the Liebster Award

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

Tags:

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.

“Men at work and play” is now online

Posted April 17, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: ,

My story “Men at work and play” is now up at Wolf Willow Journal. Click on over there and have a read if you’re interested. As of this morning, it bears the title of “The Shawl in my Closet” but I’ve asked the editor to fix that.* The story begins “Curt knelt in the gravel before the dying fire . . .” If you see that, you’re in the right place. And if you care to, let me know what you think.

For one of my early published stories, the editor had used the wrong name in the byline. That never got fixed though I had asked. Oh well.

I read through “Men at work and play” now and spotted all of the things I would have fixed if I’d seen them before submitting. I can’t believe I use the verb “slump” in successive sentences. I have a dangling modifier that sticks out. (I’m not usually too bothered by these, but this one bugs.) And do I really need to say they’ll be a mess twice?

As I said in yesterday’s post, not a whole lot happens in this story . . . except for everything. What came before and what comes after in the cycle of stories gets concentrated and focused in this one. That I could even write this I take as a sign that I’m finally in control of the shifting, amorphous mass of tales that have been presenting themselves to me over the last two years.

So this marks the fourth Fathers and Sons story to see publication: “When We were Young and Life was Full in Us,” “The Lonely Road,” “Men at work and play,” and the forthcoming “The Most Natural Thing in the World.” I have a couple of others in circulation. I’m feeling pretty good about this whole cycle.

* Fixed!

“Men at work and play” accepted for publication

Posted April 15, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

I am still really weary from running that half marathon three days ago. (And we won’t talk about last night’s run.) But I’m feeling buoyant right now because in this morning’s email was an acceptance for one of my Fathers and Sons stories.

“Men at work and play” will appear in the next issue of Wolf Willow Journal, which will apparently make its appearance online tomorrow.

This is an important story in the cycle, even though not very much happens at all in the events I give. Three generations, knocking about the cabin, doing chores, a little fishing, a campfire, quiet closeness. It’s almost more of a vignette (or as I’ve seen disdainfully described lately, an anecdote but not a story). It is a kind of lens, collecting and focusing the lives that have come before in the stories of the cycle and foreshadowing many things that will come in the later stories. I intend to write a companion story for this called “Men at rest” that will parallel and fulfill much that is in this one.

I had sent “Men at work and play” off to this magazine based on a call for submissions with the theme of sanctuary, and the nurturing quality of the family cabin in these stories is something I have been trying to depict throughout. It seemed a good fit, and it was.

Interestingly, I’m actually going to be paid for this story: $20. (I hope that’s US dollars since the publication is based in Saskatchewan.) This is the third piece of my fiction that has earned me an income, so my bank account has swollen by $40.15. Woohoo! And it is the fourth of my Fathers and Sons stories to be published. I feel as though I’m getting some traction.

I’ll be sure to put up a link to the story when it appears.

Rock the Parkway 2014 ~ recap

Posted April 13, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running

Tags:

Rock the Parkway

CAUTION: Long post full of self aggrandizement.

I don’t think I was being too coy about the struggle I had completing my first half marathon last fall. I recounted it in two posts: here and here. It was tough. More than tough. And so it was with considerable anxiety that I signed up for Rock the Parkway, another half marathon here in Kansas City. But I knew I had to do it.

Of course I was full of fret and anxiety in all of the months leading up to RTP. I had “bonked” on the earlier half; I had run out of fuel and had to run on little more than determination and the muscles my body apparently had to consume to keep me going. It was the hardest, most grueling thing I had ever done (and that includes the calculus course I took in college). Yet I was going to attempt to do it again.

So I spoke to as many of my running friends as I could — those who would listen anyway — and asked what went wrong before and what I could do right this time. The bottom line was that I had likely fueled inadequately for that last run. I hadn’t eaten properly in the days before, hadn’t kept my body sufficiently hydrated in advance, and hadn’t consumed enuf energy during the actual run to sustain my effort.

And so I set about correcting all of that for this run. In the week before I had been slamming bottles of Gatorade (lemon-lime G2) each day. I had two pasta dinners on days when I generally never ate dinner at all. And I organized plenty of GU (chocolate outrage and salted caramel) and energy bites (Honey Stingers and ShotBloks) to carry with me on the run. I was determined to get my glycogen and electrolyte levels as elevated as I could in preparation. (I barely know what I’m talking about.)

And I watched the weather report. Early in the week, the forecast called for a chance of rain and possibly thunderstorms on Saturday. But unlike when I’m planning a trip to my little cabin in the Ozarks, as the week progressed, the threat of rain diminished. By Thursday, all chance of rain was removed from the forecast and the temps were expected to rise into the upper 70s. Maybe a little hot for a long run, but pretty close to ideal, at least to me. I decided to do without the long sleeve shirt and risk being a little cold at the start. That would correct itself once I got moving. And I would wear a cap because the sun was expected to be out and likely in my face both directions of the run.

The Parkway of Rock the Parkway is Ward Parkway, a pretty, divided boulevard that runs through some very nice neighborhoods and terminates at the Plaza, Kansas City’s upscale shopping and dining district. The course would take us north on the Parkway (more or less uphill until mile four despite what they say), then around a beautiful urban park, taking us back to the other side of Ward Parkway for the return (which is correspondingly — and blessedly — more or less downhill).

I slept well on the night before, though I remember having a dream about being unable to find the timing chip I needed to add to my shoe. I woke before the alarm and decided not to fight for any more sleep. I let the dogs out, drank another bottle of Gatorade, got online to surf a bit and reduce my anxiety, and slowly dressed myself in the kit you see in the photo above. (After a winter of layers and long clothes and hats and gloves, it’s nice to travel light once again!) About two hours before the run was to start, I swallowed three Advil and ate the entire packet of ShotBloks. I also ate two slices of bread with peanut butter on them and a banana. All that was left to do was to drive the few miles to the start where I could wait and fret.

The temperature was already 60 degrees when I arrived. I knew I would not be cold as I waited. Just shivering with fear. I met with some of my running friends, but with more than 6,000 runners at the event, I didn’t hang around and instead wandered over to my starting corral. I had reported my expected finish time based on my performance at that earlier half, and that put me at the back of the pack, which was fine. That meant there would be fewer people to pass me since most were already in front of me. (See how I think these things through?)

Being at the back of the pack (of 6,000) meant that even though the race started at 7:30, I would not be starting until at least twenty minutes later. The start of the course headed south for a short distance and then turned and ran up the other side of the Parkway. So as I stood there, waiting to start, I could see hundreds and hundreds of runners already underway, across the boulevard just to my left. Well, that was fine. I knew I had only one runner I needed to pay attention to.

The shuffling eventually got my wave to the start. I started my watch and hoped it could grab some satellites before we were ushered across the starting mats. And though I always worry that this won’t happen, it always does happen. I crossed the mats at a trot and settled in, knowing I had a great deal of time and distance I had to manage.

I was determined not to look at my watch as I ran, and by that I actually mean not to look at the pace reported on my watch. Generally one of two things happens when I do this. Either I am disappointed that I’m not running fast enuf, or I’m instantly exhausted because I see I am running too fast. Rather, I intended just to run at the pace my legs and lungs (and determination) set and do that for as long as I could (preferably 13.1 miles). I did occasionally look at the distance my watch reported, and by the first third of a mile, I was already hot. There was nothing I could do about that, no clothes I could shed or water I could spray on my face, so I just pressed on.

I was laden with GU. I had four packs of this energy gel pinned to the waistband of my running shorts. I also had a packet of Honey Stingers in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. And I vowed to grab a cup of Gatorade and a second cup of water at each of the aid stations along the course. I intended to stay hydrated and nourished this time. My plan to was suck down a GU at miles 2, 4, 8, and 10. I would snarf down the Honey Stingers at mile 6. I hoped that regular infusions like this would satisfy my long-term energy needs. (On that half I ran last fall, I had only eaten some ShotBloks at mile 9, much too late to restore the lost energy in time.)

And so I ran my plan. The first four miles of this run are pretty much one long uphill adventure. There are some level spots, and two or three places where you go downhill briefly (only to recapture that elevation soon after), but for the most part, it is uphill. At the top of that hill is a very nice fountain in the middle of the parkway. (You can sort of see it on my bib and medal in the photo below.) This is, of course, where the photographers sit and wait for the runners to pass. It’s very photogenic: your smiling face with the fountain in the background. Except that you’ve just run four miles uphill. Now I’ll grant that for many (and perhaps most) of the runners on this course, four gradual uphill miles at the start are not much at all. They arrive at the fountain looking fresh and frisky, and they probably look fine in their photos. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I think I saw most of the paparazzi, and I did my best not to look too frumpled and frazzled. I tried not to gasp as I passed. I don’t know if I succeeded. In fact, I don’t know if they took any shots of me at all. The pack was still a little dense at this point, and I may have been lost in the crowd.

But onward. After this point, the course was mostly level. I was mostly tired, and I was already negotiating with myself about where I would allow myself to stop or walk or somehow rest. I knew that the highest point on the course was around mile 7, and I thought that if I achieved that, I had really earned a break. But then I remembered that I had made it to mile 8 on that earlier half marathon before stopping, so I thought maybe that would be a more respectable point. Whatever, it seemed like it had to be done.

I had been running on the far right of the roadway most of the time. This left plenty of space for the swifter runners to pass me without breaking a sweat. I noticed around mile three, however, that my right hip was beginning to send me messages of complaint. The camber in the road meant that my right foot was striking just a tiny bit lower on the ground than my left, and I think my hip was trying to make that clear to me. So I changed my route a bit. I moved to the left side of the road to give my hip a break. I realize that might seem like high-level thinking for someone in the grueling early miles of a road race, but the fact is I had experienced this before and worked out the solution then. I hadn’t anticipated this happening, but I also realized that the benefit of those three Advil I had taken early in the morning was probably gone by then. Regardless, the plan worked.

Until it didn’t. At mile 6, my left knee began to register its complaint. Apparently the lower footfalls on the left were now wreaking their havoc on my body. Worse, mile 6 was exactly where my left knee had begun to bother me on that earlier half marathon, and that was a sign that my IT band had had enuf. But I was on the run, and more importantly, I was still running at mile 6, not having taken one of the breaks I allowed myself, so it was back to the right side of the road. This seemed to work, more or less. The ache in the left knee diminished, and the ache in the right hip did not return. I figured that if it did, I would just run down the middle of the road where there was no slope either direction. And some of the time I did that.

In the meantime, I was devouring my GU on schedule and drinking the Gatorade and water offered at the aid stations. I had those aches, but what I didn’t have was fatigue. I was apparently keeping myself fueled properly. Mile 7 was a chore. The biggest hill on the run hit there. Many people were walking this hill, but I was determined not to. Yes, I was tired. Yes, my brain was telling me what an idiot I was. But I was determined to reach mile 8. The trouble was that despite my corrective efforts, my left knee was still hurting. At that point I was just over half way; I had a lot of distance yet to cover with a knee that didn’t seem like it was going to cooperate. So I made a regrettable but unavoidable decision. I walked two hundred feet to give my knee a break.

I had realized after I topped the hill in mile 7 that I had the energy and the mental fortitude to run the entire 13.1 miles. What I didn’t have was a left knee that was on board for this. So although running the entire distance would have been a great personal achievement, I knew that I had to leave that for the next time. In the end, I only walked about two hundred feet. It was such a short distance that the slower pace barely registered on the pace chart for the run (after I plugged in my watch and downloaded the adventure). And then I was running again.

At mile 9, I was back on Ward Parkway again (having looped around that urban park), and the route from this point was mostly flat and generally downhill, with a few climbs thrown in that mirrored those on the earlier part of the Parkway because, well, we were running along it again. And that seemed to be enuf. I ran. I kept running. I passed the mile markers. I ate the last of my GU at mile 10. I hit all of the Gatorade and water stations. (And, yes, I always did ask if they had Bud Light. “Next station,” they’d say.) And I kept running.

We passed through some very nice neighborhoods, but they were lost on me. I was deep inside myself. Concentrating. Pushing. Ignoring. Running. I was far behind all of my running friends, many of whom were already likely finished. I was alone on the course, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, but no less alone. I could only call on myself for help. Except at mile 11. It was there that I spotted one of my friends from the running club. She was sidelined with an injury but was working as a course monitor (which meant blocking one of the side streets so we delirious runners didn’t accidentally turn down it, and that actually happens more than you might imagine). Seeing her at that point in the long run was exactly what I needed. I felt a kind of emotional recharge that buoyed me for the rest of the run.

The last mile is literally downhill. Not a steep downhill, but a consistent downhill. Because I was fueled (apparently) I was able to coax a little more speed out of my legs. At least that’s how it felt. It felt as though I was running faster and harder, and that I was able to sustain it for a last mile. (And when I downloaded the run later, my watch confirmed that I had.)

I came pelting down that last little bit before the finish arch, running like I knew what I was doing. I thought that some of my friends might be on the sideline to cheer me on, but if they were, I never saw or heard them. It didn’t matter. It was all about me at that moment. I pushed and pressed and ran and ran, and then I crossed the finish mats and it was all done. 13.1 miles, and nearly every inch of it run by my legs and lungs.

I switched off my watch as I crossed the mats, and I fell into a staggering walk, suddenly limping because my left knee asserted itself again. Maybe I exaggerated the limp. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. I think I was more pooped by that last quarter-mile push than by any failure of my running mechanism. I stopped at the man who would clip the chip from my shoe and nearly fell over when I tried to lift my foot. He graciously told me to leave my foot on the ground and he would remove the tag that way. Then I greedily accepted the bottle of water someone offered me. And then I stepped up to the man who hung a medal around my neck.

RTP

It was a good run. I had been fearing a repeat of my first half marathon, but I ran my plan and seemed to have conquered myself. (I beat my last half marathon time by 8 minutes!) Clearly I need to do some exercises to strengthen that knee. (A day later, my left IT band is tight and still pretty angry with me.) And somehow I need to wrap my poor brain around the fact that I must do twice this distance in October when I run a full marathon in Portland.

But all of that was for later. At the moment there was chocolate milk to be drunk. And a foam roller to be pressed to my flesh. And a hot epsom salts bath to take.

And I need to start preparing for my next half marathon, just over two months away. The boy is insane.

 


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