Pain, problems and perfection

“I forgot my running shoes,” I said to my sister.
She just stared at me as we were 90 miles from home about an hour from the start of our half of the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay Friday afternoon. I was already irritated that I had to stand in the sun and listen to an overly peppy guy talk about safety precautions. And then, as I let my mind wander, I realized that even though I’d managed to pack most of what I own into my suburban, along with some great friends, I forgot the most important piece of equipment – running shoes.
“What are you going to do?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I guess I’ll run in my Keens.”
So sandals it was for 13 of my 17 miles. Seriously.
I thought about calling my husband. I thought about going home. I thought about wearing shoes that were one and a half sizes too big. I REALLY thought about crying.
And then, I thought about the reason I was running this year – Beaux Kyle. He has been on the transplant list for two years while he battles constant pain that can reduce a man to tears. Most days he barely has the energy to do the minimum required to love his family, keep his job and feel just a little like the man he used to be.
He savors every second of this life because he doesn’t know if he’ll be one of the lucky ones. He wrote me before we took off on our 30-hour odyssey and said that our offer to run in his honor and to raise awareness for organ donation had him feeling like he had the energy to ride his bike again. He would, he said, be right there running with us.
Thinking of how much he would love to run – even in sandals – shifted my perspective just enough.
Life isn’t perfect.
I had to run in a reflective vest long before the sun had set. I had to carry a flag to cross the street and constantly harp on my teammates to do the same. Someone left the plug to the cooler open and once the ice melted, my bag of clothes was soaked. Once the sun hit the car, that water took on a sickening smell that had us looking for rotten fruit under every seat.
We paid money to sleep on the floor of a high school music room that had a light on half the night thanks to motion detectors.
We got lost twice, missed an exchange once and I actually fell asleep on the street Saturday afternoon while we waited for a runner. I had a headache most of the run and a stomach ache after running 85-degree heat up the leg called, “You’ve got to be kidding me?”
My brakes started smoking and we had to park a million miles from the actual finish line. I forgot to lock the door to my Honey Bucket, and at the end of the race, I picked a very well-used can and found it was without toilet paper just a little too late.
Life is not perfect. But it is, if you look at it in the right light, perfectly wonderful. My Ragnar experience was a perfect metaphor for my life the last five weeks. It was not planned that I was runner 9, but “You’ve got to be kidding me?!” really summed up my feelings most days.
I got out of the car to run 9.5 miles in Keens some where around 4:30 a.m., and I couldn’t contain my joy. It was dark when I started and I summoned up Beaux’s face. I imagined him lip-syncing to Journey and I actually started laughing. I shared the night with people who always smile when they pass you and who understand that sometimes it’s in embracing pain that you actually find peace.
And then I thought about Jeremy Kunz, who was killed by a drunk driver while he stood on the side of the road waiting to offer a teammate some water, some encouragement. His father, Bart, told me shortly afterward that Jer never saw running as a solitary endeavor. It was a way to commune with others in a way that few activities allow you to connect.
And when the blister that was growing on my pinkie toe started to ache, I asked him to help me along. I imagined them running with me, flying with me, through the night and into the dawn. We sang to the music, even the show tunes my daughter has on her Ipod, which don’t make for very inspiring running tunes.
About mile eight I wished I’d eaten some Gu. And then I embraced my place. I watched the birds floating on the morning air and saw the glassy water of the reservoir. I breathed deeply and prayed a little prayer of gratitude.
I’m glad my life isn’t perfect. But I’m glad it is so beautiful. And I am grateful, from the bottom of my sandaled feet, that we don’t always get what we want. That, instead, it’s a rough ride, that offers us the chance to reach out, pull each other along, shower each other with love and bask in endless joy.

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