It was a Francis Scott Key kind of morning: "Oh, say...by the dawn's early light?"
This particular Sunday was not just another long-distance training day.
They had spent Saturday mapping out the plan for Sunday; a more intricate collaboration than had occurred in previous planning sessions. There's something to be said for Experience being a teacher.
Their phone call was about an hour, going over and again the start time, the drive time, the water stops, the energy shots, the traffic flow.
Distance had its own importance. Vikki had not completed any of her previous double-digit goals. Today's 16-mile run was admirable; however, she was struggling, lamenting that it should be 20. Twenty is the optimum number of miles a marathon runner should run in a training session before race day, and three, the optimum number of weeks that 20 should be run. Twenty miles were what Jules ran on the same day three years ago when she was getting ready for the Chicago Marathon . That same day, Vikki ran her first 26.2-miler. The Fox Valley Marathon. Today was the third anniversary of that sub-five-hour hoof.
The Vikki-Jules running partnership began that year, 2015, in the midst of recoiling from personal and professional setbacks. Starting Fox Valley that Sunday was a family triumph, coming as it did at the end of three successive years when Vikki buried her father, her mother and a sister; and lost her job of over a decade. It was on that job that Vikki met Jules, hiring her as a freelance producer for video projects Vikki coordinated at the corporation.
When Vikki was laid off because of budget cuts, Jules -- a passionate marathoner -- returned the employment favor. She hired Vikki as field producer for a documentary Jules was producing on marathon runners. Interviewing the runners as they finished, Vikki resonated with repeated comments about the spiritual nature of running. Coupled with her own Scripture studies and dormant competitive streak, it didn't take much of Jules' prodding (ok, encouragement) , for Vikki to begin training for a half-marathon (13.1 miles). Why stop there, said the Prodding Producer. Run the full monty. Besides, without the 9-to-5, there was plenty of time to train, running along the south bank of the Fox River where the marathon would be held, during the week.
Because his staff position at church had flexible hours, for fun Michael could come for support which generally came in the form of popping up in planned and unexpected places on the course anywhere between downtown St. Charles, IL, and Interstate 88. The route on the shores of the Fox River was awash with artistic parks, fishing posts and running trails. There were also a few wooded areas that seemed to have been considered locations for "Deliverance." These backlots not only tweaked Michael's photo safari instincts, they also tapped his latent caveman protector radar. He saw things, and people, on the trail, Vikki did not. Would not. That's all right, he thought, you just run. I'll watch. Thus, the camera lens through which he viewed his wife in the race surroundings was not just peculiar paparazzism.
When the family last saw her at mile 22, Vikki waved. When they saw her again, she was wavering. Running, she wasn't sure if she'd make it to the finish line. Waiting at the line, her posse wavered, too. Michael, knowing she was woefully behind her pace, went "There" -- that place they always so don't go: she's pulled up lame, or is crumpled in the woods. Those prayers he intoned, circled with Vikki and Jules before each training session, were improvised and singular. "Lord, just let her finish," he muttered. The cry was soon answered.
Though she had finished much earlier -- having run her 20 miles in preparation for HER Chicago Marathon in a few weeks -- Jules ran back on to the course a couple of miles. No one is sure if she donned a cape, for there are no phone booths in downtown St. Charles, but when Jules was seen again, she was flying across the finish line again, this time with Vikki in tow (or toe), having run with and encouraging Vikki in word and deed across the finish line. This collective triumph was cemented not only by Vikki finishing, and finishing under five hours, but also by Jules giving the medal she'd received, gift-wrapped, to Michael at their celebration dinner later that night.
It was Jules, knowing the affect of cancer on Vikki's family, as it had touched hers, who introduced Vikki to the face that by running the Chicago Marathon she could raise support for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, as she herself was doing, so that the 26.2 miles had a deeper purpose.
And so, when Jules gives instructions, Michael and Vikki listen.
Meanwhile, this morning...
The fact that the same race was occurring on the same day as this training run was further complicated by the fact that neither Jules nor Vikki was competing in Fox Valley, but had chosen the same course to train. They had to finish before the bulk of the runners got going on the same course. Thus, Saturday's pow-wow. Jules, the master producer as well as track coach, made a point of texting that the success of their day hinged on being SHARP to their 5:30 AM rendezvous. Any variation could create a logistical logjam, potentially tripping over hordes of runners from the opposite direction; or worse, getting caught up in a swarm and off course. A "Rawhide" without ramrod Clint Eastwood. There could be something worse than encountering actual marathon runners, however.
As Vikki repeatedly reminded Michael throughout training, time didn't just mean the distance run. There was the mindset to be dealt with. Her repetition of the emotional element channeled baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, the poet laureate of malaprops whose observations include., "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical." On days like this, Yogi was Yoda as orated by James Earl Jones. Or in their case, Jules. In short, tardiness would create a more detrimental mental drain for the Type-A and A-minus women before they got out of their cars.
And so, Saturday Jules followed her text with a three-way phone call. Vikki and Michael had their responsibilities. Vikki running 16. Jules running 11. Michael driving to rendezvous points on the trail, hoping to navigate roads blocked off for the marathon.
The best way to continue is to minimize the narrative and let you see and hear what transpired with a nod to Sgt. Joe Friday. The story you're about to read is true. No names are changed, and Michael maintains his innocence.
NEXT: "Knees on Fire" -- What running on Sunday morning to beat competitive runners actually feels like.
The KIT 'n' Kaboodle Blog
The essays here are culled from our travels, conversations, worship experiences and discoveries.
Many are reprints from our newsletter, The KIT 'n' Kaboodle, or Facebook notes over time.
They're written by our ensemble, Garlan Garner, Michael Edgar Myers or Vikki J. Myers -- solo, or collectively.