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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Girl At The Track

She caught the corner of my eye.  Her hair, tied in a loose ponytail, bobbed up and down as she ran around the track of a local high school.  She wore a cotton t-shirt and long grey sweatpants.  It  was over 90° on that black-ovaled track and I knew she had to have been hot.  Weight loss seemed to be her goal as she appeared 100 pounds overweight.

Breathing hard due to the pace I was running, she could hear me coming near her.  As I approached, she turned her head and body away from me.  I knew what that meant, there was no mistaking it.  She was hiding.  She wasn't a real runner.

I know, because I use to be that girl.

The Gift Of Strep Throat

It was April 2003 and I had come down with a nasty sore throat.  My husband suspected strep and urged me to go see the doctor.  I had never experienced strep throat before but I knew it was contagious.  My babies were 6 and 1½ years old and I didn't want them getting sick.

At the doctor's office, the nurse had me step onto the scale - the Dreaded Scale.  It had been a year and a half since the baby was born and I couldn't shed the baby weight.  I had made peace with my new mommy-size.

Hesitantly I stepped on the scale.  I did a double take at the numbers before me.  This can't be right.  The Dreaded Scale had budged.  I had lost 5 pounds.   The strep throat had made it difficult to eat helping me lose 5 pounds in the process.  The revelation the weight could come off gave me a grin so wide the nurse asked me if I was ok.

The big question I faced now became "What am I going to do to keep it off?".  With two young boys and my husband and I both working full time, where in the world would I find time to exercise?  What would I even do?  Thinking back to my high school days, I thought of PE class and track.  It had been 16 years since I had done either.  SIXTEEN. 

I had zero exercise equipment, but I think I had acceptable shoes somewhere in the house.  I dug into my closet and found an old tattered pair of tennis shoes.  This is a miracle in itself as there was no logical explanation as to why I even had the pair.  

Set My Alarm Clock for WHAT TIME?

Since I work outside of our home, my family time is crucially important to me.  I could not take time away from my young boys to exercise.  My only option was getting up before anyone else was awake. 

This is not natural.  I love sleep.

Making the decision to run around our block once, and having no idea how long it would take me, I set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier than normal.  I was now getting up at 6:00 am.  THIS IS INSANE.

One Block, Two Block, Three Block, Four

My first run in 16 years was around the block; a distance of less than 3/4 a mile and it took me 10 minutes.  I broke no speed records and had no fan fare.  No one saw me and I was relieved.  I had no idea what I was doing and I was not a real runner.    I was only an overweight mom whose single goal being to keep off that blasted 5 pounds. 

The next day I did it again.   And again.  And again.

A week later I decided to go a little bit further.  And then a little bit further.  The first day I ran an entire mile evoked strong feelings of accomplishment.  Never before in my adult life had I been as proud of myself as I was in that moment. 

Still, no one saw me running.  Fear gripped me knowing if anyone saw me running, they would surely laugh at me as I was not a real runner.    I didn't have real running clothes or real running shoes or even look like a real runner.  My sweats were old, my shoes older and I was overweight.

A Look In The Mirror

At the track, as I passed this overweight woman who refused to look at me, my heart twinged in memory.   It was as if I peeled back time and was looking at my former self.  I wanted to hug her and tell her I - yes, I, a complete stranger - was incredibly proud of her.  I wanted to tell her she was a real runner and to run tall and proud of all she was accomplishing.  Showing up at the track screamed loudly of her inner strength and determination; guts I never had in my beginning.

More than anything I wanted her to know the hard work is worth it.  The weight comes off.  The mornings become your favorite quiet time of the day.  The running brings tears of joy and tears of pain because it is the hardest thing you've physically ever done.  Running helps you deal with the death of your mom.  One day you'll realize how many years you wasted feeling bad because you had no idea how good the good feels.

Coming around the third bend of the track, she was in my sights again. I moved 3 lanes over to be in the lane next to her.  Her eyes were intently staring at the ground directly in front of her; looking neither ahead, left or right.  I came up next to her and quietly said, "You are doing great.  Keep up the good work."  My words startled her and she snapped her head in my direction.  Before pulling away from her,  I gave her a thumbs up. 

There was no mistaking the look on her face.  The corners of her mouth began to form the biggest of smiles.   

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Staring At the Wall

Surprisingly, the hallways held no smell.  It had been years, decades really, since I had stepped inside a home designed to assist those who need care.

Growing up, we lived blocks away from the town's only nursing home.  Often as a child as I rode my bike down that road I would see someone sitting by their window looking out at the world just beyond their reach.  I would always wave; sometimes I park my bike, enter in and visit these strangers I knew through only a smile and a wave.  Pulling that big door open the smell would be the first thing greeting me; smells of life and the dying.  Today however, there was no smell.

Pale colored walls showed signs of  wear and tear from those hanging onto their independence.  Corners dinged from wheelchairs and black scuff marks marred the walls from a wheel of an errant push.   A very well-fed cat curls up under a settee and sleeps.

A man watches me intently from his wheelchair perched outside his door.  I smile.  He does not; his only movement are his eyes as they watch me walk toward - and then away - from him.  I scan the room number signs looking for Room 6125.

Sunlight streams in through a large glass window at the end of a short carpeted hallway.  A wheelchair is turned to face the wall.  Sitting in the wheelchair is a woman well into her twilight years.  White curly hair replaces what I image the darkened color of her youth.  Frailty seeps through her being.  I am struck by the loneliness and sadness awash on her face.

Unaware I am near, she stares at the pictures of yesteryear tacked onto the wall.  Do the pictures belong to her?  Are these living memories of a time long ago?  I can not tell.  Nothing breaks her gaze upon those pictures.

Without ever knowing, she has touched my heart.  Once she was a woman of strength, youth and vitality.  She has seen a world war and endured the Great Depression.  I wonder if she was an athlete as a young woman or if, like me, waited until well into her 30s to become one.  Is her heart content or does she long for the day when her body could keep up with her?

Her gaze upon that wall haunts the vibrancy of my own life.  I make the realization I have taken much for granted.  At 45 I could be half her age; yet it's becoming clearer to me to be mid-life is my own choosing.  Time may slowly take my youth, but life's enthusiasm is mine.

A beautiful woman looking upon pictures of years ago; snapshots of darker hair, wrinkle free skin, and standing tall.  Chances are I won't see her again yet she is all I think of as I bend down and lace up my running shoes.

It's a good day to go for a run.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sun Mountain 25k Trail Race

We pulled into the Chickadee Trail head parking lot at 8:30; 3 1/2 hours after leaving home.  The time had gone by very quickly, but how could it not with views like this along the way?

There was plenty of time before the 10 am start to get our race numbers, eat and use the outhouse.  As more people began to arrive, we were also able to incorporate some awesome cross training for our swimming by learning how to hold our breath when using the outhouse.  It helped us feel hard core cuz we don't even swim.

The kids 1k race started 15 minutes before our race and it was fun to watch the joy come across their faces as they ran their hardest down and around the trail.   Their excitement was contagious.  As you can see here :
Those may look like confident smiles, but really we are a bunch of road runners who like to run on dirt every once in awhile. 

With some course advice and a loud "GO!" from James the race director, we were off on our 15 1/2 mile journey.  304 runners converged onto the trail.  Very shortly after the start, it became a single track trail weaving around Patterson Lake.  We were like a parade of ants at a picnic, all marching in perfect unison down the trail.  Until someone stopped; then it was kind of like dominoes except the dominoes were sweaty.  Kathy and I were loving every single minute of it.

We came to a small meadow between scattered trees exploding in wild sunflowers and blue bells.  I wanted to stop and snap a picture but the ant march was clipping along pretty well and I didn't want to start a game of dominoes.

A few miles into the race the trail widened and we were all able to spread out.  Never one to take a camera (you think I would eventually remember) I dedicated myself to taking selfies on this run to capture the scenery.  Taking pictures while running was a completely new experience for Kathy and I.  Here's our first one - EPIC.
The look on Kathy's face : Are you sure you are doing it right?
The look on my face : Hey look, all I have to do is press this button!

Ok, so maybe we would have to practice.  Please note though, how steep the climb is in a relative short distance.  This is one of the many hiking (read : walking) sections of our race.

The trail came to a clearing as it wound up the side the mountain.  Displayed before us were mountains in the Okanogan Forest and wild sunflowers kissing the mountainsides.  In order to capture the view, we tried to take our picture again.  This time it's quite evident we are both thinking the same thing : Did it take the picture yet?

  Let's just admire the sunflowers shall we?

This picture may look like the highest peak of our race, but it is not.  I think this is mile 5 or 6.  The climbs were difficult yet the scenery was so spectacular it more than made up for it.  Surrounded by wild sunflowers, we decided this would be a good time to play the You-Run-Up-Ahead-And-Take-My-Picture-While-I-Run-By-With-The-Sunflowers-Behind-Me-And-Then-I'll-Do-It-For-You game.  Never heard of it?  Weird.

The dirt trail turned onto a forest service road, to turn back onto a dirt trail again.  All the while we were surrounded by forest which gave way to sweeping views of the mountains around us and the valley below us.  At the half way point we felt a twinge of sadness as we knew we were half way finished.  We didn't want it to be over.

Spectacular isn't it?

Kathy and I had become the masters at selfies.  It's hard to tell what exactly we are taking a picture of here, so let's just admire how we've mastered taking our own pictures shall we?

Somewhere between mile 8 and 9 we came across the only aid station on the 25k course.  It was an oasis of water, electrolytes, coke, grapes, watermelon, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, chocolate and potato chips.  If you've never run a trail run before those delights alone should be enough to get you out there.  I'm not sure anything tastes as good as salty potato chips after climbing to 3700'.

We left the aid station after satisfying our cravings and headed to what we thought would be downhill.  At some point this trail is going to actually go back down isn't it?  The steepest climb lay ahead.  We left a forest service road for an incredibly steep, single track ascent.  At the top we stopped a minute to take another selfie (I mean, "catch our breath"). 

Some kind runner offered to take our picture for us.  Maybe they could tell we were novices and decided if we wanted a good picture, they were going to have to help us out.  Or that maybe we couldn't breathe and hold a camera at the same time.

One begins to realize how high we have climbed when the tops of the massive evergreens are that close.

We finally begin our descent down.  YES!

The single track trail was easy to follow.  The winter had taken it's toll on the trail however and it often felt like we were running in a wash out as we maneuvered past rocks and roots.  This glorious down hill was FAST and over with quickly.  As we rounded a corner we were greeted with a long uphill section.  We were a little confused as we had thought once the downhill had begun, the DOWNHILL HAD BEGUN.  Surprise!  Just one more section of uphill.  We could see the carrot dangling and we chased it.  The downhill was close, we just had to find it. 

As the race promises, there is a downhill.  We fell in line with 3 other runners.  Kathy led the group, followed by me, a guy from Seattle, a guy from Georgia living in Issaquah and a woman who celebrated the February birth of her daughter by running up and down this mountain.  Our laughter echoed in the hillside.

We discovered Mr. Georgia-Living-In-Issaquah is friends with the race director James.  He also informed us he just opened up a trail running store called Uphill Running.  Upon hearing the name we immediately put two and two together.  The elevation profile of this race was clearly his fault and we felt compelled to tell him so. 

The descent was rapid.  The uneven terrain was felt in my ankles.  We kept a very close eye on the trail rather than the scenery around us.  After 3 hours in the trail, we met the first person of the day actually coming toward us.  Carrying pizza.  Either this Pizza Delivery Boy was the best Pizza Delivery Boy EVER or we had to be near the finish line.

He said it was a half mile away.  It was a mile.  He was close.

We were sad the best race we've ever run was almost over but excited as despite it being far from easy, we easily had fun.  So we took another picture.

Obviously I haven't mastered this selfie thing.

The finish line was filled with people screaming for each and every runner that came in.  The finish line was crossed only when you got your high five from James.  He gave me mine in 3:06:47 after I started.

Our husbands were there waiting for us as well as Kathy's son Kellan who would be celebrating his 19th birthday by running the 50k the next morning.  After we finished, the band played while we sat in our lawn chairs, eating delicious pizza and drinking cold beer - the best finish to running the best run at the best race.

We've already got a race penciled in our calendar for next year; care to guess which one?


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mt. Si 50k

We rolled into the almost full elementary school parking lot shortly after 7 am.  The 2 hour drive was uneventful and now with a good 90 minutes before the start of my first ultra we could relax.  I stood in the line to pick up my race number; I realized I was surrounded by relay runners.

Mt. Si Ultra and Relay has been going strong for 31 years.  The 50 mile runners had started at 6 am and the 59-mile relay race would be starting in the next 45 minutes.  Costumes and team shirts were everywhere.  98 teams (5 runners each) belonged to the relay and their energy was contagious. 

At 8 am sharp, the first leg of the relay runners took off.  There were some very serious and some very not-so-serious runners in that group.  My nerves were starting again; I just wanted to get the show on the road.

On cue, 5 minutes before the race was to start, the winds picked up and the heavy rain started.   Every last one of us had found shelter in the school to stay out of the elements as long as possible.  The announcer grabbed the bull horn and sighed, "Come on folks, there's nothing we can do about it" and he opens the front doors. 

Making our way out of the warmth of the building, I anxiously glance over at my caring and loving husband.  He was laughing.  Hysterically.  

My clothes were soaked at the start.  But that's okay, the wind was trying really hard to dry them for me.  The announcer didn't waste anytime - why should he?  Who in their right mind would want to be out in that weather?  We got to the imaginary line in the road and he yelled, "GO" and my first 50k began.

The course was very simple.  Two blocks out, turn right over the bridge, run to and cross over the other bridge and follow the Snoqualmie Valley trail for 15 1/2 miles.   Within a mile we were on the trail.  The rain had let up considerably and I found it easy to get into a rhythm.  Spring rains made everything so green.  It was beautiful.

We cross a side road where the trail cuts through the middle of a golf course.  There were golfers putting near by.  Who is crazy enough to golf in weather like this?  I'm certain none of them thought the same thing about any of us running by.

At the 5 mile mark, the trail intersects a major road and the flaggers were ready for us.   Across the street, I notice a man in a red jacket on a bike talking to another cyclist.  Wait... that red jacket is my husband!  Dennis road his bike out to cheer me on.  A nice surprise at mile 5.  The two of them loudly cheer me on as I disappear back into the trail.

This part of the trail I recognize.  Here was the finish line of the Light At the End of the Tunnel Marathon I ran in September; single-handedly my worst race.  The day before that marathon my anemia had become severe and our family received bad news concerning my mom's cancer.  Every step of that race was a struggle; that marathon shattered me.  Yet here I was running the same trail again.  I wanted redemption.

The trail we followed made it's way up the mountain.  Although the trail was not too steep in it's climb, it was definitely felt.  My mind stayed occupied with the scenery.  All around me were lush evergreen trees.  The deciduous trees dripped with goats beard lichen.  Bridges crossed swollen waterfalls.

Sun peaked out from behind the clouds and filtered onto the trail.   At times the mix of sun and trail looked identical to September's race and a sense of dread would wash over me.  I pushed it from my mind.  When the uphill climb got to be difficult, I began to chant "Up this hill.  Up this hill."    Shortly before mile 11 I took a small walk break of 15 or so steps and I was good to go for another mile.

My legs were tired and my right quad was starting to bother me.  Up this hill.  The rain started again and brought with it puddles everywhere.  My shoes squished.  Up this hill.  I knew once I got to the turn around point the course would begin to feel easier.  The turn around would bring 15 1/2 miles of downhill.  Up this hill.

The course markers pointed us down a forest service road leading to the main highway.  It was a steep downhill and a welcome change to all the uphill.  Every runner who had reached the turn around and making their way up the hill was walking.  Finally I reached the turn around.  An aid station was there with goodies and I drank some of the soda offered while another volunteer happily filled my water bottle.  God bless those volunteers.

30 seconds later I was walking up that steep hill.  At the crest of the hill I began to run and it felt so good.  The downhill made the running feel effortless.  My watch chirped at mile 17 and I saw my pace started with an "8".   I knew I had to slow it down with nearly half the race still ahead of me.

Oh my gosh.  I still had 14 miles to go.  FOURTEEN MILES.  The thought was overwhelming.

Mile 18 the sky remained cloudy, but the rain had let up.  Mile 19 my stomach started to get upset.  I wanted to take off my fuel belt as it felt so restricting on my waist.  I tried adjusting it.  Cruising into mile 20 the hail started; slight at first.  Then the skies opened and hail was bouncing off everything including my face.

That was it.  I was done.  I was cold.  I was tired.  My stomach was upset.  I couldn't feel my fingers.  And there was a man on a bike in a red jacket along the side of the trail.  Screaming as loud as possible at the sight of me.   There was a man in a red jacket!  I ran up to him and gave him a kiss.  I was surprised to see Dennis this far up the trail.  He was drenched and his bike was filthy.

We turned and headed down the trail.  He took my fuel belt and wrapped it on his handle bars (true love!).  My stomach instantly felt better and I felt 10 lbs lighter.  The downhill made for very little pedaling on his part and he coasted next to me.

As this was an out and back course, I met several runners heading up the trail to the turn around.  The 50 mile runners were inspiring and no one crossed paths without a shout of encouragement.  We were all miserable, but we all smiled at each other.

Mile 21 I reached an aid station and knew the hardest part of my run was over.  Today's goal was to have a strong 20 to 24 mile run and then lighten the pace considerably for the remainder of the race.  I called it good at 21 miles.  Grabbed a swig of soda and headed back down the trail.

Keeping pace behind me, my husband - who had been with me at the September race - remarked how I am running much stronger than last time.  "Your pace is stronger, your posture is better - it's like your running is completely different."  He gave me the redemption I was looking for.  I was am a different runner.  My anemia is gone and Mom is with Jesus.   My haunts of that September race disappeared.

The rain let up again by mile 25 and the sun came out.  Mile 26 brought us to the highway again and Dennis went left heading back to the school while I continued straight onto the trail.  Glancing at my watch at 26.2 miles I smiled as each step forward would be a distance I'd never run before.   I ran some, walked some and enjoyed each step of the way. 

Relay Exchanges were vibrant as many energetic-cuz-they-didn't-just-run-28-miles runners cheered loudly as we passed through.  As I made my way down the trail, I could hear fast footsteps behind me; their speed giving evidence they were relay runners.  Without fail, every single one would tell me "Good job" or "Looking good" as they passed me by.  They instinctively knew how deflating it could be to be passed at that stage of the race.

Mile 29 my watch chirped telling me the battery was low.  OH NO YOU DON'T.  You better last as long as me out here Mr. Watch.  If I'm doin' it, so are you.   Of course talking to your watch is normal at mile 29.

Mile 30 I was on the bridge greeted by a volunteer telling me to be careful on the stairs.  STAIRS!  At mile 30.  Oy vey.  I carefully made my way down and ran toward the last bridge.  I was in the home stretch. 

I crossed over the last bridge and had less than half a mile to go.  Two women were lazily window shopping in town.  Upon seeing me, they set their purses at their feet and began to clap for me.  I threw my hands in the air and told them I was treating myself to a latte when this was over.  Not just a latte but a grande latte.  Yes. I. Am.

A relay runner, who looked an awful lot like the running Forest Gump, stood on the side of the road screaming for me.  He ran by me and gave me a hard high five.  I thought my hand was going to fall off.  Maybe I was a little tired.

The finish line was a buzz of relay runners waiting for their team to finish.  The announcer calls my name as I crossed the finish line.  I JUST COMPLETED MY FIRST ULTRA! 

My watch read 31 miles exactly with a time of 5:33:09; 11th female overall and first in the 45-49 age group.  I hugged my husband and cried.   This was my strongest race in 2 1/2 years and brought me the redemption I sought.

Winning doesn't always come from a time on a watch or from being the fastest.  Winning can come from pushing past that which haunts you and finding strength on the other side. 

Today, I won.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Road To Recovery

Daylight Savings Time shoved our morning start time of 6:30 back into the dark.  Lisa, Kelly and Stephanie were smart enough to remember headlamps.  Pat, Melissa, Arlane and I made sure to stay in close with them.

We started our way down the dark trail grateful for the headlamps illuminating the path ahead.  Spring rains had left ruts and muddy sections we carefully navigated around.  We fell into comfortable paces and within a few miles we had spread apart yet remained within eyesight of each other.

Leaving the park, the skies lightened up enough and we can easily see the road ahead leading us to the marina.  The boats sleep and very few people are walking the path.  Melissa and I are enjoying the views while talking of our marathon plans for the year.  In a few short weeks she will be heading back to run the Boston Marathon.

As we round a corner, we are happy to see Arlane running alongside of us.  Kelly and Lisa had reached their miles and headed back to the starting point.  Arlane caught up to us and the 3 of us easily fell in pace.  Arlane and Melissa were both at the Boston Marathon last year finding themselves in the midst of the terrorist attack that pierced the heart of every runner and angered a nation.

The miles clicked by as we each shared deep emotions from that day in April.  They talked of the things they saw, the smallest things their minds grabbed onto to keep them focused, the anxiety of getting through to loved ones to let them know they were ok, the intense stress of trying to find each other and the horror of the not knowing.

Although I was not there, I told them of the helplessness we felt trying to find out their whereabouts, if they were ok, injured...or worse.  The emotions bubbled to the surface as I recalled all we did from 3,000 miles away.  In a small way, sharing our stories this morning brought us down a road of recovery.  With Melissa going back this year, she will face the ghosts of marathon past and we will be sitting at our computers tracking her every step along the course.

The 9 mile turn around point came as a surprise as we had been lost in conversation.  The route we picked for this day was designed to be tough.  The first 9 miles were downhill, the 9 mile run back was now all uphill.  With Melissa running Boston, Arlane running Nashville and me doing Vancouver USA, hill training is essential.  

Mile 10 was straight uphill and somewhere in the mile I was struck hard with the realization this wasn't difficult.  For the last 2 1/2 years I struggled with my running.  I was always tired, found myself walking on runs I could do easily before.  

A trip to the doctor told me I was severely anemic.  Despite iron and a diet strong in iron, I was still struggling.  Last September I ran The Tunnel Lite Marathon and at this race I hit rock bottom.  The day before the race, we discovered my Mom's cancer was no longer treatable and thus putting me emotionally unavailable to run a marathon.  The day of the race I was having medical issues and my anemia griped me tight.  Two years of fighting the anemia and it effecting my running as it did, I felt destroyed.  The mental crush of the condition had finally broken me.  My mind was in a very dark place.

In October I had a procedure done that controlled my medical issues and brought my anemia under control.  And right there - somewhere near mile 11 - I realized how good I felt.  For the first time in 2 1/2 years I realized how hard running had been for me because of how good I was feeling right at that moment.   The feeling was incredibly freeing.

The next miles pass us by as we watch the town starting to come alive.  A St. Patty's race was happening in a few hours and we could see the road crew putting up cones to keep runners safe.  People were dressed in green.

The park had a steep hill and we grew quiet as we each focused on running the hill strong.  Our pace was not faltering despite the hills we were tackling; telling us we were running harder than before.  Melissa likes to push herself the last mile of a long run, but coming off a rigorous training week she was content to keep the current pace.

Little did she know.

We are running up the trail closing in on the last mile.  My watch chirps 17 miles and with a smile, I pick up the pace.  Melissa and Arlane are in conversation and then notice I have pulled ahead.  I giggle to myself knowing picking up the pace will spark the competition in them both.  .35 miles to go and I hear Melissa calling to me, "Really??"

"You've got .35 miles to go, we are almost done."  She picks up the pace, catches me and passes me despite the hill we were cresting.  She turns and yells, "You aren't falling behind, stay on my heels."

"Oh, I ain't goin' anywhere sister." and I stay in her shadow.

Arlane is right behind us shouting encouragement to stay strong.

My watch chirps telling us the mile is over and we have just clocked the fastest mile of the day.  Mile 18.  Uphill.  Yea, we just did that.

Sipping our coffee and looking at my friends sitting around the table, it's hard for me not to get emotional.  These days I cry a lot but today I felt so happy.  My running family who was there for my last few struggling years are there still holding me up and celebrating these small steps I have in getting better.  They understand how hard the marathon is, they understand how dark the mental game can be and they stand firmly at my side; they share every step on this road to recovery and I can't help but feel incredibly blessed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fragrance Lake Trail Half Marathon

"Name please."

"Fiorucci," I answer.

While the registration volunteer scoured the sheet looking for my name, the person holding the bib numbers says, "I've been waiting to get my picture with you."

Confused, I look over to see my friend Esther.  In complete shock, I may have squealed in delight.  I first met Esther in 2009 at the Capital City Marathon in Olympia, WA.    We live 4 freeway hours apart from each other, have not run a race together since that day, yet keep in touch through social media.  She wanted to surprise me and in that she succeeded.  Happily, I might add.

With plenty of time before the race was to start; I took my goody bag and headed back to my car.  Inside the goody bag was a pint glass commemorating today's race.  Yea, I was pretty sure I'd be using that bad boy at the end of the day.

Waiting for my friends to arrive I studied the course map.  A few of the trails I had run before, others like the brand new Cyrus Gates Overlook Trail, I had not.  Every report told me the views from Cyrus Gates Overlook were incredible and I would love it.

The elevation profile was worth my attention and I made a few notes.  Maybe I should have included funeral arrangements.

My friends had started rolling in and Trevin, Kellan, Stephanie, Jenny and I made our way to the starting line.  The race director, Candace Burt, was giving us some final instructions.  The chatter from other runners made it difficult for me to hear.  My mind wandered; I wondered if there were toe tags in the goody bag that I had somehow missed over my excitement of the pint glass.

We were off.  Trevin, Kellan and I kept an easy pace to start.  The choice was made for us really, as the start consisted mostly of single track trail.  As I knew I wouldn't be taking first place - a shocker to some I'm sure - I happily kept in line with those around me.

The "Urb", as we locals call the Interurban Trail, is a much wider gravel path and easily thinned the group.   This was the easiest mile of the race.   And by easiest I mean flattest.   Mile 2 we turn onto Cleator Road, a gravel road heading straight up the back side of Chuckanut Mountain.  Trevin and Kellan take off at good strong paces. 

I, along with 95% of the rest of the runners, walk the ascent.  This is not a leisurely walk, this is a huffing-and-puffing-I-will-blow-your-house-down kind of a walk.  I reach Two Dollar Trail and begin the ruthless switchbacks to Fragrance Lake.  At the time I thought them ruthless, little did I know - I had not yet met the switchbacks of Cyrus Gates.  Ignorance is bliss.  And I, apparently, was extremely blissful.

After a mile or so the ascent becomes much more manageable, with uphill and downhill sections before coming to the edge of Fragrance Lake.  Despite the name of the race being "Fragrance Lake Trail Half Marathon" we spend very little time at the lake itself.  Here's a picture I stole borrowed off the Internet.  It was taken during the summer.  It does not look like this in February, which is a good thing as I may just have stopped at the lake at that point and called it good.

My legs are pretty tired as I turn onto South Lost Lake Trail.  Never have I run this trail before so I keep telling myself this is the adventure part of the course.  Next will be Cyrus Gates Overlook.  "Enjoy this.  Enjoy this.  Must enjoy this." became my mantra.  I enjoy a nice downhill section where the course has dropped 645 feet in half a mile.  My pace is good.  I am strong. I am Queen of the Mountain.

Just as quickly as I fitted that crown onto my head and held my royal scepter high for the world to see, the realization sinks in, for every step I have taken downhill, I have to go all the way back up - as in to the ridge line.  You know, ridge lines that are found at THE TOP OF MOUNTAINS.

No sooner had I realized this, the trail begins to climb.  In less than half a mile I climb from 480' to 1500'.  The views are spectacular and I try and enjoy them.  My quads are mad at me and very tired.  I am not sure I have ever worked them so much and they are making me very aware they are day dreaming of lounge chairs and pool sides.

I start thinking about coca cola.  I begin praying that there is some at the aid station at the start of the Upper Ridge Trail.

By the time I hit Cyrus Gates Overlook I know my quads are toast.  This new trail is so steep in spots stairs made of wood and dirt are built into the mountainside to help one along.  Normally, this would make me happy, but in order take the stairs, one must actually lift your feet onto them.  To lift my feet, I needed my quads and they deserted me about 400 feet down the mountainside.  My quad muscles were shaking so much on one of the flight of stairs, they dang-near buckled and I grabbed a tree so I wouldn't tumble backwards.

As I fear for my life, I remember I am suppose to enjoy the view.  I look around; justifying I should see the views my quads died climbing up to.   It's breathtaking.  Or maybe it was the elevation stealing my breath.

Glenn Tachiyama is an incredible photographer who was waiting for us near on one of the switchbacks on Cyrus Gates Overlook.  He snapped this picture of me.
I am smiling.
It's a lie.
The only thing I was thinking about was coke.

8 miles later I am finally at the highest point of the course.  I continue to follow this trail knowing there should be an aid station close by.  Since I chopped my legs off and threw them down the mountain about a mile before, I watched the trail paying close attention to rocks and roots.  No need to fall today.  I have yet to fall on a trail run and I wanted to keep it that way.

I begin to hear someone yelling my name.  And a cowbell.  I am hearing a cowbell.

Am I dead?  Do angels ring cowbells at the pearly gates?

When my senses returned, I realize my friend Sherry is cheering me on and ringing the cowbell.  She is one of the angels at the only manned aid station on the course.  I am beyond excited to see her.  I ask her if there is coke.  She exclaimed, "YES!"  to which I may have begun to cry. 

Pop had never tasted so good.

After filling one of my water bottles with this liquid sugar, I begin to hit Upper Ridge Trail knowing the hardest part of the climb is over.  I am at the top.  The rest of the course is rolling and then downhill.  This is my favorite elevation to run.  I take it careful as this is the most technical with a plethora of rocks and roots. 

It isn't long before I recognize a familiar face ahead of me.  I have caught up to Esther.  We run the ridge and catch up on life.  She takes a fall and assures me she is fine.  I watch my footing, knowing my legs are weak.

We are among tall evergreens and the roots are plenty.  Often the very roots we try and avoid are the ones giving us an extra grip on our footing.  The trees are massive.  One moment I am eye level with a branch, the next I am looking straight up at them.  Hmmm.  I am not sure how that really happened, but I do know it was the quickest my body has moved all day.  It finally happened.  I fell and have a wicked awesome bruise on my butt to prove it.   I won't be including a picture of that however.

But it is awesome.

We follow Lower Ridge Trail back to Cleator Road.  The road is now another uphill section climbing back up to Fragrance Lake.  We decide we are hard core and begin working intervals into our run.  Maybe just one interval.  And it was to the second tree on the right.  From there we indulged in an uphill 'rest' period of walking.  Once we came to this trail head, we knew it was all down hill.  We pinky swore that it was ok to do whatever needed to be done to finish and we wouldn't feel bad about leaving the other behind.

Shortly after, we began running downhill.  Finally, I began to feel my groove again.  Esther tells me we have about two miles to go.  We pick up the pace and I am feeling great going down the hill.  She keeps her own strong pace and the distance between us begins to widen.  We holler to each other we will see each other at the finish line.  THE FINISH LINE!

A massive evergreen has fallen over the trail during one of our winter storms.  The branches hold the tree about 3 feet off the trail.  This poses a problem.  I can not climb over the tree as it would require a ladder or Superman.  I had neither.  I had no choice but to bend down and crawl under it.    My quads had left me for Mexico.  It wasn't pretty, but I did it.

I am back on The Urb and so close to the finish I can taste it.  I round the corner heading into Larabee State Park and toward the finisher chute.  Trevin is waiting for me and gives me a high five.  He tells me be prepared for yelling.  I don't know what these means until I round the final corner and see the chute.

My friends are lined up waiting for me and they begin yelling.  Kathy, Karen, Kellan, Stephanie and Jenny cheer loudly as I cross the finish line.  I am surrounded by those who know what it's like to push yourself and still come out standing on the other side. 

The most physically demanding race I have completed to date and I can still smile.

Just don't ask me to climb anything for awhile.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Awesome Pants

3:12 a.m.  I roll over.  Over the last 6 weeks I haven't slept much so there was no surprise when the clock told me what I already suspected.  Still, I try and sleep.

At 4:00 I hear my oldest call to me from his room.  3 days away from being 17 and he has been sick in bed with the flu for 2 days.  In the darkness I find my way to his bedside.  He is hot to the touch.   I refill his cup with cold water, get a wet washcloth for his forehead and measure out medicine.  At 6'2" and knocking on the door of being a grown up, I relish the time I get to dote on him.

I crawl back into bed knowing the 5:00 a.m. alarm will ring in 30 minutes telling me it's time to go run.  Every fiber of my being does not want to run.  Winds are whipping outside my window and the gusts rattle the panes.  A downpour begins so fierce it sounds like rocks bouncing off the skylight.


Right on cue, the alarm rings.  The rains have stopped; the winds have not.  I continue to lay there.  I justify all the reasons why I don't have to run.  Yet I know, one of the best things to prevent me swimming in my broken heart is to exercise.  As hard as it is to get up in the dark of winter to run, not running is harder.

Getting dressed, I tip toe to the back door and open the slider.  The wind is a steady 14 mph with gusts well into the 20s.  The wind is from the south, bringing with it warmth in comparison to the 11° we had 4 days previous.  The rain clouds had parted great enough to show me the full moon hidden behind them.   Warm wind, full moon - these are unexpected surprises I would not have known had I stayed in bed.

Leaving the neighborhood I am faced with a head wind.  I tuck my head down to help fight against it.   Objects fly around me as I catch glimpses of them in the light cast by my headlamp.  Clouds roll quickly across the sky and occasionally the full moon bursts through illuminating the road in front of me.

A mile passes by and my watch chirps.  I glance at it and am surprised by the speedy pace I have kept despite the wind.  Another mile and a faster pace still.  I am grateful I didn't stay in bed.  Mid-stride a gust tries to knock me over.  I recover and giggle at the absurdity of it all.  My neighbors drive by and I know they think I'm crazy.  It doesn't matter, I feel good.  I decide to tack on another mile to the end of my 5 mile run.  My run complete and each mile faster than the previous one.  A joy I wouldn't have known had I stayed in bed; a joy that comes only from pushing yourself.

I felt awesome.

Later, as I drove my youngest son to school, we talked of the strong winds blowing and my run earlier that morning.   As I dropped him off and he jumped out of the car I told him, "Remember to wear your Awesome Pants today."

He smiled and said, "Mom.  I always do."  He then reached his hands in the air, began to dance and sang the line from a Lady Gaga song, "Cuz baby I was born that way."

He was still dancing his way into the school as I pulled away.  Driving to work, I thought a lot about what he said.  As hard as it's been lately and as unmotivated as I have been, God still made me awesome.  He made me perfectly me. 

The least I can do is put on my Awesome Pants every day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Nookachamps Half Marathon

"The wind will be a head wind the entire race." Terry told us. 

It was mile 3 when Karen, Diana and I realized he wasn't kidding.  The winds were sustained at 25 mph, gusting up to 50.  More than once, if we were caught mid-stride, the wind almost knocked us over.

"This is almost as bad as CIM," Karen recalled. 

"Just not as wet," I interject.  And as if on cue, the rain starts; feeling like little razors against any exposed skin.

We pass the 10k turn off and I silently wonder if it wouldn't be smarter to make the turn and call it good at 10k versus a half marathon.  We continue on.

Diana had run a 100 mile race just 11 days prior and Karen and I passed the time by asking her questions.  We both can not wrap our minds around running a distance of 100 miles and Diana is extremely humble in her accomplishment.

We decide if we ever accomplished a 100 mile race, we would find it difficult not to mention this at every presented chance.

"Yes, can I have a nonfat latte please?  Because I just ran a hundred-miler."

"I'm going to swing by the store on the way home to pick up milk because I just ran a hundred-miler."

"Hello?  Yes, hi. I need to bring my car in for an oil change because I just ran a hundred-miler."

Ok, maybe Karen and I aren't as humble as Diana.

The road we are following turns into the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Clear Lake. The rain has let up but not enough to bring on spectators. 
There are no town folk walking the streets and cheering us on today.   

We leave the main street and find ourselves face to face with a decent sized hill.  And a head wind.  Sigh.  Karen has grown quiet and after running together for 4 years, I know she is trying to tap into that inner strength.  A mole hill can look like a mountain on any given race day.  To hear me above the wind I have to yell, "Shorten the stride, pump your arms!"  She nods.  We slow our pace knowing we are not racing this half marathon and our pace is irrelevant.

Diana power walks up the hill and keeps pace with us.  This makes Karen and I laugh as we realize we definitely are not running a race pace.

At the top of the hill we welcome a slight downhill leading us to the edge of Mud Lake. The next couple of miles we enjoy the flattest part of the course.   Farm lands of pastures, horses and cows pepper the route.  

We have reached the out and back section and begin scanning the faces for people we know.   Our friend Steve is braving the elements with his daughter's cross country team and manning an aid station.  We give him a high five.  The rain has started again and stings our skin.

The rolling hills hit us in the last 3 miles of the course.  An eagle screeches and we find it soaring above Barney Lake.  A sight so beautiful it takes our breath away.  Or maybe it was the 40 mph gust of wind that took our breath away.  Yet there it was soaring on the wind that fought against us; spectacular.

The last mile is upon us and we try and pick up the pace so we can finish.  We are exhausted from the windy fight and Diana tells us her legs are tired.
...You know, cuz I just ran a hundred-miler.

Finally we are rounding the last corner turning into the parking lot of the Skagit Valley College.  The last hill awaits spitting us out onto the oval track and into the finisher's chute. 

Each of us is surprised to see the clock read 2:01:35 as we were certain the pace we had been keeping against the wind would have brought us in around 2:10.  A volunteer hands us our medals and we head straight to the gym to try and warm up.  Diana leaves for home.

Hot chili awaits and although we've never eaten chili after a race before, we decide it is exactly what we need to try and warm up.  It works.   We begin feeling our fingers again.

We make our way back to the car and decide it's time to go.  Karen confesses miles 10,11 and 12 were very difficult for her.  She told me she gave herself a pep talk and asked my Mom to help her finish.  Tears brim my eyes.  

I carried my mom with me every step of this race; each step celebrating the life and legacy she left us.  She taught us how to persevere and today -despite the elements thrown at us- we persevered.

Thanks Mom.


Thursday, January 9, 2014


The calendar reads Tuesday and it's my first run since Mom died. The dark winter morning hides me in it's quiet.  There is no rain and I realize I have no idea what the weather has been like for the last 5 days.

The day after Christmas our bedside vigils began; a Thursday.  The four of us children and my brother in law were there each day and rotating the nights.  Dad never left her side.   Aunt Mari and her daughter, our cousin, Vicki completed the circle around Mom.

My mind wanders in this pre-dawn darkness as I run the route I've run hundreds of times before. I reflect on Psalm 23.

Yea though I walk through the
valley of the shadow of death
I fear no evil for You are with me.

Mom walked in that valley for 6 months.  In July after receiving the news the cancer had metastasized, she never once complained. With the shadow of death looming, she knew a shadow is not cast without Light; the darker the shadow the brighter the Light ahead.

And that valley was dark.  For all of us.

Sunday afternoon we were finally able to reach Pastor Henry Numan.  For 17 years he walked with my parents on their journeys through cancer.  Somewhere in that walk he stopped being a pastor and became a friend.  A friend Mom talked to often in her last months.  She never left his conversations without feeling encouraged and given a dose of God's great comfort.

Henry called after receiving our messages and had cleared his calendar to be there first thing Monday morning.  15 minutes later he called back asking if he could come now.  "Please", we responded.  He made the 45 minute commute - through the Canadian border - quickly.

The last few days of Mom's life I had witnessed some very loving moments, ones that will stay with me forever.  Watching Henry with Mom will be one of those forever moments.  Despite Mom no longer being responsive, he leaned over her and quietly repeated her favorite Bible verses.  He gave her words of comfort reminding her of the greatness of heaven that awaited her.

My Dad, brothers, sisters, aunt, cousin and I sat in a circle around her bed; where we had been for the last 40 hours.  After talking to Mom, Henry sat down in the chair near the foot of her bed.  He asked if we could pray.  We bowed our heads where each of us were sitting, I on the floor at the foot of my Dad's chair.

As he said "Amen", we all saw Mom had become pale; only two earthly breaths remained.  Sunday night, December 29 she walked out from the shadow of death and into the Light.  Mom was Home.

Sometime later that evening, Pastor Numan and I had a few quiet moments together.  I told him Matthew 18:20 had come to my mind,
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.  

"Pastor Numan, I can't help but reflect on while we prayed together, Jesus was here.  He tells us this very clearly in Matthew.  And as you said amen, I can only imagine Jesus looking at Mom and saying, 'Come on Kathy, you're coming with Me.' and He took her home."  We smile through our tears at such the thought.

I turn into the neighborhood in which I live.  My body exhausted from the last several emotional days, but renewed by running a few miles alone.  A light goes on in my neighbor's kitchen, the light spilling out into the darkness outside.  I wipe a tear from my eye.  My run is almost over as I turn left onto my street and I head toward home; just like Mom.

September 6, 1942 - December 29, 2013
Katherine Miedema
September 6, 1942 - December 29, 2013

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8