a thank you note to my running shoes

Hi there old friends!

Just a little note to say THANK YOU!

As I reflect on 2017, I realize we’ve had some rocky patches, haven’t we? Literal patches of granite that we had to climb up and over, and dodge and… come shin to face with when those tired legs of mine lost all ability to dodge even the smallest pebble.

I’m sorry about that time I buried you in a box and stuffed you in the back of my closest. Breaking up with you, that was a mistake. Thank you for being so loyal despite the mistakes and the pain. The thing is, I let the world convince me that you and I were over. That running and I were not meant to be. That’s what happens when you walk by what you see, rather than running on faith. That’s what you get when you listen to the world and their “logic”. August was not the best month ever. It was a month without you.

Were you lonely, up there on that shelf collecting dust? Did you miss me as much as I missed you? Because I did miss you. I missed how close to God I feel when I lace you up and head off into the woods, or up some muddy trail. How I hear him speaking, feel him moving and shifting all the broken pieces into place. How my heart races at the thought of challenging myself to run my favorite trail a little faster this time. How dreams take root and find fuel when we’re out there logging the miles. How times stands still the faster my legs move, the faster my heart beats. How healing it is to run and sweat and cry in a place only my feet can find.

Mine Falls 2017

Please understand that my transformation from “Sara Madden” back to “Sara Francione” was harder than the last icy, painful mile of the Jingle Bell half marathon. Sara Madden was an Ironman, a Boston marathon finisher, a triathlete who founded a team and coached runners and won her age group, won money, landed on the podium as the second and third place female overall, and even won a race once! But in between the victories, life happens. Hips get injured. Hearts get shattered.

I had to bury you in that closet because I had to bury her. To make room for “Sara Francione” I had to say goodbye to “Sara Madden” and have that closure. It hurt and I mourned and hope faded. But on that last Monday night in August, something impossible transpired. God rolled away the stone, and “Sara Francione” opened that closet door and dusted you off. I laced you up for that last run in the Mine Falls Trail Run series, a runner reborn. She is spunkier than that other Sara. More compassionate and grateful and fearless. She believes in miracles because, well, she IS a miracle. She believes in falling in love again, because with every mile you brought her through, her heart fell harder for the miles and the winding trails and the trees and the morning dew.

Mine 2017.jpg

This “Sara Francione” may be new to you my old friends, but I knew her well once. At 22 she ran her first 5k and it blew her mind! She’d always admired the runners she passed on her way to work each day, and that June day in 2001, she became one of them. When Sara Francione crossed that finish line in downtown Albany, NY, she was home. Running was a challenge and an escape and a celebration and a community and a playground and a  sanctuary all rolled mystically together.

Then she lost herself, slowly, as one who takes several subtle wrong turns, until they cumulate, and one realizes that they are monumentally off track. On a course in the middle of California, with factories on the horizon, and tumbleweeds blowing across the road. At Mile 18 of a marathon that I claimed was my birthday celebration, but admitted was also my last attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon. On September 11, 2016. That’s when I started walking and crying and wondering why I was even out there. My reasons for racing, for running at all bore no resemblance to the reasons “Sara Francione” became a runner. Perhaps that Sara was lost forever.

Or perhaps she was just buried, like you. Thank you for waiting patiently for that Sara to emerge. And for teaching me that it is never too late to run after a dream! Thank you old friends for chasing adventures a mile high in the Denver sky, along the Cherry Creek trail, and past the trolley cars in Dallas with me. And for that 6:30 mile in North Carolina on Thanksgiving morning, and that 15-mile trail run up to the summit of Bear Brook and back… twice!

 

Thank you for taking me on the Twilight Challenge, and steadying me as we ran that 2.62-mile loop from bonfire to bonfire. Thank you for joining me for the Vulcan’y Fury trail race, and refusing to let me be derailed by a few bee stings and that minor spill down a cliff.

 

Thank you for sharing those breakthrough half marathons with me this fall! I am truly grateful to have placed 2nd in my age group in the Loco Half marathon, the Manchester Half, and the Jingle Bell Half.

 

 But those paces and those places paled in comparison to the joyful discovery that “Sara Francione” was not lost, and home was still at the finish line of a 5k on a frozen December day in Boston.

2017 Boston

Thank you for helping me understand that running could still be a challenge and an escape and a celebration and a community and a playground and a sanctuary!

But most of all, thank you for all those solitary runs through Mine Falls before work, and being such a good listener when I confessed how scared, yet desperate I was to let “Sara Madden” go. Thank you for absorbing the tears and the puddles, the dreams and the prayers whispered at dawn, as we weaved through trees and leaped over roots, and beheld the shifting seasons and fading leaves settling on the ground beneath us.

You old friends are my closest confidants. It was you who knew before anyone that I had fallen in love with a trail runner thousands of miles away. Perhaps you knew before I could even bring my own mind to acknowledge this. Perhaps it was the way we ran the Mine Falls loop backward that morning, and I leaped off the roots that I typically take you around!

mhiiHI 2017

I can’t bring you into 2018 with me old friends. But I will never forget you, and the memories we made and how God used you to bring me back to life.

Dear Shoes 2017

With love and gratitude, your runner,

Sara Francione

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