Last December, at the Western States Lottery in Auburn, I sat between Gretchen and Julia as we anxiously awaited the results. When my name was called, we jumped up, Julia grabbed my shoulders and screamed in my face, in that scream that only Julia can produce: “OH MY GOD JENELLE YOU ARE RUNNING WESTERN STATES!!”
It’s been just over two days since I got the call – Julia was killed in a tragic car accident on Monday night. It’s impossible to accept – as the shock begins to wear off, I’m overwhelmed with grief. It doesn’t feel real.
As I struggle to make myself go for a run… I can vividly see and hear her screaming at me. The race is in three weeks. I will be running every step for her.
The night before the previous year’s Western States Lottery, I texted Julia at 10pm to see if she wanted to meet at 5am in Auburn the next morning (over an hour drive for each of us), to run before the lottery. She did (this was not surprising). After neither of us were chosen, we went out for lunch, and after commiserating our un-luckiness over drinks, we decided to run a few more hours afterwards. We covered 28 miles that day. I realized then how fortunate I was to have a friend that would agree to that kind of “fun”.
Julia never had it easy – she showed up to the start line no matter what though. She had an autoimmune disease that most people would use as an excuse to never exercise again (pretty sure her doctor told her “no running”) – instead, it drove her even harder to push herself. Running with her, she never let on the challenges she faced, unless you asked her directly about it. She was a constant reminder that you can do more than the physical limitations with which you are dealt.
The first time I met Julia was at Donner State Park as we stumbled out of our cars for a lap around the lake before sunrise. JP had met her at the Tahoe 200 aid station that year and knew we should connect. She was fast, she had a great sense of humor, she was wise way beyond her years (and mine), and I was immediately grateful to have met her.
Over the years, she agreed to meet me for ridiculously early runs to accommodate my kids’ schedules. Her grit and determination were as contagious as her smile. Despite the incomprehensible challenges she faced, she was always willing to listen to my problems. She always made me feel better.
Julia was a very generous and giving person – she volunteered at races, she helped me with the DPMR newsletter, she helped me with my dog Bev, she hung out with me and my crazy kids. We invited her to join us for Spring Break in Mexico, as she was one of very few people that I thought could actually survive a week in a foreign country with our chaos (sadly, she couldn’t go). My kids looked up to both her and Naomi, as the superheroes that they were/are – they inter-changed their names, “Julia-Naomi”.
During one particularly challenging dog-sitting adventure, Julia and Naomi took Bev for a run in Marin, while I was running the MUC 50. Bev escaped, chasing after a deer or something, and they followed her for hours through poison oak, to finally get her back and then have to remove tics from the worst possible place on a dog. And Julia still agreed to watch Bev after that.
The last time I saw Julia we ran in the canyons with Gretchen. This was the happiest and strongest she had seemed to me in months (following her recovery from the Tahoe 200 in September). I’m grateful to have that morning at the end of March as a final memory. At one point, we made a silly promotional video for Celebrex (who we felt had been missing out on marketing to ultrarunners).
Julia was a brilliant writer, and was set to take over as editor of her local paper tomorrow.
I’m trying to fill this gaping void in my heart with her words – reading all the reports, re-reading all her messages. Telling myself she is still here. Because, really, she will always be here.
Some of Julia’s writings:
Hate and Lies: a Tahoe 200 Race report
I structured my life the way all good masochists and addicts do, with a bunch of groups of friends who don’t talk to each other so no one knows your full story and you stay protected inside of yourself. But this doesn’t protect you from the person who’s hurting you the worst, which is you.
It has to start somewhere – On why she cared so much about Western States
Because when you keep showing up, at some point you’ll see something you never considered to be possible. And you automatically beat anyone who didn’t show up, including the version of yourself that could have tapped out. I heard something [about] drowning in pain and injury and illness that felt clear and magical that I now understand is pretty rare. I heard a story about dirt and mountains where a race becomes pure persistence and survival.
It sounded like a way to wash clean of scales and vomit and beating my shins into hard dirt left turns.
It sounded like absolution.
Are you Afraid of the Dark – race report from the Canyons 100k.
The reality is that the ankle will heal and I’ll go back to running, and it might get interrupted over and over again, but there’s going to be plenty of exceptional days in between. As long as I keep showing up, they’ll be more likely to happen. I need to learn to be unafraid of losing them, or I’ll run so scared all the time that there won’t be any good days at all.
Somewhere new in the same place – race report from the Bear 100
Wild places feel like home. Not in a tame sense, or out of entitlement or ownership, but there’s no anxiety or dread associated with being outside for a long time or in the night, I don’t wait for a walk to end so I can go back inside.
Lean In: 2016 Mt. Marathon – report from a race in Alaska
The first time I sacrificed blood to a race was in 2008. Trying to keep a good spot, I stayed in the thick of the middle pack of my last 3200m race in high school. I was a really angry teenager. So, when the metal spike of the shoes on the girl in front of me dug into my shin, I was 100 percent certain it was an act of war, and I switched from running to racing my fastest 3200 ever.
Broken Rules: Everything New on Race Day – race report from the 2016 Broken Arrow
We ended up high on the ridge again, when I started to feel really particularly awful. This is totally relative, however. I was having infinitely more fun than if I had stayed at home to rest while watching Law & Order.
The Friendliness of the Ultra Distance Runner – race report from the Canyons 100k
Being with another person doesn’t have to sap your energy. The self-deprecation you project is what saps your energy. At peace with myself, I’m at peace with others. Maybe I don’t have time for much of a personal life, and maybe I run too much, but running and I are very happy together, more so now because I learned how to let the right ones in.
100k to Freedom – race report from the 2015 Castle Peak 100k
When I run, I seek to be true to myself, true to my limitations, and complete the task at hand encompassing setbacks rather than ignoring them. The normal small aches and pains of running all day are a part of the process, and staying presently aware of pain puts me in control of it as well. I think there’s a difference between being in pain, and being upset about being in pain.
CIM 2014 – race report from the California International Marathon
Like many runners signed up for CIM, I thought a certifiably quick marathon time sounded like a great running accolade, and had pipe dreams of qualifying for Boston. A little less common to the running masses, I wanted to do it while dodging my friend, shadow, and ever-present running companion: Ulcerative Colitis.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made to the Julia R. Millon Scholarship Fund, submitted online via: bit.ly/jrmillon_fund
or sent to:
Julia R. Millon Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o First Northern Bank,
48 Main St., Winters, CA 95694