When I met DJ seven years ago my life was literally falling apart.
He was a familiar face. Someone I’d seen at group runs. Someone who knew people I knew. A good looking runner guy who was divorced and had 2 daughters around the age of my own 2 daughters. It was the summer of 2011 and I was dusting off the ashes of my 15 year marriage, scared of what the future had in store for me yet oddly hopeful.
They say timing is everything. The day that DJ reached out to me, to tell me that he was there if I ever needed to talk with someone who had been through the horror of the “Big D”, just so happened to be a day when I needed nothing more than an impartial friend to unleash on. Anyone who’s gone through a divorce knows that the hardest part is the way our friends and family react to the news. Their instinct is to pick sides whether they know each side of the story or not. There’s always more to the story and everyone has their own truth. DJ was at that time, and still is, completely non-judgmental and supportive.
That late summer of 2011 I was training to run my first 50 mile foot race and I had lots of long training runs to get in before the actual event in late October. DJ was there each time. He’d get on his bike and peddle alongside me for 20 to 30 miles or more, listening to me ramble, watching me sweat, bleed, weep, barf. Nothing scared him. He was like the frigging Incredible Hulk. He’s 6’3 and a soft-in-the-middle former college football player. He’s a giant rock. Like a beautiful island or planet or something equally magical. All I know is that in those early days, when he would hug me I would get completely lost in him. I never felt so protected and secure in my entire life. Seven happy years later, a bear hug from him can cure any of life’s troubles for me.
We started slow, having 4 young daughters between us who were our top priority. Lucky for us our daughters all seemed to fall in love with each other just as easily as DJ and I fell in love with each other. We spent the next 4 years living apart but spending all of our free time together as a family. We loved what we had and were scared to hope for more. In the summer of 2015 we took the huge step of buying a house together and blending our families. The girls adjusted beautifully and we had those moments of “why did we wait so long to do this”? And then, naturally, the moments of “what on earth were we thinking”?
In the past 7 years we’ve watched friends of ours fall in love, get married, divorced, etc. while we stayed just the same: Happy. Content. Lucky to have found each other.
I’ve lost count of all the ultra-marathons DJ has coached me through and crewed for me. The Fall 50 in Door County is what we refer to as “Our Race” because it was the very first Ultra and it was meaningful on so many levels. We’ve had 7 beautiful years together at that event. I’ve also completed the 100k distance 4 times and have attempted the 100 mile distance 6 times in the years we’ve been together, failing once at mile 77 when DJ had to carry me off a ledge in a secluded woods in the middle of the night. I smelled like urine and looked like a Survivor contestant but he never once flinched. He thinks I’m more beautiful in these moments than when I put on make-up and fancy clothes.
Last weekend I ran the 2nd annual Lighthouse 100 mile in northern Michigan. I ran the inaugural event last year, setting a personal best time of 21 hours and 40 minutes in some pretty brutal weather conditions. This year the weather was absolutely perfect. A good 15 degrees cooler than last year with a nice gentle breeze. The course was run in reverse this year, beginning at the tip of the peninsula outside of Traverse City and running north to finish in Petoskey. To say it is scenic would be an understatement. DJ and I had been looking forward to going back all year and by the time race day arrived we were ready for whatever the day had in store. Little did I know that a big surprise awaited me at Mile 43.
The number 43 is very significant to us. It was DJ’s football number and it’s become a good luck symbol to us both over the years. At Lighthouse 100 the race director, Dave Krupski, allows the runners to choose their own big numbers. Runners are a superstitious lot so naturally, this is a fun perk. My bib number both years was 43 and to make things even luckier, I happen to be 43 years old this year.
The run was going beautifully. I felt relaxed and comfortable throughout the morning and was able to keep my hydration and fueling on track even as the afternoon started to warm up. I had projected arrival/departure times for each aid station and for the most part I was spot on with each one. At the 4th aid station at around mile 40 DJ told me he was going to next see me at mile 43 for a kiss. This is a tradition with us every year at Fall 50 and I always look forward to that magical mile 43. When I spotted his black truck parked on the side of the road I picked up the pace a little bit. He had the song “You and Me” by Dave Matthews Band playing on the truck stereo and he told me he had something back by the tailgate to show me. He had made a sweet sign and when I hugged him he asked if I wanted to marry him and pulled out a beautiful ring. It all happened very fast and truthfully it’s still a bit of a blur. I remember crying and I remember feeling embarrassed that my hands were so sticky and swollen. He says that I asked him “can I keep it”? I think what I must have meant was, ‘do you trust me to run the next 57 miles without losing this thing’? I remember not wanting to leave him but also feeling like I could blast off and run all the way to Canada because I was so elated. I remember him joking that, yes, I did need to get back out there and finish the run or else he was taking the ring back.
During 100 miles you inevitably hit some highs and lows. The trick is to keep putting one foot in front of the other when you’re in a low spot. I honestly never hit a low spot after mile 43 that day. It was as if I floated the remaining 57 miles, my head was in the clouds. As I crossed the finish line and saw the glowing numbers on the clock I remember thinking how strange that it took me longer to finish this year. 34 minutes longer to be exact. But then, you know what 34 backwards is……..