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.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Running Legends

Strep throat set in motion my love affair of running.  While at the doctor’s office, to confirm I was suffering from more than just a store throat, I was asked to step on the scale.   Here I discovered the weight I had put on during my last pregnancy did, in fact, come off.  Despite being sick, joy exploded on my face.

To keep the weight off I started to run.  Not far at first, but I ran.   As a busy mom of two boys, in order to find the time to run it would have to be done before they woke.  The darkness of the early mornings worked perfectly as no one could see me.  Afterall, I wasn’t a real runner and this way no one would have to know.

It took over a year before finding the courage to run in a local race with other runners; a race where there were people wearing real running clothes and running with a runner’s stride and running fast.  Never had I felt so out of my league.  Afterall, I was just a mom who ran to take off the baby weight, I wasn’t a real runner.  Except I loved that race, I loved the runners and I loved how incredible that finish line made me feel.

As the years went by, I entered more races and went further distances.  Everything about running I loved.  Runners are some of the most incredible people and I met plenty of them out on race courses.

Not long ago after finishing the Victoria Marathon, my friends and I sat around the table celebrating our race with food and drinks.  Stories were told, memories recalled and I reflected on an incredible year.  In the past 16 months, I had met some of the biggest names in running.

June 2010 Meb Keflezighi sat at a table in an obscure corner of the finish line at the Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon.  This Olympic athlete brought home a marathon medal in 2004, the first America had seen in 28 years.   In 2009 he won the New York marathon, which an American had not won in 27 years; and there he sat being completely unnoticed by all the thousands walking by.  The day before he had been at the expo where the line was extremely long just to meet him.  And now, he sat perched on a stool with only a single person talking to him.  My friend Sharlene and I made our way over to him and I, with complete star struck shyness, got him to sign the only thing I had, my race bib. 

A few short months later my Pastor, and fellow marathoner, told me Ryan Hall would be speaking at our church.  Ryan, an Olympic marathoner and the American record holder of the fastest half marathon, spent the weekend in our town speaking at our church.  Being at a couple of the services, I was given the great opportunity to spend time with Ryan and his wife Sara.  What an incredible night of inspiration.  6 months after meeting Ryan, it was a thrill to watch him in the Boston Marathon and run the fastest marathon ever run by an American. 

May 2011 brought me to the streets of Eugene, Oregon; a city rich with running history.  Here I’d run my 8th marathon and soak up all the history in the fabled streets.  Some of this country’s greatest runners train on the streets of Eugene and on Hayward Field.  My friend Jeff introduced me to the legendary Joe Henderson shortly before the start of the marathon.  A man recognized as one of the world’s authorities on running, he smiled a genuine happy smile.  We spent several minutes talking, and he asking me questions about goals and pace and training.  The evidence of his coaching greatness came out as we talked and I wondered how great it would be to be coached by him.  Crossing the finish line of that race, the first person to greet me was Joe.   He grabbed me, hugged me and said, “Great job today Cheri!”  Joe Henderson not only remembered me, he called me by name!

5 months later in October of 2011 I am afforded an incredible opportunity of meeting 2 great running icons.  Bart Yasso, the Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World magazine and a runner who has run more races than he can remember, ran with several of us the day before the Victoria Marathon.  A truly kind man, who we easily and quickly found ourselves lost in conversation.  The cruelty of Lyme Disease robbed him of his ability to race distance, but it couldn’t steal his joy.  The man who devised the Yasso 800 training plan, touched athletes everywhere and has left his mark on generations to come. 

Later that day, I talked with Kathrine Switzer; the woman who shattered the glass ceiling in the marathon world allowing women to run the distance I love.  In 1967, 2 short years before I was born, she ran the Boston Marathon with an official race number (261) pinned to her shirt.  No woman had ever been given entry into the marathon, nor had it been the intent of the race officials that year either; but she had a number and she ran it.  Her race on that day paved the way for women – for me – to run in the marathon.  Her love of life shows on her face and her desire for all women, in every country, to have the freedom to run if they so wish is contagious.  The barriers she broke that day opened up possibilities for me that I have always known to be.  Her blood, sweat and tears have brought much joy to thousands and thousands of women.

Crossing the finish line of my 26.2 mile journey in Victoria I was first greeted by Kathrine, who giving me a giant hug, told me how proud she was of me.  Right behind her stood Bart.  Giving me a hug he congratulated me telling me of the great job I’d done.  A few minutes later after I’d wandered to where my friends were standing, I was happily surprised to hear Bart call out to us and walk over to carry on our conversation we’d had the day before.   For 10 minutes we talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s stories before he had to make his way back to the finish line.

Sitting at the table that night, I marveled at it all.  How could it all be possible that I, a small town Mom of two boys, met and spent time with some of the biggest names in running?  Although we all have different running speeds, and different training plans and different distances we like to run, each runner understands the other.  We understand how hard it is to get out and run when we’d rather not, we understand how hard one works to create a new personal best, and we understand how incredible each finish line feels.  And in that, a small town mom is exactly the same as the Olympic athlete.  Running is the road that brings us together.