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  • Our friends can take us places we never dreamed of going before – they can push and teach us to be better people. They can help us open the tight bud around ourselves and help us to blossom. And still, we can want to kill them for it.
    I have been a small-time runner for many years. I mainly ran around my neighborhood or maybe the local park. 5k’s were my max as far as races and I never ran them to win. Are you kidding? My only to goal – to run them and not die. I never really cared to do more than that until I became friends with Karen.
    Karen, a veterinarian, had used running helped her sort out her emotions and to lessen the stress of her work, raising children, her marriage and later a nasty divorce. Then she met Tom – a wonderful man who would later become her husband. Tom had been a runner for many years running numerous marathons.
    We all know love makes you do any number of crazy things – even put on a pair of running shoes and train for a marathon. So with Tom’s love in her heart and Hal Higdon’s marathon training schedule on her refrigerator, Karen set out to train for her first marathon – the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota – the home of her new love. That was nearly two years ago.
    Inspired by Karen, I printed off my own Hal Higdon half-marathon (start small, I thought) training schedule and got ready to run the Boulder Backroads Half in Colorado. Our mutual friend Amy and I signed up for it together but agreed on the way there from Cheyenne that we didn’t want the pressure of trying to stay together. We would see each other when we saw each other at the end and then we would party after the race. This worked out well. Sometimes we’d see each other and talk and at other times one of us would be farther ahead of the other and this was ok.
    Karen and Tom were there to cheer us on at the finish line and to celebrate at lunch afterward. Proud of myself to have finished (and not have died) but definitely stiff and sore, I said to Tom: “You know – we’re only in pain because Karen inspired us to run and you inspired her to run. So, the bottom line is that we’re in pain because she’s in love with you!”
    Now, nearly a year later, I have made it my goal to run a marathon and have chosen the Marine Corps Marathon. Why this one? Because I’ve never been to Washington D.C. and I think running by all the landmarks will be a good way to take my mind off the 26-mile thing during the race. I’m also counting on sea level to be my friend. But mainly, I chose this race because my son is a Marine and I am very proud of him! A Marine actually gives you your medal at the finish line. Karen and Tom even signed up to run it too and Karen said would be my trainer to ensure that I would get a medal! Hmm. I hoped I could keep up!
    In the meantime, I’ve been training for another half-marathon in the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins. Wyoming’s winter/spring weather makes it tough to run outside and I hate treadmill running so I know I did not do train as well as I should have. I did however, run my last two long runs in Fort Collins on their trails but I was feeling my legs getting stiff and sore around eight or nine miles.
    Karen had signed up for the half with me and we were looking forward to going down to spend the night, eat out and get ready for the race. I was a little apprehensive about running with her because now she’s a fairly seasoned runner with three marathons under her belt. I need to point out here that Karen is no Pollyanna. She is a smart, savvy woman who raised four little kids and still graduated summa cum laude from the Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine. She can be a very serious person but in the past couple of years, she has really focused on positive thinking, inner discipline and even gratitude running. I have liked what I have heard her say and try to do follow her lead – when I remember. I realize we are at different places in our lives and such but she has been an inspiration in the things I think, the books I read and obviously, in getting me out there to run.
    On the way down in the car, she says, “I think this will be so much fun to run together!”
    “Really?” I ask. “Because I’m a little worried about it. I don’t want to feel like I have to keep up with you.”
    “No, I think it’ll be fun. I’ve always wanted to run with a friend. I’m really looking forward to the day when Tom and I run a race together too.”
    Ok, I think to myself. It’ll be ok.
    It poured rain that night so after a dinner of pasta at Johnny Carino’s we bought cheap rain ponchos at a dollar store and went back to our hotel room. I brought an article I had just found that day in Denver’s 5280 magazine about how long-distance running legend Joe Vigil followed a reclusive tribe of Mexican ultra marathoners known as the Tarahumaras into the Rocky Mountains hoping to find the secret of their success. Apparently it was that the Tarahumara runners so loved running that they were happy and gleeful. That’s how we should all be. We should love running! And then, we will be better runners! Seemed like sound advice at the time.

    At 4:30 a.m., the alarm goes off. The rain has stopped and there is even a star shining brightly in the morning sky. I decided to wear my running tights, a long-sleeved running shirt Karen have given and a throw-away windbreaker I had purchased the day before at Goodwill.
    We caught the bus that was to take us up the Poudre Canyon.
    Karen remarked about what a beautiful day it turned out to be. “A perfect day!”
    I told her about a prayer that I can’t remember where I got it but have said for years: “Than you God for this new day, for new ideas, enthusiasm and inspiration. Thank you for the beauty that I see in all things around me.” She said that was a nice prayer.
    The bus took off through town and then headed up the Poudre Canyon. It seemed like it drove forever.
    “Seems like the bus ought to be stopping by now, don’t you think” I asked. I had been up the Poudre Canyon numerous times before. It is a fabulous drive – tall, beautiful cliffs, a running river, trees. It’s gorgeous! I was thankful that I wasn’t running the marathon. I would probably just run right into the Mishewaka Bar and Grill up there and call it a day!
    Finally, the bus stops and we get off, use the porta-potty a couple of times, decide what clothes to leave on, what to put in the bag to have taken to the finish line. Karen decides to wear shorts while opt for the running tights because I’m cold!
    Karen says, “Now do you have a running plan?”
    “No,” I answered. Uh oh.
    “Well, let’s run ten minutes and walk a minute.”
    I figure I can handle this although I would rather start out walking a little to warm things up.
    Suddenly, we’re off and down the Poudre Canyon. It smells so good – the morning after a rain, the river running down beside us. Life is good. I’m feeling good but I start to feel the muscles in my right shin tighten. I’m glad to walk our first minute. Before you know it, off we go again. Thankfully, Karen has developed a kink in her sock so we have to stop and fix it.
    I flex my foot to stretch to the shin muscle. One woman walks past me and says, “I feel your pain honey!” The man with her says, “Come on, let’s run.”
    The sock is fixed far quicker than I would have liked but we taking off running again.
    I really think I did well for quite awhile but I am not used to running with someone. In fact, I usually have my mp3 player blasting Santana in my ear or something else that inspires me.
    But Karen talks.
    And talks.
    “Oh, what a beautiful day,” she chirps. “This is what any marathoner would call a completely perfect day for running. Not too hot or cold – not misty, raining or blustery. Absolutely perfect!”
    I agree with a simple “Uh huh.”
    Then she discusses how you must “run from your heart” – the Buddhist approach she has been reading about as of late. How this is your center and where running begins……..
    It’s probably mile six. I am dying as we begin running up a long hill and I am beginning to feel like she literally owns the time. Almost at the top of the hill, I stop. She says, “You only have 45 more seconds.”
    “Oh God,” I moan but start running again. At the top of the hill, thank God, Karen has to use the porta-potty. I feel like I am going to throw up. I keep walking and get the water the volunteers are offering me. I look down and see a worm struggling through the sand. I decide to help save him. I bend over, pick him up and throw him into a mud puddle with other worms. I hope this doesn’t drown him.
    Crap. Time to run again. We are running, at least downhill. I am saying nothing while Karen is still remarking on the joy of the day. I know she is just trying to keep my mind off anything that would stop me from believing I would be anything but successful but my mood has definitely shifted. She brings up those crazy Taramahura Indians. “We should be like the happy Indian runners, she says. “We love running!”
    “Oh shut up!” I think to myself. “Those Indians are a bunch of freaks!”
    I know at some point as my legs are tiring out all the more I actually said, after some little word of love or thanks for “the beauty that I see in all things around me” as she reminded me I actually said, “I’m going to kill you.” Karen remained focused and at peace with me, with herself, at one with all of nature. However, I picture a big King Kong hand coming down and plucking her off the path and into the nearby trees.
    Now I know she is trying to help me better my time for the Marine Corps Marathon. But I am getting stiff and sore and very crabby, while Karen is just happy, chirpy, gratitudin’ it down the trail!
    Finally, she says, “Shall we sing?”
    Oh my god! That’s it. Last straw. “No, I don’t want to sing!”
    Karen turns to me in disbelief. “What?”
    “I just want you to be quiet! Meditate!!”
    So, she got quiet and I felt bad but we kept on running. When we got to a nice little park, I was feeling like my one-minute break she was giving me was like my once a day slice of bread under the prison cell door. It was break time and I said, “I need more time. I need more minutes.”
    “But you won’t make your time,” she said.
    “I don’t care. I want you to leave.”
    “I’ll catch up with you.”
    “No you won’t. On purpose!”
    “I’m starting to get really pissy here. I want you to go on.”
    “Are you sure?”
    “Oh yeah.”
    I feel terrible and much better at the same time. Off she goes and finally, I can be alone with my sore knees, my stiff legs and my apparent bad attitude! I’m a jerk, I know. But I’m a jerk with about six miles to go and I don’t know if I could have done the ten on/one off “plan” anymore.
    I don’t even care about my time anymore but I really notice how beautiful everything is! What a perfect day for a run!
    And so, I run some, walk some, meander some, and stretch some. I enjoy a packet of ‘running gel’ while watching the rapids of the Poudre River pass by. I run by a young couple and the girl is obviously struggling while the guy is trying to inspire her. “It’s a gorgeous day! You can do it!” I think to myself how glad I am I don’t have to listen to that!!
    I start to get really hot….
    As I walk past the sign that says I have only one mile to go, I look up and swear that I see Karen deer-prancing back toward me through the woods!
    “Oh my God,” I think. “You have got to be kidding me. Here she comes again!” And of course she would have to catch me leisurely walking with a cup of water in my hand as though I’m meandering through an art gallery with a cocktail! She has to be so disappointed in me! But then as the woman gets closer I realize it is not Karen and then I start to laugh. I think how stupid I’ve been behaving.
    I start to run and run it all the way into the finish line where Karen is waiting and cheering me in along with my husband and son. This makes me start to cry and I’ve got tears running down my face across the finish line when a man I know from Cheyenne who was there waiting for his daughters was suddenly in front of me congratulating me. “Sue! I didn’t know you ran! Congratulations! This is great!”
    His being there right at that emotional moment was so out of context for me that I didn’t know what to think except that I didn’t want him to see me cry, so I stopped. And I’m glad he was there too so that Karen and my family didn’t see me cry.
    My husband took our pictures with our medals and Karen and I walked to my car. “I’m sorry I was such a bitch,” I say.
    “You weren’t a bitch,” she says kindly. “But now I know you’re a crabby runner!”

    So my time stunk – 3:02. I could have shaved off about half an hour if I’d stayed up with Karen but I will at least take her advice when I train – the ten minutes on, one minute off method – but on my own time..when I own ALL the minutes!
    For two days afterward, I did not say the word ‘marathon” much like you don’t ask a woman who has just given birth when she is going to have the next baby. But now, the soreness has gone away and I have told the story to so many people who have laughed really hard at our experience of trying to run together. Then I found this wonderful story online.
    “Apparently, Shizo Kanakuri disappeared while running the marathon in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. He was listed as a missing person in Sweden for 50 years – until a journalist found him living placidly in southern Japan. Overcome with heat during the race, he had stopped at a garden party to drink orange juice, stayed for an hour, then took a train to a hotel and sailed home the next day, too ashamed to tell anyone he was leaving. There’s a happy ending: In 1966, Kanakuri accepted an invitation to return to Stockholm and complete his run. His final time was 54 years, 8 month, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds – surely a record that will never be broken!”
    I sent the article to Karen with the subject line: “Without you, this might have been me!”
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