Vancouver USA Half Marathon 2014 recap

Posted June 16, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Vancouver USA Half

“Come to Portland for Father’s Day,” my son said. “We’ll run a half marathon together,” he said.

I have to confess that most of this run is lost to me in a blur of delirium, fatigue, rain-spotted glasses, and probably life-saving forgetfulness. But what a run it was! In many ways the best run of my life.

My wife and I had traveled to Portland where my son Adam and his wife, Nina, live for his graduation from residency into “official” doctorhood. (Adam rightly points out that he had been an official doctor since he entered residency, and this is true, but I’m casting about to find an easy way to express this latest gradation, and this is how his program director described it when she conducted the ceremony. Anyway, you get my intent. I hope.)

The ceremony was on Friday night. (Nina’s was the week before. Her parents had come up from LA for that, and our visits overlapped by a day, so we got to visit with them, which is always a warm and enriching time. Adam and Nina now begin fellowships in oncology; Adam’s will be in pediatric oncology.)

But that was on Friday night, and with that accomplished and behind us, the main event looming was the Vancouver USA Half Marathon on Sunday morning. If you read my post about the wicked, wicked Striker Life Half Marathon that I had barely survived two weeks before, you might have a sense of my anxiety going into this one. But I felt rested. I had prepared for this run as well as I knew how. I had experience and training. I had even driven most of the course with Adam and my wife the day before (which is always both a good and bad thing). I would be crossing the starting line with all of the mental toughness (and withering self doubt) I could muster. What was left but to lace up and face the thing?

And so we did on Sunday morning. Adam’s running buddy, Nate, picked us up about an hour and a half before the 9:00 a.m. start; my wife and Nina would make their way later to the chaotic finish area to watch us come blazing in. I was dressed in the kit you see above. I had only picked up that green shirt the week before on National Running Day, and I knew when I saw it that I would be wearing it for this run. (You see my usual long-run gear there, but those three dots on the lower left are Advil in a small plastic bag. My doctor family members had strongly cautioned me against taking those in a potentially dehydrated state.)

Adam, Nate, and I got to the start about an hour early, and that gave me plenty of time to fret. The sky was overcast, and the chance of rain had increased in the forecasts through the week. But having done some running in the rain in recent weeks, I wasn’t concerned about that. The temperature was in the mid-fifties, which left us a little cool as we milled about before the start, but I knew that would change as soon as I got my running engine running. We used the PortaPotties even though we didn’t need to. (This is pretty much standard running advice.) We wandered around the park where the expo was held. The local farmers market was across the street. Booths for both venues were waking up as we waited. Other runners and their support crews were gathering. Airplanes from the nearby Portland airport passed low overhead. The start/finish arch beckoned.

Eventually the time passed and we needed to get ourselves over to the starting corral. There were nearly 2,000 runners doing the half; the nearly 1,000 full marathon runners had started two hours before. We would be let go in three waves, and since Adam and Nate are faster runners than I, they milled up to the second wave. All of the usual formalities of a start were observed, and then the first wave soon took off to conquer the course. After ten minutes, the second wave was let fly. And ten minutes after that, my wave was afoot.

I’d had some problems with my running watch earlier in the week. On Wednesday it took forever to capture a satellite signal, and on my run then it reported that I had run a 2:67 mile. (I’m still waiting on the designated sports authorities to recognize my record-breaking achievement there!) And so I worried that my watch would go wonky for this run. I had done a factory reset of it two days before, but without knowing the reason for its erratic performance (getting wet from my rainy runs? a larger-than-normal solar flare that week?) I worried that it would fail me once again on this run. I did have to try twice to grab some satellites, but seconds before I crossed the starting mat, it did find the signals it needed and I managed to press the START button simultaneous to crossing the mat.

And I was off, elbow to elbow with hundreds of other runners. My ultimate goal was, of course, to finish the half upright. But I had a secondary goal, which was to run at least nine miles without stopping or walking. If I did, that would be the longest continuous distance I had ever gone without taking a break.

Unfortunately, the first three miles of this course were a gradual uphill. “Gradual” makes it sound manageable. “Three miles” makes it sound horrible. A lot of runners I know like running hills because it makes them tougher. But toughness doesn’t come through ease. Three miles of uphill were going to be a challenge for me, especially since the first mile of any run is the worst as my engine warms and my mental toughness battles with my self preservation. (I’ve become a believer in warm-up runs, but with 13.1 miles to deal with, I had decided to hold on to all of my energy and spend it on the actual course, the first couple of miles serving as whatever warm up I would get.)

And yet, I accomplished those first three miles, through some commercial and residential sections of Vancouver, without too much struggle. Mostly I told myself that I had a long way to go and that I couldn’t flame out so pathetically early, but I also kept reminding myself of my nine-mile personal goal. And, of course, once I crested that three mile climb, I had a nice, long stretch of comparatively flat and even downhill running before me.

Vancouver, Washington is a pretty town, or at least the course they selected for us took us through the finer parts. I ran past nicely kept homes, past all kinds of businesses, past lovely parks and community gardens, and along scrupulously clean streets. Part of the course took us into the Fort Vancouver historic site, which had a welcomed downhill stretch past old and well-maintained homes and barracks and beside open meadows that were like parks themselves. Very nice for finishing off the first third of the run.

And I was feeling good. My lungs had gotten over their initial shock at being asked to work so hard (which I knew they would). My legs felt fine, as though they still had a lot of miles in them. Mentally I was doing well, and I was still hopeful that I would hit my nine-mile goal.

But then three things happened.

In the elevation map for the course, there is a spike where we had to climb a hill, run along its crest for a short distance, and then run down the opposite side. (You see that early gradual climb to mile three. Then the wicked spike. And finally a nasty hill right before the finish.)


Having driven the course the day before, I knew I was approaching the spike. It came as a physical challenge so close before my nine-mile personal goal that I felt sure the running gods had done so deliberately to test my faith. I had a long argument with myself as I ascended that spike, saying that I couldn’t stop, that I had to grind up it and not give in. Plenty of other runners were walking up this hill, and that is considered an honorable strategy for managing the rigors of distance running. But as you know, I have no honor. I told myself I had to run up that entire spike or be a quitter forever. And as it turned out, that hill wasn’t so much steep as long, which is much harder.

But the spike itself was only one of the challenges I faced at that point. A second was that the thick blanket of clouds overhead decided that then was a perfect time to begin sending down a mist. I was warm enuf by then, so the mist didn’t make me feel cold, but it did make the pavement below my feet feel slick. Not slippery but slick. I could feel a change in mechanics as I pushed off from each footfall. It was not profoundly different or challenging, but I was only about halfway finished with the run, and now I had this to manage as well.

The third challenge, the worst challenge, was that my left knee was beginning to hurt. Right on time. In two of my past half marathons, my left knee began to hurt at about mile 6, and it was a sign that my IT Band on that leg had had enuf. When that had happened those two times, the only relief I got was to take a walk break. This. Was. Bad. I still had about three miles to go in order to achieve my personal goal (and much farther to finish), and with the rain and the climb, I really feared that I wasn’t going to make it.

(As bad as that Striker Life Half was, my IT Band had not acted up then. That course was flat, and I suspect it was the various hills I had to climb — and descend — on the others that affected my knee.)

My hill tactic is to stop taking in the scenery and just look at the pavement directly before my feet. I pull my cap down so the bill is close to my eyes, and then all I can see is a few feet ahead. Hills and impossible distances don’t seem so bad then; I’m in the moment only, and I manage. So that’s what I did. I narrowed my focus and ground up the hill, doing little more than a fast walking pace. But run on I did.

And then, after an unending grind I was at the top. I knew this because I could feel the change in my legs and lungs. I looked up and saw a course monitor directing us to the road that would then take us down the other side of the spike. A lot of runners like to open up on a downhill stretch, increasing their pace and glorying in the ease of the running. With the slick pavement, and the intermittent mist-turning-to-actual-rain, and with my aching (and increasingly aching) knee, which was sending pain up the outside of my leg, I was not going to start running faster. In fact, running down a hill is usually just as pain inducing for me as running up one, especially with my IT Band in full-on protest.

But I did have two things in my favor. I was approaching my nine-mile personal goal still alive, and I had those three Advil in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. I had been faithfully hitting all of the water stations, and I had been eating my GU energy gels according to my schedule (miles 2 and 4, and then at miles 8 and 10). I didn’t think I was dehydrated enuf that the Advil would take out my kidneys. So if it came to that, I would dry swallow them and push on. Eventually, I did exactly that.

It was tough. I had to do some serious self talk to get myself to mile 9 without taking a much needed break. I had to be harsh with myself. I’m surprised that my self could withstand my self. And yet, when I did reach mile 9 without having stopped or walked, when I took a moment to give myself a congratulations, I found that I was still running. I didn’t take this permitted opportunity to stop or to walk. I just kept going.

I was not myself by then, though. I think something approaching actual delirium was descending upon me. I was running with a group of people, and I grew familiar with the colors of their shirts, their bobbing pony tails, the brand of their shoes (it’s a runner thing). But then I would look up, seemingly moments later, and find myself among a completely different group of runners. How did that happen? One woman kept passing me. When the fog cleared briefly, I asked her how that was possible, and she confessed that she was stopping/walking a lot by that point. Apparently I was passing her too. Along here one of the people on the sidelines looked directly at me and said “You can do this, Fred!” Something about her words didn’t seem right. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my bib, and I literally looked down at it to see if Fred was my name. (Turned out it’s not.) My left hand kept striking some annoying thing as I ran. I had no idea what that was and I had to watch one time to see. My hand was striking my hip. I could feel it in my hand and in my hip, but I was not making the connection in my head. Along this stretch the course took us along a promenade beside the awe-inspiring Columbia River. Some part of me knew this and thought I should take in the view, but though I tried, it was lost on me. The rain was coming down then. My legs seemed to be operating on their own will. I’d lost interest in the distance reported by my watch. I was in a bad place.

But I was running. And the pain in my knee was abating. And somewhere around mile 11 I knew that I was going to finish the entire half marathon distance at a run.

In that elevation map above you can see the slight climb near the end. This was back inside the Fort Vancouver Historic Site. I met this hill with renewed determination because I knew I was going to run the whole damned thing. Dammit! This climb was not particularly difficult, though I suspect it was this way because I could no longer feel anything. I was shot. I had the fuel to keep going, and I had the delirium to allow my to ignore reality, but my body was in bad shape. I did know that much at this point. But it was a good, bad shape. I had earned this bad shape. I could be proud of this bad shape. I could relish this bad shape, knowing that it came from effort and accomplishment. And I could chuckle a little because this hill happened to pass close to the stretch we ran when we first entered the Fort at around mile 4. And over there, at mile 4, were a pair of runners still on the outward bound path. Nearly two hours behind me but apparently determined to do it too.

I don’t know much about the last couple of miles. We re-entered downtown Vancouver. The sideline crowds picked up a bit, though this late in the run they had thinned. I was running through tall buildings again. The course turned and one woman told me the end was near. (I tried to figure out the implications of her words.) I dug deep and found some energy to finish well. I picked up my pace. I threw my head back and opened my mouth wide to catch as much oxygen as I could. I ignored reality and begged my legs to keep going. I don’t know if my knee was still hurting then or not. I think I may have been passing people. I think the rain had stopped. And with about a half mile left, I heard my son Adam cheering me from the sideline. He had come out to meet me and run on the sidewalk beside me to the finish. I may have waved to him. I think I did. I was giving it all I had. I was so close to finishing the half marathon at a run the whole way that it was all I could think of. If it was even thinking I was doing by then.

And then I rounded the last turn and saw the finish arch ahead. The most beautiful thing in my tightly focused world.

I crossed the mats. I remember turning off my watch. I ran out my speed. And then, apparently, I staggered. Adam reported that three or four volunteers hurried over to me, and I can remember one man holding me around the shoulders to keep me up. Someone shoved a cup of water into my hand. And then someone put this thing around my neck:

bling Vancouver

Evidently I had run/staggered past the medals and the young woman had to run after me to give it to me. That was nice. After a few minutes, and after telling the man holding me upright that I was okay several times, I began to feel my self returning to my body. I wandered in some direction that I thought was toward the exit, and there was my wife on the other side of the fence. She was joined moments later by Nina and then Adam. And they all said, “Well?”

I didn’t understand at first, but then I realized they wanted to know if I had run my best half. Oh yeah, that. So I looked at the numbers my watch reported, knowing that I didn’t remember the exact time of my best half so far (Rock the Parkway). But the time I had run this one was so much better that I didn’t need the exact times. It looked like I had bested my best by six minutes! (Later confirmation showed nearly a six minute gain. That’s huge for this kind of thing. At least within my humble abilities.)

So I got a PR. And then we staggered to the rehydration area in the park at the start/finish. My bib got me a free entry and a free beverage at the craft beer festival being held there. What a coincidence.

It was a big day and a big deal for me. And without hesitation, I told myself it was time to find another half marathon to run.

love, love, love

Posted June 5, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


I am happy,” she said, “because only now do I know for certain where he is when he is not at home.”

Spoken by the Widow Nazaret about her deceased husband, reflecting that “he had never belonged to her as much as he did now that he was in the coffin nailed shut with a dozen three-inch nails and two meters under the ground.”

This is my second reading of Love in the Time of Cholera, and this time the book is going to stay on my shelf because I see myself returning to it again in the future.

Striker Life Half Marathon 2014

Posted June 2, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Striker kit

I don’t know where to begin. It was a bad run. I suppose there were several factors that contributed to it, but that doesn’t mitigate the frustration.

I thought I was well rested, well trained, and well experienced. This was my third half marathon after all. My first was horrible. My second was great. And so my third should have been a success, but it wasn’t. Maybe I went into it overconfident. I’ll puzzle over this for a long time.

The run was held at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri, which is about an hour’s drive to the east from my home in the Kansas City suburbs. It’s the home of the Stealth bomber. The entire 13.1 miles would be run within the base, including three miles on the runway that the Stealth bombers use. And there was a very cool finisher’s medal waiting at the end. For the most part it was a flat course, and I can understand now why some runners actually look forward to an occasional hill on these long runs. The weather looked iffy all week, with a chance of thunderstorms for the morning of the run. Plus, the base is very secure — we had to pass through two security checkpoints to get in, and the pins I used to attach my GU to my waistband set off an alarm. (They let me in anyway after I more or less pulled down my shorts to show them what I was packing.) We had to park far from the start and then got bussed the rest of the way in. The clouds ran away and the sun was out in full force. There was no shade in the waiting area. (It was already 70 degrees when I got up at 3:00 that morning.) The band didn’t start playing until just before the start. All portents of the upcoming run.

There were three runs: the half marathon that I would be doing, a 10K, and a 5K. The organizers decided at the last minute to start these separately (good decision, I think), with the half folks going out first. And so we halfers shuffled to the starting chute and waited for an actual gun start. (It was a startling start, with many people jumping in fright when it went off.) I started at the back of the pack since my goal was merely to finish and not break any of my records (either of them). But I did keep myself close to the pacer for the finish time I hoped to achieve. The trouble was that she was going much faster than the pace she was supposed to run. I trotted up to her and asked her why she was going so fast. She looked at her watch and reported that she was going at exactly the right pace. My watch had us running at more than a minute per mile faster. This little inconsistency would present itself twice more on this run. (Update: They posted the official times this morning, and my chip time matched my watch time, suggesting that my watch was correct.)

So regardless of whose watch was right, I was starting out too fast, but it felt okay, so I (foolishly) kept at it.

An early award for everyone on this run was the chance to run past an actual Stealth Bomber on static display outside its hangar. This was at mile two. We didn’t get any closer than a couple hundred feet, and there were two airmen there with rifles to show how serious it all was, but I’m glad they had this display early in the run when I could still focus my eyes and all. Pretty much the route of the half was to get us to the far end of the base so we could then get on the actual runway and fly down it. There were some turns, and the route took us around a fetid pond, through some rough gravel, across freshly mown meadow stubble, and then on a two mile approach to the end of the runway.

Somewhere along here I started falling apart. I think it was at mile 4.4 that I walked for the first time. I’d managed to go twice that distance before walking on my two earlier halfs, and I didn’t like the fact that I needed to give in so soon on this one. Before that, though, I had dutifully sucked down my first pack of GU and grabbed a cup of water and/or Gatorade at each of the stations. The water station at mile 4, however, hinted at what was to come for the rest of the run. They were running low on cups. They even asked runners to give back the cups they drank from so other runners could use them! This is insane. There were fewer than 200 runners doing the half, and by this point, we were well beyond where the 5K and 10K runners had split off, so there shouldn’t have been any pressure for cups. How can you run out of cups at a half marathon?

Another frustrating observation at this point was that my watch was not reporting the same distance as the mile makers on the side of the road. Early in the race, my watch told me I had gone as much as a quarter mile farther than what the mile marker said. Later in the run, I didn’t seem to be going as far as the mile markers reported. I didn’t think too much of this at the time since the markers were placed by hand and were probably intended to be no more than approximate.

The approach to the runway was uphill, and though it wasn’t steep, it was long. I think we probably went for two miles alone on the tarmac just getting to the end of the runway to start our epic three-mile run along it. Officially, the temperature never got above 85 degrees at the base that morning, but out there on the exposed, concrete runway, it sure felt hotter than that. Around this point my hips started to hurt a little. This has happened before, but it’s never been a serious problem. And I wanted to keep it from becoming a problem since I was only about half way done by then. Fortunately, I had slipped three Advil into the tiny back pocket of my running shorts, and I dry-swallowed them then to head off any further aches. (With more than an hour to go, I figured they would have their effect in time.) From that point, I think it became a contest between the Advil and the hard concrete of the runway I was pounding down.

I wish I could say that the runway was a glorious time. It wasn’t. I was alternately walking and running, and it never seemed as though it was going to end. I didn’t realize that this runway actually has a peak in the center. There was a point where the runway filled the horizon. It was all I could see ahead of me, and all I could see was only halfway down the runway. I think that took a lot of spirit out of my run. It just looked endless and despite all of the running I was doing, I never seemed to be getting closer to the end.

Fortunately, there was a water station at the halfway point of the runway. Unfortunately, they had no cups at all. If you wanted a drink at that point, you had two choices. You could put your mouth to the nozzle of the water jug the volunteer had hoisted to his shoulder and suck out some precious water. Or you could get shot in the mouth by a SuperSoaker. I chose the former. Germs, at that point in my misery, were not much of a concern.

That left the second half of the runway to get across. Since it had peaked, there was a slight downhill grade to it, but not enuf to make a difference. The sun beat down. I ate more GU. I finished off my Honey Stingers. I watched for circling vultures in the sky. I alternated between walking short distances and running longer distances. I pressed my thumbs into my hips to show them who was boss. And I finally got to the end, not feeling edified or proud but just wanting to get off that three miles of madness.

Some volunteer offered the helpful information that we only had about five miles left to go. You can imagine how horrific that sounded. Based on my walk/run combo, that meant another hour. Yahoo! I passed another water station, which did have cups, and slopped a bunch of Gatorade over my hands (and watch) and managed to get some in my mouth, and then we were back on familiar ground. Some of the last part of the half was on the same pavement as the first couple of miles. By this time the sweeper bikes were buzzing by constantly, asking us back-of-the-pack runners if we were okay. I know they meant well, but I just wanted to get this thing done. We passed the Stealth Bomber again, and the two armed airmen did not look happy out there in the sun for all of that time. By then, though, I was too blinded by sun and sweat to enjoy the opportunity to see it up close. I just plodded onward.

I could see the finish area off to my left, but the route perversely took us to the right for a couple of miles. At one point a water station (with cups) had someone dressed at Thor jumping around and talking in an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent about pounding our trash for us. What? I was so frustrated and exhausted and sweaty and achy by then that I just rolled my eyes and kept on.

In the last mile they gave us a hill to climb. It wasn’t particularly steep or long, but it wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to struggle with before the wonderful last quarter mile stretch to the finish. But I did. That last quarter mile was straight and flat, and I could see the finish line, and it was actually getting closer as I ran. So were a lot of people, though, who had already finished their runs and were walking back — along this road — to where the bus would collect them. Most shouted encouragement, and I tried to wave thanks to them, but I was focused on the finish mat that I could see getting closer and closer. And though I didn’t think it was possible, I found some energy within and ran as fast and hard as I could to finish well. I crossed the mats. Turned off my watch. Then staggered and nearly fell to the ground. Several volunteers rushed up to me to ask if I was okay, and I think I was once I managed to catch my breath and stand up straight again.

And then someone did something to me I had completely forgotten would happen. She hung one of these around my neck:

striker medal

By far the coolest medal I have ever collected. My wife met up with me then and forced me to drink the bottle of Gatorade I had brought. We surveyed the goodies spread out for us but they were disappointing: bagels in bags from the grocery store, lots of granola bars, some fruit, and some nasty foil-packed fruit drinks intended for kids. And not a drop of chocolate milk! I passed on all of that. My oldest son (also part of my support crew) appeared, and we wandered around for a bit, but I was ready to go. I checked my watch, fully expecting to be disappointed in the numbers it would report, and I was (though I was only five minutes off from my best half record, so that’s not too bad, and I did three minutes better than my first half), but it said that I had run only 12.87 miles even though a half marathon is supposed to be 13.1 miles. I’m going to go with the thought that the Air Force is better at measuring these things than my Nike watch is, but I’ve never seen this kind of discrepancy between between my measurements and official ones. Hmmmm.

So it’s run and done. I lived to tell the tale, which I just did. I don’t feel too bad (yet). I’ve eaten and showered. And now I’m turning my thoughts to the half marathon I’ll be running in two weeks up in Vancouver, Washington with my doctor son.

the Liebster Award

Posted May 26, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations


So, I hate these kinds of things. I’m really pretty much a private person, and receiving the Liebster Award (from Donna Everhart — thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) means I now have to spill my guts and put them on display for everyone (or at least the five or six people who read this humble blog) to dissect and chuckle over. Sheesh!

The way this torment works is that I am supposed to provide eleven random facts about myself and then answer the eleven questions that Donna Everhart (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) has posed. I’m also supposed to nominate other bloggers for this prestigious award, but I’m not going to do that to them. Sorry if I’ve destroyed the chain mail magic.

So, the stuff about me:

  1. I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. My four children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City.
  2. I’ve been to Vancouver, Canada and the Bahamas. Oh yeah, and Kenya. (My son was serving in the Peace Corps there and held me to a flip promise I’d made that I would visit him.) But that’s as far as I’ve ever been from the United States. I’d like to change that, but someday never comes.
  3. I will have been married 34 years next month. We managed to have our four children (a girl and three boys) within the first four years (and one month) of our wedding day. The “third” child was a set of twins.
  4. As a child, I was religious and even considered making it my life’s work, but I am now about as far from that as a person can be. Amen!
  5. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. A lot more! In fact, I’ve lost so much weight that I’m nearly half the man I used to be. (My story “Travel Light” is based on unfortunate fact.) Old acquaintances have quite literally not recognized me. Now I run half marathons (one coming up this weekend) and have the same waist as I did in high school. No one is more surprised by this than I am.
  6. I don’t seem to have any allergies aside from shellfish (but we won’t go into the unpleasant — and nearly instantaneous — consequences of eating that). I don’t get poison ivy or pollen sneezing fits or that kind of thing.
  7. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in professional writing. The former seems pointless in retrospect and the latter was only for me. I certainly don’t want to write for “the man.” I did write more than sixty feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, some of which you can still find online, but I don’t anymore. I also parlayed that master’s degree into a part-time teaching job at the local community college. It was remedial English composition. The pay was lousy, the workload was tremendous, and the warm fuzzies were too infrequent.
  8. My favorite movie, at least based on number of viewings, is Field of Dreams. The fact that I’m writing a cycle of Fathers and Sons stories makes perfect sense in light of this. (If you’ve seen that movie, you know what I mean.)
  9. I have another blog, one that I’ve kept for more than nine years, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
  10. “Paul Lamb” is a pen name. Most of you know my given name.
  11. I’ve been told that I’m made of schmooze, that I’m pleasingly flirtatious, and that I make people feel good about themselves. Secretly, though, I am shy and extremely lacking in confidence. Also, I can hold a grudge at Olympic levels.

Dear Donna Everhart has supplied the following questions for me to answer (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!):

1. What are your five favorite books?

This is problematic because I think such a list can change over time. If I had to pick today — and it seems I do since I must answer this question — they would be,

  • The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this, but I suspect it’s near thirty, and every time I find something new in it.
  • Moby Dick – Natch! I’ve read this only three times, which is like saying I’ve barely read it at all. The latest of those readings was with my monthly discussion group, and we took two years to work our way through it.
  • Walden – Again, obvious. I think I’ve read this one thrice as well. It’s a quote factory, to be sure, but there is still a lot of insight and just plain quirkiness to it.
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Alvaro Mutis – I’ve always had an interest in Latin American magical realism, and though this doesn’t quite fit in that category, the character Maqroll doesn’t quite fit in any category either, which is why I like him.
  • The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch – It’s her retelling of The Tempest and while it is interesting on its own, this was the first of her novels I had ever read. I was introduced to her philosophical style and characters as well as peoples’ lives very unlike my own. I’ve since read all of her novels and some of her nonfiction (though most of that is way over my head).

2. What are you most afraid of?

Regret. Not monsters. Not Republicans. Not getting hit by a car when I’m out running. Not disease. Regret. The road not taken. The lack of courage to act when I should have. The missed opportunity. The unspoken word. And the ensuing, searing, lifelong regret. (Also, the Liebster Award.)

3. If you could pick one, which would it be? A week on an beautiful tropical island by yourself with just the essentials – or – a week in Vegas with ten of your closest friends and anything you want.

Since I can’t have what I want (don’t ask!), and since Las Vegas has no appeal to me (though at least one frighteningly talented writer has come from there), and since I don’t think I even have ten friends, I would certainly pick the tropical island and the essentials. I sit and muse a lot. I like quiet and solitude. I could be happy for a week, alone on a beautiful tropical island. That was an easy question.

4. Your favorite food?

Well, this has probably changed in light of point 5 above. But it has consistently been a big plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce. In fact, my wife’s marinara sauce was one of the things that made me fall in love with her. I don’t eat this way much anymore unless I’m carb loading for a big run. And since I happen to have a big run coming this weekend, it’s spaghetti time!

5. When did you know you wanted to be . . . <fill in the blank>

An office drone in a cube farm? I never wanted to be that, but it pays the bills and I can very easily walk away from it at the end of the day. A writer? As far back as I can remember. I was writing stories as a lad. Dreaming stories as a teen. Practicing my craft as a young married man. And realizing it in my modest way now. I had a brief flirtation with becoming a medical doctor, but fortunately for my potential patients, that never happened. (My son is a doctor, however.)

6. If you could have one “do over” what would it be?

This relates to my whole musing on regret above. I think I’ve made pretty good life choices based on my modest abilities and drive. But there have been a few jobs that I never would have taken if I’d known what they would do to the rest of my life. I am still haunted by the memory of a certain person I worked for thirty years ago who had absolutely everything wrong about life and absolute assurance that she was right. And at the time she was getting a degree in counseling so she could “help” people! I have tried and tried to work her into a story — as a way to exorcise her from my memory — but it’s never worked. I would never have taken that job if I could have such a do over. One or two other jobs were stinkers but probably built character or some other edifying thing. Otherwise, I might have chosen to begin running sooner in my life, but I’m sure I’m getting boring about that.

7. There’s a tornado warning and you only have five minutes to get your sh– together.  What do you grab?

My laptop. My glasses. Some clean underwear.

8. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?

So far? Letting go of my children. Letting them make adult choices (ones that I would not have made) and not objecting or resisting or counseling otherwise (unless asked). This really is the hardest part of parenting, which has been the hardest job of my life. But that’s only so far. Perhaps some tough choices lie ahead.

9. You’ve just received “The Call,” from your agent.  What would you do immediately after that call?

Sit quietly and savor the immensity of it, the validation of my effort and dreaming. As I said above, I can sit and muse with the best of them, and I’m sure that’s what I would do. Soon after, I would buy myself an expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen — with blue ink, of course — that I would use for signing the contracts that would come my way. It’s an indulgence I’ve promised myself when that day comes. No, I wouldn’t party, and I wouldn’t even announce my good news for a while here on the blog or among my friends. (Few of my day-to-day friends even know I’m a writer, and I want to keep it that way.) No, I would savor it selfishly.

10. Tell us your strangest habit.  (hopefully, nothing gross)

This is a tough one. I suppose if something is a habit, you’re not always aware that you’re subject to it. I can’t think of anything mortifying or embarrassing or even humbling. I honestly can’t. I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy. I try to eat a handful of pecan halves before I run. I tap a set of chimes each time I go down the stairs in my house. But those seem more like behavior patterns than habits. I really don’t know the answer to this one.

11. What is your most embarrassing moment ever?

Another tough one. I tend to lead such a conventional outward life, and I’m secretive to the point of obsession about most personal things, that I don’t think I have much opportunity for epic embarrassing moments. My adult son walked into my bedroom just has I had emerged naked from the shower the other day, but that’s hardly embarrassing (and it’s the kind of thing the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories are completely comfortable with). I can remember thinking I was so clever by driving on the shoulder of the road rather that wait in traffic and then slamming into the side of someone’s car I didn’t see coming. I’ve gotten some facts wrong and not known it when I’ve pontificated on certain subjects before. I actually said out loud once that I was thinking of a career change and becoming a doctor to much (as it turns out valid) skepticism. But if there have been any pie-in-the-face, wet-my-pants embarrassing moments in my life, I seem to have repressed them quite effectively.

And so that is it. The Liebster Award seems more like a penance or punishment than an award. Thank you so very much Donna Everhart. As I said, I’m not going to inflict this on anyone else. And I suspect I’ve revealed nothing earth shaking about myself, mostly because I’m secretly just a very conventional guy. Sigh!


slash and burn

Posted May 22, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

I recently saw a call for submissions (in a Facebook group called “Calls for Submissions”) asking for works dealing with death, the departed, and such things that haunt the memory (even ghost stories). One of my early stories, “Unfinished Business,” is pretty much all about that, so I wrote the editor and asked if she took reprints. She said they would be considered, but they’d have to be really good. (Which raises the question, do non-published works not have to be really good? But that’s not the point of this post.)

The maximum word count is 5,000. I checked my story and it weighed in at 5,690 words. It’s the longest story I’ve ever written. Could I trim 15 percent and still have the story? I decided to give it a try.

I sat down with it the other night and slashed mercilessly (also spotting quite a few typos that I’d never seen before). I cleaned out wasted words, useless sentences, even an entire paragraph. It was a nostalgic adventure, taking me back not only to the writing of this story, which went through many incarnations, but the living of the events that inspired the story. (I think since it is drawn from actual experience, I let it get so long to begin with, cramming in every detail and memory.)

After my cutting session I checked the word count, and it came to 5,480 words. Damn! Obviously I’m going to have to look for actual substance to get rid of. How to do that? There is a central conceit to the story dealing with what memory actually is, and isn’t, and I don’t think I need to try to sustain that in this new, shorter version, so that may be an area where I can do some trimming. But that ain’t going to account for nearly 500 words.

So I’ll keep at it. And maybe in time for the deadline at the end of August, I’ll have done it. And then it will be “really good.”

Update 26-May-2014: I completed the slash and burn this morning and made the submission. Response is expected in November. Since the publication is not listed on Duotrope’s Digest, I have no convenient way of tracking my submission. By November I’ll probably have forgotten that I had even sent it in, and maybe I’ll get a happy surprise then.

“The Most Natural Thing in the World” is now up at MOON Magazine

Posted May 5, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: , ,

My latest Fathers and Sons story, “The Most Natural Thing in the World”, is now up at The MOON Magazine. Hop on over there if you care to and give it a read. I’m especially interested in what you think of this one. You can leave a comment there, or you can post one here. Or not. Up to you.

A lot is happening in the background of this story. A significant character development is beginning to be expressed here, one that will affect the father and son dynamic of the subsequent stories.

A word of caution, however. When you go to that link, you’re going to get smacked in the face with my face. I hope you don’t turn to stone or anything when you see it. (That photo was taken on the day I ran my second 5K. What a neophyte I was!)

I hope you like the story.

Trolley Run at work and play

Posted April 28, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Running

Tags: , ,

One of my Fathers and Sons stories, called “Runaway”, is set during the Trolley Run, an annual event here in Kansas City for 26 years, um, running. I ran it last year, and I ran it again this year on Sunday. Before I bore you with my account of it below, I wanted to tell you that I considered running it pure research for my story. Granted, the story was finished last fall, and I’ve even been sending it out to a few places. But I was glad to run the race again just to gather whatever little details I might to add to the tale and the telling.

In my story, the son, Curt, is beginning to grow apart from his father. He’s about 11 years old, and that’s natural enuf, but the father, David (whom you’ve met in “The Lonely Road” and “Men at work and play” and the soon-to-appear “The Most Natural Thing in the World” as well as “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” if you happened to catch it for the week or two the magazine allowed it to be online) is feeling the separation keenly even as he sees it as healthy and inevitable (and in part of his own doing). So I combined work and play, but on with the play by play:

*   *   *

I had really wanted to have a good experience this year at the Trolley Run. Last year, when I ran it for the first time, I was pleased with my performance. But I hoped in the time since then that I had gotten a little better and would turn in some “impressive” numbers.

I assumed I was fully recovered from the half marathon I did two weekends ago, though I had been running less in the subsequent days. I guess I was eager to find out of if my reduced training would help or hinder my performance on the four easy, downhill miles of the Trolley Run.

Unlike most runs, I got to the start with only an hour before it was to begin. That’s cutting it close for someone with as much pre-race anxiety as I have. But I immediately ran into some friends from the running club, and as I wandered around, I met more. City busses were pulling up constantly, disgorging runners who had parked at the finish and were being shuttled to the start. I understand there were about 10,000 runners and walkers this year, which is even more than last year. I suppose I was lucky to see anyone I knew but I’m glad I did.

I was afraid my luck would be thwarted, however, by the gathering clouds in the sky. It was nearly 70 degrees at 7:00 that morning, and the benevolent sun was shining on all of us, but a storm was rushing in from the west. The forecast estimated it would reach the city by around 10:00, and even if I walked, I’d be finished before then. It looked as though the storm had other plans, however, and was eager to be at the start of the race with the rest of us. The sky to the west was filled with dark clouds and they were getting closer every minute.

I was in the green wave once again, the third group to start. The first wave was to start at 7:45, but according to my watch, they were let out of the gate several minutes early. (Maybe I wasn’t the only one watching the sky.) By the time my wave was shuffled to the start, we were only a few minutes past the official start time. The small gang of friends I was with at the start all wished each other a good run. We would run at different paces, so we wouldn’t see each other again until the finish. I got my watch to find some satellites, and after a moment, I was across the starting mats and on my way.

Too fast.

As I said, I wanted to have a good run, but that meant marshaling my energy so that I could sustain it across even the comparatively short distance of four (downhill) miles. I made the mistake, there at the start, of looking at my watch and seeing the pace I was running. Much, much too fast. A lot of runners start out too fast because the whole pack is surging around them. I knew I would burn out quickly if I kept going at that pace (which didn’t really feel fast to me at the time). So I tried to throttle back. I did not look at the pace my watch reported but merely trotted along at what I felt I could sustain. And after a few turns and elbows in the ribs (the pack was dense for about two-thirds of this run) I reached the first mile marker. Of course I was already trying to negotiate with my rational self for a short walking rest because my lungs were really pretty angry with me. They say you should always be able to carry on a conversation while running and that if you can’t, you’re going too fast. I couldn’t at that point, but it was only because my lungs were monopolizing the conversation. I’d had a chest cold several weeks back. In fact, I was in the last stages of it when I ran that half marathon two weeks ago. I suspected I was not fully over it because I was breathing harder than I thought I should be at that point.

At mile two the first water stop loomed before us. I was running down the middle of the road (less slope there to avoid potential knee or hip ache) and had to cut over quickly to grab a cup. I try to be charitable in my assessments of other people’s efforts, especially those of volunteers. But I have to say the water stations on this run were terrible. Perhaps they were unprepared for the number of runners. Or maybe those of us in the middle of the pack were coming along a little late. But they didn’t have enuf cups filled (though they were frantically trying to) and wound up just handing us the bottles of water intended for filling the paper cups. This is problematic for two reasons. One, even an eight-ounce bottle of water is too much to drink on the run. So then you have the half-filled bottle to carry along with you. Or, two, you take a couple of sips and then throw the bottle, mostly still filled with water, down on the ground. That’s what I did. As had hundreds of others. So there were plastic bottles in the road that our fleet feet had to race across. (I had thrown my bottle to the curb.) Something similar had happened to me on the St. Patrick’s Day run when they served (too much) water in large plastic cups that then littered the ground beneath our feet. Because road hazards. I didn’t even slow down at the second water station on the Trolley Run.

All the while, my lungs were screaming at me to STOP THIS INSTANT! By this point I was on the true downhill stretch of the course, a straightaway before the last turn to the finish arch — my absolute favorite finish stretch in the city. I wasn’t about to stop, and I had more or less vowed to open up on this stretch and maybe grab a fast enuf mile to beat my performance last year. Except I didn’t have anything left in me to open up the run. I just plodded ahead, throwing one foot in front of the other and, curiously, continuing to pass people.

When I finished the long straightaway and turned toward the finish arch perhaps a quarter mile ahead, something clicked and I did manage to pick up the pace a little. I’m sure I looked ragged. I felt ragged. I knew that there were photographers in the area, and I didn’t want to look the way I felt, but by then it was all about finishing the run as well as I could regardless of how I looked. So I threw my mouth open, threw my feet before me, and threw everything I had left into the run. The cheering crowds. The gentle downhill straightaway to the finish. The delicious delirium of being within reach.

And then I crossed the finish mats and switched off my watch. I was panting, but I wasn’t about to spiral to the ground or empty my empty stomach. I was done, and my lungs were grateful. The chute after the finish was crowded (just like last year — ugh!), but I managed to get the timing sensor clipped from my shoe, and then I went in search of chocolate milk. My wife and son found me, and we pushed our way through the crowd to the party booths beyond. One bottle of Propel (not too bad), one slice of pizza, one whole wheat roll, and four blessed, blessed bottles of chocolate milk later, and I was ready to go. I met some of my running friends and we shared high fives. But I was beat.

I had really wanted to have a good run this year. But I did not. I had a GREAT run this year. The reason my lungs were so angry was because I had run — and sustained — a very fast pace for my ability. I had shaved four minutes off of my time from last year. I ran faster for longer than I ever have. And I beat the rain.

So I’ve had a good Rock the Parkway half marathon and two weeks later a good Trolley Run. Seems like I’m going to have to keep this up now.


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