Amazing grace

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The journey of two friends are powerful reminders about what is good in life — and how we can draw inspiration from the people around us.

Be grateful. Be kind. Be happy.

These are choices we make. Today, I’m thankful for Jason and Amy sharing their stories with so many people. Both have faced tremendous challenges in the past year. Both have faced those challenges with amazing grace. Both inspire.

In the past, I’ve shared part of Jason Boutwell’s story, but this week he posted an update of his own on CaringBridge. Read his latest message and the reminder of how we each should be grateful. He is running at the Fargo Marathon less than a year after undergoing chemotherapy. Jason is a man of constant happiness, determination and positive influence.

As this week wore on, I composed a blog post to share about Jason and Amy, and then held back on posting it. I wanted to let my friends know how inspiring they are, but my words didn’t adequately capture their spirit. I decided to wait to publish the post. Less than an hour later, I read the inspiring words shared by Amy Miller Hawkinson.

She granted me permission to share her story, in her words:

“In January, 2012, my husband, David Hawkinson, ran the Phoenix Rock N Roll Marathon in a PR (personal record) time of 3:07. I had never watched a marathon before, and I was inspired, to say the least. I ran my first and second marathons in Fargo in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

As we were training for Boulder Ironman, the spring of 2014, Dave kept mentioning running Phoenix again… with me! Ohhhh, I would whine about training over Christmas, stating who would make cookies and shop for presents while I was running, and he would drop it and bring it up again sometime later. After he passed away in June, I realized how important it was for me to carry on and run that race.

Thus starting an amazing journey to the finish line of the Rock n Roll Phoenix marathon, January 18th, 2015.

The training started in September and went quite well until about Thanksgiving. It was very healing to join my friends for a run and enjoy each other’s company. It helped me stay out of the hole of despair and loneliness. It gave active healing for my grief and I felt very optimistic towards the race. However, once the holiday’s hit, grief took its toll on my training and my health. I spent a month fighting one illness after another, starting Christmas day. I had gotten my long runs in, but my weekly mileage suffered and I was mostly couch-ridden.

I felt some anxiety towards the race, wondering how I was going to run a marathon when I could hardly walk around the block. Anxiety turned to complete despair as the week before the marathon, I was into the doctor twice to be put on antibiotics, and ultimately tested for influenza the day before I was supposed to fly out to Arizona.

As I sat in the doctor’s office sobbing, waiting for the results, I felt like Dave was with me holding my hand. My first break came when the doctor came back baffled that the influenza test was negative. He thought I still might have it and advised I not fly, let alone run.

I did not believe I had influenza, yet knew I needed to start preparing myself to not be able to go. Every time I opened the website to get the phone number for the hotel I planned to stay at the night before the race, I would look at the pictures of Phoenix and long to be there where some of my most cherished memories of Dave were made. I felt catatonic. I couldn’t cancel anything. I couldn’t move. I was in such shock and sadness of yet another dream that wasn’t meant to be. The only thing I could do was to notify my friends and family of my despair.

It was amazing how the texts and emails and messages poured in, lifting my spirits by sharing their prayers for me. I so desperately clung to the tiniest measure of hope and went to bed.

The power or prayer has never been so evident in my life. I woke up the next morning and was amazed that I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a month…energy! I felt better!! My lungs were tight, but I could move around and function, so I got packing!!! I flew out and was in Arizona by the afternoon. I still didn’t know if I would be able to run on Sunday. I went to bed early with visions of the Expo dancing in my head and got some much needed rest. Saturday I felt a bit better still and knew that I would try to run. I had no idea how it would go, but I was filled with so much gratitude and wonder that I even made it to the start line! It was so very precious to me.

With no grand illusions of even being able to finish the marathon, instead of focusing on time I decided to focus on all of the love and support that got me to that start line. I had a printout of the race map. On it, I dedicated each of the 26 miles to those I love. During each mile I would think about the person or persons dedicated. I would think of my favorite qualities about them. I would think about how they demonstrate strength. I would think about my favorite memories of them. And, I would pray for them.

It was one of the most beautiful and gratifying times of my life.

What great strength you all gave me!!! I probably felt at mile 8 the way one usually does at mile 18 in a marathon, but I was able to persevere because of all of you. I finished just under 4 hours and 10 minutes; smiling with tears streaming down my face, clutching my map and my picture of Dave in a baggie sticky with GU residue.
My emotions were overwhelming. I was exuberant and so very thankful to have been able to honor Dave by finishing the marathon dedicated to and inspired by him. My husband is in heaven, yet I am still surrounded and filled with love and joy on this earth. God is good!!!

The Phoenix marathon did get warm, almost 70 degrees by finish so electrolytes were key. It wasn’t hilly, just a bridge or two. It was a very nice race.

What I would recommend is not where you should run your marathon… but more as how you run it. Run for the right reasons. Run to spend time with amazing people who don’t give up on a race or each other when life gets hard. Run to heal the brokenness inside you which needs support and encouragement. Run because you can… as a tribute to those who are no longer with us or who cannot run.

Basically, run for love. Love of your body moving. Love of God’s great outdoors. Love of people. Love for yourself.”

Thank you, Jason and Amy, for being amazing people. Thank you for sharing your stories – those who are touched by your words are better because of your gracious perspectives on life, and your friendship.

Run for the trials

Earlier today, Fargo’s Eric Loeffler qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials for the second time.

Eric finished the USA Half Marathon Championships, in Houston, Texas, in 1 hours, 4 minutes, 48 seconds – an incredible race that earned some travel reimbursement for his trip to Los Angeles, which will host the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials. Here’s the Los Angeles Times story on the announcement.

Three years ago, Eric also ran CIM to qualify for the 2012 trials, which were held in Houston. He came within seconds of qualifying for the second time when he ran the same course just last month. And today, in impressive fashion, Eric accomplished what very few runners can accomplish.

This year, qualifying for the A and B standards in the marathon became more difficult as elite runners continue to get faster and faster. For men, the A standard is 2:15, and the B standard is 2:18. Men can also run a half marathon in 1:05 to qualify with a B standard mark.

How much more difficult is it to qualify now? For the 2012 U.S. Trials, the A standard was 2:19, so runners hoping to make that mark much run 4 minutes faster.

Here are the qualifying guidelines, and only athletes meeting the A standard will receive funding support to participate. Athletes meeting the B standard can run in the Trials, but do not receive financial assistance through USA Track and Field.

Awesome job, Eric. You’ve earned another trip to the Olympic Marathon Trials.

It’s OK, I’m a runner

“I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.” – Dean Karnazes

Before heading to bed last night, I made sure to set two alarms. Without a backup, I was worried that I might not get up for an early start.

It turned out to be a good plan, because a 4:15 wake-up call always seems a bit extreme, even for an early morning runner. This morning I had good reason to rise even earlier since I volunteered as a substitute for one of the Herald’s delivery routes.

The first winter storm of the season prompted me to bundle up in my running gear, slide on some boots and hope for the best. After picking up three newspaper bundles, I swung into a convenience store for coffee. Then I was on the road again.

It took me a dozen of so deliveries before I found my groove. The delivery sheet, detailing the addresses for delivery and any special instructions, made it easy. After parking strategically on each street, I grabbed a bundle of papers and ran up and down the street, in my boots, sliding papers behind glass screen doors or into specially designed newspaper boxes.

Some people were up early, shoveling snow out of their driveways. One guy saw me, after opening his garage door, as I delivered to his neighbor’s home. Then I ran to his home. “You don’t have to run,” said the man, who wasn’t wearing a jacket.

“It’s OK, I’m a runner,” I pronounced before wishing him a good day. No, I wasn’t running because of the deteriorating weather conditions. My purpose was to finish the route on time, and running seemed to be the most efficient way. Plus, after completing my 63 deliveries, I was headed to the health club for my regular workout.