the view from on high

Posted April 27, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

window

Where do you write? On the dinner table when everyone’s gone to bed? At a coffee shop with constant buzz and activity? At the library? At a desk in a repurposed bedroom of your empty-nest home? In a basement cubicle against a blank wall so there are no distractions? On the go, on your phone?

A recent post at the ever-interesting Carter Library blog lead to a nice conversation in the comments about the hows and whys of writing locations. I mentioned how my writing place (which you can see here, though much has changed since that photo), includes a window I can stand before to stare long distances. Above is the view from that window, at least right now in the spring.

That’s looking out the front of my house in suburbia. The pink-flowering tree is a dogwood. The reddish tree is a beech. To the right the bright green leaves are a river birch. And beyond that is a linden. My lawn is a scandal, at least by the standards of suburbia, but, obviously, I hardly care. Of course, you’re looking out my window at its best. In the winter the view is as bleak and lifeless as my black and withered heart. In late summer the heat and drought threaten to desiccate everything, just like the periodic dark nights of my own soul. Autumn is too brief and too obvious a reminder of the long, cold days ahead. So I usually just sit at the desk and try to work, rising to the window only to see what the dogs are barking at (generally a leaf blowing by).

I learned early on that I can’t do any creative work facing a wall. I don’t know why that is; perhaps it reminds me too much of the cubicle I sit in too many hours each week doing soul-sucking work for the man just to pay my bills. No, I have to be able to look up occasionally and gaze mindlessly to let the thoughts drift in order to enter (or remain in) the space where my stories exist.

In graduate school I worked at a folding table in the corner of my bedroom. The table was so wobbly that I had to wrap my leg around one of its legs just to hold it steady enuf to write on. Eventually I moved to the dining room table at the hub of the house. But with four active children and a parade of dogs, I found I had to rise very early to get a few uninterrupted hours of solitude. When the kids were finally gone (for good — a couple returned briefly), I acquired one of the bedrooms as my own space. And there I thrive. Or strive, anyway.

“Been Lonely” been busy

Posted April 23, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

I got another rejection this week for my story “Been Lonely So Long.” (I actually do remember making this submission.) Once again, it was a personalized, very encouraging rejection email. The editor took the time to tell me that my story had made the short list, and they even published those of us on that list on their web page.

“About 10 percent of more than 300 entries made the shortlist. At that level, all of the pieces were in some way well written, entertaining, innovative or insightful. Although the following pieces did not make the cut, we’d like to acknowledge the writers here for their compelling work. It was a close call. Thank you to everyone for submitting.”

(Then they spelled my name wrong. Oops.)

The editor encouraged me to submit again (when the window opens), which is always a warm fuzzy.

Apparently “Been Lonely So Long” is a good story. I can think of one or two mags I ought to inflict it upon. I may even do that.

Garmin Half Marathon 2015 ~ recap ~ part two

Posted April 22, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags:

Garmin bling

After I crossed the finish line and my wife found me, we turned the corner to enter the after party area, but we quickly turned away from it and decided just to go home. There was a long line out of the food tent (with free chicken sandwiches for all as well as the usual post-race chow). But the line was standing in the rain and not moving. The tent was dark on the inside (I suppose since there was no sun). The rest of the area was crowded with vendors all trying to shill things. Thunder and lightning overhead. Just yuck.

This was a disappointing run. Not because I didn’t set a personal record; I hadn’t intended to. I was actually pleased with the time I turned in, it being much better than I had expected given how tired I was from the prior week, my anxiety about the weather, and my unfamiliarity with the route. Nor did I have to rely on scabs for chafing protection, so that was good.

But the start seemed ragged and chaotic. The water stations were poorly staged. There were unnecessary bottlenecks on the route. The pace groups were thick and blocked faster runners (though this was the case at Rock the Parkway, too). The finish was lackluster (even if the weather had cooperated). The dirt on the trail hadn’t been cleared. Supposedly paved sections were a mess. Overall, the course was ugly. The after party area was too congested. And given the weather history of the event, I think they should have had a better contingency plan for most of it. I really expected better from an outfit like Garmin, but perhaps these are growing pains. I know that Garmin took over this race from its original organizers several years ago. Maybe they’re working out the kinks.

But the whole Wizard of Oz thing bugged me, too. If you’re from Kansas, you’re pretty much sick of all of the references to the Wizard of Oz and Dorothy and Toto and the Yellow Brick Road. (Why don’t they credit us with being the home of Superman? He grew up in Kansas!) Plus they keyed everything off of the movie version of the story. See Dorothy in the (ugly) medal above? See her ruby slippers? In the novel they are silver slippers (that some have theorized was Baum’s argument for a silver currency standard at the time, some fascinating reading here). I realize it was all supposed to be fun, but it left me cold. I wouldn’t have run this if it weren’t part of the Heartland Series, and I doubt I’ll run this one again.

After we left, my wife and I drove to the bagel shop and sat down to enjoy what we had missed earlier (including chocolate milk). But as I was eating my bagel and drinking my iced tea (unsweetened, of course), and putting my feet up on a chair, I realized that there were likely still some full marathoners out on the course, in the intense rain of the moment, squishing their way through what surely had to be several inches of wet mud by then.

While there I got another text from my grandson (notice his proper use of a comma):

congrats Garmin

I’ll be grabbing more miles this week since I don’t have another half marathon for more than two weeks. But I do have the Trolley Run this weekend. It’s only four miles long, and nearly all of it is downhill. Plus it is renown for its after party, set across several spacious blocks. That will be nice. And the weather forecast looks about perfect.

 

Garmin Half Marathon 2015 ~ recap ~ part one

Posted April 20, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags:

Garmin kit

When I read accounts by others of races I’ve done (or intend to do) — recaps or reports, they’re called — I find that what I write about them is more about my personal experience than about the race itself. Others’ accounts tend to be about how well the race was conducted, the water station set ups, the course conditions, the quality of the cheering fans on the side of the road, the after party, that kind of thing. I tend to give an account of the state of my unraveling mind along the way. My recaps tend to be about my run rather than the run. That’s generally all I have for you, and if you’re a runner considering a race, my account may not be useful to you. But if you’re fascinated by anguish and mental breakdown and eventual giddiness, then I try to deliver.

The Garmin Half Marathon (there were also a full marathon and a 10K) was the second in a series of three I’m doing this spring. It’s a local tradition, called the Heartland 39.3 Series, and I’d known about it for about two years before I thought I might be trained enuf to actually accomplish it. As you know if you read my account of the first race in the series, Rock the Parkway 2015, I had signed up for this last summer, believing I had most of a year to get trained up and mentally conditioned.

Conventional running wisdom is that you should allow yourself one day of recovery for every mile after a big run. Thus, after I ran 13 miles two weekends ago at Rock the Parkway (and did well), I should have allowed myself nearly two weeks of rest and recovery time before attempting another big race. Didn’t happen. Since the Garmin Half was exactly one week later, I only got six rest days. (And if you add the two days I ran — total 10 miles — during that week, I really only got four rest days.) But I’ve never given much credence to conventional wisdom.

I will confess that I was nervous about this race. I’d never done this kind of thing, running two challenging races so closely placed. I’d once read an account of a man who ran a full marathon in the morning, then joined his friend to run another full marathon that afternoon. I suspect some people just have the musculature, the metabolism to run this way (and live), but they aren’t most people, and they certainly aren’t me. I didn’t know what to expect of myself, and once again, the only goal I set for myself (aside from finishing) was to run past mile 8 before taking a walk break. I thought that might be too optimistic though given my lack of sufficient rest.

The Garmin Marathon of 2014 still figures large in running conversations around Kansas City. The weather then was horrible, with rain coming down in buckets, ankle deep water puddles to run through, cold headwinds, and horizontal sleet in the face! Given that the race is held in the spring in Kansas, the weather is equally likely to be ideal or horrific. Thus I studied the weather report the entire week before the 2015 race, watching each day as the updated information showed an increase in the likelihood of not just rain but thunderstorms, an increase in the amount of rainfall expected, and a decrease in the predicted temps at race time. The closer the day got, the worse it looked. I don’t mind running in the rain — if it’s not cold. But it didn’t look like that was going to be the case. Plus, I had less than a hundred miles on my new shoes, and I wasn’t eager to trash them so early in their life. (I try to get at least three hundred miles out of a pair of running shoes, and one pair gave me six hundred miles before I noticed the ankle ache that told me it was time to trade up.)

I rose early on race day (3:15, of course) and let the dogs out. No rain had fallen in the night, and I stepped onto the back porch to get an early sense of the day I would be facing. Surprisingly, it was warm. Warmer than the predicted high for the day by about ten degrees. This was encouraging. I poured myself some iced tea (unsweetened, of course), swallowed a multivitamin, ate a banana, then went upstairs to surf the net (and check the weather reports) for a while before getting ready to go.

The race was to start at 6:45, which is the earliest I’ve ever seen. I suspect that since most of it is run on city streets (in Olathe, Kansas — Olathe has three syllables, by the way — o-LAY-tha), the organizers wanted to get the runners off the main streets as soon as they could so they could be reopened for car traffic. (The last third of the half marathon was on paved trails, and the full marathon managed to squeeze its last third on these trails as well, though in a different arrangement. That clever set up got the runners off the roads sooner even though they still had miles to go before they got their free banana.) I wanted to be on the road (for the twenty minute drive) by 5:00 because I didn’t know very clearly about the parking at the start (at Garmin headquarters) or even how to best get there given that some of the streets around the start would be closed. Thus I was brushing and flossing earlier than normal and squeezing myself into my running kit more quickly than I was comfortable with. I prefer to dress out slowly so I can think through each step and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. It’s part of my ritual to feel confident about the run. Still, I felt as though I had forgotten something.

Because we were on the road so early, I didn’t get to stop at our local bagelry to do my last bit of carb loading; I had to be satisfied with two slices of multi-grain bread. (I had managed to eat a lot of pasta meals in the week before though. Part of the hardship of being a runner; don’t feel sorry for me.) We got to Garmin headquarters and had no trouble parking but did have to walk perhaps a half mile to the start area. The clouds were thick and ominous, and it felt like rain was coming, but nothing was falling. There were various tents set up that were still empty in the pre-dawn, but as the minutes passed, vendors arrived and began moving in. My wife and I wandered around. I used the porta-potty. I looked for people I knew (and didn’t see any, but Monday was the Boston Marathon, and many of my running friends were already there so they wouldn’t have been at this run). I ate a GU for a last-minute energy boost. And then I realized what I had forgotten in my hurried dressing.

I hadn’t applied band aids to two personal places on my chest. On a long run, these places can chafe so badly that they bleed. It was certainly too late to drive home. But I did apply some lip balm to them, which may have helped. Plus, I was wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt (see above) underneath, and it is more form fitting than a regular running shirt, so I hoped that would reduce the friction. Other than that, I would have to rely on scabbing.

With about fifteen minutes before the official start, I gave my wife a kiss and made my way over to the starting chute. There were no waves for this run. We were all to start as a pack of 4,500 people. (We shared the first three miles of the course with the full marathoners. At that point they would split and grab some of their extra miles before rejoining us.) I settled myself behind the pace group that I thought would give me a relaxed but still challenging run. And I once again looked around for people I knew but only saw one just seconds before the start. She was dressed as a Flying Monkey, and she was with others dressed as Dorothy (a guy), a Tin Man (a woman), and a Lion. There were many runners dressed this way, and it’s part of the tradition of the run (but more on that later).

The run started about ten minutes later than the stated time. I think that may have been due to the long line of people still waiting to check their bags before the start. Their line bisected the starting chute, so they had to be cleared before we could shuffle forward. (Had I been waiting in line so close to the start, I would have been angry. None of them seemed to be though.) I never heard a horn or gun. I only knew we were underway because, far ahead, I could see runners on the road, past the starting arch. Several minutes passed before we back-of-the-pack runners could move forward, and I took that time to get my watch going and grab some satellites. About fifty feet from the arch, I started trotting. As I crossed the mats, I told the watch to GO, and I was underway.

My controlled pace in the half the week before had paid off well, and that was my strategy for this race. I settled in to something slower than my “race pace” and kept peeking at my watch to make sure I was sticking close to it. People were passing me, of course, but I was running my race, and I was fine with that. Oddly, not even a quarter mile from the start I saw people already walking. Perhaps they were doing the full marathon and this was their pacing strategy. Regardless, they get points for being out there!

One of the ways I keep my mind off of the agony of running during these races is to listen to the conversations around me. All kinds of things get talked about, some of them quite intimate. There were primarily two topics that I managed to overhear on this Saturday. One was recent Easter visits with family. The other was the weather at the 2014 Garmin Marathon. So far the rain was holding off. The sky was thick with clouds, and the sun never made an appearance, but nothing was falling on us.

The first mile was a straight line going up a mild hill. I always doubt that I can complete the first mile without stopping, and I always make it through. I think I did well this time in part because I had the example of my performance the week before at Rock the Parkway when I ran the entire thirteen miles without stopping or walking once. (Okay, I tried walking through a water station then, but I quickly got back to running.) Somewhere in this first mile, a random woman running beside me turned with a big smile on her face and we exchanged a fist bump. I’m not sure where that came from. Maybe she does that with every runner she encounters.

After the first mile, I found myself crowding the back of the pace group I had intended to stick with. I really wanted to throttle back my pace in the first half of the run to save my energy for the long haul, but the relaxed-but-challenging pace this group was maintaining turned out to be a little slow for me. I watched for breaks in the pack and wove my way through it then just settled into a pace I thought I could maintain. Not long after this we came to the first water station. We were running down a two lane road, so there was plenty of room, but even so, I had to dart around people just to grab the tiny cup of water or Gatorade as the others strolled through the station. The congestion wasn’t too bad, but it presaged most of the water stations the rest of the morning.

We were going up a slight hill once again, through a neighborhood of modest homes. The streets signs identified the neighborhood as “Original Town.” Original, for Olathe, goes back 150 years, during the Westward Expansion (land grab). At one point we crossed the route of the Santa Fe Trail. If any of the houses in Original Town dated to that period, they’d since been covered with vinyl siding or such. They looked old, but not that old. Up the hill I went, which heartened me. Hills are a runner’s bane, yet somewhere along my running life, I decided just to face them and keep going. That’s a good thing to have in my bag of tricks since there will always be hills.

At mile three came the second water station. That’s about a mile since the last one, which seems too close, but I was glad of it. I was carrying packets of GU, and my intent was to eat one every three miles. I understand the energy gel will metabolize faster if it is chased with water, so I gobbled the GU just before I turned the corner toward the water station.

I was also glad it was there because it was staffed by members of the Olathe Running Club, which I’m a member of. I didn’t slow to a walk or stop to visit, but as I grabbed my cups of Gatorade and water I saw many familiar faces and exchanged greetings with as many as I could. But I had ten miles still to go, so on I went.

I had driven the course the weekend before (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not), so I knew that the three biggest hills of the course were soon coming up. Just before that fun began, the full marathoners split from the rest of us and headed off to the hinterlands in the west. We turned east not long after and pretty soon faced two of those bad hills. This was about mile five, so it was much too early for me to even consider taking a walking break. Plus I wanted to meet the challenge of these hills, even if it meant my running pace was little better than a walk. They say (whoever “they” are) that you use different muscles when you run up a hill. Maybe that is true because my pace actually improved as I went up these two hills. I was going (slightly) faster up the hills than I was elsewhere. I was passing walkers and runners. Of course I wanted to conserve my energy — I wasn’t even halfway through with the run — but the pace felt good, so I didn’t throttle back. At the top of the second hill we turned right and began a long descent, greeted by another water station just after mile five. I managed to get some hydration and kept going.

Although I don’t live in Olathe, the Olathe Running Club does many of its summertime Saturday runs in this very area, so I knew what the conditions were like. It was all familiar and that may have given me some encouragement because as I reached mile six I barely noticed that I was at the highest point (in elevation) of the half marathon. I knew we were creeping up a long hill, but it didn’t feel like that. Probably this was due to the fact that the worst seeming hill of the course began at mile seven, and that was what was on my mind.

A pesky Interstate highway gets in the way there. We had to cross it on a bridge that soared over it. All I could see when I turned the corner at mile seven was the bridge going higher. Even as I started up it, the top never seemed to appear. It always got higher the farther I went. But there will always be hills. I kept at it, and there was a vague wish to walk, but I was easily able to resist it, which was encouraging in itself. The whole bridge, from where it first rises in the west to where it finishes in the east is only a half mile; it’s not much distance at all, and half of it is downhill. The challenge of it was in my mind rather than my legs and lungs. And with it behind me (and nothing more than downhill and flat course ahead of me) I was feeling pretty good. Exhausted and sore, but pretty good. Somewhere along here I downed two Advil (small pocket, skimpy running shorts) because my hips were starting to bark at me. Odd how my knees used to be my problem. Now it’s my hips. But there are exercises for that.

We were on a major street at this point, a divided boulevard with one lane coned off and dedicated to us. Many of the drivers across the median were honking and cheering to us. Nice, but I was concentrating. At mile eight, we turned off this street and onto a neighborhood street. We had a nice, long, gentle downhill, and I was grateful for that. I was also pleased that I had gotten past mile eight without stopping or walking once. I had met my goal for the run. Yet we were going downhill, and I knew what waited for us at the bottom: the paved running trail I’ve run on many, many times. I knew this part of the course well. And I knew, at that point, that I was going to push all the way to mile 13.1 at a run. I knew I was going to run the entire half marathon just as I had the week before (and as I had done last year in Vancouver, Washington). That pushed aside my fatigue and filled me with a sort of giddiness.

I still had five miles to go however. Nothing to be dismissive about.

At the bottom of the hill we left the street and got on the paved trail. And then someone started yelling at us. “HALF MARATHONERS TO THE RIGHT. FULL MARATHONERS COMING THROUGH!” This paved trail is about seven feet wide. After running on streets, we back-of-the-packers were accustomed to being spread out, faster runners slipping ahead, slower runners and walkers staying reasonably out of the way. But on this comparatively narrow trail we couldn’t have that luxury. Plus, the first of the full marathoners were quickly coming up behind us. (I had seen the police motorcycle escort not long before, so I knew the fastest ones — the front runners — were coming. I’m all for giving them their space. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the way of one of these athletes doing the thing they were best at. And I did get over to the right margin of the trail. But I didn’t like being yelled at. Yes, that is how the man had to speak in order to be heard in an urgent situation, but I felt as though the “important” runners, the “real” runners (the 1%?) were being favored while we were being grudgingly tolerated. That’s not the case, of course, but at mile nine, your mind is doing everything it can to demoralize you and get you to stop. (Or my mind anyway.) Had this been my run to organize, I would have set up cones down the middle of this part of the path with signs directing the two kinds of runners their respective directions.

This stretch where the two running groups were squeezed onto the path only lasted a couple hundred feet. We half marathoners soon turned right while the full marathoners turned left for an out-and-back that would get them more miles before they returned to this point and finished the course on the same route we did.

Several things happened here. I crossed mile nine. I could hear the announcer at the finish line (close, but still four miles away by the route I had to take). And the rain finally began to fall.

This part of the trail follows Indian Creek. Given the copious rain we’d had in recent weeks, the creek had flooded several times, covering the path and leaving mud and flotsam behind. The flotsam was brushed aside, and the mud had dried since the last flood, but with the rain coming, I feared that the dry mud would quickly turn to wet mud and be challenging and even dangerous to plow through. Again, had this been my run to organize, I would have had a front loader out there scraping the dried mud away. (This is how the city of Olathe maintains the trail.) I don’t know why they hadn’t done this.

I had further incentive to keep running then. I wanted to beat the heavy rain before it ruined the course (and my newish shoes). At this point, the rain was nothing more than a sprinkle. It made me no wetter than sweat would have on a hotter day. But the clouds were thickening, the wind was picking up (including a headwind channeled by the trees along the trail), and the temperature felt like it was dropping. I had pushed up the long sleeves of my shirt at about mile one, and at this point I was considering tugging them down again to get warm. That wouldn’t have worked though. Bare skin will stay warmer than skin covered by wet fabric, especially fabric designed to wick away water (and thus body heat). Still, the hard rain was holding off. My engine was running hot. I was determined. And the cold wasn’t really too bad.

I passed familiar landmarks along this path. I counted down the distance. I peeked at my watch and saw a miserable pace (though some of that I can attribute to running under trees — that’s not supposed to affect reception, but it so consistently does that I’m convinced it’s true). And I kept on. The lowest part of the path, and thus the stretches of thick, dried mud, was soon enuf behind me, but the more elevated part I was on is terrible in its own way. Its cracked and patched and slopes toward the creek. I hate this stretch, and had the road beside it not been busy with cars, I would have just jumped over there to cover this bad half mile.

It didn’t last long. Soon the official course did take us on that road, now blocked off for the running tribe. I’d run this before as well, and I knew the hills to come, though they were minor, and I was determined. We wound through some neighborhood streets, which felt odd, but I realize they were trying to get us to the finish without using major streets that would have to remain closed for half the day. By this time (even though none of the full marathoners had reached this point) the cheering crowds had thinned, and there were even some cars inching their way through and around us runners. I was grateful to the good people of Olathe for putting up with us for the morning, so I didn’t mind. Plus, these drivers were being courteous and patient.

As I said, I had driven this route the week before. Once we were finished with these last neighborhood streets, we would get back on the paved trail for a few blocks. Except that the week before there was no paved trail. Parts here had been torn up for some kind of construction. I had asked about this at the race expo a few days before, and I was assured that the city had since paved that part of the trail, so there was nothing to worry about.

I wish that had been true.

There was one slab of fresh concrete (harder on the joints) but the remaining asphalt was cracked, beaten up by heavy machinery, and missing in places. It was a mess. It was runnable, but it was another sign of how disappointing this course was. The last water station was the very worst. They had been getting progressively worse as the miles ticked away. Remember that the path was about seven feet wide. This water station had a few tables, set on opposite sides of the trail, so the runners had to funnel between them and the volunteers standing on the trail to hand out water. I actually ran into a woman who had slowed to get a cup of water. I apologized and went on, but I heard her say that she didn’t get the water she wanted. I felt bad, but it was the stupid design of the water station that was to blame.

Okay, enuf complaining. I had less than a mile to the finish arch. The course took us along a sidewalk for a short distance and then into a high school parking lot. This was, of course, to get us from here to there without the need to close another street. The parking lot was wonderfully clear of traffic and narrow-path congestion, and though it was slightly uphill, it was a pleasure to have the elbow room in the last bit.

The rain had picked up. We heard thunder. And then a bolt of lightning crackled through the sky. Someone near me said he was glad he had not dressed as a Tin Man. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) the Garmin people had placed signs along this part of the trail that said “Melting My Pretty?” That was clever, but I would have put a comma between the first two words. And I did have enuf presence of mind to consider how the runners behind me were dealing with the fresh mud that churned up on the trail.

I was nearly finished, but I was also exhausted. Somewhere along the way I had caught up with the next faster pace group and had stuck with them the entire time. That had not been my plan, but I’m glad I had. It gave me a good feel for my progress. I knew I wouldn’t set a personal record for the run, but I was pleased with how I was managing my self and my resources. I could have done without the “encouraging” words of one of the pacers: “You got this!” “You can do this!” “You’re almost there!” I suppose that helps some people, maybe most people, but I pretty much can’t stand it. (Even the cheering of the people on the side of the course bugs me. What do they know about how hard it is to run these damned things?) I just dug in and pushed on.

Once we were clear of the high school, we crossed the street we had started on and up a tiny hill to the finish arch. I ran up the middle of this road (as I had most of the roads that morning because the pavement was flatter there) because they had stuck plastic mats of painted yellow bricks on the ground in the finish chute. (Yellow Brick Road, get it?) I’d heard they were slippery, and I certainly didn’t want to fall in the last two hundred feet.

I was beat, but I pushed as hard as I could. It wasn’t the magnificent finish I’d had the week before, but it was decent enuf, and it was the strongest finish I could manage. And then I was done.

But not happy. Since the rain was falling, the finisher medals were folded inside their ribbons and put in our hands. No ceremonial draping of them over the sweaty necks. I took a bottle of water I didn’t want and a space blanket folded and packaged to the size of a deck of cards. (I never opened it.) And then my wife found me.

Well, this account has rambled on long enuf, so I’ll finish my complaining in tomorrow’s post.

Rock the Parkway Half Marathon 2015 recap

Posted April 13, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags: ,

RTP kit

In what seemed like a good idea last July when I signed up, I ran the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon in Kansas City on Saturday. This was my second time to run it, and you’ll no doubt recall my thrilling post giving last year’s account. Since I knew the route, and since I had done so well (for my ability) last year, and since I’d been having a series of pretty good training runs, and since I’d been carb loading all week, and since I’d actually been doing some exercises and cross training, I decided to try to run this one really hard and see if I might set a new personal record.

Realize, of course, that really hard for me is an easy Sunday stroll for many (most?) runners. I make no pretense that I’m an elite athlete or swift runner. But as I’ve said before, the only runner I’m trying to beat is myself (and that jerk constantly tells me I can’t do it).

I rose ridiculously (and typically) early on Saturday (3:15) and got about my usual routine of iced tea (unsweetened, of course) and web surfing. I put a lot of time and effort into flossing and brushing my teeth. (This is something I do every day certainly, but I give it extra attention on race days because there’s little that’s more annoying than finding a bit of popcorn or a thread of spinach leaf stuck in my teeth at about mile 8. It becomes a serious distraction when I need to keep my focus. Trust me on this.) Then I began my routine of slowly climbing into my running gear. I’d been shaking down my intended gear for a couple of weeks, and everything seemed a go. In addition to what you see above, I wore compression shorts, calf sleeves, my Nike running watch, and, of course, socks. I chose a gray outfit mostly so I could be overlooked. A lot of my running friends do this race (it’s one of the most popular in Kansas City), and they are all so much faster and more fluid than I, so I wanted to simply get my run in and drink some chocolate milk and then slip away. (It even almost sort of worked.) The red long-sleeved shirt was mostly for keeping warm in the early morning before the sun rose. Oh, and I guess I should mention that I also wore two band aids in a pair of personal places to avoid chafing.

My wife was my support crew, and she drove me to the start, stopping first at our local bagel shop so I could do one last bit of carb loading. We arrived long before dawn and long before the start. We stayed in the car for a half hour or so, but hundreds of people were already streaming toward the starting area, and once I could see the shimmer of the dawn through the morning clouds, we emerged from our cocoon and joined the stream. I think it was about 45 degrees, and it was a bit chilly to me (I’m always cold), but I hoped that once the sun made its appearance, the temps would creep up to about ideal running weather.

As I said, I had done this race before, so I knew what there was to see and do beforehand (nothing). Instead, I used the portable toilets (something you should always do before a run, whether you think you need to or not), and then we wandered over to the area just outside of my starting corral and waited. There were 7,000+ runners in this event. We tried to stay out of the way as individuals and groups moved past us to get to here or there. I saw two random people wearing Portland Marathon shirts and reminisced with them a bit. And though I knew that many of my friends (and even extended family) were there somewhere, I didn’t see any of them (which was fine with me — see gray outfit discussion above). Eventually the music came over the loudspeakers and the announcer started chatting up the crowd. The time ticked away, and with about fifteen minutes before the official start, I gave my wife a kiss, shed my jacket, and slipped into my corral. My wave would start about ten or more minutes after the official start, so I hugged myself to keep warm and watched the eastern sky for the sun to come through the clouds.

We were assigned to our waves based on our estimated finish times. I based my estimate on my best performance to date (last summer when I registered) and then shaved some minutes to challenge myself. In our wave were the pacers (runners who will get you across the finish line in a promised amount of time) for a speed that was even more ambitious than my challenge to myself. I had no intention of trying to keep up with them.

I was in Wave E, and there was a five-or-so minute break between the start of each wave. We shuffled forward, and long before we were at the start, I could see runners on the other side of the parkway, already digging into their first mile. I wasn’t racing with any of them though. Start we eventually did, and I managed to get my watch to find some satellites in time to engage the clock as I crossed the starting mats. (In two of the halfs — I can’t call them “halves” — I’ve done, I came up short of 13.1 miles according to my watch. I don’t think it was due to a late start of the watch, and likely it wasn’t due to a mis-measured course. I suspect my old watch just isn’t very accurate any longer.)

My strategy for this run was to keep my pace under control. I nearly always get going at a moderate, sustainable pace and then find that I’ve gotten going faster and tire myself out. That’s not so bad on shorter training runs, but I had 13.1 miles ahead of me (with some challenging hills) and I needed to marshall my energy for this long run. This meant that plenty of people were passing me. That was fine, especially since our side of the parkway was three lanes wide; there was plenty of space for everyone to find their groove. I started with a slower pace than my average and committed to sticking to it at least until mile three (the top of the very long hill at the start). From there I could evaluate my energy and mental toughness and decide what to do. When I had run this race last year, I’d made it all the way to mile eight before I had to take a short walking break. My only real goal was to get farther than that this time so I could feel that I had improved. Keeping my pace under control was how I hoped to do that.

The first mile is the worst mile. At least for me. This is why many runners will do some warm-up running right before a race. They want to get the heart pumping for the real thing. I agree with that, and it’s worked for me before shorter races like 10Ks, but with 13.1 miles ahead of me, I thought it was better to conserve every bit of energy I had for the real thing. I think it was the right choice, but it meant that my body was going to get full-load demand right away and not get a break for a long, long while. At least I hoped. Usually it’s my lungs that aren’t in the game at the start. The legs are generally good (especially at my pace), but my lungs will burn and feel as though they’re going to explode and keep telling me to stop the foolishness, and I have to push through their naysaying. My goal was to get to mile eight, but I was already worried that I wouldn’t make it to one-quarter of a mile before I had to take a break. And some people were already walking. We were still within sight of the starting arch yet they were walking. Perhaps that was part of their own strategy. I don’t know, but it gave me the will to keep running and pushing and reminding myself that after mile three (mile three!) the course would be mostly level and I could get some kind of rest because I wasn’t fighting gravity so much.

My fueling plan was to eat a GU energy packet every three miles. I was carrying four of them, so that would feed me through mile twelve, and by the time I got to mile three I was pleased that I was still running. People were passing me, but I was passing people as well. Half of running is mental, and I was proud of my fortitude to press on. Soon after this I came to the first water station. I used to be disdainful of these. I almost never feel thirsty on a run. The trouble, I eventually learned, is that thirst isn’t always the first sign of approaching dehydration. The first half marathon I ever ran (in 2013) was my hard lesson. I hit the wall on that one because I hadn’t fueled properly and scorned all of the water stations. Now I visit them all (at a run) and take whatever they’re offering (usually Gatorade first followed by water). My idea was that I could allow myself to walk through the water stations (about thirty feet or so) and take the tiny cup of hydration handed to me without splashing it all over my hand, my running watch, or my face. (It would also give me a brief rest as I walked.) Great idea, if I had only remembered it. Instead I grabbed the offered cup at a run, splashed some of it into my mouth, then manfully crushed the cup and tossed it to the ground. (There were trash cans placed after the stations, but through the morning I think I was one for six in actually hitting them.)

The course leveled (more or less) at this point, and we were running past some gracious homes and by sculpture and fountains. All of which was lost on me because by then I was concentrating on the three feet in front of my two feet. I was working hard to keep going, fighting the screaming in my head to walk just a little. There was no shame in that, I could hear myself assuring to myself. And then something unexpected happened.

The pack thickened. We had three lanes of road to spread across, and I was at the back of the pack, so we were a thin crowd anyway, but suddenly it was congested. I didn’t get why at first, and I was surprised when I did realize what had happened.

I had caught up with that pace group that I knew was too fast for my ability. I realized that I certainly could not keep up with them for long, and I chastised myself for letting myself go as such a fast pace (mostly uphill too) that I could catch up with them. Still, I trotted along with them for a while, mostly because the road was flat and I was feeling pretty good. And a little proud.

The trouble was, I kept running up close behind them. I’d unintentionally close in and then have to back off lest I stepped on someone’s heel or such. This kept up for a while (perhaps a quarter mile) before I wondered if maybe I should just try to push through this pack and get ahead of them. It was a silly notion, and even if I did it, I knew they’d soon be passing me because I would wear out and possibly even compromise my ability to get past mile eight.

But I did it. I squeezed through, making apologies as I zigged and zagged for the openings, and then I was ahead of this too-fast-for-me pace group. And I just kept going, never looking back.

At mile five the course left the Parkway and did a little wandering through one of the upscale neighborhoods. Somewhere along here I felt confident that I would get past mile eight before I took a break. That felt great. I was having a very good run so far, and I wanted it to make it last as long as I could.

There was a bit of whimsy at this point. There was a park-like median along the route through the neighborhood and in the middle of it was a table with a sign that said FREE BEER. Last year a couple of young men were handing out bottles of beer to runners, and I guess it must be a kind of tradition, though this year it looked like a family (with young kids) was taking on the duty. The beer was in cups and anyone (without ID checks) could swing over and down a half of a cup of beer. A man running next to me thought it was an audacious thing to do given that there was a police officer at just about every block along the way. I suppose there might be something illegal about it — perhaps the fact that minors could snatch a cup. Nothing seemed more unsettling to my stomach than to have a fizzy beer in it as I was running along, and I had eight miles to go. I bypassed this hydration station. (I learned later that the police did shut down this station. I suppose they had to. Sigh.)

Not long after this, we emerged at Loose Park, which meant we were about halfway done with the run. The course took us around the park and then would lead us back to the Parkway. There is a hill on the far side of this park, and it was where I finally gave out and walked last year. I really, really, really wanted to walk this time too, but I guess I wanted even more to go a little farther. The lungs were in the game (and had been since about mile two), and the legs were only complaining slightly (the quads). Instead I took two of the four Advil I carried in the tiny pocket of my skimpy running shorts (to hush the complaints from my right hip) and marveled that my knees were not giving me a bit of trouble. (They — or rather, the IT bands that pass by the knees — were what failed me the most at the Portland Marathon.) I had been doing some exercises intended to address this, and I guess it had. My knees never gave me any complaint the entire 13.1 miles that day. Right about here, another water station appeared and I remembered that I had intended to walk through these things. So I tried. It was weird. The legs wanted no part of that. Walking? No way! Keep running. So I did. It was actually easier to run at that point than to walk. I understand that humans evolved to be the best long-distance runners of all of the animals. I guess I was realizing my heritage.

I’d gotten myself past mile eight and I was still going. I knew I would wear out eventually, but I thought I wouldn’t slow to a walk without a fight. Onward.

Soon after that I was back on the Parkway, on level ground and concentrating on just moving forward. All along there were clots of people on the sidelines, cheering us on and waving signs. Holding out hands for high fives. And saying unhelpful things like “Only four miles to go.” (Don’t do that if you’re ever a spectator at a run, okay?)

By this point, the crowd of runners had thinned. I had an entire lane (of the three) to myself, but I stayed as much in the middle of the road as I could since it was flattest there. It may be hard to believe, but even the slightest bit of side-to-side slope in a road can get painful quickly. With one foot falling even a few millimeters lower than the other, your hips and knees can get wonky. I tried to be mindful of the runners behind me as I weaved around, looking for flat pavement that wasn’t cracked or rutted, and I think I was a conscientious runner for the most part.

Most of the course monitors — the volunteers stationed at the side roads to keep us from drifting off course — had lost their enthusiasm by the time we back-of-the-pack runners came along, but there was one guy who hadn’t, though I wish he had. This guy was in the road, the road that we runners were using. He was clapping and cheering and IN THE WAY. He literally stepped right in front of me and stopped to cheer toward someone else. (I guess my gray invisibility clothing was working well.) I uttered an expletive and then told his companion monitor to “get that guy out of the road.” She laughed. Sigh. But onward.

I was past mile ten by then, which meant I only had a 5K to run and I was finished. Only a 5K. I was exhausted. I wanted so much to stop. I had beaten my goal. There was no shame in walking. And I was ready to do it. Except for one thing. Last June, on Father’s Day, I had run a half marathon in Vancouver, Washington, and I had run the entire distance. I hadn’t stopped or walked once on that half. And I’d never been able to repeat that performance. I thought it might have been a fluke. Yet here I was, so close to repeating the same distance, and I had intended to run this one as well and as hard as I could. I had to decide then. Would I take a much appreciated walking break, or would I set a new standard for myself by running another half marathon all the way through and prove I could do it more than once?

I’m sure you can guess how I chose.

I kept running. I was mostly on autopilot by then. The legs had their rhythm. The lungs were in the game. It was only my brain that was telling me to give up, and I wasn’t going to let my brain make my decisions for me. I think I was running on heart alone by then. But I was still running. And running. I was thinking about the chocolate milk that was waiting for me at the finish. And the medal I would hang around my neck. And, most of all, the pride I would feel at doing this thing.

Still, there were two long hills between me and the finish line. Two long hills just before the finish that could be my undoing. I decided to see what would happen when I got there (what else could I have decided?) and kept going. The first hill soon loomed before me and I pushed myself up it, trying to keep a decent pace and mostly just looking down so I wouldn’t be discouraged by how much of it still lay ahead of me. And with some effort and mental distraction, I finally found myself at the top of it. Only one more to go. This second hill was the worse of the two, but something inside me told me it would not defeat me. I think on some level I am able to assess my ability and my will and sort of “know” these kinds of things. I “knew” I could do it. It was a tough climb, but I was passing people. I was still moving at better than walking pace. I was breathing hard. I was hot and tired. My quads were angry and my right hamstring was getting tight. Sweat was stinging my eyes. And like the other hill, suddenly I was at the top.

That was mile twelve. Just one mile (and one tenth) to go. I was still running, and it was all literally downhill from here (well, except for the last quarter mile, which was flat and straight and lined with cheering people). If I’d had any energy left, I would have picked up my pace, pushed myself for a fast, strong, glorious finish. Used gravity going down the hill to my benefit. But I was beat. I was going to be lucky just to get this last mile finished at the pace I’d managed so far.

What I did, though, was pick up my pace regardless. A mile to go. I knew I couldn’t sustain it for that long, especially in the last, flat bit. But if I could squeeze a minute faster finish time out of the downhill part, I would try.

I got down the hill at my slightly faster pace, and it wasn’t long after that when I could see the finish arch ahead. Who was I going to be after this half marathon? The man who had run well and long and did a good job? Or the man who might have kept pushing to see what was really in him?

I opened up. I was dying. My body had nothing left, but I called on it nonetheless. I pushed to run faster. I was exhausted. I was starting to hurt bad. I wanted to cry. The arch looked impossibly far away. And I kept going faster. Faster. FASTER.

I came into the finish chute at a pace I could not believe. I glanced at my watch and thought my eyes must have been too full of sweat. I wasn’t capable of that kind of number! I didn’t have time to pay attention to time though. I still had a few hundred feet to go and somehow had to keep going faster. Keep my legs moving. I did. I kept going faster as the arch grew closer. My stride wasn’t ragged. I was finishing like a runner.

I heard the announcer call my name as I approached the mats. I crossed the mats. I slowed. I nearly collapsed. I had to hold myself up with my hands on my thighs, and I feared if I stopped moving I wouldn’t be able to start moving again. (Something like that happened in Portland.) I limped. I staggered. I hurt. I may have heard my wife calling to me. I moved forward. Someone gave me a bottle of water and I remembered how to open it. I stopped to have the tag removed from my shoe, beginning to feel alive again. I moved a little further forward and accepted the medal someone held out for me. I joined the flow of people leaving the chute. Somewhere up the hill was chocolate milk. Perhaps other treats. Perhaps people I knew. I never saw that too-fast-for-me pace group again after I’d passed them.

RTP bling

It was much too congested in the after party area. I pushed my way through the crowds until I saw the tent with the chocolate milk and then pushed my way up to it. I grabbed two cartons and found a less crowded spot. Then I called my wife to let her know I was finished. She already knew and was on her way up the hill to find me. I quickly downed the chocolate milk and grabbed a third as the man wheeled cases of them toward the tent. That one didn’t last long, but the crowds were thick and annoying. My wife soon found me, and we decided to skedaddle. I had vague plans to visit some artist studios that afternoon, and I would require extensive foam rolling and a long, hot shower before I could pull off something as daring as that.

So home we went, and I experienced the odd phenomenon I’ve felt before. My wife drove home much too fast. Of course she hadn’t. My brain was just used to a couple of hours of a certain speed before my eyes, and suddenly we were moving at a slightly faster speed. My brain wasn’t ready for this. I told her what was happening even as I assured her it was all in my head.

When we got home, I plugged in my watch and uploaded my run, confirming that I had run well and best of all, confirming that the entire last mile I kept going faster and faster to the end. I had not only beat my time from the year before, but I had run my fastest half marathon ever, by four minutes and twenty seconds. I finished twelve minutes faster than the first half marathon I ran. I guess there’s still room for improvement.

Later that afternoon, I got a text:

Congrats

So I Rocked the Parkway and set a new personal record and found a lot of unexpected self confidence. And now I could rest of my laurels, so to speak, but another reason I tremble before what seemed like a good idea last July when I signed up is because I didn’t just sign up for Rock the Parkway. I signed up for the Heartland 39.3 series. (13.1 times 3 equals 39.3.) I have two more half marathons to run in the next month. (I also have a nice, downhill four-miler squeezed into that period.) I’ve said before that I want to make the half marathon my distance, and this is going to be the test. Three half marathons in five weeks. And the next one is this Saturday. Just days away.

so I got a rejection . . .

Posted April 6, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

. . . which means I apparently made a submission. The story is “Been Lonely So Long.” It’s a one-off. It’s not part of the Fathers and Sons universe at all. It was just something I tossed together based very loosely on a group of people I sort of know, heavily fictionalized, and set in a different city. Yes, it involves runners. And beer.

It is narrated in first person plural, and I did that not for the novelty but for thematic reasons. (Basically, it’s easier to avoid responsibility by being part of a group than by being an individual. It’s my musing on the nature of charity. Sometimes I think that is my big theme.)

I had forgotten that I had submitted it, though I had done so less than a month ago. Oh well. But it was a very nice, personal rejection letter. The editor said my story came close to acceptance, and he encouraged me to submit to the journal again (when their submission window opens next time). Such encouragement is nice, but as I said, it’s a one-off piece. I don’t have anything else with such a thematic structural build to it. I’m sure I’ll write something that crafty again sometime, but for now, it’s all I have.

still around

Posted April 2, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Uncategorized

So, yeah, I’m still around. Haven’t had much to say I guess. Still picking away at the writing, though it’s been hard to achieve those early morning sessions since all I seem to want to do right now is sleep.

My grandson, Ken, is doing fine and growing as he should. He’s smiling now and interacting with his parents and his brother (the dog). He’s even starting to vocalize.

SmilerNext weekend begins a madness that seemed like a good idea last July when I signed up. I run the first of three half marathons in five weeks. Next weekend is the first, followed by the second the very next weekend. Then I get a couple of weeks off (though I’m squeezing in a four-mile run then, but it’s all downhill) before the third and final half marathon. Lots of swag and bling and shirts and chocolate milk. Yes, I am insane.

 


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