had gone by, at paces strong enough to qualify for Boston, we jumped in the truck and navigated our way to the 18 mile mark.  The sun was hot; the farmer's fields dusty.  Parked in a raspberry field, we swung the truck doors open letting the music fill the country roads. 

The runners were hot, the suffering etched on faces.  We offered bottles of ice cold water to any who ran by.  Many runners, upon recognizing us, had dubbed us "The Stranger Ladies" because of our sign, proving that even in pain a sense of humor can prevail.

The eyes told their stories.  The heat pounding on them as they ran on shadeless country roads had taken its toll.  The I-Can't-Do-This Dragon had leeched itself on many of their backs.   Staring straight into their eyes, we shouted "You got this, it's yours".  Heat is nothing to make light of and we paid close attention as each ran by.  All three of us could feel their suffering.

As each of our three friends ran by, their pain became our pain and we did our best to hide our concern.  We gave them ice for their necks and sponges for their heads.  They no longer got the option of "if" they wanted something cold to drink but "which" cold drink they preferred.  Our hearts felt their anguish and exchanging glances between us uttered what our words would not.  The heat was concerning.

Winding our way through the back roads, we came to mile 21 and this is the first time where we felt completely unprepared.  Volunteers directed runners to our truck who were searching for ice.  Would we have enough?  Kathy ran alongside some handing them chunks of ice.  Tears could be seen in others as we offered them water from our ice chest.  And without hesitation runners were offering - and taking - the water bottles from other runners; showing us that the pain of a marathon brings people together in a way that can not be described, only felt.  With unselfish consideration, each runner shared the gift of water with all those around them; all complete strangers just a few hours earlier.

At this mile marker Karen's phone rang.  One of our friends had to make the heartbreaking and extremely difficult decision to drop out of the race.  The heat had stolen every bit of energy he had.  Our hearts broke.   Knowing he was off the course, we got back into the truck to make our way to mile marker 25 to bring our other two friends support.

Here we could see the relief written on many faces.  Armed with the knowledge that the race was only 1.2 miles longer, the faintest smiles could be seen.  Strangers driving by stopped and brought us more water to hand out.  It wasn't long before we could see our friend coming down the road.  With a sponge and water in hand, I ran to meet her.  She asked how our other friend was doing.  The knot in my stomach made me sick, but I had to lie to her and tell her he was doing just fine.  Knowing the truth would have been painful making the last mile that much more difficult.  I'd apologize to her in 1.2 miles.

The finishline was filled with people, runners completely spent as well as family and friends sharing in the joy of it all.  There were tears of joy in some and tears of sadness in others.  We found our one friend sitting on the curb in quiet reflection thinking on the hard decision he'd made to pull himself off the course.  Words not needed, we all felt his pain.

Stopping us were runners who searched us out to thank us for what we did out there.   These strangers thanked us repeatedly, calling us life-savers and angels.  Everywhere we turned, another runner thanked us.  It was here where I became aware of just how many people we touched that day.  We had not set out to do this, it simply happened.  One small gesture had left an impact they would not forget.  What none of them realized, was it was them who gave back to us.  Their smiles paid us back in ways they could never imagine and gratitude could be seen in their eyes.

Long after the day was over, my mind wandered to all that happened out there on that race course, each emotion flooding back.  Sometime after the race, Karen emailed me a piece of a conversation relayed to her that had taken place out there during that 26.2 mile journey; a conversation that brought tears to my eyes.  Shortly after the 18 mile mark, a fellow runner turned to our friend and stated how wonderful it was for him to have friends who would come out and support him like that on the course.  He turned to her and said, "Not friends.  FAMILY."

The marathon.  It gives you the most incredible window inside of yourself and it takes complete strangers and turns them into angels and family.  What a gift.

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