contest fees ~ what am I missing?

Posted October 19, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

What are your thoughts on fees for submitting to writing contests? I just can’t seem to find the will to pay a fee to enter a competition.

I’ve had a fair number of my short stories published, so I think I have some small measure of talent, but the ratio of acceptance to rejection for me is ~ 1:7. (Check my math: Duotrope records 287 rejections and 41 acceptances of my stuff. Add in a handful of submissions that I haven’t recorded there.) Given that ratio, and assuming it’s indicative of my prospects in general, it seems obvious to me that paying to submit a story is going to be mostly a way to lose money.

Does this thinking apply to story-writing contests as well? Given that my likely chance at publication for stories in journals is 1:7, would it be similar in contest submissions? And if so, why would I pay to enter a contest? Is the “competition” in a contest lower than in a normal journal submission? Are there some where the prestige of the prize is worth the cost of admission?

I target my fiction submissions based on themes the journals announce. I know that most competitions are also this way, so I could target a submission there to make my money be better spent. But if the ratio would be the same as my targeted journal submission, then this targeting doesn’t seem sufficient enuf to justify the cost.

What am I missing?

I realize that fee charging is one way to filter the volume of submissions to make them more manageable for the editors. (I’ve seen it referenced as meaning only “serious” writers will then submit.) But I also know that I am not the only serious writer who refuses to “pay to play,” so potentially good stuff never comes across the transom at some of these fee-charging outfits.

And I realize that charging a fee gives small publications much-needed funds to continue operations. (Though how do the non-fee outfits continue to operate?) Similarly with contest fees: they can fund the award (though that seems circular: pay to submit to our contest so we can have money to give an award for our contest). But the conventional wisdom for novel submissions is to never pay a publisher to make a submission. (Unless you intend to submit to a vanity press.)

So it seems to me I’d just be throwing my money away if I paid a submission fee for a fiction contest. (I’ve seen several No Fee contests, and a few that had fees around $2. But the average fee seems to be about $15, and I’ve seen it as high as $49. Again, given my ratio, I would pay about $100 in $15 fees for the chance at acceptance.)

What am I missing?

return to Roundrock

Posted October 12, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock


The beavers have been busy at my little cabin in the woods. In the time since our last visit (three weeks), they’ve taken down two more trees on the cabin side of the lake, and as you can see in the photo above, they’re moving up the hill closer to the cabin.

They take down trees like these to get to the slender branches and tips, which are edible. They’re stocking their larder for the coming winter, which is fine, especially since I’m pretty sure they don’t think the cabin itself is edible. Years ago, when I planted the buckeyes beside the cabin, I had fenced them with chicken wire to keep the deer from trashing their velvety antlers on them. I hadn’t considered at the time that I might have beavers to deal with too.

The other tree they brought down got hung up in some cedars, so the beaver won’t get to harvest any branches from it, which suggests they’ll just bring down some other tree. I suppose when I return next time, I’ll see which one they’ve chosen.

On this visit I fixed up the weed eater with its blade attachment and attacked the scrubby growth at the waterline below the cabin. I’ve worked hard to keep an open avenue from the front porch down to the lake, and the scrub at the waterline was too thick (woody plants rather than grass) for the whip. Thus the blade. It was easy enuf work once I got going, but when I started I was ready to stop. The ground slopes here, and the sun was out. The blade is good with scrub, but it’s not so good with grass, and there was a mix of both in the waterline area. But I stuck with it, and pretty soon, about a half hour of effort, I had it nicely cleared. Then my wife asked me to cut a path across the dam, which hadn’t been part of my plan, but I try to use up all of the gas in the tank so I don’t leave any in there to foul the engine later. So off to the dam I went, and I managed to get about two-thirds of the way across before the tank went dry. Then I spent some time pulling out vines and sticks from the overflow drain. The lake was down about three feet when we were there, but if it got as much rain yesterday as we did up in suburbia, the drain might have gotten some use. Anyway, it’s always best to clean it when there is an opportunity.

After that we went back to the cabin and got a nice one-match fire going to cook our burgers. The weather was about perfect, though gray clouds were massing and the sun went away. That didn’t affect the taste of the burgers, though. And it was easy to sit in the comfy chairs and listen to the wind in the trees as we ate.

But all of that is more footnote than substance about this visit. Before we got to the cabin, we stopped in the nearby town and visited the hardware store. There I bought myself an entry-level leaf blower. This is the time of the year when crackly dry oak and hickory leaves begin to pile up against the outside of my wooden cabin. This is bad for three reasons: one, they are a fire hazard; two, they can increase mold growth on the siding when they get wet and stay wet; and three, they can provide cover for burrowing animals that might think a den under my cabin is ideal. So in the past I would rake the leaves away and then across the great gravel expanse to the trees beyond. It’s work the must be done, but it’s a chore.

Not so with a leaf blower. I managed to turn a half-hour’s chore into a five-minute frolic. It was so much fun that I did it all a second time before we left that afternoon!

I’d actually gotten the leaf blower for two reasons. My neighbor Craig likes to do controlled burns on parts of his land, and he uses leaf blowers to get the combustibles out of his work zone so his fires don’t spread. He’s visited my cabin a few times and strongly encouraged me to get one since my setting is a potential fire hazard. (Also, probably, I could help him with his work.) The second reason is because the two cypress trees in my suburban backyard are ready to drop hundreds of spherical cones this year. (They’d skipped cone production the last two years.) The hope (my wife’s hope) is that the leaf blower will help us herd these cones so we can collect them easily. The problem is that when they dry and crack apart, the shards are sharp and get into the pads of the dogs feet, causing them to limp and wince. I suspect that the leaf blower isn’t going to make a difference since spheres seem to be the best shape to resist outside forces. The leaf blower didn’t do a thing to the marbles in the gravel around the cabin. I suspect the same will be the case with the cypress spheres, but we shall see.

We made it home to suburbia a few hours before the heavy rains arrived, dropping more than two inches of water. We needed it, but it’s going to be a rainy week and I fear the trail is going to be too muddy — even under water in some places — this weekend for a ride.

why I don’t outline

Posted October 7, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, Toolbox


I’ve long thought that the reason so many writers love the “rules” (whether that’s grammar or genre conventions or the proper use of dialogue tags or whatever) is because there is so much self doubt in what we do. Is this good enuf? Am I good enuf? Will anyone want what I write? Will anyone read what I write? Should I be writing something else? And on. So when someone comes along and says that this or that rule about writing is absolute, a good many of us are quickly seduced by the imagined certainty and cleave to that rule.

Of course one writer’s rule is another writer’s suggestion and another writer’s antagonist. Long-time readers of this humble blog (both of you) will know that I don’t give much allegiance to the rules (even spelling — the word “enuf” occurs throughout Obelus — and I suspect my use of em dashes is often incorrect). Sentence fragments seem to be integral to my natural style. But then I know of at least one 100+ word sentence I’ve written as well.

One of the fundamental bits of guidance writers are given when starting out is to outline the intended work in advance. Organize your thoughts. Put them in order. Re-order them. Organize sub-thoughts under major points. Work from a premise and work toward a conclusion.

Yeah, I don’t do that.

When I start on a story, I do generally have an idea of where I’m going and what I want to achieve. But in nearly all cases, my result is far from the original idea. Latest Big Project is a good example. I had an idea for writing a semi-serious work of seeming non-fiction that was really going to be a very unconventional work of fiction. And while it’s still that, the semi-serious portion is barely holding on. The seeming non-fiction part has grown more absurd as I’ve been writing it. Crazy thoughts come into my head throughout the day about how I could develop this idea or introduce that idea. I had introduced a sub-plot that I thought would give my character some depth, and that sub-plot has taken over and become the main (hidden) point of the story.

Similarly with Obelus, a certain character was intended all along to be an ambitious free-lance journalist, but when it came to showing her as such, I suddenly shifted her into something altogether different. I don’t know where this revelation came from. I hadn’t planned for it, but it took the novel in a different, and better, direction. It’s a vastly different novel in tone and plot (the plot is the MacGuffin).

My point is that if I had outlined what I wanted to write in advance, I don’t know that these “revelations” would have come to me. If I had been neat and orderly in advance, I think I might have missed out on the creative chaos and discovery that seems to work so well for me. I’d have been devoted (blinded?) to developing the story as it was originally conceived rather than flowing with it as it evolved.

So I don’t outline. Well, not in advance. I am about to begin outlining Latest Big Project, which I have mostly finished, so I can see where to wedge in hints and references to the sub-plot that’s become the main plot. It needs to build to that (where all is revealed in the final chapter). So having an outline of how things are now will be a kind of after-the-fact guidebook for where to take it further.

What about you? Do you outline in advance?


(Funny, this post is not at all what I had started out to write.)

bits and pieces

Posted October 4, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

A photo from the archives. This is Harry the Heron. He stands in our backyard in suburbia though he had a nobler job once. I had first set him out in the shallow waters of the pond at Roundrock. (We have a small pond and a small lake there.) The idea was that it would attract other waterfowl if they saw one hanging out there. I don’t know if that ever worked. For the most part, any wildlife ran away when we arrived at our woods, and waterfowl especially. (Though a goose once had a nest on a tussock in the pond!) Anyway, one time we arrived at Roundrock and Harry was gone. I feared he had run away with the other waterfowl. We got out of the truck at the pond and checked around, and there he was, lying in the water on his side. Significantly, there were two punctures in his chest. My guess is that he was stalked by a bobcat and attacked. Once the bobcat figured it out, I suppose he took off. So now Harry resides in the comparative safety of our backyard (where I have never seen waterfowl either).


We took out two ash trees from our backyard last fall. (Well, we hired someone.) Now that fall has returned, I revel in knowing that I won’t have to rake up all of those leaves this year. The cypress trees, however, have a bountiful crop of “cones” this year, which they mercifully hadn’t for the last two years. The cones themselves are spheres about an inch and a half in diameter and they’re not so offensive in themselves, but when they dry and break apart the pieces are sharp and sticky with sap. The dogs often bring them in the house stuck in their paws, causing them to limp.

This year our plan is to try herding them with a leaf blower. (I suspect it won’t work, spheres being good at ignoring outside forces.) I’ve been meaning to get a good leaf blower to use at the cabin; dry oak and hickory leaves against a wooden structure are not a good combination, especially with a neighbor to the west who practices prescribed burning on his land. So maybe we can have two uses for such a noisy machine. (I already have ear protection for when I use the weed whipper I have at the cabin.)


Books read in September:

Silence is a Sense by Layla Al Ammar – The story of a Syrian refuge in London who has become mute due to the trauma she has suffered. She writes accounts of her flight for a local paper but hides behind an anonymous byline. A racist incident in her neighborhood sparks her into a more active life, and a medical crisis in her apartment block forces her to find her voice. A searing, unsparing work that I strongly recommend.

The Keep by Jennifer Eagan – A well-written novel that is framed within a frame and within another. The story itself is weird and almost Gothic, and it is all capped with a sort of epilogue that many readers found unnecessary and even unhelpful. I’d never read Egan before, but I likely will again.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood – No, not The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth, which I love, but an actual Victoria ghost story (sort of) about a family legacy, jealousy, revenge, and various machinations. I pretty much worked out the twist at the end (as I noted other readers had who reviewed it). About one-third too long, it was compelling if you’re into that kind of thing, but I’m not sure what about it had attracted me.

The Game is Afoot, edited by Marvin Kaye – I had been picking at this collection of parodies, pastiches, and scholarly works about the great detective for months and happened to finish it on the last day of the month. Every bit of it is good, but it became much of a muchness and I found I had to take it in small doses. I’ve added it to my burgeoning shelf of Holmesian works.


The world of podcasts continues to baffle me. I regularly listen to four of them now, alternating choices while on my treadmill (though often picking the one with the half-hour episodes because treadmill). For the most part I enjoy what I hear, and in a few cases I’ve pursued and read the works of the authors interviewed. (Though “interview” seems the wrong word for a podcast. I think “conversation” may be better. In one case I’ve learned at least as much about the host as about his guests.) I should probably up my podcast game and listen more and more widely. Maybe I even will.

thoughts on Substack

Posted September 27, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , ,

You may be familiar with an online publishing medium known as Substack. It began as a site where people in the know could publish “newsletters” about their topics, and subscribers would get an email whenever a new “issue” came online. While many of these newsletters are free, others charge a monthly fee — the minimum is $5, so $60 a year — to access the content. Consider that some of these “influencers” have thousands of subscribers and do the math. One of the biggest is posted by a man who writes about Chinese culture and politics.

So now creative people are joining Substack. Writers are posting their novels a chapter at a time as an alternative to traditional publishing. One of the newest celebrity members of Substack is Salman Rushdie, who will serialize a new work (and put it behind the paywall).

I had heard a very enthusiastic account of one person’s use of Substack on The Writer Files podcast. (Mostly half-hour episodes, which are perfect for my tolerance on the treadmill.) I checked on her subscriptions the other day and she has upwards of 1,200 people signed up. At $60 a year, she’s grossing $72,000. (Yes, Substack takes a piece of that, but what’s left is still hefty.)

A writer friend of mine is posting some of his short stories on Substack, though they are free. The thing about Substack is that if you want to charge a fee and make it worth your time and effort, you must have a substantial following of people who are willing to pay for the privilege. And to have that, you must be a hustler, a self promoter, someone who already has a name and a following. I am certainly not that kind of person.

Nonetheless, I am thinking about beginning to post to Substack. My novel One-Match Fire contains 23 chapters. which means I could serialize two a month and have a year’s worth of content. After that, I could post some of the stories I’ve written in that universe that are not in that novel to continue the content. Seems like a safe way to experiment with the medium. Maybe I could develop a following in that time. Perhaps then I could serialize a newer work (my impossible-to-publish metafictional stuff) and charge a fee. Then retire rich.

I know that Substack has gotten some bad press. It’s been accused of being a haven for right-wing crazies though I haven’t noticed such, and it seems easy enuf to ignore. There have also been some grumblings about the “advance” that Rushdie supposedly received for joining the platform. But I don’t see the logic in that. He’s going to get a bigger advance from a traditional publisher than a no-name would, and no one complains about that kind of thing. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like a good and safe place to experiment.

So what do you think? Do you have any experience or cautions you care to share?

UMKC Virtual 5K ~ race recap

Posted September 25, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags: , , ,

For as many years as my alma mater, the University of Missouri – Kansas City, has held a 5K, I have participated in it. (I even got an age-group placement medal one year, but that was long ago.) In recent years, and for obvious reasons, their 5K has been virtual, as was the case this year. I signed up for the event as soon as I knew about it, and then I ran it on the first day (of the week permitted) when I could. I had mapped a 3.1 mile course on the streets and trails in my neighborhood, so I could leave home and return home without needing a ride.

I am only recently trying to get back into the sport of running. I am certainly out of shape, and my performance on this run is a sure indicator of that. But one of the things I especially liked about running is how egalitarian it is. Runners of all skill levels are welcomed, encouraged, and praised. Thus, if my run this year involved more walking than running, it still counted. (The event was even promoted as a run/walk.)

I left the house about an hour before dawn and started the stopwatch on my phone. Then I took off. The first mile of my route was along a busy road with street lamps every hundred feet or so, but because I would detour onto the Indian Creek Trail, which is not lighted, I had strapped on my headlamp. I know this trail very well, but there are some places deeper in the woods where it can get too dark to see safely. A fallen branch or a walnut could easily turn my ankle. That’s when I expected to use my headlamp, but it happened that some of the sprinklers were on along that busy road at the start, and rather than get my skimpy plastic clothing wet in 56 degree temps, I ran in the street along there. And I switched on my headlamp when I was in the street (though no cars passed me during the time I was there). I did use my headlamp a few times along the trail itself, but by then — I was about half way — the sky was light enuf to see the trail. It was along here that I met up with more runners and riders than I would have expected at that time of day. Everyone was courteous and announced themselves well before reaching or passing me, and I like to think there is a kind of community among the trail users.

My route took me back into my neighborhood, and it was here that I left the trail and got on a sidewalk. As I said, I had mapped out my 5K course earlier, so I knew when I reached 3.1 miles, and when I did I stopped the timer on my phone to get my time.

The race organizers asked us to report our time, in part because that’s what you do in racing and in part because they were giving out prizes for age-group best times. I had no ambition to compete for an age-group placement, and at this point I’m not even trying to improve my time. But when I looked at my stopwatch I saw that I had completed the 5K a couple of minutes faster than I had at the Rotary Club 5K a few weeks ago. (And that was with a Kenyan running at my side!)

There were no medals or shirts or other bling for this event. All of the funds raised from the entry fees were donated to the UMKC Food Pantry. I did get a race bib that I have added to my collection. And I think there will be some random prizes, so I may get something like that. (Last year I got a cooling towel.)

As I said, I’m a long way from racing fitness, but there is a 5K on Thanksgiving Day that I’m eyeing. My Kenyan daughter-in-law will be in town then, and maybe together we can improve my time again.

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

Posted September 23, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Uncategorized


I haven’t made a post in this category in a while because I’ve been slacking in my journal journey. I think because I wasn’t finding what I wanted and was finding what I didn’t want, I lost some enthusiasm for the project.

I am through Journal #11 now and it’s mostly more of the same. But along with the many ideas for stories and novels, as well as the increasing entries for articles I was writing then, I also found more personal entries about my state of mind or my job (including job hunting).

My job in St. Louis (way back when) was dissolving because the company was taken over and being torn apart for assets. I found (and then recalled) that my job at the time I was writing in Journal #11 was also dissolving (because the company was being shut down by the government). Many of my entries then were about this and my thoughts on how to find my next job. I suppose the prospects may have been grim at the time because I was also recording my moods more frequently.

In addition, I was in grad school at the time. There are entries in there about interactions with my professors and instructors, including one who would later produce a video of mine about prairie fires that was shown on our local PBS station.

And my listing of books read continued on the back pages. I read through that list and I recall most of the books, though some have left no impression on me.

I’ll continue my journal journey, though it hasn’t proven itself very fruitful yet. Maybe some surprises will be coming.

Saturday at Roundrock

Posted September 13, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock


The dogs and I made a dash down to Roundrock over the weekend. It had seemed like a long time since my last visit, and when I checked my journal there it had been nearly a month. This is my least favorite time of the year to go since the heat hasn’t lessened, nor have the chiggers, but everything looks wilted and defeated. Still, I had a window of opportunity, and I took it. (My wife is in St. Louis for a couple of weeks with Small Paul and his family.)

It’s a little hard to tell from the photo above, but the beavers have finished their work on one of the two remaining large trees at the shoreline below the cabin. (The third tree is on the right, but it’s mostly dead, so I don’t think the beavers will be interested in bringing it down.) You can see the gnawed trunk on the left and the rest of the tree fallen into the lake (just what I had hoped would not happen).

Here is what that same tree looked like earlier this summer:

You can also see that the lake is down about a foot. That’s actually not so bad. In past years, by August the lake would be nearly all gone with just a waist-deep puddle collected at the deepest part. We haven’t had that much rain in recent weeks, so I attribute the decent water level to the dam finally sealing all of its leaks. (The builder told me that would probably happen, but I seem to remember him saying it would happen sooner than twenty-ish years.)

So the tree has fallen into the lake. I think the beavers will probably harvest the tender tips and small branches for their den building and to eat in the winter, but that still leaves a whole lotta tree in the water. In terms of wildlife, that’s a good thing. Any structure in a lake provides shelter for the fish. But in terms of fishing (which I haven’t done in years) and swimming (which I may not do again since I’ve read some nasty things about swimming in water that beavers use as their toilet), the tree in the water is a bit of a hazard. But I’m not going to tie it to my truck and haul it out of there. Nor do I hope the water level drops enuf to allow me to cut up some of it with my trusty chainsaw. So there it is, and there it may remain. It’s possible when the lake level rises (when?) that the tree will float away from there (though there’s nowhere else for it that would be any better), but I expect it to get water logged instead and remain there for the rest of my tenure. So there you go.

Aside from examining the beaver depredations, I had no agenda for the visit, and the dogs had even less use for our time there. Flike poked around the cabin a little but mostly just wanted treats. Queequeg attempted to hide under my truck, which is his usual place, but my truck is currently in St. Louis, and he found my wife’s low-slung Honda to be more of a challenge. Instead I opened the car doors and windows, and they jumped in there to spend their time.

What you see above are nascent buckeyes. You may recall that I’ve planted red buckeyes in front of the cabin. They’ve always flowered nicely (sometimes even when we happen to be there), but I’ve missed their fruiting most years. On this visit I counted nine buckeyes, which I think is a record. I don’t know when the husks open and the buckeyes themselves drop, but I’d like to collect a few and maybe try planting them to raise more of the red-flowering understory trees to place around the cabin.

I didn’t stay as long as I might have on a normal visit. The dogs were having none of it. I had no chores I wanted to undertake alone. (I don’t like using the power tools when I don’t have someone to identify my body.) After I ate my banana and apple and rye bread, washed down with iced tea (unsweetened, of course), I packed up and steered the little Honda back on the road to suburbia. I hope to get back down there before another month passes, and I hope some rain falls soon. I might have had a fire if the forest hadn’t been so dry.

Friday Feature ~ “The Infinite Regression of Jerry C”

Posted September 10, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Friday Feature

Tags: ,

As with several of my stories, “The Infinite Regression of Jerry C” was born of an actual experience in my life, though not quite with the magical realism I depict in the story.

When my son was in Cub Scouts, we were taking our boys to some away camp, and when all of the boys and dads had found rides, Jerry C and his son were to ride in my car. Much like the Jerry C in my story, he was an engineer, and engineers are always bad guys in my stories. I knew his son, and he was a likable kid, but I had not met his father before. We had a two-hour ride to get to know each other.

It felt like a ten-hour ride.

Among the pronouncements and solutions Jerry C had for all of the woes of the world (that his reasonable and empirical engineer’s mind had come to) was the advice for me that when driving on the highway, I should allow one car length ahead of me for every ten miles per hour I was going. Thus if I was going 60 miles per hour, I should keep at least six car lengths between me and the car ahead of me.

You try doing that.

To be polite, and because I was carrying his boy in my car, I slowed until I had approximately the right distance ahead of me. He helpfully pointed out that if I counted the seconds between when the car ahead passed a given point and when I passed that point, I would know I had the right distance if my count reached six.

This was tedious because he was always watching, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me when I had crept forward too much. Of course as I was doing this, all of the other fathers had likely reached our destination. And, since I had built such a big gap in the traffic, other cars would pass me and then slip into that gap, causing me to slow further until I had recovered the distance. And then it would happen again.

And this was what I based my story on. We managed to reach out destination that day, but the Jerry C in my story met a different fate.

This story was published in the October 2016 issue of Danse Macabre, which you can read if you go to that link above. This publication had run one of my other stories too: “Moron Saturday.”

Leawood Rotary Club Labor Day 5K 2021

Posted September 8, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags: ,

So I did a thing.

For a while I’ve been scheming a way to get back into running. I’ve been pretty diligent about logging miles on my treadmill, and I have all of my running gear of yore (except the new shoes I got myself earlier this year). I didn’t expect to begin again at my peak fitness or even the level of fitness I had fallen to before I left the sport, but I thought I could give it a try again.

A serendipitous coincidence made the difference. I had been shopping around for an entry-level 5K I could attempt and I found one nearby that was on Labor Day. The course was described as “fast and flat,” which has sometimes even been true about courses in my experience. But I actually knew most of the route from having driven and ridden my bike along it many times, so this much was correct.

The second thing was that my son and DIL and Small Paul were coming here for Labor Day weekend to observe Small Paul’s first birthday. My daughter-in-law Celestine and I had done the Trolley Run together several years ago. That was the last time I felt I had had a good run. So when I knew she would be in town, I suggested that she and I do this 5K together. She was delighted by the idea and agreed readily. So I got us signed up.

The very little running on pavement I’d done in recent weeks told me that my brisk walks on my treadmill were not really preparing me for shoes on the ground, throwing one foot in front of the other running. So I showed up on race day mostly unprepared, but then I didn’t set any pace or timing requirements either. I was going to do what I could and be in the moment, a quality that was sorely lacking in my past running life.

Celestine said she had done very little training for this run as well. (The fact that she’d had only two weeks notice may have had something to do with that.) Still, she is Kenyan.

My wife, my son, and Small Paul were our support team at the race. They would cheer us as we passed, the course allowing them to see us a few times without the need to go far from the start/finish. Small Paul didn’t understand any of this, of course, but he did like smacking a cowbell against his stroller. My son tells me that one time when we passed and waved, he tried to run after us. He’s barely mastered walking, so running, even at my pace, was a little ambitious for him. Still, he’s half Kenyan.

I knew I could not run the entire course. I was fine with running some and walking some. Celestine slowed to walking whenever I did and picked up the pace when I was ready (which often coincided with passing our support team and/or course photographers). We started out running, but I soon slowed to walking when we came to the first (and only) very slight hill on this “fast and flat” course. After that we alternated between running a specific distance (“to that sign,” “past the race photographer”) and walking generally a greater distance. I did find, however, that once I was warmed up, I was able to run farther and longer, and by the end of the 5K I felt pretty solid in my ability.

We “sprinted” to the finish arch. My sneaky original plan had been to bolt ahead of Celestine so I could say I beat a Kenyan, but she had proved such a delightful running companion — full of conversation, encouragement, and a friendly ear — that I didn’t. We crossed together, just as we had at the Trolley Run several years ago.

I was handed a bottle of water and then someone handed me the medal you see above. It was wrapped in a plastic bag, so I had to tear it open and hang the medal around my own neck. I always prefer it when this is done to/for me. I feel like I’m honored for my effort. But I finished my first organized race in years, and I was upright at the end.

I’m not at the level where I can run a half marathon continuously. Not yet. But when I got home, and after we packed my truck with furniture my son was taking to his St. Louis home, and after I had a shower, I began shopping for another 5K I could do soon. I found one at my old university, and I’ll “run” it later this month.

But I can also put my feet on pavement and just run for myself. I have a lot of miles to collect to get back into decent running shape.