a little endeavor

Posted October 2, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

So there’s this little endeavor I’m undertaking this weekend. I’m sitting at home, alone (except for my 70-pound Border Collie, who is right at my feet, terrified of the thunder outside). I’m fretting and pacing and packing and checking and second guessing and fretting. I took the day off from work just so I could fret in peace. My wife and I fly out of Kansas City tomorrow. We’ll return on Tuesday, assuming I survive the little endeavor.

We’re getting some much-needed rain here in Kansas City today. My hope is that while the Pacific Northwest is noted for its raininess, it will be dry and sunny on Sunday (just as the forecast is predicting right now). But I am packing for any possibility.

I hung out with friends from my running club last night, and over too many beers we swapped stories and encouraging words. Everyone has assured me I can meet this challenge but that it’s going to be very hard. I now have an iPhone, so I hope to post real-time photos of myself and my descent into madness on Facebook. Like most things, that might start out well and peter out just as I am petering out.

In writing news, I haven’t really written a word in weeks. Perhaps it is anxiety. Perhaps I’ve hit the writing wall. I’m not sure. But I did have a “revelation” about one of my characters in the Fathers and Sons stories that is significant and will affect all of the stories in the cycle (except the already published ones that are now carved in stone). This deepens and enriches the characters and the relationships among them. I’m hoping that this revelation is the spark I need to get back to writing.

But first, the little endeavor.

Regalia Run 5K 2014 recap

Posted September 29, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Regalia kit

The UMKC Regalia Run was the third 5K I had on my dance card, which I’d mentioned in my earlier posts. I had said I didn’t think a 5K was my distance, and then I found myself signed up for three. Now they are run and done.

I had done the Regalia Run last year, and I regaled you patient readers about it in this post. That was the first year the run was held, and now I’ve been to the second running as well, so I feel like a legacy. I guess I’m going to have to keep doing this every year.

I was surprisingly nervous about this run in the days leading up to it. I’m not really sure why. I can do the distance. I knew the course (even if this year’s course was different from last year’s). I was rested and fueled. I’d been turning in faster times on races all summer. The weather was just about perfect for a run. My new shoes were broken in. The stars were in alignment. And yet I was fretful for some reason. I suspect it had to do in part with a desire to do better this year than last and in part with the knowledge of how hilly the course this year was. It might also have been some transferred anxiety about a long run I’m hoping to do this coming weekend.

Whatever the reason, I slept fitfully on Saturday night and woke before the alarm on Sunday. I moved about the house. Let Queequeg out (and checked the weather — which was much warmer than last year). I drank some tea, ate a banana, and swallowed a vitamin (in part because I don’t eat much of what most people would call a balanced diet but also because the vitamins seem to ward off the cramps I otherwise get in my hands, feet, and legs). I surfed online for a while. Checked and re-checked the race web page for updates (none). Brushed and flossed. And then slowly began slipping into the kit you see in the photo above. (Note: KC Running Company is a local store that sells the usual gear but also runs and sometimes sponsor’s races. They were running this year’s Regalia, so I thought I would wear their shirt.)

My wife and I got to the University about an hour before gun time (and before most of the other runners) and got ourselves over to the start. I felt chilled in my skimpy plastic clothes, so we found an open door in one of the buildings and let ourselves in to sit in comfy chairs and wait. (Also, indoor bathrooms.) The sun had finally crested the hills to the east and was falling on the campus grounds. About a half hour before the start, we headed up the slight hill to the start and wandered about there. I had my blood pressure and pulse checked at one of the booths operated by the nursing students (137/73, 54 bpm). We speculated whether that really was Steven Spielberg sitting on the stone wall. (If so, he ran under an assumed named since he doesn’t show up in the results, but it sure looked like him.) I ate a free energy bar. We wandered about. I looked for other runners I knew but didn’t see any. There were only about 250 runners signed up this year, but that beats the 200 they had last year. Still, it would have been nice to see a familiar face.

Last year the start had us running down a short, nice hill. This year they had us start halfway up a hill, continuing up that hill once we crossed the mats and were underway. (At first that seemed a little unkind to me, but on reflection, maybe not. Starting out too fast is a common problem for many runners, so starting out going uphill might prevent them from doing that. Or it might tire them right away. I don’t know.)

About five minutes before the official start, they asked us to assemble behind the arch and get ready to run. There was some speechifying that was mostly inaudible, and then the countdown began. I had told my watch to find some satellites, and it had, so I hoped it would hold the signal until I pressed the GO button. When the University chancellor blew the horn, we were off. Uphill. People were passing me, of course, and many more passed me as we rounded the first corner and began heading downhill.

It was a brief downhill stretch before we turned another corner and headed uphill once again. It was too early in the run (not even a half mile) to think about taking a walking break, and, really, I shouldn’t need that on such a short run. Right? So I ignored the voices in my head suggesting a brief walk (as many others were already doing) and just kept grinding up the hill. At the top, we turned again and began a delicious, long downhill run. I’d say it was almost a half mile. It was along here that I first began passing other runners. I’m still new enuf at this game to be surprised that I can actually do that, and I took it as a sign that I’ve made some decent progress as a runner in the last (nearly) three years.

The delicious downhill soon came to an end though and we runners reached our first intersection where the traffic was not detoured. The police were there blocking the cars that wanted to cross our path, but when there was a big enuf gap in the runners, they let a few cars through. I could see that I might be at the head of one of those gaps, so I picked up my pace to get myself closer to the few runners ahead of me. Once I was through the intersection I didn’t care what happened behind me.

But once I was through that intersection, the flat grade at the bottom of the hill was pretty much over. We began another very long ascent of more than a half mile (according to the map the computer created when I plugged in my watch later). I kept grinding, telling myself I wasn’t even half way through the run and that I couldn’t embarrass myself by walking so soon. I was passing some walkers, but I had no desire to pass any runners. (By this time, the faster runners were far ahead and I was in a pack of those who ran at about my pace. It’s good to know there are many others at my ability level.) I deployed my usual technique for dealing with long hills; I simply put my head down and concentrated on the three feet in front of my two feet. The hill seems flatter that way. And if I stick with it, by the time I do look up, I find myself most of the way up the long hill.

At the top we turned a corner in front of the art museum and had a nice level stretch before us. There was a water station at the end of this and I grabbed a cup, threw the water down my throat, and then obliged the hard working man who was running up to each of us with a trash bag to catch the empty paper cups we would otherwise throw to the ground. (The few hundred feet after a water station is generally peppered with thousands of paper cups that somehow don’t make it into the trash cans set out for them. The saying is that runners make terrible basketball players.) After this, we faced another wonderful downhill stretch that was longer than the uphill we had just completed. We would re-enter the campus on its west side, which is lower ground than in the center where we started. This gave us nearly a mile of downhill or flat running. Life was good.

But we weren’t done. There was still about a half mile to go before we reached that arch on the side of the hill where we had started and where we would finish. Once inside the campus, we began a series of ascents that were merciless. I don’t know who thinks having an uphill finish is a clever idea. Really, a race should be just like college. In your last semester, aren’t you allowed to coast? But, no, we had a long hill to climb before the last turn and then the two-block run up another hill to the finish arch. I was beat, of course, but I was also feeling strong. I tried to throw in a little kick, but the hill was taking it away as fast as I was delivering it. I saw my wife on the sideline taking a picture (actually a video I learned later), and I saw the arch getting closer, and I kept pumping my legs. I heard my name announced over the speaker system (always wear your bib on the front). And I was across the mats.

Regalia bling

But I wasn’t finished.

A 5K is 3.1 miles long. My running watch had recorded only 3.02 miles. And I hadn’t been cutting any corners. In fact, I was running wide in some cases just to high five the police or course monitors out on the edges. (The high fives give a hard-to-define boost to my run in the low spots.) If anything, I ran farther than most of the other people on the course. I’ve had this same thing happen on several races lately. That horrible half marathon I did at the Air Force base came up as only 12.87 miles instead of the 13.1 it was supposed to be. That’s nearly a quarter mile discrepancy. Assuming our first line of defense doesn’t get these things wrong, I began considering that it was my watch that might be at fault. Since this continues to happen (sometimes, not always), and since when I’m running with others their watches report different distances and paces than mine does (again, sometimes, not always), I suspect the problem is on my wrist. Maybe at the turn of the year I’ll want to step up to a better watch.

So, the run came up short on my watch. I had the timing chip removed from my shoe, accepted the bottle of water, and then accepted the medal given to all of the finishers. (That’s a blue and gold kangaroo on the medal — our school mascot. His bib has a 14 on it for 2014. Last year it had an 80 on it for the 80th anniversary of the university.)

And then I started running again. I needed less than a tenth of a mile to get my watch to consider my run a 5K, so I ran down the block a ways, turned around, and ran back. That was enuf. I had 3.11 on the watch and my run completed for the morning.

My wife found me and we wandered over to the booths where the freebies were. I stopped again with the student nurses and had my numbers checked. My BP was 126/62 and my pulse was roaring at 120. The nurse assured me that this was the way it should be. The heart was pumping more efficiently so the blood pressure was lower, and I had just run 3 miles, so it was pumping faster to service the body. (I wonder what an instant pulse measurement would be right at the end of the run rather than five minutes of cool down later.)

I found the chocolate milk (which I recall they did not have last year) and while there were still no bagels, there were also no donuts to tempt me as they had last year. I ate another energy bar. And then we decided to leave.

It was a good run. I came in eighth in my age group of 15 runners, which is fantastic compared to last in my age group, which was a position I defended throughout 2013. I’d also beaten my time from last year’s run by more than 5 minutes, but that’s not quite a fair comparison since the course was different. But in any case, I had just run my fastest 5K ever by 35 seconds! I had not even intended to set a personal record. I plan to do a really long run this coming weekend, and I need to take it easy. In fact, I’m done running until this coming weekend. But I still need to fuel up. And stay hydrated. So I have that going for me.

talk like a pirate day

Posted September 19, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

grammar+pirate_18f834_5072218In case you didn’t know, today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Make of that what you will. When our reading group took two wonderful years to work our way through Moby Dick, one of our meetings happened to be on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I made mention of it and received a collected “Meh!” from the group. (There are no pirates in Moby Dick.)


Plaza 10K 2014 recap

Posted September 17, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running

Plaza kit

I had a great run over the weekend. For the second year in a row, I ran the Plaza 10K. Here is my account from last year. I did even better this year, beating my time by nearly four minutes. It’s a 10K PR for me, which is always nice.

We’ve had a spate of cooler weather around here lately, with nightly lows actually dipping under 40 degrees. That’s just about perfect running weather (as long as it doesn’t rain), but just as I had to get acclimated to the summer heat, I needed to do the same with this cool, and it’s come so fast that I haven’t done that. I watched the weather reports through the week, and Sunday was looking good. Anticipating a chilly start, though, I had my wife scavenge in her basement hoard for a throwaway jacket I could wear in the start corral until I had run far enuf to get the engine warm. Then I could cast the jacket to the side of the road and run like the wind without it. (These cast offs are generally collected by the race organizers and donated to charity.) She found a nice fleece jacket that my son had worn in middle school and, astonishing as it may sound, the thing fit me and was even a bit large. Throwaway jacket achieved.

You see most of my kit in the photo above. I’m still wearing my summer white hat, though it’s getting time to switch to my winter black. Not shown are the compression shirt and shorts I wore as a base layer. I wanted the added warmth they would provide (and hoped I wouldn’t regret them later) as well as the chafing protection (no need to go into detail). You see that I wore my Olathe Running Club shirt. I do that in part to represent the club at these events, but I did it specifically this time since I was to run with the woman in the club who is in charge of the club-branded gear. I figured she would show up with one of the new shirts on and I had better do the best I could with my older version.

I had told my wife that she did not need to be my support crew this time. It’s only a six-mile run, which wasn’t going to destroy me the way a half would, so I could get myself there and back on my own. Plus, our youngest son and his wife were moving into their new house over the weekend, and she (and my truck) needed to be available if called. (They weren’t.)

When I rose on Sunday morning (a few minutes before the 4:15 alarm was to go off) I let our little dog out the back door and stepped outside myself (with far less on than I would run in later). It was clearly not below 40 degrees, and when I checked the temp online later, I found it was actually 53 degrees: perfect! And so I went in and began my ritual/routine of getting ready for a race. Mostly that involved getting dressed very slowly and going over my gear check again and again. I checked for last-minute emails from the race (none), brushed and flossed, fretted, walked about, ate a banana, then left an hour and a half before gun time to make the half-hour drive (in the dark) to the start at the swanky Country Club Plaza District. Since I got there too early to stand around in the cold, I drove the course just to see if there were any surprises. (When I ran my first half marathon, there was a quarter mile stretch where we had to run across freshly chewed up pavement. That was not fun.) There were no surprises, and though I was by no means the first one to arrive, I still got a great parking space close to the start and then sauntered over there to look for my running partner and other friends from the club that I knew would be there.

I wandered for a long time before we met up, and then we stood around in the chill and listened to the usual announcements and such. We saw some familiar faces and chatted aimlessly as we waited. About fifteen minutes before gun time, I told my friend (let’s call her ChrisAnn) that I wanted to do a short warm-up run around the block and that I’d meet her in our pace section of the corral. The trip around the block took me close to where I had parked, and I made the spontaneous decision to throw away my throwaway jacket in my car. It was warm enuf that I didn’t really need it by then, and I would regret losing it unnecessarily, especially with a full marathon coming up next month in Oregon and a half marathon coming up in Kansas in November. Throwaway ditched, I continued around the block and looked for my friend in her Volt yellow jersey (which was not branded with our club name). Eventually, of course, I found her. I should tell you about ChrisAnn. She had run the Plaza 10K last year. We had started out together, but she had lost me in the first quarter mile and I never saw her again. It turned out she had finished something like fifteen minutes before I had. She’d had a head cold then, and she said she had run so fast simply because she wanted the race to be over! This year, she asked me to run with her to pace her. She hadn’t been training much (for various reason) and didn’t want to burn out by running too fast too soon. So would I please run with her and keep her in check? (You see what this means, of course. She needed a slower runner to set the pace for her. Sigh!)

There was so much chatter among the waiting runners around us that the national anthem was nearly over before I heard even a snatch of it. I whipped off my cap, and most of the people around me noticed and did the same or put their hands over their hearts. Soon after this, we heard the starting horn, but as these things go, it was more than five minutes before we people at the back of the pack were even moving forward, much less running. I started my watch, it grabbed some satellites, and we shuffled toward the start. As we crossed the starting mats, I switch on my run counter, and we were off.

I had been talking to myself all week (all summer, all year) about this run. I had been telling myself positive things, confidence-boosting things. It was only six (point two) miles. Easy. I’d done this many, many times. I was rested, fueled, and ready. The weather was perfect. The kit was shaken down. The boy could do it, and now was the time. The trouble was that I had done such a fine job with this run last year that I knew I had to have a fine run this time or I would be a complete and utter failure to all of humanity and the running community in particular. (Sometimes it’s no fun being me.) So I had set myself an unreasonable standard, and I was worried sick about it. Yet I’d had a year of training and tangible improvement since the prior run. I had newish shoes on. I had a running partner, which tends to make these things easier (don’t ask me how). Plus, she had asked me to run with her. And in any case, we were underway.

And doing well. We were trying to maintain a slow pace to save our energy for the long haul. (You run six miles and tell me it doesn’t take management!) And we were chatting. I’ve run with ChrisAnn a number of times on club runs, and we know about each other’s families, work, running ambitions, and the like. But we hadn’t run together in a while, so we had some catching up to do. Plus, a fine chatter helps distract from the inevitable agony of running long distances. The course pretty much runs along Brush Creek, so we went west first on the south side of the creek (really more like a small, very picturesque river) then turned around and headed east for a much longer distance on the north side of the creek. People were passing us, but we were passing others, including many who had already succumbed to walking within the first quarter mile. We’d both run the course the year before, and I had driven it that morning, so there were no surprises in store. Thus we could chat and visit and talk about other runners. (Not as many tutus this run as I’ve seen in the past, but colorful clothing was common.) We each asked the other how we were doing. I knew that ChrisAnn wanted to stay at a moderate pace, and just as when I’m driving on the highway, I tend to get going too fast. When I’m running I usually burn out and can’t sustain it. When I’m driving . . . But we were both doing well.

Which is not to say my body didn’t want to stop this foolishness right now! It was telling me very clearly that it did not like being used in this way. It’s usually my lungs that are the last to join the party, and they weren’t disappointing me this time. I had intended to have a good run (as I already mentioned), but I also had another plan with this run. I wanted to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings and moods and motivations. I wanted to watch how I mentally powered through the difficult parts and how to recognize the moments when I felt I could run forever. (It happens.) I wanted to get a sense of what my mental make up was during a challenging run because, well, I have a full marathon coming up in less than a month! I’m going to need to rely on the 90% mental part of running then.

What I found was that there is a huge difference between wanting to stop and needing to stop. And there is a huge reserve within me that I am able to call upon when the running gets tough and the goal is still a long way off. Yes, I wanted to stop. I wanted to take a walking break. But I wanted — more — to keep going to the end and show myself that I have it in me. (Note, I ran the entire distance of the Vancouver USA half marathon in June. But these are lessons that need constant reinforcing.)

ChrisAnn, however, was struggling. Around mile four she had to begin walking breaks. This is an honorable solution to the rigors of running, and I’ve certainly relied on them on many of my long runs. I had no disrespect for her choice, but it did present a problem for me. I wanted/needed to keep running. The solution was as easy as it was obvious. I ran zigzag. I ran in circles around her. I even ran backwards! (More jiggling to that than I expected but kind of fun.) I ran about until she could pick up her pace and I could slot in beside her. We repeated this a few times for most of the rest of the run. ChrisAnn was managing her run as well as she could, and I was maintaining my role as running partner as I could. (Note: There was a selfish quality to this. I’ve done a 5K and a half marathon that did not record the proper distance on my running watch. I blame solar flares. Or bad karma. I worried that the same would happen with this 10K. So if I managed to add a little distance to the route by my zigging and zagging, that would help ensure that when I crossed the finish line, I would have 6.2 miles on my watch, which Nike would then recognize, and the world would be in order again.)

We were eating up the miles. The route from about mile 4.5 gave us a good view of the tall buildings near the finish. They looked impossibly far away, but, of course, they weren’t. I kept my eyes on the ground before my feet and played wingman for ChrisAnn. By this point she didn’t respond to my chatter. She was concentrating on managing her run, and I recognized the signs from my own run of the Kansas City Half Marathon nearly a year before when my wingman, Todd, chatted with me until he recognized that I was beat and just called out mile markers, hills, and other hazards to a man who was ready to die and ready to run.

We kept at it, keeping pace with each other, calling out the curiously contradictory paces and distances on our watches, and otherwise pushing, pushing, pushing.

The last quarter mile of this run (and of the Trolley Run) is the most glorious in the city. It comes back into the Country Club Plaza, downhill all the way, with screaming crowds on each side and the finish arch within view and getting closer. Unfortunately, ChrisAnn needed to walk one last time. She urged me to go on without her, and since I still had some gas in the tank, I did. I picked up my pace, darting past people who were running along at a nice clip themselves. I dug deep to find a good finish in my legs and lungs, and though I think I may have started too early to begin my kick to the finish, I kept at it. I came in to the finish as fast as I could, and I even remembered to close my gasping mouth so I’d look fabulous in the finish photo.

And then it was done. I had run the entire 6.2 miles, and I had run them well. (And it wasn’t lost on me that in a few weeks I’m going to need to complete this run again only I’ll also need to add another 20 miles to it.) I had the sensor clipped from my shoe. And I accepted what you see below.

Plaza blingThe medals for these runs are getting bigger every year. Honking bigger. I’m not sure what I think of that. I wore it for the rest of the morning (including to breakfast, dammit!), but now it will hang on a wall and compete for attention with the others I’ve been accumulating.

ChrisAnn came in behind me only about a minute and a half later. We found each other in the crowded finish chute and pushed our way through the sweaty humanity to the chocolate milk and Chinese food (!) vendors waiting for us. So did everyone else, and once we collected our rightful chow, we found a quiet wall to fall against and slide to the ground where we ate and talked and rehashed our runs and talked about future runs and more or less settled down. It happened that the man who was delivering the cases of chocolate milk to the nearby booth happened to pass right before us, and after a couple of passes I realized I could ask him directly for some tasty milk. He obliged us. And then he obliged us again. We rested. We finished sweating. We started to get a little chilled from the still-cool morning. And then we decided we’d had enuf of the run and that it was time to go. ChrisAnn had to go into work (on a Sunday), and I still had that possible obligation to help my son move into his new house. So we sauntered out of the area. We considered briefly getting a printout of our times, but the line was long, and the info was already online, so we didn’t. We parted and made our ways to our homes.

So it was a great, great run for me. Yes, if I hadn’t zigged and zagged to keep pace with ChrisAnn, I might have had an even better finish time, but a) that’s not what a wingman does, and b) I might not have run the entire distance at all if I didn’t have the accountability of a witness (and friend) beside me the entire way.

I have a small 5K coming up in two weeks. Then I board a plane and fly to Portland to face the hardest run of my life. But I’m going to relish today’s run for a while first.


ain’t nobody’s business but my own

Posted September 15, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

I don’t generally tell people that I write (and even less that I am a “writer”).* There are probably several good reasons for this and several more reasons I’m only dimly aware of, but it’s me, will I or nill I. This post was triggered by a similar post I saw over at Nate Tower’s blog.

I’m certainly not embarrassed of my writing. Yes, early drafts are usually painful to read. Some aborted efforts are regrettable. But the pieces I consider finished make me feel proud. When I’m having a bad day (say at the office) I sometimes pull up one of my stories online and read it, saying to myself, “I did that.”

I think I was permanently scarred at a job I had nearly thirty years ago. I had a succession of bosses, but the last one was beyond categorization. This was during that ridiculous “in search of excellence” period when buzzwords seemed to take the place of intelligent thought. And this last boss was among the faithful of that religion. That alone would have been humorous enuf, but she also had the notion that my business was her business. (She did not single me out. Anyone younger than she was a target. She wanted people to “grow” under her guidance, to “step outside of the box”.) What was worse, though, was that she believed she could “advise” me about any aspect of my life, and while she might admit she did not know much about a given subject, being older and wiser she certainly knew more than I did. And so I was expected to drink gratefully from the fountain of her knowledge. The trouble was buzzwords. Her insight was no deeper than that. (Once she gave me a popular business management book to read and told me there was a lot I could learn from it. I read it. I told her I didn’t think it had anything to offer — it was mostly just anecdote and platitude — and could she explain what I missed? She admitted that, well, she hadn’t read it! She was simply infatuated with the idea of it. You know, it was published and everything!) Her advice was obvious. Her experience limited. Her tone condescending. Her result ridiculous.

But somehow it came to her attention that I wrote feature articles. And so she began advising me about that. Of course she knew even less about writing than business management but . . . wisdom. She suggested articles I should write and then questioned why I didn’t write them. I began to worry that she would request the chance to edit my articles before I submitted them. And given her personality I feared her requests would soon become requirements, enforced by the awesome power of employment. (This company had a statement in the employee manual that actions in our personal lives could be grounds for discipline and even termination. We were expected to live “moral” lives.) Fortunately, the company went out of business and we all scattered to the winds.

But that fear stuck with me. I think the worry was more about certain personalities in positions of authority rather than the authority itself. I think some people are by nature domineering and interfering, and if they can get themselves into positions over others, especially others who are younger, they will attempt to assert an imagined authority to direct their lives as they should be lived.

And so I learned from that experience to keep my personal life out of my work life. In most cases, at most of the jobs I’ve had since then, I don’t think I had anything to worry about from my employers about my writing ambitions, but I have seen glimpses of that personality now and then over the years in others, enuf to reinforce my protectiveness. So I don’t generally talk up my writing.

I consider my writing my thing. If I collected stamps or cultivated bonsai or read romance novels, it would be my personal, private place, my escape, my challenge. Mine. And if I did any of those things, I probably would not want to hear any random person’s advice or opinion about it. A stout woman at work made a point of alerting me to the surprising fact that muscle weighs more than fat (which is, technically, impossible) when she learned that I am a runner. In case I got discouraged about weight loss, I suppose. (This is not to say that I do not seek out advice, opinion, and shop talk from other writers and runners. I most certainly do. And if I read romance novels, which I most certainly don’t, I’d probably look for people with a similar interest.)

I figure that as long as I’m not writing about my employer (even positively), then whatever I have to say in my writing is nobody’s business but my own. (I’m pretty sure I vote contradictory to what would be best for my company’s financial interests, but so far they haven’t come forward to ask about my political inclinations or even “hint” at how employees should vote, which I understand is done in some companies.)

So I write and mind my own business and really don’t expect there to be any connection between the work I do to pay my bills and the work I do to soothe my soul. I wonder sometimes, though, what I would do if there was a clash between the two.

*Hmmmm. I’ve been visiting this point a lot lately.

screw it!

Posted September 3, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Process, Rants and ruminations, short stories

I’ve mentioned here (or maybe it was in the comments on your fine blog) that I’ve been stymied by a story idea that I can’t ignore and yet can’t seem to write. It’s been frustrating, as you can probably imagine, because it wouldn’t let me focus on anything else, which meant my Fathers and Sons stories have been languishing (and I really need to get those finished).

The story had its genesis probably thirty years ago. I was at a party where I saw a man I knew and respected (who was old enuf to be my father) chatting up a woman (old enuf to be my mother) who was not his wife. He looked so at ease and even happy with her that the thought instantly sprang into my head that he was about to embark on an affair with her. Did that ever happen? I doubt it. But I know the woman was not happy in her marriage, and I later learned that her son (who was old enuf to be my brother) came to hate his mother in her later years for the way she treated her husband (and that son’s father). I never knew the details of that hatred, but the fact of it dovetails with my imagined infidelity.

Couple that with a rumor going around my office in recent months of a man (who should know better) apparently carrying on with a woman (old enuf to be his daughter) in apparently not-so-discreet ways at the office. This uncomfortable situation (if it was even true) stayed on my mind. And what does a writer do with troubling thoughts? Put them in a story, of course.

But the story wouldn’t gel. I made copious notes about it: impressions, bits of dialog, insights. All about a subject that is pretty much foreign to me and unpleasant in any case. And I struggled with writing the story. I even kept the draft of it on Google Drive so I could access it at work (!) when no one was looking to try to sustain the writing effort.

Weeks and weeks and weeks of this struggle passed, and I was getting nowhere with the telling. I rearranged sentences and fine-tuned images and did little more than nothing at all during this time, feeling frustrated and confused and knowing that other writing needed to be done but wasn’t getting done.

So I finally said “Screw it.” I’ve abandoned that story. It ain’t coming. And I ain’t fighting it any longer.

And as though to reward my resignation, my Muse has visited upon me several important insights on one of my Fathers and Sons stories, an important, early story that needs to be added to the canon and that will resonate across all of the subsequent stories in the cycle.

That other story, though, still asserts itself. I’m not sure what I want to do about that. I guess I’ll keep taking notes about it. Maybe enuf of it will come together to let me write something. If not, fine, too.

Head for the Cure 5K 2014 recap

Posted August 25, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running, Uncategorized


HftC 2014

Remember when I said that I wasn’t going to be running any more 5Ks and then found that I had four on my calendar? This was number 3.

I had run Head for the Cure back in 2012. That was the third 5K I’d ever run, and it’s fun to look back on my experience and the lessons I took from it.

The 2014 Head for the Cure was at the same location as the one I ran two years before. It was literally down the street from my house, about three quarters of a mile. The way I saw it, that would give me a decent warm-up run for the actual race. What was different about this year, however, was that I was captain for my company’s team. So not only is running an astonishing recent development in my life, but the thought that I am a captain of anything, most of all of an athletic team, just takes the astonishment up to 11. I chose to be team captain for purely selfish reasons. It got me a free entry to this race. The seven other members on our team also got the company to pay their fees, so there is some altruism involved, but it was apparent that no one else was going to step up for the position, and there would not have been a company team at all, so I took it on. Mostly the duties involved getting everyone registered and sending out some emails. (I’ll probably step up as captain for our company’s team next spring at the Trolley Run too.)

We’ve been having typical late August weather here lately, and that’s the polite way of saying it’s been hot and humid. By 8:00 gun time, the temperature was a mild 75 degrees, but the humidity as at 74 percent, which is a bit soupy for running in. We’d been in a nearly constant heat advisory all week. In other words: time to get my sweat on! (You can read this paragraph as my attempt to provide excuses for my run.)

Since I was team captain, and since the site was just down the street from my house, I got there an hour early and tried to look obvious so my coworkers could see me and we could get our team photo. I am apparently the only one I work with who likes to get anywhere early. I wandered among the crowds, checked out the various vendor booths, hung around the packet pickup tent, and generally tried to stay visible, but I didn’t see anyone for a long time. I knew a few of my team by sight, but most of them were little more than email addresses to me. I wouldn’t have recognized them except that most were wearing our company’s new tech shirt intended for these kinds of activities. (Note: I do not have one of these shirts. It has too much logo and wording on it. I don’t object to that, but the plastic lettering doesn’t allow sweat to wick away, and they stick to my skin in those places. Ugh.)

About twenty minutes before gun time, I happened upon two women who were wearing the company shirt; that’s the only way I knew them. I introduced myself and we suddenly became best friends. Then the three of us wandered around looking for the rest of the team. We never found any of them, though one of the women did spot some coworkers who had signed up separately from the team. The announcer suggested we all make our way to the starting chute, and I wished my team members a good run then pushed my way toward the front of the crowd near the starting mats. When I had run this two years before, I remember being behind many walkers that I had to dart around. This time I figured if I started far enuf ahead, I would be the slow guy everyone had to run around.

My plan worked. My watch caught some satellites about thirty seconds before the start, and I turned it on as I crossed the mats. And then hundreds and hundreds of people began to surge past me. I was fine with that. My plan was merely to be ahead of the walkers, not to set a blistering pace. I had done a speedy five mile run the morning before — though I had tried to throttle back and not tax myself — so I wasn’t expecting to set a personal record on this 5K. And there was that humidity. Most of this course had been freshly paved with asphalt earlier in the week, so it added to the heat. (And the excuse list.)

Within the first half mile we faced a small hill. It wasn’t too bad but I was already feeling drained and knew I had a long way still to go. But the nice thing about going up the hill was going down the other side of the hill and then entering the long, flat stretch beyond it. I was still being passed by people, but by the time I reached the water station at mile 1, most people had settled into their paces. The water station happened to be just across the boulevard from the starting arch, and I looked over there to see hundreds and hundreds of walkers just getting underway. I was glad to be ahead of that throng.

And onward. Not too long after this we faced the only real hill on the course. It wasn’t steep (only about 40 feet of elevation gain), and it wasn’t much more than an eighth of a mile long, but a lot of people were walking up it. Somewhere in my running life I had decided that I had to run up all of the hills I faced (if I could not avoid them, of course), so I kept plodding. I had surprised myself two years before when I had made it to the top of this hill, and I knew I had to do at least as well this time. So I did. I passed a good number of people, which always feels good, but this seemed to be the stretch where young fathers pushing buggies were scheduled to pass me. I console myself by saying those dads are young enuf to be my sons and that they are encouraging a healthy lifestyle for their own sons and daughters. And then I just keep doing the best that I can.

The last half of the course is flat, and though it twists and turns to get to the 3.1 miles of distance, it’s not at all challenging. A woman asked how far we had gone, and the course monitor said she didn’t know. But I knew since I had my running watch on, so I told her (1.88 miles). She thanked me and then asked me to run with her. This turned out to be her first 5K and she wasn’t feeling very confident at that point. She was doing fine, certainly fine by my pace standards, but I knew the value of distraction, so I chatted with her as we trotted along. I hope it helped. With less than a mile left, she said she was going to have to walk because her knee was acting up, so I wished her well and kept going.

There is one final turn on this course before the last stretch on the main road in the office park, and it was after this turn that I dug deep and began to push my pace. I could feel the heat and the exhaustion, but I’ve learned that I seem to have a well of motivation or energy or pride or something that I can call on in these last distances to finish well. And I think I did. I looked at the stats my watch reported later and found that I had continued picking up the pace in this last half mile, crossing the mats at a very good pace for my ability and experience.

When the official times were posted online later in the day, I learned several things. I did not capture last in my age group this time. In fact, I was in the top half of the 50+ runners in my age group. (A closer examination of the stats suggested that nearly a third of the men in my age group had walked the 5K, but even discounting them, I did pretty well for my experience and background.) I also found that I had beaten my time from two years before by more than 10 minutes! That’s a big gain. I missed setting a personal record by only a minute (my best 5K is the Great Balls of Fire 5K I had done a month before), and I do blame the heat and humidity for this as well as my not intending to set a record anyway.

So I finished well and grabbed a bottle of warm water then walked around to let my legs and lungs settle. Being team captain, I figured I should be over near the finish chute should any of my team be running in then to shout my encouragement. And so I found a shady spot and waited. And again I looked across the boulevard to see hundreds and hundreds of walkers just passing the first mile mark and the water station there. I was finished and they were barely underway and I was glad I wasn’t behind them. But good for them to be out there at all!

After about ten minutes I did see the two women on the team I had met before the race. I shouted and waved. They looked happy and pleased, and then they pressed on to the finish arch. Not long after that they joined me in my shady spot and blissed out about how wonderful it all was. When was the company sponsoring the next run? How could they get on the team? Could they be team captains? They needed to do more of this kind of thing! And so on. I had very little to do with introducing them to this mania, but it felt good to hear how good they felt. Soon after that they wandered off to the vendor booths where there was ice cream and donuts and bagels and fresh fruit and nachos (ugh) and water and Gatorade and smoothies and free massages and so on. I stayed in my shady spot and managed to see two more of my team members coming in. I shouted and waved to the first, but she had headphones in, and I don’t know if she registered me. Plus she looked intense and about done in and focused on that arch a few hundred feet ahead. Not long after, I saw another team member, but I only knew this because she was wearing the company shirt. I shouted and waved again, but she didn’t acknowledge it, which was fine. I knew what it was like on this stretch, with the finish arch in view and the endorphins going mad.

There was only one other person on my team that I thought was still out on the course. I suspected she was a walker, which meant it might be another half hour before she passed. Or she might have already passed. I could have stuck around longer on the chance that I would see her, but I didn’t.

I mentioned above that I had run to this event since it was so close to my home. And it might have been time to run home (as I had done after Great Balls of Fire). But I didn’t.

The very nice hike/bike trail that runs for something like forty miles through my community was only a hundred feet away, and I had promised myself that I needed to get more miles. So I hopped on it and headed east with my destination being the great state of Missouri about 7 miles away.

I won’t give you the gruesome details of this run. The heat had conquered the morning by then. I was more weary than I knew. And the trail seemed endless. But I reached my destination, which had two friendly faces as well as a cool salad and iced tea (unsweetened, of course). Then I got home and got showered and got recovered. I spent the rest of the day drinking water. I suspect I shed 5 pounds in sweat after the day’s effort.

So my next organized run is in three weeks. It’s a 10K, and when I ran it last year I had such a great performance that I vowed to run it every year. Plus, maybe the weather will break before then.


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