Running with the Cows 2015 ~ recap ~ or, “Fear and Loathing in Bucyrus, Kansas”

Posted May 11, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running, Uncategorized


cows kit

The wheels fell off on this one.

I didn’t feel right about this half marathon for the week before and certainly the morning of. I can’t put my finger on why, but I suppose such a vague feeling can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know.

Running with the Cows was the third in the Heartland 39.3 Series that I had signed up for last summer. I expected this series of half marathons to be tough, and I was surprised when I managed the first two races, on consecutive weekends, with my legs and lungs still intact. I thought I would be destroyed by two such long runs so close together, yet I wasn’t.

As I reflect, I think Running with the Cows went so badly for me because of a perverse, oil-and-water mix of over confidence and lack of confidence.

I should tell you right now that I did finish the half marathon. In fact, of the eight half marathons I’ve now run, my time was better than three of them and very close to another. I found a kick at the end and ran across the finish line as fast as I could, but when I did, I was ready to be done with it, to walk away and not look back. Such was the mess I felt it to be.

I’ve said here several times that I’m trying to make the half marathon my distance. I want to get confident and competent with it. I want to feel assured that I can lace up and accomplish that distance, not without effort and concentration, but with a knowledge that it is in me. I also noted above that I had done surprisingly well on the two prior halfs in this series (Rock the Parkway and the Garmin Half). I think that’s where my over confidence came from. I think I believed I had reached my mastery point with the half marathon. I think I believed that Running with the Cows would be simple, especially since I got two weeks of rest before it. I trained, but maybe with too much confidence and not enuf doubt. Nor did I take my fueling seriously enuf. In the week before the other races, I was slamming a bottle of Gatorade each day, eating more carbs, rolling my leg muscles, and getting more rest. I didn’t do that with Cows. That was a mistake.

But I was also talking myself into a near panic about this run. I had driven the course two weeks prior and saw the long, rolling hills that were on the agenda. They aren’t steep, but they are long. (This is not in the flat part of Kansas that every thinks is the case statewide.) I dreaded those hills, and somewhere within me I “knew” I couldn’t run them, that I would have to walk at least part of them to get to the top. I don’t know if I would have run better if I hadn’t known those hills were coming. If I had gone out on the course as an innocent and just taken whatever came, maybe I would have done better because I wouldn’t have already excused myself from tackling them.

Running sure can be a road to self discovery. Or self doubt.

So all of that was swirling in what passes for my mind as I got to the race early Saturday morning. The forecast had called for thunderstorms then, with up to a half an inch of rain (“except higher amounts in thundershowers”) and I resigned myself to getting wet and perhaps cold. When I rose on Saturday (3:15 of course) and let the dogs out, it was 63 degrees, and though I knew that might drop some before race time, I was comfortable that at least I would not be cold. Parking was going to be iffy because we would be using farm fields, and they were already sodden from the week of storms before. We took my truck (named the “Prolechariot” by my third son) rather than the little red Honda just in case we needed the four-wheel drive. But it turned out that we were directed to park on the side of a road far from the start and then get bussed in. I didn’t like that at first, especially since my wife, who would be waiting as I ran, would be far from the car if she needed anything (like shelter from the storm). This arrangement didn’t turn out to be a problem however.

So we rode the school bus in and got off at the Catholic church that was hosting the runs. (There was also a 5K.) We passed through the school cafeteria, where they were already setting up for the big, well-regarded after party. I looked around for people I knew but didn’t see any. I used the portable toilet three times (always prudent and evidently very necessary this time). I wandered about more. I found my wife on a bench, passing the time with a runner from Iowa. (There were runners from 46 states and several countries. That’s pretty good for an event having only 1500 runners altogether.) I waited for the time to pass. The sun had risen but was behind the gray clouds. The latest forecast said the rain would likely hold off until 8:00, so I’d be at least a few miles into the run before that particular misery visited.

Eventually I got myself into the starting chute and waited. There were no waves or corrals. We would start as a mass and sort ourselves out later. I was far enuf back that I could not hear whatever announcements there were (or might have been). A drone flew over. (These are getting ubiquitous at races.) I did hear a countdown, but several minutes after that, our mass of humanity had not moved. Then I heard another countdown and realized the first must have been for some special runners. Generally wheelchair racers are let fly before the rest of us. But we were finally off, and I started my watch just as I crossed the mats. On my way.

We left the school parking lot and got on the two-lane blacktop road that, a hundred blocks to the north (in my neighborhood), swells to eight lanes and is lousy with traffic. Out here in the rurals, it was just a country road. A country road with a mile and a half uphill incline. It wasn’t long before I found myself crowding against a thick pack of people who were taking up the entire width of the two lanes. It took me a while to realize that I was stuck behind a pace group. In part because of my negative self talk, I didn’t intend to run this race hard or fast, but this pace group was going more slowly than my legs and lungs wanted. Compounding this was the chatty nature of the lead pacer. Her job is to encourage those who have chosen to run with her group, to advise them on how to tackle the hills, how to get through the water stations, how to outsmart their fatigue. And she was doing this, keeping up a nearly constant patter of words to the people depending on her to get them across the finish line at a given time. And boy was it annoying to me!

I figured if I could get ahead of this group and put some distance between us, I could still fall back to their pace if necessary and yet not have to listen to the encouraging words. So that was my plan. To get around them, I had to run on the narrow gravel shoulder, and then when I was back on the road, I had to hustle to get that distance. Because annoying patter!

My plan worked. Soon I could only hear the pacer when she had her group shout at each mile marker. This was the last time in the race when I felt like anything was working for me.

At mile 3 I took my first walking break. As much as I really did not want to do this, I didn’t see how I could keep running, not with the many long hills still to come. It’s possible that I had been running too fast. I wanted to leave that chatty pacer well behind, and regardless, I wanted to finish faster than her group’s promised time, even with a slower run for me this time. So maybe running too fast to get ahead of her had caused me to walk too soon, which would allow her, ironically, to close the distance between us. Plus, walking revealed to me that I wasn’t (yet) a master of the half marathon, at least not on a challenging course.

This was not my only walking break for the remaining ten miles. There were plenty. And as the miles passed, the breaks came more frequently. Had I been on a flat course that morning, I think I still would have needed (or taken) walking breaks. My overconfidence blended with my lack of confidence was visiting me repeatedly. With a smirk.

I ate my GU every three miles. I took the water and Gatorade at each of the (well staged and staffed) water stations. I ran all of the flats and downhills, and I powered as far as I could up those long hills. But I was disappointed with myself. I was disappointed that I was exhausted and panting. I was not going to turn in a good time, and all I really wanted by the halfway point was to stay ahead of the chatty pacer.

The halfway point was a turnaround. We had climbed what seemed like a two-mile hill to get there, and I relished the thought of returning that distance going downhill. (Of course I forgot that it was a rolling stretch.) As I made the turn and saw the runners behind me still heading toward it, I was encouraged to see how many there were. I guess I wasn’t as pathetic as I feared.

By this point, any goodwill or milk of human kindness was drained from me. I didn’t care about much except finding the flattest part of the road and sticking to it. Often this required me to run in the empty lane (we runners having thinned enuf that most were just using one lane). All along the run, service vehicles were zipping up and down the course, mostly staying on the shoulder (when there was one) but sometimes coming into the lanes that were supposed to be dedicated to us runners. I don’t know what it is that was so urgent, but plenty of ATVs and mules were going back and forth. Some were apparently delivering things to the aid stations. Some were, I guess, looking for runners who could not finish. Some seemed to have no other purpose than to cheer to us, but they were using the road that was supposed to be ours. So I got feisty and decided I wasn’t going to yield my empty lane to any of these vehicles. They could pull over and let me pass, or they could grind through the gravel shoulder to pass me. But I paid to use that road that day, and I was going to use it. I suppose you can guess what happened next. I heard a vehicle coming behind me, in my personal lane of blacktop, and I just stayed in the way, plodding along and letting it deal with this.

Fortunately, I happened to look back (thinking I might make a rude gesture) and learned that I was impeding the progress of an ambulance with its lights on. Um. Oops.

I was better behaved after that. Fortunately, we runners were well thinned by then, and I could find my flat part of the pavement in the other lane with the other runners.

Somewhere around mile 11.5 I looked to the south and could see the steeple of the church that was our finish. Only a mile and a half to go, and yet it looked so very far away. There were no uphills left, and since we were returning on part of the same route that was at the start, we had mostly just gentle downhill before us. But so very far away. There was more walking in this last mile and a half. I didn’t care any longer. I hated the world by then. Sometime in the last ten miles I had caught up with the next faster pace group and even got ahead of them, but they passed me and left me behind within sight of the finish. Sigh.

I came toward the finish and made the turn into the school parking lot. What little energy I had left I poured into my legs. I think I made a decent enuf finish of my run, and I was still coherent enuf to hear the announcer mispronounce my name as I came hurtling across.

And that was that. I turned off my watch, waived away the proffered bottle of water, and only remembered that I needed to have the chip removed from my shoe when I saw a line of people having this done. I had to find the table where I was (unceremoniously) handed my medal (see below). The thing hanging from the cow’s neck is a copper bell with the number 6 on it, this being the sixth year of this run. (I understand the church makes something close to $100,000 from it. I’m not sure how since there weren’t that many runners times the race fee to reach that number. But I’m sure races are money-making rackets or they wouldn’t be held.)

cows bling

I staggered around for a while, hating the world and myself most of all. Somewhere ahead was another tent where I could collect my special medal for completing all of the races in the Heartland Series (see below). It was handed to me unceremoniously as well.

heartland bling

Then I made my way to the school cafeteria where the after party feed is legendary. The whole community apparently has a hand in it, and the church ladies are busy baking and cooking and fixing food a week in advance. I’d heard again and again about this spread, and I was eager to see it (even though I am not generally hungry after a hard run).

Every runner had a support crew, and since I imagine this event is the biggest thing to happen in Bucyrus, Kansas all year, every little kid in the community was there for the excitement and glamor of sweaty runners shouldering each other for free food. Thus the cafeteria was packed with people, most of whom I suspect weren’t actual runners. I stood in a long line just to stagger up to the table to see what was being served. Unfortunately, it was mostly nothing that I wanted to put on my stomach at that time. Burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, BBQ, potato chips, nachos, burritos, fajitas. There was a table dedicated to baked goods, but they were all so thickly sugar coated that I knew that wasn’t going to work for me either. About the only thing they had that I wanted was CHOCOLATE MILK, and I drank five or six cartons of it before I pulled myself from the throng and decided just to go home to a hot shower.

Remember that the Prolechariot was miles away, and I had to fold my weary, adult-sized legs into the seating of a school bus then drive most of a section of land to get off relatively close to my truck. But I managed. My wife drove us home, and I was about as cranky as I could be the entire way. It was not a good run, and that weighed on me. (And my grandson, Kenneth, never did send me his customary congratulatory text. I guess he was busy planning Mother’s Day stuff.)

But the rain never fell. There was a constant mild breeze throughout the run, and that relieved us of the oppressive humidity. The water stations were very well staged and well run, and I think every high school kid in the county had turned out to help and offer hydration, encouragement, and smiles. The course was challenging, and maybe if I had trained more intelligently and diligently, I would have welcomed the challenge rather than merely endured it. My knees did not give the slightest hint of complaint, and when my hips began to bark, I swallowed the Advil I had brought along. I didn’t see a single cow until the last half mile, but I guess they fulfilled that part of the deal, so no complaints there. I beat the chatty pacer in. I now have my eighth half marathon behind me as well as some lessons learned. And at least it wasn’t a really bad event like the Garmin half. (Ugh!)

There are only three things I would have done differently on the course had I been race director. I would not have allowed all of the back and forth of the support vehicles. And I would have not had us cross the path with faster/slower runners at mile 5. This was where we began the out-and-back stretch with the turnaround. The monitors on the corner needed merely to direct us to the left side of the road (after our left turn), and we would have come back on the right side of the road. As it was, this was switched, and though it didn’t affect me as far back as I was, many of the runners ahead of me had to find their way through a line of runners crossing directly in front of them. Finally, I would have asked the police and sheriff staff and other security people to turn off their engines as they idled at intersections. I realize it may be protocol to leave their engines running in case of sudden need, but there were several intersections I ran through where I sucked in nothing but exhaust. Did ALL of their vehicles need to be left running? Did they ALL need to be parked immediately beside the course?

So I completed the Heartland Series and got the bling (plus the special shirt that shows I’m badass). But I don’t think I’ll sign up for it again next year. When two-thirds of the events are disappointing, that doesn’t encourage me to come back. Maybe I’ll Run with the Cows again someday to prove to myself that I can deal with long hills over long distances. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I have nothing on my dance card until the Plaza 10K in September. Yes, it’s likely that I’ll do some races between now and then, but I think my regular training runs will probably keep me happy for a while.

meanwhile, in suburbia

Posted May 5, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

We’ve lived in our current house for 28 years. And for 27 and a half years, we’ve had a picket fence enclosing our back yard. We hired a local company to build it. Originally it was intended to contain our little children and their toys. Then came dogs (and even a bunny). We stained it dark green so that it would blend into the grassy color of the open yards behind and around ours. This was, apparently, unheard of. Even scandalous. No one stained a wooden fence in these parts! Cedar fences are apparently supposed to bleach into a uniform gray (uniformity being a hallmark of suburbia, of course). Even the man who built our fence couldn’t believe it when we had him out years later to talk about repairs. (He did not get the job!)

To me, a gray wooden fence just looks uncared for, like an unmown lawn or peeling paint. I suppose it was the way I was raised. I can remember spending good parts of my St. Louis boyhood summers, when I wasn’t in Kentucky at my grandparents’ farm, staining the privacy fence of our backyard. I can remember going to my sister’s house for a party and her husband being unable to join us because he had to finish staining his fence. Tom Sawyer is famous for his fence staining acumen. And as I’ve driven around suburbia, I have spotted the occasional stained fence. I’m not alone.

In the nearly three decades of the fence’s life, I’ve replaced at least half of the pickets, many of the posts, and most of the rails. It is my own Ship of Theseus. The wood rots. Insects invade. Plants grow in and through. Mishaps with bats and balls. (One neighbor boy used our fence as his backstop for pitching practice, and he openly stated that his goal one summer was to knock off the top of each picket. Fortunately, he was a poor pitcher.)

But in all of that time, I’ve never encountered the danger to the fence’s integrity that has suddenly arrived this year.

As you probably know, we have two dogs: Flike and Queequeg. No one has told them they are dogs, so they don’t consider themselves to be such. And so they will bark at other dogs with disdain. Our neighbor (beyond on green picket fence) now has two dogs. (One her son left with her after he moved out, though he’s moved back in again. The other she got because she didn’t want the first dog to be lonely.) They do know they are dogs, and they recognize Flike and Queequeg as dogs despite their airs. These two neighbor dogs would love nothing more dearly than to play with our dogs.

In our yard.

And so they have. One of the dogs, Archie, has learned that he can grab the 27-and-a-half-year-old pickets in his jaws and wrench them free. All he needs to do is get one of them out and he and the other dog can slip into our yard and romp through the flower beds. Great fun.

Flike and Queequeg go nuts at this intrusion, and we are out there ushering the dogs back into their yard and slamming a few more nails into the pickets. A couple of years ago we had bought a hundred spare pickets to use as the occasional need arose. Now with Archie at work, the few I had left are rapidly being put to use.

My neighbor apologizes for this, but it is happening now almost daily. Eventually, (after I buy more pickets I guess) I’ll have that entire side of the fence replaced. Sturdy enuf to withstand Archie for a few years, I hope.

bits and pieces

Posted May 2, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Finnegans, Rants and ruminations, Running

I’ve never understood why troubled characters in literature always needed to “hit absolute bottom” before they could begin to recover. I suppose that’s because they wouldn’t make good story unless they were high drama.

*   *   *

I am both happy and surprised to report that I’ve had a flurry of note taking for my stories, including for one of those Finnegans stories that I’ve never been able to fully abandon. And the Fathers and Sons stories continue to clamor for me to get them completed, at least in draft form. I think I have three or four stories to write to get them all down, then it’s a “simple” matter of integrating and refining them. After that, I don’t know. Submit them to agents? Story collection contests? Move on?

That’s all a hopeful sign that my brain is beginning to release me from the prison its kept me in for the last year. This might be a false alarm, of course, but I have actually been getting some quality writing done when I force myself to take the time to try. Perhaps I’m facing a dearth of motivation rather than one of creativity.

*   *   *

As for my running adventure, I’m doing well. As of today, I am two-thirds of the way through the three half marathon series I signed up for last summer. Don’t get me wrong. Running a half marathon is HARD WORK for me. But overall, this has not been the brutal festival of pain I feared it would be. I have the third of the three next Saturday, and I made the choice to drive the course recently, which is nearly always a good and bad thing. Lots and lots of long, rolling hills. Lots of them. Long ones. I don’t expect to set a personal record on this one.

I did managed to log 100 miles in April. I didn’t expect to given that I needed to allow for rest days before those half marathons (and those would cut down on my mileage), but I was three days from the end of the month and saw I only needed 14 miles to break triple digits, so out I went. My April 30 run was only four miles, but that was possibly the very worst run of my life. Maybe I hit absolute bottom on that one, and now all of my runs will be better in comparison.

Trolley Run 2015 recap

Posted April 28, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Trolley Run kit

Do I have a correct sense that my long, detailed race reports are a bit tedious? I have the notion that you’re getting bored with them, and here in the middle of spring racing season, they keep coming. (I have a half marathon in a week and a half, and I’m thinking of running another half the week after that, which is insane and brutal in itself and probably isn’t too kind to you, gentle reader.)

But this was my third year doing the Trolley Run, and it’s a kind of personal tradition for me, so I hope you’ll indulge my indulgence here (even as I try to keep the account short).

Since this was my third time for this run, I felt confident. I’d just run those two half marathons back to back and well, and I think I may have turned yet another running corner. (I say I’ve turned so many corners that I’m back to where I started.) Yet last year at this run I had done much better than I had expected, and better than on any comparable run since. It was as though the running gods had granted me that one day of speedy legs.

So, of course, I had to do better this year.

Four miles. Most of it on a gentle downhill. My training runs lately have been good. My shoes were broken in. I did a shake down run earlier in the week with the kit you see above (also, long-sleeved shirt, compression shorts). All the pieces were in place. I got to the start early, just before dawn in the 43 degrees with overcast skies and 93 percent humidity, and started looking around for coworkers (since I was company team captain this year). I only found one — by boss — though I saw two more in the faster waves later. He and I shivered in the cold, and I gave him what tips I could since he is new to the sport (and he is, well, my boss). Time passed. Crowds gathered. Clouds gathered. People were migrating to their wave corrals. Again this year I was in the Green wave, which challenged me a bit, and that is a good thing for me to do. I crowded to the front of the wave not out of ego but as a practical measure. There were 10,000 of us, shoulder to shoulder in the start chute, and I’ve had my frustrations with clots of runners ahead of me that are hard to get around. (I wanted to run this year as hard as I could, and if I could get ahead of the crowd maybe that would help.)

A drone buzzed overhead. An announcer chatted up the crowd. Runners huddled and shivered. We were told there would be a delay because of an “issue” on the course. They never said what that was, and I never saw anything tell tale on the trail. But eventually the first wave was let go, and they flew. The second wave then shuffled up to the start and, apparently, several of them decided not to wait for their official start but just took off. The announcer tried to call them back (!) and chastise them, but they’re runners! (The point of staggering the waves is, in part, to reduce congestion on the run but also to spread out the finishers so they’re not crowded and jostling as they try to get those last few hundred feet done. On a run as short as this, that’s a valid concern.) Soon enuf the second wave was let fly, and my wave stepped up.

Plenty of people must have shared my front-of-the-pack strategy because though I was about two people behind the front before, by the time we stood at the starting mat, I was twenty people back. We waited the few minutes before we were sent on our way. I got my watch going. And soon, we were off!

A common mistake I make at the start of timed runs is to head out too fast. I exhaust myself and just stagger through the rest of the run. Recently I’ve gotten good at reining myself in and keeping my pace reasonable so I have enuf energy to run well throughout.

I did not do that this time.

As I said, I intended to run this hard and do better than the year before. I took off and was squeezing between runners to get ahead of them. Eventually I just went to the outside of the four-lane road devoted to us and hustled along in the more open space there. I could feel the burn in my lungs, but I wanted to get ahead of the pack at least until it began to thin naturally and opportunities to move ahead would be more plentiful. I made the mistake of glancing at my watch to see my pace, and I was pulling down a number that amazed and startled me. I knew I had to throttle back, and I did. And as soon as I did, people began passing me. Even so, I could feel (without looking at my watch) that I was going faster than my usual fast pace. My hope was that I could sustain it.

I say that the Trolley Run is four downhill miles, but the first half mile includes some slight inclines, and there are a couple more in the last mile. I could feel my pace slowing as I met those first hills (hardly hills, but my mind is a strange place to live in). I heard myself saying that I was going to have to start walking soon. There was really no way I was going to be able to run all four of the miles (despite having run two half marathons continuously in the two weeks before). Shame is a valuable motivator. I didn’t let myself walk, and though I knew my pace had slackened on those hills, I vowed to step it up on the flat stretches.

And then we were out of the inclines and on Brookside Boulevard, the wide street that would take us nearly all the way to the finish arch. The flag for Mile 1 loomed ahead and I thought maybe I could actually do it. I was still pushing, though I don’t know if I was doing well or just exhausted. It didn’t matter. People were passing me. Little children on the sideline were holding out plates of bacon. (I passed.) The usual cheering and encouragement was shouted, and I was pleased to see so many people out braving the brisk morning temps. All of the children were begging for high fives from the runners, and one man held his dog’s paw out as well. Since I was running down the middle of the road (flatter pavement), I missed all of that.

I also missed the first water station. I was nearly upon it before I realized it was there, but the pack had thinned, so I was able to dart over to the side to grab a cup. Unfortunately for me, they were handing out bottles of water. All I needed was a sip, and I didn’t want to carry a bottle with me just as much as I didn’t want to throw a mostly full bottle on the ground. So I blew through the water station.

We were into the “downhill” portion of the run by then. It’s a gentle slope, and you could easily not even realize you were going downhill. (You would realize you were grinding uphill if you were going in the other direction.) I wasn’t hurting, and I wasn’t really exhausted, but I could feel my drive to keep pushing fading. And then I heard something that made me chuckle. A girl (perhaps 7 or 8) was running with her father, and she asked when they were going to get to the downhill part of the run. I suspect she felt a bit deceived by promises made.

I’d run this race before, and I’ve run the actual Trolley Trail itself (that goes along Brookside Boulevard) several times, so I knew where I was in relation to the finish. I could not let myself think of that though. I was only about half way through and I didn’t think I had anything left. Except two more miles.

Somewhere behind me my boss was coming along. If he found me walking — if he passed me — that would be all I would hear about for weeks at the office. I didn’t relish that, so I kept throwing one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that I had done far better with far worse.

Mile three passed. I managed to get a cup of water at the second aid station. I managed to keep running. And not too far ahead, I could see the turn off of Brookside and into the Plaza where the finish arch was waiting for me. It was here, I had told myself before the race, that I would want to pick up my pace and finish gloriously. But I just didn’t have it. Or perhaps I didn’t have it yet. I’ve noticed that it’s at about mile four in a long run that I finally feel like the parts are coming together. I wasn’t there yet, and I had pushed hard already, so maybe it just wasn’t going to happen this time.

But run on I did, and when I made that turn into the Plaza and faced the last bit of downhill before the flat finish, I managed to find some energy somewhere and did the best I could with it. And this finish was different from nearly all I’ve ever made. I was running with a crowd. I guess because I had pushed, I managed to keep up with much of my wave. So there I was, approaching the mats, and dodging around people (though most were kicking it as much as they could too). With each step my growing exhaustion was being pushed aside by my growing certainty that I was going to finish well.

I ran across the mats and turned off my watch. I expected to stagger or vomit or display some other kind of showmanship, but it didn’t happen. I slowed to a walk. I breathed evenly. I moved with the crowd to the volunteers who cut the chips off of our shoes. Then I walked beyond them, looking for my wife. I found a bottle of water that I didn’t really want. I had a cup of PowerAde. I moved closer to the tents where all of the yummy food was waiting.

The lines before those tents, however, were long. The after party area stretched for blocks, and these were the first tents. I suspected that the tents farther down wouldn’t be as thronged, and I was right. I had to pass the free pizza (meh, probably not good on a recently run stomach), and the bagels, and some of the fruit. But my certain destination was ahead, and it was staged so that lines didn’t need to form. I stepped up and helped myself to three cartons of chocolate milk which I then gulped.

My wife began texting me to find where I was. (Why not just use the phone?) We met up. And then we decided to leave. Yes, I was the team captain, and I probably should have been at the finish chute to shout in my team members, but most of them I merely knew as email addresses. Only a handful I would even recognize, and I knew two of them had finished well before me. Plus, I knew where there were bagels to be had without a long wait in line.

We skedaddled. The sun never came out (until the afternoon), and it never got warmer. Bagels. Some foam rolling. A hot shower. Warm, cotton clothes.

Also, I had looked at my times from the last two Trolley Runs, and I knew what my watch had reported about this third run.

Bottom line: I had beat last year’s time by nearly two minutes. That’s pretty good for such a short distance. And the first year? I crushed that by more than eight minutes. I had done well.

Now, of course, there’s next year, right?

the view from on high

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


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


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.



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