I woke up to my alarm on the morning of the race to find the bathroom light on, my husband already in the kitchen, dressed, the coffee pot whirling. (Even though it was 3:45 AM, this is not a new experience for me as he is our resident Morning Person.) I stumbled straight into the shower, my body protesting but my mind racing. I'd gotten some sleep. Apparently a lot of people have a hard time going to sleep the night before a race but I'd fallen out just as soon as my head hit the pillow. I'd had no choice.
After I'd showered and dressed I peeked out the window to see if it was raining.
It was dark and cold out there. But it was not raining.
I wandered out to the kitchen and poured myself a huge travel cup of coffee. I made myself a double portion of microwave maple oatmeal, my standard fare before a long run. I slipped my favorite sweatpants and fleece jacket over my "uniform," remnants from my days as a track and cross country coach, gathered my supplies for the race, and wandered out to the pickup truck.
I knew a few things about what the race would be like. I'd discussed the course with my sister and a few other friends who'd run the LA Marathon before. Mile six was supposed to be brutal. The first third of the course was hilly. I knew that we'd be meeting up with a film crew four times (more on that later) and I'd probably have to stop some. Go ahead of John, who was the one being filmed. Run a quarter mile behind him. I knew my mom, my in-laws and my children would be at mile 16.
And yet I had no idea what to expect.
As we approached Dodger Stadium John's energy level (and, honestly, his anxiety level) was OFF THE CHARTS. My husband is – under normal, daily circumstances – an intense person. We had to make it up to a certain section of the race start area where all the warming tents and port-a-potties are located to set up a meeting area for the Team World Vision runners and we met with a few security guards who were a bit, uh, big for their britches. It was kind of insane. Finally, after not taking "no" for an answer from the final security guard we met, we drove directly into the crowd and unloaded the truck. Some of our friends and some of John's colleagues from Team World Vision were already there waiting for us. We set up the tent and set about filling up some helium balloons as the cold, slicing wind threatened to blow it all away. People started trickling in. My running group friends – Lindsay, Dan, Ben and Andy – showed up and it was such a comfort to me. I was nervous. I was freezing cold. And I'm sorry but I seriously had to poop.
When I came back from the port-a-potties I was pulled aside by my friend Michael (who is also the national director of Team World Vision), who was there with his friend Paul and two members of the film crew. We huddled together in the wind and Michael told me that he and Paul would be running the race with John and me. This? Was awesome (and unexpected) news!
For a minute here I need to back up and tell you about my friend Michael Chitwood. We met nine years ago when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois. At the time he was working with Youth For Christ, and Michael is the person who first taught me how to do ministry with teenagers. He and his wife Dani took me under their wing, and Michael showed me how to do everything from talking to high school students about Jesus to driving a 15-passenger van. I have met a lot of people in this life, and I say without reservation that Michael is one of my favorites. And it's not just because I have never met anyone who has such a similar personality to mine … if there is a boy version out there of me, it's Michael. He's loud, he's fun, he says "crap" and "d-bag" a lot … Just like me! See! TWINSIES! It's because (even though he's only a few years older than I am) he was never afraid of my, er, large personality. He empowered me to try new things and made it ok to fail. He followed Jesus even when it made no sense to anyone around him. He is awesome. He is my friend. I freaking love that dude.
After I'd been working with Michael and a group of other volunteers at a nearby high school for about nine months, we all trained for and ran the Indy Mini Marathon in the spring of 2004 to fundraise for YFC. I'll be the first to tell you that I didn't train well for that race. Other than one ill-fated nine-mile long run, I only jogged around my block about once a week for a month. I am thankful that my friend Tiffany, who was a fellow volunteer and also much more prepared for the race, stayed with me and carried me through. I ran the entire way, and then promptly collapsed into a 4-hour nap on the bus ride home afterwards while John (my future husband) and Michael talked over the bus seats.
Soon after that John proposed, we got married, and moved to Texas (all in the span of three months!). Over the years we sporadically kept in touch. Michael started running marathons and he Dani moved to Chicago to start Team World Vision. John and I moved to Los Angeles so he could pastor a church. Team World Vision started in New York, Miami, Dallas, Minneapolis, Los Angeles. A position for Team World Vision opened up in Los Angeles and Michael called us.
I could go on, but what I am trying to say is that Michael is someone that God has used in my life over and over. And this race would be no exception.