In 2011, I met a woman.
Okay that’s not technically true. What happened was this: I followed this woman up Grandfather Mountain in Boone, North Carolina for about 7 miles as we both labored to finish one of the hardest street marathons I’ve run. After the race I tweeted out my time, and she responded.
We struck up one of those weird digital friendships. We chatted about ultra running, a sport we’d both recently picked up, and we liked pictures of our respective pets. Other than that, we rarely interacted.
I assumed the hallmark of our friendship would be marked by a casual distance and be limited to a shared love of running. Maybe we’d see each other someday at race, but it was more likely we’d be those people who existed in the ether of our digital lives.
That’s not exactly how it played out.
* * *
“I’ve got an idea,” I said to my wife.
“Okay,” she said to me in that voice.
We’ve been together less than two years, but already I’ve come to realize that I make requests that most husbands never make. I’ve gone camping to do book research without her, I take extended writing trips to local cabins, and I’ve flown to see former students who needed me. These are not extravagant requests, but they are not necessarily what marriages are built upon.
This time, I thought my luck was going to run out.
“So,” I said. “I met this girl a few years ago. Well, I didn’t really meet her. We met on Twitter after we ran the same marathon. She’s going to do an ultra marathon, and I told her I’d run a pace lap with her. That would be okay, right? You should come. It will be fun.”
In my head, this sounded rational: I’d drive to St. Louis, pick Juli up from the airport, shuttle her to the Mark Twain National Forest where she’d run a 100-mile race, and then bring her back. Along the way, I’d take care of her equipment, make sure she was okay, and run 1 of the 25-mile loops with her.
As the words came out of my mouth, though, I realized that for most wives this would be a non-starter. I waited for a second as Rebecca furrowed her brow. Then she flashed her cute “stern” face to let me know that this was one of those questions.
“Who is she,” Rebecca asked.
“Well, she’s a veterinarian, and she does beauty pageants. That’s about all I know.”
“Of course she’s a beauty pageant winner,” she said in mock exasperation before telling me that we would absolutely go.
* * *
“I have no idea how we are going to get everything into the car,” I whispered to my wife as we sat at the Starbucks in the St. Louis airport waiting for Juli’s friend Holly to arrive.
When we first agreed to crew, I assumed that it would just be the three of us: Juli, my wife, and me.
I found out soon enough that I was incorrect in that assumption. Juli’s friend and running partner was attempting the 50-mile run, and another friend, Richard, would be a second pacer for Juli.
As everyone made their way to the Starbucks, I couldn’t visualize how the bags might fit into the back of our Kia Soul. Rebecca and I had been aspirational as we packed. While we crammed all of our clothes and gear into one hiking pack, we’d decided to take our large tent, camp chairs, and blankets in case we stayed on site that race.
The back was simply full.
Now we had to figure out how to get training bags, suitcases, running packs, and clothes into a car that was just a little bit short on space.
* * *
My alarm at the Super 8 went off at 4:30 a.m., just 90 minutes before the start of the 50- and 100-mile races.
The women wanted to get to the start early, and we had a 25-minute drive from downtown Potosi to the Berryman Trail.
The night before we’d gone shopping, buying breakfast food, snacks, sports drinks, and fruits so that the women could eat and hydrate before race. Pre-race nerves kept much of that from happening. They’d nibbled and sipped, but everyone was anxious to get the day started.
We arrived at the start, which was hidden in the darkness. Thankfully we had about 15 minutes to spare, which was just enough time for me to fill up Holly’s water and make sure their drop bags were in the appropriate places.
In the moments before a long race, runners envision every possible mishap. My job was to make sure none of those mishaps occurred.