a calf and a half ~ Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon recap ~ 2017

Posted May 22, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Everything leading up to this race — with one exception — suggested it was going to be a good run for me, beginning with actually getting in at all. Unlike the lottery for the New York City Marathon, this race just opens a window, and when all of the slots are taken, the window closes. This year the window closed about twenty minutes after it opened. Fortunately, I had coaching from my clever son-in-law about how to be among the winners in that twenty-minute opportunity. Basically, this meant just to submit my request online the moment the window opened, and to continue trying until I got a confirmation. I happened to be on a conference call at work when the submission window opened, but no one ever asks for my thoughts on these calls, so I just remained on mute and got online with my New York Road Runners account to make my submission. And somehow, I got through and accepted before the site crashed.

Once I knew I was entered, I knew I had to begin my training. As usual, I could probably have done more (and more rigorous) training for this than I eventually did, but I did add more weight and floor work to my regimen, so perhaps I made up for some of my lack in actual road work. But one factor seriously interfered with my good intentions.

Two weeks before the race, when I was out on my usual Saturday morning run, my right calf cramped up as bad as it ever has. I had to cut short my run that morning and get a ride home (after stopping for bagels, of course).  I hoped it was temporary, and I took the next day off when I might have gone for a longer run. But as soon as I ran again, the cramp, which never really went away, returned as much as before. My next two runs were on the treadmill, and though I had no trouble with them, the cramping didn’t ever fully cease. I was doing a lot of stretching and massaging, as well as drinking a lot of Gatorade, taking vitamins, and even drinking pickle juice (supposedly an “instant” cure for muscle cramps, but my calf must not have gotten that message). On my Saturday run one week before the half, the cramping attacked again, and though I got more miles than the week before, I still had to cut it shorter than my goal.

And so I decided that I was done with running until the half. Runners generally do allow themselves a taper before big runs, but they aren’t normally a week long, nor are they normally completely free of at least a few miles. But I knew I had to get my cramped calf under control, and nothing else seemed to be working. (I did continue with stretching and electrolyte gorging and vitamin taking, but I skipped the pickle juice.) As each day passed in the week before the race, my calf felt better, and by the time I got on the plane on Thursday to fly to New York (via Minneapolis), I felt no tightness at all unless I flexed the muscle very hard. So maybe I was not going to be plagued with a bad calf on race day.

The two flights were a breeze compared to the cab ride from the airport to my daughter’s new townhouse in Brooklyn. The traffic was terrible and the driver got off the highway (which was basically stopped) and we took surface streets through neighborhoods with lots of stoplights. It took most of an hour to cover a dozen miles, and I hoped that didn’t presage how my run of just over that distance would go in two days.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon, and my daughter and grandson and I headed to the expo for the run on Friday. This involved, of course, visits to playgrounds before and after the expo because priorities.

The expo was held at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the hottest day of the year (my phone told me it was only 86 degrees, but it felt hotter out in the sun). We arrived just as it opened at noon, and we collected our bibs and tech shirts with dispatch and ease (I got mine, my daughter got her husband’s). Then we shopped the merchandise, but it was a smallish display, and I certainly didn’t need anything anyway, so then we left. We had taken the bus to the expo, which took most of an hour, but we hired a car to get home, which took most of twenty minutes. Then it was an evening at home, noshing on pasta and anxiety. The next morning meant race day.

And the next morning came soon for me. We needed to get out the door by 5:00, so I was, naturally, awake at 3:00 (before my alarm had a chance to wake me), and I slowly went through getting dressed for the race. This is my practice, in part to ensure I don’t forget anything, but also to reduce my stress. I was downstairs and ready to go before I heard my son-in-law moving about upstairs in his routine. We once again hired a car, which got us to the start by the Brooklyn Museum about two hours before my start time. (My son-in-law was in an earlier wave and would start sooner than I.) There were two waves: one for the swifties and one for the rest of us. My slower wave then had twelve corrals based on either expected time to finish or performance at a past NYRR event. Since I had run the NYC Marathon last fall, they knew all about my ability. I was slotted into corral L (if you do the math, you’ll see that this was the last corral of the slower wave).

One of the things I’d read about this race that runners consistently praised was the presence of the portable toilets within the corrals. Here is a picture of maybe one-third of them (in front of the Brooklyn Museum):

You can also see that I arrived pretty much before everyone else. That street would eventually be filled with runners waiting to start.

As you might imagine, I was not pleased with my corral placement. Each corral was delineated by a length of orange tape (which you can just make out on the left of the photo — click to embiggen). But there was an open walkway to the left running the length of wave 2. So I just walked myself down to about corral D and then motioned to the attendants (guarding the entrance to the corral?) that I wanted to cross to the toilets. They had no problem with this. And being a prudent runner, I used the toilets three times that morning, each time getting waved through by the guards. My intent was to get so familiar to them that they wouldn’t bother to check my bib (with a big, fat L on it) when I finally entered the corral to stay later. (I had a throwaway shirt on that covered my bib at the time.) I imagined I was being clever, but it turned out I didn’t need to be.

About an hour before my wave was to start, something unexpected happened. I felt a few drops of rain on my face. There was no rain in the forecast, but the clouds overhead suggested they had other plans. I had been standing on top of a subway grating, enjoying the warmth the rose from it (until the incessant wind blew it away), but those few drops brought some friends, and soon it was actually raining. Not hard, but enuf rain would wet down my skimpy plastic clothing sufficiently to make me cold for the duration. So I and several dozen other people stationed ourselves under a nearby tree that offered some protection but none of the warmth of the subway grating. Soon I was shivering, hugging myself, and making small talk with fellow runners. (Many people, it turned out, resorted to the hundreds of portable toilets to stay dry, and I saw one with at least two people in it. Pleasant.) To the west I saw blue sky, and I knew the little squall would pass soon, but I was wet enuf to be miserable, and the clouds trekking to the east were hiding the sun. After the rain stopped I returned to the subway grating with plenty of other people and waited for the minutes to pass. About a half hour before our scheduled start time, I decided to get in line for the toilets one last time just to be prudent. Then I would get myself in my corral and huddle among the humanity there to stay out of the wind.

That business taken care of, I moved into corral D. As I was told would happen, the tape dividing the corrals was lowered and people were moving about freely. I looked around at the bibs nearby and saw many letters of the alphabet, so my clever ploy earlier was unnecessary. My goal in moving up in the corrals was not so much for ego as for . . . well, I guess ego. I knew that thousands of people would pass me during the 13.1 miles, and I feared that if I were starting among the last few thousand, I could literally be among the last finishers of the race. Thus if I had more people behind me at the start, even though most would pass me, I might still have a good number behind me as I crossed the finish line (assuming I did cross it).

The color announcers were on the PA, making happy talk and reading the official rules of the race. The anthem was sung. And then another patriotic song was sung. The sun had risen above the clouds and shone down on me. The warmth was appreciated. And soon the horn blew to let wave one fly.

I did not have a clear idea where the actual starting line was, being somewhere near the back of the 27,000 runners as I was. My worry was that I would not have my watch started soon enuf to engage it as I crossed the mats. Judging on the speed of the people jostling before me, though, I made my guess and told my watch to find some satellites. Being mindful of the delay I experienced at the Trolley Run a few weeks before (under overcast skies), I started it sooner than I thought necessary and hoped it wouldn’t time out and reset before I jostled my way to the starting line.

The running gods hate me, it seems. The watch took forever to find enuf signal. (Normally at home, on my driveway, I get a signal seconds after starting the watch.) And once again, I was across the mats and underway while my watch was still trying to get in the game. So once again, my watch would not give an accurate portrayal of my run this day.

But it did finally engage about two-tenths of a mile down the road, which wasn’t too bad, and so I could concentrate on just running with the pack. We were elbow to elbow at this point, and it was only a few blocks before we took our first turn and started up our first hill. I trudged, knowing that I had a lot of miles, and a few hills, ahead of me. I didn’t mind all of the people passing me, but I was starting to mind my throwaway shirt, which was (finally) making me hot. The rain had stopped and I felt safe getting rid of it, which I did. I tossed it onto the grass beside the road, near several other doffed shirts. And then I was on my way to mile marker one and the water station there. Because the pack was still thick at this point, getting Gatorade and water was a challenge, but I managed to grab a couple of cups (always asking for Bud Light) and keep moving.

I had felt rested before this run but the long uphill to mile one was wearing me down early. After we passed the water station we made a circle around the Grand Army Plaza monument at the entrance to Prospect Park. It was here, I was told, that photographers would be stationed to get our pictures in front of the monument. I never saw them, but I did see plenty of loose change on the ground. How does this even happen? How does change fall out of a pocket or a purse? I think I passed over a dollar’s worth of change in just that stretch, and I saw plenty of loose coins all along the course the rest of the morning (just as I had during the marathon — wouldn’t the homeless people find this money?).

The first two miles were an out-and-back, so that tiring hill I had to climb to mile one because a nice downhill feature of mile two, and I was feeling better, but I could tell this was not going to be one of my better half marathons. (This was number ten.) And by now you must be asking, What of the cramped calf, Paul?

I began to feel a slight tenseness in my right calf at about mile two, which I recognized as the cramp beginning to assert itself. That, too, told me this wasn’t going to be one of my better runs. But on I trudged. People were passing me, of course, but because this was an out-and back stretch, I could see all of the people on the other side of the street trudging up the hill in their first mile. And there were thousands, which meant I still had some chance of not being the very last person to cross the finish line. (Alternatively, I could look at them as all of the people who would sooner or later pass me. My mental state kept switching.)

We ran along Prospect Park and I stuck as much as possible to my goal of running on the flattest part of the pavement. I tried a number of times to pace along with someone who I thought I could keep up with (as a way to rein in my pace and make it last), but I found myself running up on their heels (nearly), and soon I was passing them. But I was also pushing myself too much and there I was, within the first few miles of the run, taking short walking breaks. This helped with the cramping. Whether it prevented the serious cramping or merely gave me some respite from the painful tightness, I don’t know. I just did what I could and tried not to be too harsh with the self talk.

Soon we entered Prospect Park itself where I was told it would be shady, which would have been nice normally but the clouds had returned and blocked the sun once again. I was also told there were some hills, including one long one, that I had to get over. There were plenty of people along the road, cheering individual runners as well as us random, anonymous runners, and that’s always fun, but it doesn’t give me energy or courage. (My daughter, nearly seven months pregnant with twins, was hoping to cheer me near the end.) I knew I didn’t have the ability to run up the hills in Prospect Park, but I did try to run at least half way up each, and I think I managed to do so. The nice thing was that for every uphill there was a corresponding downhill.

I had been noticing something curious as I passed each mile marker. My watch was reporting a distance that was growing closer to the posted mileage. It was as though my watch was catching up, which I know it wasn’t, but I was beginning to think that I might get a 13.1 distance reported from it after all.

Prospect Park rolled on and on, and I did what I could with it, walking when I had to but running as much as my lungs and calf would allow. I had my Gu pinned to my waistband, and I ate one every three miles as well as drank Gatorade and water at each of the stations. The calf was tight but manageable, and I was doing everything as well as I could. (Except math, I can still not do simple math when I am running. Apparently it’s a thing.)

We left Prospect Park at around mile six-ish and wound our way to Ocean Parkway, which would be a straight, mostly flat, net downhill run to Coney Island where the finish arch was waiting on the Boardwalk. Just before mile seven I heard my watch chirp another mile passed. It had “caught up” with the mile markers. It didn’t really matter, though, what my watch had to say. I still had to run whatever the course laid out before me required. And so I did.

I tend to see the same signs held by spectators at the long runs I do, but there were some new ones as well. At mile eight a man was holding a sign that said “ONE MILE TO GO.” Beneath that in small letters were the words “alternative fact.” Another sign bore the quotation “I thought this would be easier,” and included a picture of the President. Some people wearing Boston Marathon jackets were handing out donuts and waving a sign that said “Donut Stop. Keep Moving!”

The cross streets on Ocean Parkway more or less are given the letters of the alphabet (or names with the corresponding letter). The first I noticed as I trudged along was one named Beverly. I had to get at least as far as “X”, and then about another half mile after that to the finish. Of course I had my watch, and the mile markers were waving in the wind, and the water stations at each mile were constant, and my calf was giving me pain, but the measured passing of the alphabetic cross streets really drained my tank mentally. Knowing how far I still had to go exhausted me. (“Half of this game is ninety percent mental,” Yogi Berra said of baseball, but it’s true of running as well.) I also noticed that the Gatorade at the water stations tasted more watered down. I guess the 25,000 or so people ahead of me all grabbed a cup.

At around mile eight a new torment visited me. I got a sharp pain in my right foot with each strike. It ran from my toes and up to my ankle. I could keep moving, especially if I landed more on the inside of my foot instead of rolling out (which is my problem). Like other pains while running, I hoped it would go away, but it didn’t, and I worried that I had somehow acquired a stress fracture. It stayed with me the rest of the run, but I attribute it more to the unnatural gait I had from the tight calf than from any permanent damage to my foot. Still, one more thing to manage. And endure.

What surprised me about the alphabetized cross streets was that not all of them actually crossed Ocean Parkway. I would look up at the street sign at an intersection and find that several letters of the alphabet were skipped. Realizing I was farther along than I expected gave me a little encouragement, but the pains in my right calf and foot, and the exhaustion in my body quickly squashed that. Still, I managed to keep going, walking when I had to and running when I could. I was in a pack of people of similar pace and I vowed to beat each of them to the finish: the couple with the Tough Mudder shirts on, the shuffling man who never seemed to raise his feet with each stride (but he was apace with me), the man who proudly announced that he was 72 years old (he looked much younger) and encouraged everyone to run a half at that age. The trouble was that when I walked, they all passed me, and when I ran, I caught up with them again but never really passed them. Such a dilemma.

Around mile 11 the rain returned. It was slight, just occasional drops on my bare arms, but I still had some distance to cover at my pokey pace, and I worried that I would be in a downpour before I was finished.

And yet, Ocean Parkway was nearly finished. I crossed X Avenue and saw a lack of buildings on the horizon. This suggested to me that there might be ocean there, which further suggested that there might be a finish line there.

The crowds were thinned by this point, but if my daughter made it onto the course, it was going to be just before I got onto the boardwalk for my glorious finish. I wanted to be running when she spotted me, to give at least the appearance of being an actual runner, so I scanned the people lining the course in the last mile, taking my eyes off the ground before me where they might better help my concentration. And up ahead, in a densest part of the sparseness, I saw my very tall son-in-law waving. This meant I needed to direct my feet over to the side of the course where they were, which took me off my plan to cover the remaining distance in the shortest way possible, but it also meant an extreme indulgence: the opportunity to stop moving for a moment. My daughter and son-in-law were there as well as my grandson Kenneth. He gave me a high five and we all chatted for a moment, but then it was time to move on to the finish line.

And so the last thousand feet remained before me. There was a short bit of pavement before the Coney Island Boardwalk where the finish arch awaited. I had worried that the boards would be slick, especially with the late-arriving rain, but that didn’t prove to be the case. And I was cautioned to watch for exposed nails. My son-in-law told me he saw a man trip on a nail and do a face plant on camera. I didn’t see any nails, but apparently off to my left there was an ocean. I remember glancing at it for a moment (sandy beach, waves) but then searching for the finish arch (ahead, perhaps). And I saw it, impossibly far ahead. But on I ran, increasing my pace and holding a human-looking gait despite the pain. (I did manage to see some of the photographers, but, oddly, their cameras were often pointed toward the ground, as though they were tired of the morning-long job. I almost never get a good race photo anyway.)

And I crossed the finish line, completing the 13.1 miles. I turned off my watch, which called it 13.2 miles in the end. And then I staggered through the sweating mass of other runners, in search of a few things. Primarily I wanted my medal. I saw people wearing them and I feared that I had walked past them. But I hadn’t. I was handed my medal and I hung it over my neck.

You can see from the photo that the rain had arrived again. It wasn’t the downpour I feared but my body was in crisis mode and I was feeling the cold (and the pain and the exhaustion).

We were promised a “recovery bag” and I guessed that the mass of people in front of a table might be where I could get it. And it was. The bag contained a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade, some salted pretzels, an energy bar, and maybe something else, but I was delirious. I could have taken a selfie in front of the half marathon banner or in front of the clowns on stilts or in front of the ocean or in front of the carnival rides that are synonymous with Coney Island. (I not see any coneys there though.) But I didn’t.

My next task was to make my way to center field in the Cyclones’ Stadium where I was to meet my family as well as the many members of their running club who had run the half that day. This involved going down some stairs, which is hard enuf after a long run but absolutely painful with a seized calf and pained foot. But, dear reader, I did it! Following the general flow of humanity I eventually found my way into the stadium and out onto center field. There were so few people out there that I thought at first that I wasn’t allowed out there, but no one stopped me, and I realized that it was the rain that kept most of the people in the stands rather than out of the field. I stood around for a short while before I saw my son-in-law pushing Kenneth in the stroller toward me. My daughter was right behind. It had been a long morning for poor Kenneth, and he wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate in the drizzle. Someone put a Nathan’s Hot Dog in my hand (an essential experience of Coney Island), but the general mood was one of getting out of the wet cold and finding our way home to hot showers and dry clothes.

And so I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Not well. And not without pain. But while 25,000 people finished ahead of me, 2,000 were behind me. And I was happy to find that my hips did not scream at me. Nor were my quads or IT bands stabbing me with little knives as they usually would for such a distance. I think the floor and weight exercises have been paying off. Not even my left knee, which had been worrying me for a few weeks, made the slightest complaint.

Now #10 is in the books and it’s time for me to think about what challenge I should take on next.

bits and pieces

Posted May 17, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

Two Saturdays ago, when I was out for my freakishly early morning run, aiming for seven miles, I pulled up lame at about mile two-point-five. (Should those be en dashes?) My right calf cramped up about as bad as it ever has. Normally when this happens, I just try to run through it. And normally, that works; whatever the complaint was, it generally proves temporary and by the next mile I often can’t remember if it was the right or left calf or knee or ankle or quad that was the problem. Not so this time. It hurt for the duration, and I called the run finished at mile four, with three miles left to get to the bagel shop. I called in ground support and limped along until my wife arrived in the car.

I gave my calf the day off the next morning and then tried a much more local run on Monday, managing to coax five miles out of my body. But my calf seized up again. My next two runs were on the treadmill, which is easier on the body, I think. And then I went out again on Saturday, thinking my calf was healed enuf. Not so, again. I managed to get six of my planned seven miles, but that’s it. I’m not running again until this coming Saturday, May 20. And I hope my calf is back in the game by then. If not, I have a problem because my run this coming Saturday is the Brooklyn Half Marathon, a run it is nearly impossible to get into (though my clever son-in-law — again, hyphens or dashes? — showed me how to beat the odds). That’s thirteen-point-one miles. Never mind whether my heart and lungs will cooperate. If this calf issue isn’t resolved by then, I’m going to have an epic experience. I’ve never limped across a finish line, but I fear I may soon. So, stretching, resting, heating pads, (non-alcoholic) hydration, sensible shoes. I figure my angry calf is a lame excuse, don’t you think?


I managed to get the rewrite done of my One-Match Fire story “Men at Work and Play” that I mentioned in this post. I’ll let it simmer for a while then go back and re-read what I’ve re-written. I’ll likely tinker with it further, but I’m glad I’ve gotten it in place. The story needed an edge.


No fresh rejections for my queries of One-Match Fire, but also no new queries sent. I’ve had this nagging thought that I’m not finished with the novel yet. Not only does the tinkering I mention above suggest that, but I’ve begun making notes on a whole new story to add to the collection. I’d been thinking about this story for some time, more as a missed opportunity than a hole that needed filling. But I’m also bugged by the word count of the novel. It barely reaches 63,000 words, which is pretty much the minimum to qualify as a novel rather than a novella. (I’m not sure why that’s important to me though.) Another few thousand words won’t boost the total by much, but it might ease my tormented mind. It would also flesh out the relationships narrative and allow for more character development. I’m pretty sure I’m going to write this new story, which will have a flashback in it, so it will visit two time periods in the novel.


I joined a fitness challenge at work that runs into the middle of next month. Basically it involves logging the number of minutes you exercise, and exercise can be broadly defined. Not only does it include the running and weight work I do, but things like mowing my yard, gardening, and even tending my grandson can be logged. Several of the runners in my department formed a team with the ambition of winning this challenge. (Not sure what it is the winners get though.) On the first day, when I went into the system to log my hour of running, some individual had already logged 2,000 minutes. Never mind that there are only 1,440 minutes in a day. (The entry was subsequently edited down to 1,052 minutes, which means the individual was still “exercising” two-thirds of his/her day.) The highest our team has placed so far is forty-second, but I think that is, in part, because some of us are not as diligent as others in logging the minutes. (I won’t be surprised when we see a sudden surge as a week’s worth of minutes gets logged.)

Each individual is encouraged to log 900 minutes over the month and a half of the contest. At the end of last week, I’d already reported 300+ minutes. This problem with my right calf, however, may slow things down. (Lame excuse.)

a day in the woods

Posted May 15, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

One of the reasons I upgraded the operating system on my Mac (see last post for oblique reference to this) was to allow me to download photos from my phone. Somewhere along the journey I had lost that ability. Apparently my phone upgrades are pushed while my Mac upgrades have to be approved/sought by me. (Two other reasons for the upgrade: The “Critical” software updates notices I would get could no longer be loaded because my operating system was too old. Also, I wasn’t backing up to my Time Capsule any longer and Apple kept telling me to upgrade.)

But all of that is mostly beside the point. Trapped on my phone were photos of my recent trip to Roundrock, and I wanted to share them with the both of you who happen to read this humble blog.

We were out to the cabin two weekends ago, and we were greeted by the lovely sight of the lake at full pool. This is a rare state. The lake was formed by damming the Central Valley that runs through my rectangular 80+ acres. It has a hundred-acre watershed, and can fill with a couple of good rains. (The builder reported that the entire 2+ acres of area filled overnight shortly after he built it when a huge rain storm blew through the area.) The trouble is that the Central Valley is underlaid with gravel that has been washing down the hillsides for millennia. Gravel is leaky. It’s hard to plug. And so over the dry summer, fall, and winter most of the water in the lake leaks out under the dam, leaving me with a puddle barely deep enuf to overwinter the fish.

Compare the photo above to the view from the cabin porch on January 1 of this year:

That muddy plain you see should have water that is over your head in it. And it did on our recent visit.

Of course it is busy leaking out this very moment. The spring rains will keep it full-ish, but the farthest area from the dam is already exposed lake bed, and the waterline will continue to creep toward the east. Still, it will give the fish and turtles and frogs and snakes and water bugs and microbes a decent place to live through the summer.

Here is a view of the lake from the west, looking east toward the dam:

That brown grass in the foreground is bluestem (I think) on the shore. Those willows emerging from the water are enemies of mine that exploited the exposed ground when the lake was low and grew haughtily. You can see some dark dots on the water that are the stumps of some willows I cut out when I could walk out there with my chainsaw. The willows you see on the extreme right side of the photo are on the tip of an island we had raised in the lake bed (when the lake was in retreat one year). It has rarely been a true island (surrounded by water) because the lake has been low and the lake bed around it has been slowly filling with gravel washed down from the Ozark hillsides. Once I win the lottery I intend to hire the dozer man to come out and scrap this part of the lake bed clean again so the water can flood into this area.

So it was a pleasing trip to the cabin. We hiked around our full lake, through the trees and the tall grass with the dogs ahead of and behind us. And we just enjoyed seeing the lake in its full state. Last week there were further storms in the area, serious enuf to have breathless cautions reported on the television news as far away as Kansas City. So it’s likely that the lake is still full, and it’s now warm enuf that we might dare to dip in a toe or two. (The air temperature is warm, but the water is likely much colder.) I probably won’t get down there for another two weeks, but now that my phone is talking to my laptop, I’ll have more to share with you if I do.

maybe I should write licensing agreements

Posted May 8, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

I was thinking the other day (as I was upgrading the operating system on my Mac) that I may be the equivalent of the guy who writes the software licensing agreements we all click through.

I have two dozen short stories “out there” (and five dozen feature articles), plus nearly a decade of posts here on this humble blog, yet is any of it ever read anymore? My latest One-Match Fire story is coming out in that anthology soon, and I suppose a few people will read it — and I am grateful for that — but will it just disappear into the fog of the millions and millions of written words out there, never to be picked up and read again? Even I haven’t gone back and re-read some of my earlier stories in a long time; isn’t it even less likely that any other human soul has?

I’m not sure what I want. Sure, it would be nice if my stories were read and re-read and savored and recommended and admired long after I shuffle off this mortal coil. But that doesn’t seem reasonable (unless I were Herman Melville, say). Yet a tiny fraction of that doesn’t seem too much to expect (even for a person of more humble skills). And I know I am not alone in my plight (or self-indulgent moaning — you decide). Most writers likely suffer the same “fate” as I. Yet I imagine the bits and bytes that make up my published stories, or the lit mags that languish on shelves, are never visited again after their initial brush with attention. Do my stories even exist anymore? (I have a similar thought about a book I re-read and learn that I remembered nothing about it from the first read. Can I even say I’ve read a book if I can’t remember anything about it?)

Again: not sure what I’m trying to say here (or puzzle through). Am I writing solely for myself (not as the only reader but as someone who takes satisfaction from creating something new in the world)? Is that enuf? Is it reasonable to expect more?

Thoughts? Enlightenment? Similar musings or navel gazings??

Trolley Run 2017 recap

Posted May 1, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags: ,

After taking a year off, I took on the CCVI Trolley Run this year, making my fourth time running this really nice Kansas City race. (I skipped last year because I was “recovering” from the St. Louis Marathon, though in retrospect, I should have done the Trolley Run then regardless.) This year was different because I would be running with my new daughter-in-law, Celestine. I wanted to do well, or at least not embarrass myself in front of her, which was especially difficult since she is Kenyan, and Kenyans have a well-deserved reputation as runners.

This year was also different because the day was cold and windy and rainy. I’ve run in the rain before; there’s a Zen quality to it that’s a nice change of pace. And I’ve run in the cold before; you know that the world around you is cold, but for the most part you are deep inside yourself and don’t care. But rainy and cold is a different beast altogether. I had watched the weather forecasts for the full week before, and for a time the likelihood of rain on this Sunday morning actually diminished, but that was soon corrected and the chances for rain at race time increased as they day grew closer.

As much as I could, I hoped to deal with the wet cold by dressing for it. You see most of my kit above, which includes a long-sleeved shirt with a second shirt layered over it. I did wear shorts, but not shown are the calf sleeves and compression shorts I always wear, so my legs were mostly covered, and my legs don’t tend to feel cold when I run. (I do have a pair of long running pants, but they slip down my waist when I run, and I’m constantly tugging them up as I go. I haven’t gotten myself to buying men’s running tights yet.) Those are my newest socks. I paid $18.00 for them, and they are the second pair I have that are dedicated to right and left feet! The shoes you see above are a pair I pulled out of retirement specifically for this race. If I was going to be running in the rain, and likely puddles, I didn’t want to trash my newish running shoes since I’m going to need them for that little half marathon I’ll be running in New York in a few weeks. Also not shown is the throw-away jacket I had purchased at the thrift shop the day before. It is more of a light-weight rain jacket than something for warmth, but I figured that adding a third layer might do some good.

I woke (freakishly) early on race day and checked the weather map. There was actually a break in the storms over Kansas City, but the start was still four hours away, and there was a front to the southwest that was roaring our direction. My hope was that it wouldn’t get here until after I had crossed the finish line.

My hope was denied. We drove through mist from our house in the suburbs to the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City where the race starts. Because I am obsessive about these things, we arrived about an hour before gun time, so we found a quiet place to park and wait. As we did, occasional drops of rain began to pelt the car. These drops grew emboldened and became a more steady rain that in turn came close to a downpour, all as the start time grew closer. Libby checked the weather map on her phone to see if the worst of it might pass through before we had to hoist our still-dry and warm selves out of the car and out in the open. It looked iffy.

The start was different this year (and perhaps last year) because they didn’t have color-coded waves for us runners to get into before the start. Instead we were to stand behind whichever pacer (holding a sign showing the time he/she would complete the race) matched our intended pace. This amounted to the same thing, but I was reluctant to get out of the dry car and find my proper place behind the starting line. But then something unexpected happened. The rain let up. It never really stopped, but we could dodge most of the drops and cope with the remainder in our wet-weather gear. So we decamped the car and hurried over to the start area a block away. Then we retreated a bit because the empty start area out in the street was windy, which explained why most people were on the side street, huddling near a tall brick building. Everything about this run was going to be a challenge.

Not long after this, the voluble announcer came over the loudspeakers, asking us to begin lining up in our pace areas. The moment had come. We had to step into the wind (that we would likely be running into for the next four miles). But, since there were thousands of us out there, it was easy to stay out of the wind. And since the rain had more or less stopped, we could keep dry-ish. (Unfortunately, we were standing under a streetlight arm, and the mist that collected on it would gather and then drip right onto us. Once I figured this out, I moved us a short distance away. I’m clever like that.)

When we were huddling beside the building earlier, I had noticed some runners with different colored bibs. These were the elites. They would complete the race running five-minute miles and better. They were asked to line up at the starting line itself. The rest of us would mass behind them, getting let loose in packs every few minutes (to reduce congestion on the course). There was the usual speechifying, the anthem was sung, more talking, and then the elites were sent on their way. Curiously, in the time it would take my pace group to shuffle toward the start, these elites would likely already be finished running.

Waves were let fly every few minutes after that, and we approached the starting line. My son Seth, Celestine’s husband, was with us and would run for a while, but he was going to fall back with the walkers eventually. When the wave before ours was released, they also let our group go. I hadn’t expected this and hadn’t started my watch to find satellites. And had I remembered my experience with it, I would have known that it takes much longer to find satellites when the sky is overcast. And so for the first time in my running life, I was not able to start my watch as I crossed the mats. But what could I do? Celestine was moving and I didn’t want to be left behind, so I trotted along and kept glancing at my watch. As soon as it reported a good signal, I would start the recording. And on we ran. It was nearly two-tenths of a mile before this happened, which meant my record of the run wouldn’t be an accurate representation of my performance. This frustrated me, and I didn’t need something even as trivial as this to hurt my concentration, but once I had it going and could pay attention to something aside from my watch, I found that we were nearly into the first turn of the morning. We were truly underway.

We had driven the route the day before, in part to give Celestine a sense of what we would be facing. The conventional belief is that the Trolley Run is “downhill the whole way,” but that’s not quite true. There are some small hills to climb in the first mile and a half, and I was deep in the self talk bit to keep myself from deciding to take a walking break (in the first mile and a half!!!). We were running down neighborhood streets, and there were some people in their yards, cheering us, but the rain and cold kept away the crowds I had seen on my three prior runs of this course. The bacon station at about mile 1.75 was bigger than ever this year. Children from one of the neighboring homes stood at the side of the course with plates of bacon for runners to grab on the fly. I love the gesture, but even the smell of it at that point was turning my stomach. I darted past the plate holders, as did Celestine. I’m not sure she believed me the day before when I told her about the possibility. (By this time, Seth was walking and so was farther behind us. I don’t know if he partook or not.)

Just before mile two the true downhill part of the race begins and it really is downhill the rest of the way. It’s a gradual downhill, barely noticeable from a car but certainly welcomed by tired legs. I was keeping pace with Celestine. (Did I mention she’s KENYAN?) But I was having an issue. I should have used the Porta Potty at the start when I first felt the need. But I dismissed it, saying I would quickly cover the four miles and take care of things then. Except that due to our drive through the day before, I knew there were more Porta Potties at the water station and I decided if I took the chance to reduce my stress a little bit, I would run better. I told Celestine to go on without me as I pulled off the course and waited the few seconds for one of the fragrant booths to be free.

Business done, I got back on the course. I doubted that I would be able to catch Celestine, and I didn’t want Seth to catch me, so I just poked along as well as I could, knowing I was now half finished. I came upon and passed a runner friend and her fiance. We did the shake and howdy thing since this was my first time meeting him, and then I kept on. By this time I began seeing some runners coming the other direction, running on the sidewalk. These were the swifter ones who had already finished and were going back on the course for some reason. One man I know finishes quickly and then goes back in search of his wife and children in the walker group. Others were perhaps looking for friends and family to join. Whatever their intent, they were still running, and for them this part of the course would be “uphill the whole way.”

Celestine had bought a pink jacket at the thrift store the day before, and I kept half an eye open to spot that somewhere ahead of me. Unfortunately, there were many women wearing pink on the run. So I looked as well for the bright orange stocking cap Seth had given her to wear. (She did not grow up with the kind of cold we have in the Midwest, and even though the day was in the 40s, it was uncomfortable for her. Hence the hat.)

And what should I see not fifty feet before me but a pink jacket topped by an orange stocking cap. I had caught up with Celestine. (She later told me that after slowing to grab a cup of water at the station, she wasn’t really able to get back to her race pace. And that may be true. Or it may have been that she slowed deliberately to let me catch up.) So we were soon running together again. Ahead we saw a cloud of smoke, and long before we got to it, I could smell it. This was unfortunate since my lungs are the least cooperative part of my running team. It turns out that the police, who were blocking the intersections with their cars, were also using flares to alert drivers to stay away. This was the first time I have ever seen flares used on a race course. I suspect that the police have a protocol that dictates when to use them. The day was overcast and rainy, and perhaps the orange traffic cones were not considered sufficient. In any case, they were doing their excellent job of protecting us runners, so I can’t complain. There was one other intersection where flares were fouling the air, but in both cases I managed to run through the area without losing a step.

Keeping pace with Celestine took a lot of my concentration, so I barely registered when we passed the three-mile flag. It was only when a certain stoplight hove into view that I understood how close we were to the finish. Less than a thousand feet, and the legs were still working. During our drive through, I had told Celestine that when we made the final turn, into the Country Club Plaza where the finish arch was waiting for us, that would be the best place to step up the pace for a fast finish, if she wanted to. And when we did make that turn we both agreed that we each had nothing left in the tank for such a kick. So it was just a matter of running it in. (When I downloaded the run from my watch later, I found that I had increased my pace here, so I must have had a kick somewhere in me. And Celestine was ahead of me.) I watched as she threw her arms in the air while crossing the mats. I was a second behind her, and she turned to me and gave me a big hug. It was a good race and a good finish for both of us.

There are no medals for this race, and our timing chips were in our bibs so we didn’t need to have them removed, so there was no need to linger in the chute. We had agreed to meet Libby in front of the toy store and Celestine hurried over there. I went to the table that had bottles of water and grabbed two then found the ladies and gave Celestine the water. She was close to ecstatic to have completed the run, and she and Libby chattered about it. Later she found the banana table and helped herself to one, and the three of us waited for Seth to come in. I was able to track his phone and knew where he was on the course I had just run. He was perhaps ten minutes out, but I suggested we take ourselves to the finish line where we could cheer him in. And so we did.

Celestine saw him before I did (charged as I was with the responsibility of getting some photos of him finishing), and she ran onto the course to grab his hand and run in with him. (He had run/walked the four miles.) I managed to get some blurry photos, but they were soon past me and crossing the finish line. (This would be the second time that day that Celestine’s timing chip was crossing the mats. I don’t know what the computer is going to do with that anomaly.)

Libby and I found them in the exit chute and we made our way toward the vendor tents to see what food/drink/goodies they still had for us back-of-the-pack runners. The rain and cold had deterred some of them enuf that they had shut down and left. (Reminding me of the finish I met at the St. Louis Marathon.) But there were still bananas and rolls and water and what looked like lemonade, and far ahead I saw what I sought most: chocolate milk. I drank entirely too many bottles of this nectar and didn’t mind one bit.

The wind was picking up, though, and we were all wearing wet clothes (partly from the drizzle and partly from our sweat). Hot showers and dry clothes awaited us at home, so we decided to steer ourselves in that direction.

The rain had more or less held off during my run of the course. My glasses were misted over, and I had to wipe them clean several times, but there was no actual rain. I ran through the puddles I couldn’t run around (in my retired shoes), and I found about halfway through the four miles that the extra jacket I was wearing was making me uncomfortably warm. I was glad later to have it to keep the wind off me as we wandered among the vendor tents. I did not set a record for this run. My pause at the water station explained part of that, but despite hustling to keep pace with Celestine, I still didn’t run this as fast as I have in the past. My watch time is not reliable, and the official times haven’t been posted online yet, so I don’t know how much faster I needed to go.

But it was a good run. This is the first organized race I’ve run since the New York Marathon and I had deliberately held off from running any others since then just to rebuild. Seems like I’m on the right path.

writing is rewriting

Posted April 26, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

and rewriting is hard!

I’ve doubted my One-Match Fire story “Men at Work and Play” for nearly as long as I’ve had it written. It’s full of sweetness and light, and it certainly achieved what I wanted it to when I wrote it — I even got it published — but it never quite felt like it belonged. It was just too nice, and as the stories evolved, I could see that it wasn’t a good fit.

So I’ve been working on it in recent days, not so much to make it bleak and fraught but to change its tone slightly — just enuf to give it the edge it needs and relate it better to later stories in the cycle. In the story (which you can read here if you want) the grandfather, father, and son do some work on the cabin. But in my revision, two of them must also do some work on their relationship since there was an uncharacteristic explosion of anger by one of them. None of that is in the story now, and once I’m finished putting it in, it will be indirectly referenced and only “explained” much later in the cycle of stories (which means I need to tinker with that later story a little too).

Many things are left unsaid in relationships. Many answers are only revealed years, even decades later. I do a little of that in the stories, just as it happens in real life. (For example, I learned only last week that my father had rickets as a boy from malnutrition. Now I understand why he pushed some dietary supplements on us.) I wonder if my oblique references to a “fight” in the story will leave the reader unsatisfied — for the moment. I worry that an agent or editor will want it spelled out more clearly. But I guess that’s part of rewriting, too.


“where late the sweet birds sang” debuts, somewhat

Posted April 24, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: ,

My One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” has now appeared in the real (virtual) world. It was accepted (last summer?) for the Selected Places anthology put out by Simone Press, a British publisher seeking stories where place is a dominating factor. My story takes place at the family cabin in the Missouri Ozarks (and in the protagonist’s mind), and I suspect (not having read the anthology yet) that I am the “exotic” component to the anthology, the rest likely being works set within the United Kingdom.

I’ve written about this here and here (when the story was still titled “The Death of Superman” and the anthology was still titled Pulled by Place).

The anthology is an ebook, available through Amazon. As a contributor, I will get a free copy to download to my Kindle, which rests forlornly on the shelf beside me. There is actually a window (late next month) when I will be able to download my free copy. And I shall.

But when I went to the site recently, I saw that there will also be a print edition. And surely I needed to have that to hold in my quaking hands! (The shelf of lit journals with my stories in them is slowly filling; I must add this physical document, n’est-ce pas?) So I began the process of ordering it through Amazon. The cost was displayed in British pounds, and I had no idea what the equivalent amount was in good old American dollars, but that wasn’t going to stop or slow me at all. I made my order and pressed the SEND button. When the confirmation email arrived, I learned that I has just spent $23 (and some change) on a paper copy of a document I will get free in virtual form.

But I don’t mind!


Update 8MAY17: The bound copy of the anthology arrived today.