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, December 23, 2012

Blessings Aware

The chill in the air held no rain or snow.  My parked car would keep me warm while I waited.  Still battling my hamstring, I have just begun to ease back into running since completing the California International Marathon a few weeks prior.  My friends were out doing a 4 mile loop and I would join them on the second 4 mile loop; my longest distance since returning.

The clock on my dashboard tells me I have about 10 minutes to wait.  Looking around I see downtown bustling with the Christmas holiday.  On the street corner a towering evergreen twinkled from top to bottom with sparkling white lights.  Street vendors, bundled against the weather, were setting up their stands in preparation of the Farmer's Market opening soon.  People everywhere were smiling.

Making their way down the street were two men which I guess to be 30 years apart. The clothes they wore told me they called the streets their home.  The homeless shelter was a mile away and I sensed they had just left there.   They share conversation as they walk toward the woods.

"Whadya find?" the younger one asks.

The older gentlemen is bending down in a parking space two over from mine picking something up off the concrete ground.

"Two pennies!" he exclaims, placing them in his pocket.

"SWEET!" the younger states with excitement; excitement I do not think I've ever seen over two cents.

My eyes look down to my $200 running watch, I zip up my $125 running jacket and I feel a twinge of shame.  I sit in my warm car wearing hundreds of dollars of gear I use only when I run and those two men were excited over two cents.  The contrast is stark.

Stephanie pulls her car up next to mine and we wait for our friends to come.  Right on time, they make their way up the road and we head toward the trail for a 4 mile run.  The Christmas excitement is felt and like a big Italian family gathering, we all talk and listen to each other at the same time.  I am beyond thrilled to be running with my friends again.

The trail takes us from downtown to the ocean.  Below the trail is an area the homeless frequent.  I don't see the two men.  A tree alongside the trail has been decorated with a collage of ornaments all left by a random person wanting to leave a bit of the Christmas spirit behind.

We run and discuss Christmas plans, Christmas gifts and the tasks still left to be done.  Everyone was busy, yet we took the time to come together.  The people running alongside me are one of my greatest gifts.  The run comes to an end and each returns to their car.  We toss aside gloves and grab wallets.  The coffee house awaits us.  In one last pre-Christmas run we give each other the gift of our time.  We will sit and laugh and tell stories.

The bell on the door jingles as we push the door open.  Our favorite barista is behind the counter; she smiles and waves. 

My blessings are many, this I am made very aware.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Striving Forward

A few stolen moments of quiet and I contemplate the last year of racing.  Putting this year behind me, I look forward to the promise of a new year just a few days away. 

This past year has been a difficult running year for me.  Starting the year with a horrible ankle sprain, having my first A-game marathon crumble in the heat of summer sun, then my second fall to leg cramps and finally my last of the year consist of torrential rains, urban flooding, winds and hamstring issues - all of them contributing to the toughest racing year I've faced.  In open honesty, my mental fortitude is thread bare strong.

Not all of 2012 was disappointing.  I set a new PR in my 5k time by dropping 1 minute 18 seconds off my previous best; proving at 43 years old one can still get faster.  My time was a 22:58 and it snagged me 4th (out of 53) in my age group.  Trying something new that race, I refused to look at my watch and ran strictly on how I felt.  Needless to say I was shocked to see how well it worked for me.

July holds the annual Chuckanut Foot Race and my favorite of all local races.  A tough 7 mile trail race which climbs uphill for roughly 6 miles and finishes with a nice downhill (read : speedy) last mile.  Always aiming to do this race in under an hour, I had only done it once before.  Once again I didn't look at my watch and let my body dictate my speed.  It worked.  I succeeded in a new PR with a time of 59:18, beating my previous best by 22 seconds.

These are the nuggets I hold onto as I lay this year down and head into 2013.  The last 18 days I've spent healing my hamstring and salving my heartbreak over goals not met.  I've done a lot of quiet reflection; a lot of soul searching.  

As one to always have a plan - a goal to work towards - my calendar holds only two races next year.  The Tacoma City Marathon in May boasts the 10 year Marathon Maniac Anniversary.  With so many fellow Maniacs around it will be the fun I need to energize my running again.

The second race I hope to run will be the Chicago Marathon.  This will be my first world major marathon and I look forward to the entire experience as well as spending time with my running friends. 

Any marathoner will tell you the lessons learned with every race are invaluable.  26.2 miles is never easy but always worth it.  Even when the run, the race, the year does not turn out like you hoped for or trained for, you still lace up your shoes and run.  You run to forget and you run to remember.

Right now I lace up my shoes to remember why I love this sport and that I am a much stronger runner, a much stronger woman, than I was before I ran my first step.  The difficulties and the hearbreak of this year will become the stepping blocks I build upon for next year.

2013, I'm ready.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

They Call Her Jackie

"Excuse me, do you happen to have a pencil?  I forgot one and I would love to do this crossword."  She asked while leaning over the seat between us.

"I have a pen, will that work?"  I reach into my purse and hand it to her.

"Thank you very much," she said, "although I am not certain I trust my answers to be written in pen."  Her smile magnifying the laugh lines on her face.  Her white hair flowed naturally around her face.

She turns to her puzzle while I push my purse back into my carry on bag.  I sit back in my seat and relax.  My friends are in seats close by, but not close enough to hold a conversation.  We had run the California International Marathon the previous day and were on a 90 minute return flight to Seattle before catching our short flight home to Bellingham.  My body is tired and I am grateful this difficult marathon year is now behind me.

My sudoku puzzle book stares at me.  I pick it up and do a few puzzles before closing it again.

"I never could get the hang of those things." she says to me. 
She waves her crossword puzzle in the air, "Give me one of these any day."

Turning to her I smile and say, "My grandmother did a crossword puzzle every day.  She always told me it kept her mind sharp."

"Well I don't know if my mind is so sharp, but I always did them to help pass the time.  I was a private investigator."

She had my full attention.  "Really?  I have always wanted to be a private investigator!"

"Why don't you?" she inquires, her eyes quizzical.

"The requirements of my state aren't too conducive to a mother.   Well, not this mother anyway.  The only place that offers an internship is 90 minutes from my home.  I can't afford 3 hours travel time each day.  My family is too important."

"You have your priorities in order."

"My kids are home for only a short time, it won't be long before they are on their own and I'll have plenty of free time."

She waves a wrinkled hand in front of her as if shoo-ing something away, "I am no Bible Thumper but I do not think it is an accident I am sitting next to you today."

I smile at her.  "Neither do I.  I wonder what God is trying to tell me?"

We spend the flight talking of her career, how she got started, cases she's worked on and for whom she has worked.    I tell her how I work my investigative skills into my job and the backgrounds of people I have discovered.  We laugh wildly at the craziest of our stories.  My friend Karen, sitting a row behind me, is jealous over the laughter she hears.

She reaches out to shake my hand, "My name is Lynn Hall*, but my friends call me Jackie.  Lynn Hall is my investigator name."  A devilish grin sneaks across her face.

"My name is Cheri Fiorucci.  My friends call me Cheri."  We laugh at the lack of creativity.

"I'm on my way to visit my son for a couple months.  While I'm there my old boss wants me to come back to work.  Can you believe that?  I told him I'm retired, but he doesn't listen."

"You should go back to work," I encourage,  "Do it and go out and have some fun on the job for me."

"I never did have to work.  My husband was a rancher and took very good care of me.  He was the light of my life," she pauses. "His heart was real bad.  He died in 2010."

I offer her my condolences. 

She continues, "It's been a difficult couple of years.  My son died shortly after Walt.  And you know what?"  Emotion cracks her voice. "It took me 3 months before I could wake up and not cry in my bed."   Her pain softly rolls down her cheek.  Tears fill my eyes.

"No Momma should ever have to bury her son," I whisper; my voice has been swallowed by empathy.

Offering silent words in prayer for her, I now know God has placed me next to her for a reason.

Quietly I sit and listen to her.  She offers no explanation of her son's death, nor do I ask.  Her pain still raw, as I imagine it will always be.  My mind wanders to my two boys as she tells me of her journey through grief.  My words feel so inadequate;  I ask God to make them the comfort she needs.

Jackie looks me in the eye.  "A good friend checked in on me every day.  I never would have made it through had it not been for her." 

I think of my friends; the ones I know if grief that strong would happen to strike me, you would find them curled up next to me crying their own tears.  There can be found great blessings amidst such deep pain.

The Captain is landing the plane, Jackie and I are still talking.  The plane taxis down the runway; Seattle is outside my window.

"Jackie, it has been an immeasurable pleasure to meet you today.  Have a wonderful time staying with your son and his family.  And go catch some bad guys for me will you?"

Her smile returns, "The pleasure was all mine.  Go chase that dream.  You've got a knack for it."  While rolling her carry-on behind her, she walks away.

My friends are standing near me; friends who would curl up next to me and cry.  "Who was that?" they ask.

"Her name is Lynn Hall, but her friends call her Jackie, " I pause and smile, "She told me to call her Jackie."

*In respect to her profession names have been changed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

California International Marathon

Nature's fury raged just outside the window.  Bus 133 gave us safety against the storm.  Normal pre-race jitters were heightened with the anxiety over the weather. 

Kellan is the first to leave the bus.  We time how long it takes him to make it to the Port-A-Potties and back.  Four minutes later he stands in front of us, soaked to the bone.  We stare in disbelief.  Kathy and Karen venture out and upon their return, Karen laughs stating to us there is no way we can race this marathon.  The statement released an invisible pressure valve, and you could feel anxiety slip away.

Standing at the starting line, we are a mass of walking garbage bags.  Although they do not keep us dry, they offer a warmth layer against the 38 mph head winds.  Gusts are recorded at greater than 50 mph.  The winds make it nearly impossible to hear each other, as the garbage bags flapping in the wind just add to the noise.

Unwilling to lose each other, Kathy, Karen and I hang onto each other refusing to let go.  This is completely out of character for us, yet brings an undeniable comfort.  Kellan and Arlane are somewhere in the crowd of those racing.  I ask God to keep them safe.

We turn onto Oak Avenue to a section we have nicknamed Farmville.  The street is lined with fields of white fencing designed to keep in horses.  We notice the horses are not to be seen and had enough smarts to stay in the barns.  The wind is no longer at our faces but at our side, giving us a break.  It is easier to hear each other talk.

Debris is everywhere.  We watch the air, we watch the ground.  The rain is relentless.  Mile 3 my right hamstring says, "hello".  I was hoping to make it to the middle miles before feeling it's presence.  The course turns onto Fair Oaks Boulevard and into a head wind once again.

Mile 9 Pat and his friend Diane are cheering for us.  Drenched to the bone, they cheer loudly as we run down the street.  My legs feel like jello and I know my body is low on iron.  I make my way across the street to Pat.  Yelling above the wind, I tell him I need a coke.  I know this won't help with my iron issue, yet I hope it will give me a boost of energy I need to power through the conditions.  Unknown to me once we have run by, Pat turns to Diane and tells her he is concerned with how I look.

The rain is falling at an incredible rate and as we turn to run up a hill, we are faced with an urban river running down the road.  We are running upstream against ankle-deep water rushing down the hill.  This all seems so surreal.

We reach the half way point together.  I finally confess to Kathy and Karen my hamstring has been bothering me and I promised myself I could change my game plan once I made it to mile 13.  Kathy tells me I can keep going.  I listen.  There is a relay exchange at this mile marker and the thousands of cheering people give us a push.

Making our way down the course, we hear people yelling "PUDDLE!".  We are confused as we've been running through a lot of standing water and aren't too sure as to why this is being called out now.  The crowd of runners begins to merge to the left and we follow suit.  Then we see him.  A man stands in the road as a warning, with water up to his mid-calf yelling at us to avoid the puddle.  Volunteers never cease to amaze me.  

Mile 15 1/2 I walk the uphill relieving my hamstring pain.  Kathy and Karen slow their pace which allows me to catch up to them when running the down hill.  This goes on for a couple of miles.  We are never far apart and always with in eye sight.  With so many runners in garbage bags, I lost their whereabouts several times but could find them again when one of them would turn around to keep an eye on me.

The weather begins to break.  Upon seeing a sliver of blue sky between the clouds, I point it out to those around me.  No one looks up, no one listens.  I laugh to myself at the absurdity of the Garbage Bag Lady yelling about blue skies in the midst of the horrendous storm.  Yea, I wouldn't believe me either. 

Running the downhill, I catch up to Karen and Kathy.  I tell them I've seen blue sky.  They both turn to look at me.  I recognize that look.  Karen tells me I'm hallucinating; then they see it and we all smile.

At mile 19 and 20 I look for Pat and Diane.  I can not find them or the coke I knew they would have for me.  My mind is a haze fighting against my hamstring and low iron.  Kathy and Karen are slightly ahead of me.  We made plans to meet at mile 22 should we separate.

Alone for a short stretch, I reflect on my racing year.  Every race this year has been a challenge; all due to things out of my control.  I feel extreme relief knowing this is my last race of the year and I will be able to put this year behind me.  My worst year is almost over.  I remind myself to notice the palm trees.  This is my first race among palm trees.  There is good with the bad.

The aid station at mile 22 holds water, electrolytes and my two friends.  Kathy and Karen stand sipping water and waiting for me.  Laughter returns over the next four miles.  They are not easy miles, but there is laughter.  Pat and Diane, unable to get through the closed streets at mile 19, are waiting at mile 22 1/2.  With a coke.  We each drink from the bottle and hope for a bump in energy.

We walk and run the final miles with my hamstring dictating the plan.  The rain has stopped and the sun begins to shine.  With only 3 miles to go we decide to keep the garbage bags on.  Although we are warm, we feel the bags are a visible sign of the battle we'd gone through.  They are our battle wounds.

The last stretch lays ahead of us.  We run a few blocks and walk a block...or two.  Our legs are cramping and it hurts to run, it hurts to walk and we are soaking wet.  Yet we laugh; oh do we laugh.  A bystander yells, "Go Garbage Girls, go!"  and this gives us the giggles which can only be understood when one has 25 miles of hell behind you.

The finisher shoot lay ahead of us.  Clad in our garbage bags, drenched to the bone, we grab each other's hands and raise them over our heads in victory.  The weather warred against us, our mental fortitude battled our resolve, yet together we held strong. 

Running hand in hand across the finish line, we had won.   This marathon was not about a run, or our finishing times or the medals around our necks.  This was the most difficult finish line we had ever earned and we did it together.

Our table is long and holds all of us.  We celebrate Arlane and Kellan's strong races and our standing tall on the other side of the storm.  A strong sense of survival is felt by all.  It is a sense we can not explain, yet it is fully understood.  There are no tears, only smiles and laughter.  Reliving the details, Karen tells us this was a race about friendship.  Quietly the tears show up.  They brim our eyes with words unspoken.

Yes, this race was all about friendship; a friendship made stronger by simply being at each other's side. 


Sunday, November 11, 2012

First Call Marathon

"...and that is the course of the race.  We'll start in 5 minutes," is all we heard as we made it to the start area of the marathon.

With so many friendly faces milling about we had no problem asking someone the route of the course.  Those around us assured us it truly is an out and back, twice.  Knowing none of us would win the thing, we rested in the fact we knew we could just follow the crowd.

Our fingers were frozen and we tried to melt the cubes of ice we had for toes.  The temperature read 28*; I was grateful for the hand warmers in my gloves.  As the race director counted down and yelled "GO", about 50 of us began running.  My Garmin still hasn't located, thankfully Karen's has.

We made our way out of the Blythe Park and onto a paved trail.  The trees protected us from the slight wind that blew.  We ran over a footbridge crossing over the river we'd be running along.  The water lazily flowed underneath us.  My Garmin finally locates and I start my watch a mile into the marathon.

Melissa pulled ahead and we knew she was ready to race this marathon.  Fresh off the New-York-Marathon-That-Wasn't, she listened to our encouragement to join us and shake the experience.  She was strong and ready to have a great race.

Kathy, Karen, Kellan and I (hmmm, I just realized mine is the only name that doesn't start with a "K") fall into an easy pace.  We are running this as our last long training run before California International Marathon in a couple weeks.  Our conversation is easy and the pace light.
The Sammamish River Trail weaves alongside the river for miles.  Despite at times running along side the freeway, one could not see the road and rarely heard it.  The beauty of fall exploded on the trees.  The coming of winter had not yet robbed the trees of it's leaves, or the green from the grass; providing often breathtaking views.  Several times we stopped our conversation to say, "Look."  

Recognizing the gait of a runner up ahead, I point out to Kathy and Karen that Bob Dolphin is up ahead.  A remarkable man, who at the age of 80 celebrated running his 500th marathon.  I had heard rumors that he hadn't been running since his milestone in March and I was delighted to see him up ahead.  When passing him, I tell Bob how wonderful it is to see him out there.  He is such an incredible inspiration, I felt tears well up in my eyes as he smiled his big smile. 

We reached the turn around and began our way back to complete the first loop.  The fog kept the sun hidden and the temperature chilly.  We were grateful for our coats.  After running 8 miles at an easy pace, we pick up the pace to our marathon pace and plan on holding it for the next 12 miles.

My hamstring does well until 4 miles into our marathon paced miles.  It spasms intensely at one of the small rolling hills, I feel my leg give way and I stop myself from dropping.  I confess to Kathy and Karen I need to make a decision - do I drop out at the half marathon or continue on at a slower pace.  They counsel, I listen.  My stubbornness wins.  We begin the second loop.  They are gracious and slow down to an easy pace once again.

This is the battle of the marathon.  One little deviation from plan and the race becomes mental.  The mental part of the game is the hardest part of the game.   Your training helps you push forward, putting your emotions aside.  We press on.  I decide I will see how my hamstring is at 18 miles and if it is too inflamed, I will turn around.

Mile 17 I hear a familiar voice.  My friend Tom cruises up behind us telling us he's been trying to catch up to us since starting the second loop.  I share two miles with Tom, before I listen to my hamstring and slow to a walk.  Karen and Kathy pull forward with Tom. 

A 19 mile training run, instead of the 22 I planned, is the best I will get.  Instead of run/walking the last 4 miles of the marathon, I will run/walk the last 7.  Destroying my hamstring on a training run, even though it was a marathon, would not be the smartest decision I could make.  California is three weeks away.

With Tom, Karen and Kathy a short distance ahead, I see Kathy has stopped and waited for me.  We run / walk the rest of the distance together.  My hamstring is ok with this, which gives me hope.  It gets harder and harder to stop and start, our muscles tightening each time.  We just want to be done.

Leaving the trail, we turn once again into Blythe Park.  We cross the finish line, thank the volunteer who hands us our medal.  The hot chicken noodle soup we talked about for the last 4 miles awaited us.  Soup has never tasted so good.

Melissa has run a very strong race; Kathy, Karen, Kellan and I all satisfied with our training runs.  We eat, we share, we shiver.  Deciding some Starbucks is in order, we head back to the car and the heated seats.  My
15th marathon is in the books and I look ahead to my next.  But now, I am enjoying the company of my friends and enjoying the accomplishment of the day.  And the wonderfully delicious latte in my hand. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Gift of Friendship

Three years ago I joined a running group in hopes to improve my marathon running.  I stood in a group of 15 runners not knowing a single one.  It was scary and it was intimidating; yet I really wanted to improve.

Now, three years later I look back on that day and marvel at how a single thing - running - has brought me into a fold of incredible friendships.  One of those friends suffered a loss today.  It is through tear brimmed eyes that I type this; my heart breaks for my friend.

In the past three years, I have shared thousands of miles with this group of people.  While we are out there pushing ourselves in the miles we run, we share. 

We share in our struggles, we share in our celebrations. 
We share in our triumphs, we share in our heartbreaks.
We share our goals, we share our encouragement.
And sometimes we share in our tears.

Tomorrow is Saturday and like most Saturday mornings over the last three years we will meet to run together.  We will run and share in my friend's sadness.  Will it erase the pain?  No.  But as we run together and share the miles we will hopefully lighten her burden.

We will lace up our shoes and heal.  Together.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Building Up

He softly kicked at a rock that didn’t exist on the practice field at the school.   I noticed a fleeting glimpse of - shame?  Embarrassment?   I couldn’t tell for certain.

“She isn’t here, she’s visiting family.” He answered me and the question on the whereabouts of his mom.

“Well, that’s too bad.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her and I need to catch up with her.”

He looks up briefly and quietly asks my son, “Does she know?” nodding in my direction.

“Yes, I know”, I answer, “You did exactly the right thing Peter*.  Exactly.”

He looked at me with relief in his eyes; there was no mistaking that look.  It wasn’t that my opinion mattered; it was simply the encouragement he needed to hear.

The next 15 minutes I spent listening to a young man tell me of an encounter at school with a fellow classmate, who has a gang affiliation.  A bully.  A boy known for the trouble that follows him and the fighting he creates.  When provoked beyond what any normal teenage boy could handle, Peter backed down.  What was it that turned his red hot temper to a manageable anger?   His friend uttered the word “Football”. 

Peter knew an altercation of this sort would have a lasting and negative impact on the sport he was playing.   He determined in the split of a second a fight wasn’t worth the cost.  Although he may not have realized it at the time, that decision he made was based on great parental influence.  Both Peter and the bully were sent home for the remainder of the day.

What happened behind the closed door of Peter’s home that night?  I have no idea, nor do I need to know.  What I do know is at that moment Peter stood in front of me and I had a responsibility – not an opportunity – but a responsibility to him.  Giving Peter encouragement and praise for doing the right thing was my parental duty.  Parental?  Yes, parental.

My husband and I are the parents of two boys.  We are not perfect parents, but we are their parents.  We struggle like all parents, make mistakes, ask forgiveness and learn.  We laugh, we fight,  we grow.   As parents we spend a lot of time building up in our boys what life and responsibilities often wear down in them.   And we can’t do it all.

Read that again.

We can not do it all regardless how hard we try.  Neither can you.  I give you permission to own that statement.  You can not do it all.  You are a great parent who works diligently to give your child a life in which they succeed and are happy, but you can not do it all.  That is my responsibility.  Let me explain.

I have lost count how many times I have told my children something, or imparted a very important piece of wisdom during a conversation only to have them come home from (anywhere) after talking with (any adult) who just told them the “coolest thing ever”.  Imagine my surprise when I discover it was the exact same thing we talked about the day/night/week before.  No longer do I get upset over this.  Instead I pause and thank God He sent someone into my child’s life who told him what I wanted him to know.  That person guided my child and took on the responsibility to do so.

My responsibility is to tell your child the “coolest thing ever”.   My responsibility is to talk to your child, encourage your child as I would want my own to be.   In today’s world it is much easier to turn the other way, let them deal with ‘their’ problem, or worse – talk about them and never to them.  We have got to stop this.  For the sake of the children this must change.  We need to stand together and help each other, encourage each other, hold out our hand and pull each other up.

Standing on the practice field, it would have been easy for me to watch Peter from afar, to never approach him and to leave him to deal with “his” problem.   But I didn’t.  It was my parental responsibility to my sons to tell Peter he did the right thing by walking away; to encourage Peter his choice was the wisest choice.

What about the bully?  He needs encouragement too.  How do we reach a child with so much anger and hostility?  I don’t know and I struggle with this.  Yet it can’t be an excuse not to try.  Maybe the encouragement we can give the bully is in how he is addressed in our own homes.  My husband and I remind our boys there are reasons the bully is angry and that most bullies come from a difficult home life.  In showing our boys the other side of the bullying maybe, just maybe, a hint of compassion will emerge.  With compassion comes understanding and we all want to be understood; even if it is just a little.

After we got home, I stood at my kitchen sink, washing dishes while thinking of Peter and his mom.  I dried off my hands and reached for my phone.  Although it had been several months since I spoke to Peter's mom, I sent her a brief text message telling her she has done a wonderful job raising an incredible young man.  As difficult as life can be, we could all use some reassurance we are doing things right by our children.  Together we can build one another up and one day realize our children have been watching - and imitating - all along.


*For privacy, names have been changed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bellingham Bay Marathon

Fall arrived most notably with the chill of early morning air. A full moon glows while fading into a newly dawned sky.  We give each other hugs, fist bumps and high fives with each "Have a great race!" spoken.  The marathon begins and the sea of people move toward the starting line. 

Leaving the school parking lot we turn onto a road running parallel to the ocean.  A whisper of a fog rises off the sea giving depth to the mountains and the city nestled into the hillside.  The city sleeping in the faraway hills is the city which holds our finish line.

Kathy, Kellan and I talk and chatter, easily passing the time.  The first seven miles are rolling hills bringing a challenge to finding and holding our pace. We power up the uphill, and enjoy the downhill.

Mile 5 I feel I am working too hard too early in the 26.2 mile race.  Knowing we are entering into a mile and a half climb, I tell myself it is the uphill I feel.  Mile 8 begins to flatten out and I look forward to several miles ahead of me with very little elevation change.  Here, in the flat miles, the pace was to drop by 10 to 15 seconds per mile.

The country road we follow weaves by expansive farm land.  Growing hay wafts easily in the gentle fall breeze.  The road is peaceful.  Mile 10 comes and I have yet to ease into my pace.  I look at my watch to discover my average pace has been 15 seconds per mile too fast for the training I have done.  I slow my pace and begin to reevaluate what I need to do.  Kathy and Kellan pull away.

A farmer's field surrounds me on both sides of the long straight road ahead of me.  My surroundings are peaceful, the chatter in my head is not.  Knowing the last 5 miles of the course contain a couple steep hills and several rolling hills I needed to account for slowing paces in those miles.  I was trying to do math which is never a good idea when I run higher mileage.  Grabbing water at an aide station I walk the distance of the tables trying to focus my thoughts.

Mile 14 takes us over a small bridge and I watch as a sea gull perches himself upon a pylon.  The river flows lazily; its muddy waters giving evidence to the lack of rainfall over the summer.  With the river behind us, the road begins to steadily rise.  I am uncertain I will be able to continue the pace and hang onto my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon.  My watch tells me a personal best is still attainable.

The hill climbs and I begin to feel twinges in both my quads.  This is completely foreign to me and I have no idea why this is happening.  With the climb they worsen.  I walk in hopes to alleviate the cramping.  It helps.  I am able to run the downhill. 

There is plenty of shade on the street we turn down.  This quiet rural road is canopied by tall leafy trees; fallen leaves crunch under foot.  I enjoy running in the perfect fall setting; yet I am anxious as to what just happened with my quads.  Riding his bicycle as support on the course, my friend Rick spots me.  He rides alongside me for a distance and offers encouragement.  It isn't long before his duties take precedence and he is off.

A hill approaches and my quads again aren't happy.  I walk, they feel better.  I run the downhill and the flat and suppress the anger at what is happening.  My head is swimming, my heart is breaking.  This was to be my redemption race, the one which erases the heartache of the Winthrop Marathon

Mile 17 is a long and gradual uphill.  I see a mass moving up the road and realize the half marathon runners are on the move and our routes are merging.  There are hundreds of people surrounding me and this takes my mind off the pain as I walk yet another uphill.  I hear my name, I recognize the voice, and I hug my early morning running partner Corrinna.  She is running the half marathon and pauses to check in on me.  She hears my frustration and runs with me for the next two miles.  I push her to run her race, she leaves me but not before turning around and running back to give me a big hug.  She gives no words, only a hug.  This simple act encourages me.

Paul is waiting for me at mile 20.  I am so far off my goal pace and I feel guilty he has been waiting this long.  He assures me it is fine.  As one to have been plagued by leg cramps in a 50k last year, he knows exactly the pain I feel.  He asks me several questions while we run in hopes to pinpoint the cause.  My potassium levels are fine, my nutrition has been spot on and we both wonder if my shoes have too many miles on them.

We follow the tree lined parkway to the water front.  Here I am surprised to hear my son's voice yell, "GO MOM!!".  He ran the 5k with his friend Andrew earlier that morning and both stood on the side of the road clapping for me.  I smile and wave, my heart lighter.

Paul joins me on walking the uphill and running the flat and downhill.  He is gracious.  Turning onto South Bay Trail, my husband is waiting for us sporting a neon yellow hat which looks like a squid.  He knows all to well how difficult it is to recognize anything after 22 miles thus the squid hat makes perfect sense.  At this spot on the trail is where I am to hand him my fuel belt and he is to hand me my handheld water bottle.  I see several belts laying on the ground as my friends have come by and given him their belts.  He can't find my bottle.  It doesn't matter, this race wasn't suppose to be like this anyway.

The gravel trail winds alongside the ocean; the grey-blue water glistens in the sun.  I know this trail well.  Each inlcine I must walk.  Paul coaxes me reminding me of the few miles we have left.  We walk Taylor Dock taking us away from the water at a steep incline.  I see runners walking it backwards; I wonder about their pain. 

Paul, Cari and I close to the finish line
 The final stretch of the race produces a few rolling hills.  At the top of each hill, Paul tells me it's flat which is code for, "It's time to run now".   My quads and calves feel as if caught in the grip of a vice.  I push forward.  My friend Cari is running toward us, ready to join in the last mile.  She tells me Kathy has set a new PR by 10 minutes and qualified for Boston.  The excitement at the news briefly erases my pain.

We are near rounding the final corner, Paul continues with the encouragement.  I tell him my quads are screaming.  He is quick to point out the downhill we are looking at.  The final section is uphill into the finisher's shoot.  I tell him I'm scared, I don't know if I can run the final ascent.  He continues to encourage me before ducking out into the crowd.

The finisher's shoot is surrounded by people.  Many emotions are entwined with my pain.  The vices grip my muscles unwilling to ease their hold.  I cross the finish line in 4:26:20, 26 minutes 21 seconds slower than I had hoped.  A volunteer drapes a medal around my neck. 

Melissa calls to me.  Turning toward her, I mumble something about my legs as she grabs me and holds me upright.  Kathy appears and holds my other side.  I remember only telling her how proud I was of her and her race.  The rest is lost in a hazy blur.  My friends surrounded me, bring me food and drink while my husband massages my legs.  The pain in my legs subsides; the heartache of disappointment stays untouched.

Miles lay ahead of me and I have many, many miles behind me.  I am blessed to share this journey with incredible people who hold me when needed, push me when warranted and who always encourage me.  I can't imagine my life before them.  

Tomorrow is a new day and holds more marathons.  How blessed am I to share this thing called life with such gifted and inspirational people friends.
Dane, Melissa and Kathy - incredible inspirations.


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Elusive 3:59:59

Sub 4.
It's a mantra.
It's a chant.
It's elusive.

This is something I've worked toward for a long time.  It has been just out of my grasp.

My racing shows it's possible, the vdot numbers predict it, yet I've never seen it.

My best is a 4:11:56 attained last fall.  The numbers tell me I'm capable of a 3:46:02. 

I stand in my way.

This past June I was ready.  I knew it was going to happen at the Winthrop Marathon.  It didn't as the heat flattened me.  My motivation has not been the same since.

Only recently have I been able to shake the blow my last marathon dealt.  A few incredibly strong training runs pulled me up from the dark hole I was in.  Looking down, I shudder at the depth of that hole.

It's not easy being transparent.

It's scary publicly stating my goals.

Bellingham Bay Marathon is 6 days away. The weather forecasts ideal running conditions.  Winthrop will not be repeated.

The course contains many hills screaming to my logic it is not conducive to a personal best. 

My heart says, "Try."

My will says, "Do."

The plan is in place.  Now, it's up to me.


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Taper : An Itch One Can't Scratch

Last week I entered into The Taper; the time in marathon training where the last long run has taken place and the mileage decreases before race day.  The hardest work is done, the endurance ability is created and the body is given permission to actively recover through less miles all in hopes to hit race day with a body well rested and ready to go.

Marathoners love to hate The Taper.  You think we would kick back and enjoy taking it easy; we don't.  Here are just a few reasons why.

Life is Just a Fantasy
Week after week as the miles build, the daydreaming begins.  During the last 22 miler before the marathon, you run and fantasize about all the free time you will have by not running so many miles each week.  The Taper and it's lower mileage look tall-stack-of-pancakes-smothered-in-syrup good; but it's not.  As soon as you cut the body a break, your brain takes over and you are acutely aware of every single twinge or ache or muscle or broken leg.  Panic sets in and you wonder if you are suddenly injured and question if you will make it to the starting line.

You realize the unicorns and glitter fantasy of The Taper has been stomped on by a T-Rex in full speed pursuit of it's dinner.  Which leads me to...

I Want a New Drug
Your brain is a magnificent organ which easily and happily facilitates your running addiction.  With The Taper in full swing the brain is no longer playing 9 year old boss of the playground with your legs.  The brain does not know how to handle this and looks around the body to find something else to pick on.  Without fail, the brain lasers in on the stomach and you are not thinking of marathon training anymore, you are thinking of milkshakes, french fries and pizza.  And somehow you convince yourself this is completely acceptable forms of carbo loading.

She Blinded Me With Science
There are many different training plans each with their own thoughts and ideas on how much to run in The Taper.  Yet all agree, The Taper is a necessary evil component to training.  The guys in white lab coats have proven resting does more good for the body than training hard up until race day.  Since they have lots of capitalized abbreviations behind their names, and shiny pocket protectors, I tend to listen to them.   Obeying them?  Well, um, that's not so easy.   

And The Walls Come Tumblin' Down
Once The Taper has started, nothing no longer stands between you and the marathon.  Waves of fear and anxiety become bedfellows with your nerves.  Before that last long run every run was a training run for an upcoming marathon; a marathon which was weeks or months away.  The Taper knocks down the wall you hid behind and shoves you right smack into reality.  The training is over, the marathon is almost here, and you are ready - no matter what taunts The Taper whispers in your ear.

Here I Go Again
With several marathons under my belt, one would think The Taper would be easy.  It isn't; and in honesty I would not want it to be.  My nerves doing the tango prove the marathon still matters to me.  The distance is hard, and it hurts, and it makes me learn things about myself.  I can't see the starting line without experiencing The Taper.  I can't see the finish line without crossing the starting line. 

And the finish line is worth it.  Oh, is it worth it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Be Selfish

The house is humming with quiet Sunday morning buzz.  Our youngest is discovering buried treasures (toys discovered while cleaning his room), the teenager sleeps, my husband watches football.  Here I sit sipping my coffee, painfully aware I have not written in awhile.

Life has been busy; very busy.  School has started along with fall sports, youth group, teenage outings and training for my fall marathons.  Our hot water heater died and two weeks later our washing machine followed.  Working full time outside the home does little to create any down time.  When the day finally quiets and I do put my feet up, it is difficult to keep my eyes open and I end up crawling into bed.

Do I feel sorry for myself?  Do I resent this crazy, fast-paced daily routine?  Not one bit.   This is not to say there aren't days I would love to come home from work, curl up on the couch and read a good book, or paint my toe nails, or write a post to my blog, or lay on the ground and stare at the ceiling.  Being blessed with the title of wife and mother brings different priorities and "me" isn't always the first priority.  Please note, I did not say me isn't a priority.  It is.  I said it isn't always the first priority.

Me becomes a priority at 5 a.m.  The alarm buzzes and I am out the door for me.  I run the miles for me.

I run to keep me healthy.

I run so I can have alone time with God.

I run to melt the stress of life away.

I run to pray my anxieties away.

I run as an example to my children.  I want them to learn health and exercise are important in life and don't stop when PE classes end with high school graduation.

I run and it makes me feel stronger.

I run and start my day with the star filled night sky which gives way to breath-taking sunrises over Mount Baker.  Starting my day with nature singing is an incredibly peaceful way to begin the day.

I run because it gives more back to me than I can ever give to those around me. 

I am a better wife, mother and friend due to my selfishness, due to making myself a priority.  When life gets crazy and I am being pulled in every direction but center, I am thankful for my 5 a.m. alarm.  I am grateful I am so selfish.

May you all be so selfish.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Affair

My household is still sleeping when I quietly sneak out the back door.  The sun remains hidden behind the night, yet emerging slowly as it's light begins to outline the mountains ahead of me.

The affair began a few weeks ago and in three more weeks it'll be over.  Although he is never boring, he tires me and a handful of weeks is about all I will be able to handle of him.  No one can see me as I make my way down the road; this is a good thing as I rolled out of bed only a few minutes before.

We meet Thursday mornings on a quiet and desolate road.  Other options are available, but none fit into my schedule as easily as this road.  I arrive and suppress my feelings to run the other way.  No, I must follow through with this.  I can't see him but I know he is there.  

Inhaling deep I look at my Garmin, press the start button and begin to run.  Hard.  Bart slinks out from behind the shadows.  He falls in step right behind me, he pushes my pace.  I can not out run him.   His voice breaks the silence in my head, telling me to slow it down.  I look at my watch.  He's right.  He's always right.  I curse him.
Half of a mile later, I find myself in a slow and easy pace.  Bart says nothing.  My watch beeps.  Bart pushes me and I am forced to pick up the pace once again.  The nighttime clouds created an air laden with the mugginess of summer.  Beads of sweat drip down my forehead.   Bart smirks.  "Don't flatter yourself" I mumble.

Another 800 meters completed, I slow my pace once again.  While catching my breath, I smile as the realization hits me - not once did Bart tell me to speed up or slow down.  The correct pace becomes easier to find.  Despite nailing the paces, Bart hovers over me refusing to let me go.

The cycle repeats itself several more times.  I am hot, I am tired and I want to punch Bart in the face.  Yet, he does not give up on me.  Like a bad penny you can't get rid of, I hear his voice over and over again, "Come on Cheri, you got this."  or my favorite, "Oh yea?  You can't punch me if you can't catch me."

With the workout done, I turn and head for home.  Bart disappears into the shadows.  I question the sanity of this affair.  I am a tired and sweaty mess, not caring to ever see him again.  Yet, after a long shower and few hours removed from our rendezvous, a secretive and coy grin emerges on my face.  It is this feeling of tremendous accomplishment which drives me back to him time and time again. 

Yasso 800s will be waiting for me next week to push me, work me and to make me stronger come race day.  Bart and I will continue this love/hate relationship. That is until the day comes when I catch him.  And instead of punching him in the face, I will hug him while standing at the finish line of my Boston Qualifying Marathon.        
The man himself.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How Much Can You Bench Press?

How much can YOU bench press?  (Does the question beg of a tone in which you can hear the antagonizing sneer?  Good.)

I don't belong to a gym or have a personal trainer.  I run.  What I do have is a 15 year old son with a weight set.  This is great for him as it keeps him interested in exercise and away from video games, well at least make it so he isn't always playing video games.

Earlier this year I sprained my ankle and started going crazy without my daily run.  Craziness makes one go insane.  It's true.  I googled it.  In my insanity I asked my 15 year old son to show me some exercises to do on the weight set.  He relished the moment of son-teaching-mom and showed me some exercises to do. 

They weren't my favorite, but I did them.  They didn't take much time and it made me feel like I was at least doing something which was far better than doing nothing.  It wasn't but a couple weeks (and to my complete surprise) I began to see definition.  One could actually see my arms had muscles and weren't just appendages hanging from my shoulders.

I am still trying to find out where my abs are hidden.

Running is my exercise of choice and after slaying the Ankle Dictator I resumed my 30 to 40 mile weeks. Every once in awhile I walk by the weight set and still pump out some of the lifts he showed me.  Today I realized how glad I am my son taught me what he did.

Having nothing particular to do on my lunch today, I filled my car up with gas and took a few minutes out of my day to stop by the house and surprise the boys.   I walked through the garage (past the weight set) and through the back door.  My oldest was sitting on the sofa watching something extremely educational on tv (I'm certain).

"What are you doing here?"

"Just stopping by to get a hug from you, can I have one?"

He smiled (!) and stood up from the couch.  All 6'1" of him bent down to give me one of his big bear hugs.  When the kids were little I did not think anything could trump a hug in which you feel tiny little fingers wrapped around your neck.  Now I know big boy hugs are just as special.

He breaks away and smiles before sitting back down.

"Where is your brother?"

"At the neighbor's."

Once out the sliding glass door, I call for my youngest.


"Yep, it's me!  Can I get a hug?"

"MOM!!!!"  The lilt in his voice betrayed his excitement.  Leaving his friends behind he came running through the back yard.  I stood in the lawn waiting for him.

Without warning, my 5'1", 95 lb, ten year old linebacker of a son leapt up in the air and into my arms.  I caught him while standing my ground.  He wrapped his legs around my waist and gave me a body hug.

"What are you doing here Mom?"

"Stopping by to get a hug from you and your brother."

He lets go, smiles a big smile and says, "Ok, I'm going to go play now."  And off he went.

Driving back to work, I thanked God for my health and the strength I had to catch my leaping son.  I thanked Him for big boy hugs and the blessing of being a mother.

So I ask you, how much can you bench press?  You don't need a gym membership or even a weight bench.  Pick up a 2 pound sack of potatoes for $3 on your next trip to the grocery store and lift the bag ten times with each arm.  Arm curl a 32 ounce water bottle (that's 2 lbs!).  The possibilities are endless when using simple, every day items.

People often ask me why I run; more often they tell me I'm crazy.  Truth be told, there are lots of reasons why I run.  However, there is just one answer on the top of my list, and it is this - I feel better about life more now than I ever did before I got up and moved my overweight tush off the couch.  Being healthy and active brings a certain color to the world, a color you didn't know was missing.  Once you see The Color, you want everyone to see it.  That's when they start to call you crazy.  But it's ok.  You can see The Color and you know one day they will too if you lead by example.  Especially your children.

Get up and move.  I don't care if you walk, ride bike, swim, or chase squirrels in the back yard.  Doing one small thing a day is a stepping stone to seeing The Color.  And I promise you, you will see it.

Afterall, if life throws you a 5'1", 95 lb 10 year old little boy, don't you want to be able to catch him?

Believe in yourself.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

6 Months To Live

The morning, crazy; my patience, shortened. Since opening the office door the phone had not stopped ringing. A Monday morning in which one longs for the weekend just passed.
My phone rings, I answer it and a man on the other end is asking me for directions to our office. I relay the simple instructions and find myself annoyed as he repeats every single word. My impatient self wonders if his Google Maps is broken.

A short time later he walks in the office. He hands me a set of blueprints. I take them from him, scan them into our system and hand them back to him. About to send him on his way, he sits down in the chair across from my desk. I glance at the lunch sitting on my desk knowing it will now have to wait.

The man leans back into the chair and tells me about the difficulty of his customer who is building the project from the blueprints I just scanned.

"Every day is a gift you know. It's just that some gifts are better than others," he says with a smile.

Laughing, I answer him, "One never knows what God has planned for us each day."

Immediately I am convicted. God had given me this day and I was thanking Him with a short temper, little patience and with anything but a servant's heart. Hadn't Pastor Dave just encouraged us to be a servant in the weekend's message? Where was my servant's heart?

"When I have difficult customers like this I wonder why I don't retire." He shakes his head and rubs his left brow. "But I know the Lord's not done with me yet."

I smile and reply, "When I have difficult days, I ask Jesus if now would be a good time for Him to come back." We both laugh.

The laughter fades from his eyes and he says, "May I share a poem with you?"

Taken aback as I had not expected this, I nod giving him permission.

He softly speaks the verse of a child asking his father to mend a broken toy. The father carefully, slowly and diligently works on the brokenness. The child grows impatient; snatching the toy from the father's hands. When the child questions the father as to why it took him so long to fix his toy, the father lovingly replies, "My child you never truly let it go."

With intent focus the man looks me in the eye, "I feel strongly compelled to share that poem with you. I do not know what is broken in your life, but lay it at the feet of Jesus and let Him fix it for you."

Words escape me as I hold his gaze. That very morning I asked God to reveal to me any hindrances I have in my faith. What is broken that God is working on mending in my life? I am shaken as I feel God is talking to me directly through this man.

He leans forward in the chair, "I was given 6 months to a year to live."

He pauses. In that brief moment of pause I am stunned. Had I not but a few minutes ago been annoyed at his interruption of my busy morning?  His words humble me and I feel ashamed.

He draws a breath and finishes, "That was 16 years ago. Every day is a gift."

In silence I sit as he tells me of his fight. He tells of his treatment and the toll it took. He speaks of God's faithfulness. Emotion rolls down his cheek as he recalls marrying his wife 8 weeks after his diagnosis.

          Dropping her off on her doorstep after a date in town, he kissed her goodnight. It had been 2 weeks since hearing the doctor's prognosis and his entire future seems uncertain. He pulls away from her and begins to walk away.

        "Damn you Terry." He stops cold; never before had he heard such language come from her mouth. He turns to face her, unable to hide the shock he feels.

        "Do you not realize I would rather spend 6 months as your wife, than a lifetime as your friend?" He bent down on his knee and proposed that very moment. They were married 6 weeks later.

He pauses to gain composure. Terry smiles and says, "She has been my wife and my friend for 16 years now. What blessings God does give."

The office door opens as two men walk in. Terry stands to leave. "Well I should get going now."

I stand; Terry turns back to face me. "Every day I start my day with devotions and when I pray I ask God to make me a blessing to someone." Tears flow, he does not wipe them away. "Today, you have been a blessing to me. Thank you."

Walking around my desk, I give Terry a hug. "No Terry, today you were a blessing to me." He walks out the door.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I sit at my desk in silence as I watch him drive away. There are words that move you and there are words that can stir your very soul. My soul stirs within me making me aware it is God who spoke today.

I approach the throne with fear and trembling steeped in tremendous peace. I am sitting in a seat of uneasiness as it is a seat of correction. What is God trying to tell me? Of this I am uncertain, yet I know it is loving. Most certainly I am convinced that God spoke to me today and He did so through a man named Terry.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trails, Snakes and Vacation

The sun is hot, the humidity bearable; even for a moss-encrusted Washingtonian like me.   I could feel the wetness of our summer back home drying out as I ran the trail in central Oregon.   Sunshine feeling good on my skin.

Standing at the top of the switchbacks, I pause to look at the vista before me.  A few homes carve themselves into the cliff’s rock, which stand above the Deschutes River.  I leave the top of the canyon and make my way down.  The high desert sand and rock feel different under my feet.  Several hundred feet later I am running alongside the river.

Squiggle lines in the dusty trail tell me snakes are part of the landscape.  Grateful the early morning is too cool for the rattlers to be sun bathing, I thank God and ask Him to keep the snakes hidden.  A quail stares at me as I run by.   River water falls over large boulders changing the sound of peacefulness. 

The trail no longer drops and the lazy current of the Deschutes returns.  A deer nibbles on the leaves from a low laying branch of a tree.   He doesn’t move as I run by despite me coming within 3 feet of it.   Majestic.

3000 feet of elevation makes my body struggle to breathe.  Leaving the river I must make my way out of the canyon.  The trail’s steep climb, mixed with the elevation, burn my lungs as I try and run up the trail.  The craziness of running this portion sinks in and I walk my way to the top.  A startled jackrabbit takes off at a speed that makes me jealous.

A bike path waits for me once the trail meets the road.  I follow it across the highway to the backside of a golf resort nestled in a rather tall butte.  Once I reach the top, I turn around to capture the view.  The rising sun glistens on the city below.  It’s beauty is breath-taking. 

Leaving the barrenness of the high desert landscape, the path leads me into a neighborhood of beautiful homes and well manicured lawns.  Though the weather is warm, I see no one enjoying morning coffee on their patio.  Such incredible outdoor living spaces and no one is enjoying them. How often I do this in my own life? 
I find a main road and decide to turn toward my home for the week.  My first run on vacation brought me views I would not have experienced inside a car.  A tough 7 miles coupled with beautiful scenery has left me feeling rejuvenated. 
Quietly I open the front door to find the household awake.  The smell of freshly brewed coffee greets me; my mother in law hands me a cup.   Taking a banana from the counter and with coffee cup in hand, I head out to the patio.  My mother in law follows.  We sit and enjoy the simplicity of the morning, taking nothing for granted but the pleasure of each other’s company.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Carol King's Story

Carol stood at the starting line of the St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon alone; this no different than how she lived most her life.  It took years before being alone no longer felt lonely.   Her nerves somersaulted inside her.  Self-doubt crept in; perching itself on her shoulder whispering it’s all too familiar haunts.  She shook it off.  Not today.   Today was her day.

The horn blew and the sea of people ebbed forward.  Carol began running her first marathon.  The nerves she felt moments before lost their potency in the familiar and rhythmic steps of her running.  Comfort surrounded her as she found her pace.

Becoming a runner was something Carol never thought she would do.  Running was for athletic people – fit people – not women in their 40s, with weight to lose and had spent a life far away from sports.  The image of her beloved grandmother comes to mind as she recalls a private moment between them.  Carol, the youngest of three children, was a young child when she learned the truth about her birth.  Life was not easy and a third child to feed was not ideal.  Carol’s mother was not happy about the third pregnancy and tried to conceal it.   Carol felt the harshness in the reality of her grandmother’s words and vowed to never be a burden to anyone, never to ask for anything including the playing of sports in school.  An innocent conversation between a grandmother and granddaughter solidified walls Carol spent decades living behind.  Bricks of “don’t ask for anything”, “take care of yourself”, and “be self-sufficient at all costs” were mortared into the walls around her heart with a thick layer of doubt and low self-esteem.

“Walking In Memphis” plays on Carol’s iPod and pushes the memory from her mind.     She is running the streets, not walking them.  She loves the irony.  The route is peppered with bands all feeding her energy as she passes by.   Mile 10 a woman runs next to her, struggling to finish the half marathon.  Carol encourages her, telling her “You got this.  You can do it.”

These are not empty words of encouragement.  This is truth spoken from lessons learned after hard earned victories.   One of Carol’s first victories came at the end of a training run.  Brand new to running, she had just run 20 minutes without walking for the first time in her life.   The realization of what she just accomplished overwhelmed her, Carol is amazed at what she just learned she is capable of.  In the middle of the park’s path she breaks down and cries; each tear stripping away deep seeded self doubt.  

The woman listens to Carol’s encouragement and forges forward.  Two miles later they part ways as the half marathon route turns and the full marathon runners continue forward.  Here the runners greatly thin out.    With less people around, Carol realizes how few people run 26.2 miles.    Something happens within her.  Instead of feeling out of place with this realization, it strengthens her determination.  A lonely road did not scare her, it empowered her.

Miles were clicking by and an old injury began to flare up.  Exhaustion coupled with pain can weaken the strongest of resolve.  Carol does not want to quit.  She looks up at the apartment building she passes.  Above the street on a private balcony a young girl waves at her.  The girl’s smile gives Carol motivation.  There would be no giving up.  Carol pushes herself forward to show that little girl on the balcony and to prove to the little girl sitting across from her grandmother so many years ago, that there is no limit to the greatness within each of us. 

A sign reads ‘Mile 20’.  Carol is now running the final miles of the marathon.  These are the toughest miles and her injury adds to the difficulty.    Seeing Carol’s pain, a stranger runs alongside her and offers her some Advil.  In desperation she accepts.    This injury would not be what stops her.  She had come too far, she had too much to prove.

Standing in their kitchen, full of excitement after walking in a local race with a friend, Carol told her husband of her plans to run the half marathon the following year.  A terrifying goal for someone who had never run before, yet she could not deny the spark of desire she felt.  He looked at her and sneered, “Yeah.  Right.”  The spark had now became a flame.

To run the marathon had been her decision, her goal and it gave her tremendous purpose.  He tried to feed her self-doubt. Years of haircuts and hair colors, diets and exercise plans all failed to make him love her more than each of his passing girlfriends.  He knew how to make her feel worthless.  Yet, she continued to train.   Running was giving something back to her.    It was chipping away at the walls she hid behind.

Mile 21, 22…the bricks kept coming down.  Her whole life she believed in the fallacy of the smile she wore.  The marathon stripped her of that smile and showed her it was ok to struggle.  The marathon was showing her the struggle is what makes you stronger; it lays a foundation of greater strength than the bricks of self-doubt she’d always known.

Mile 23, 24…Carol reflected on the changes running has given her.  She remembers those first months of running.  Afraid of anyone seeing her, Carol’s running took place well into the night.  If anyone saw her, she felt surely they would laugh at her.  After all she wasn’t a real runner; she was an overweight housewife completely dead on the inside.  Real runners are fast and svelte and athletic and happy.  Carol is no longer the woman hiding in the cover of night.   She runs in the daylight through the park she loves.  Bags of clothes - now several sizes too big - were donated to charity and at 40 years old her training has made her an athlete.  She no longer needs the anti-depressants that sustained her.  Carol knows, even now at mile 24 with a body tired and wanting to quit, she is happier than she has ever been.  Running has given Carol herself.

Completing Mile 25 brings comfort knowing she is now in the final mile of the marathon.    Her determination to finish pushes away her pain.  Carol puts one foot in front of the other.  Each footstep taking her farther away from the woman she once was.  She runs from 20 years of infidelity and pain, 20 years of not being good enough.   She runs from the divorce he told her of.  She runs from the sad and scared child sitting across from her grandmother.

The final 385 yards lay ahead of her. Carol runs toward the finish line.  Each step drawing her closer to the woman she has become; a woman who proved to herself she owns a strength she hadn't dreamt capable.  Carol became a woman who came out from behind the walls confining her and began living in the world of possibility.  She had given herself a goal and she was achieving it.  In doing so, Carol has given herself one of life's greatest gifts, the gift of confidence.

The end is in sight.  Her friend Debby is waiting.  Carol runs across the finish line and collapses into the arms of her friend. Carol weeps.  She cries because the person she once was is gone forever.  She cries for the new woman born out on the marathon course that day.  Carol cries for her birth into a new life.  A life she was meant to live.