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.