My Father Died Today


This is the companion piece to “What Drives You? Pain.” Following a long, rocky, and glacial paced cataclysm, I have finally broken the last ties to my father. In my heart, mind, and all legal paperwork he is effectively dead to me.


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My father died today. I’m not sure if I killed him or if he took his own life by a suicide that took nearly thirty years.

Everyone holds an idea of what a father should be in their heart and mind. Some are fortunate enough to get it, but everyone else is left scrambling. What is fatherhood? What makes a man? What does it mean to be a father? What does it mean to support another’s life until they can function as an adult?

And what are you if you walk away from that?

My father was never anything more than a specter in a beard, a ghost who lingered on the edges of my life haunting me. As a child, I held that idea of what a father should be in my heart: warm, caring, stern but reasonable, and an ever-present source of comfort and guidance. Instead, I got the transparent parent who ghosted me at every opportunity, only to reappear at another place and time. Like a soul lost to time, he would reappear, expecting the world to have remained exactly as he departed it. In his mind, I was still the six year old girl he made buttermilk pancakes for every Saturday morning. In his mind, I was the young girl who adored the tall bearded face that loomed above her. In his mind, I loved him.

Somehow he forgot about the abuse, about losing custody, and a period of only being allowed supervised visits. Perhaps to him, it was all a minor inconvenience, easily forgotten.

“The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.”

In reality, that ghost of a man’s life crossed mind infrequently, once every five to ten years. At each interval, he only brought me more pain and grief. Bringing a wife only a few years older than myself to my High School graduation, he was confused by how that affected me. The ghost drifted away again, blissfully happy in his new marriage and unwilling to spend time mending his bonds to me.

After another period as a ghost in my life, he suddenly appeared again, ill and desperate. I dropped every summer plan I had to spend three months as his in-home nurse, only to have debt collectors hounding me over his medical bills for the entirety of my junior year of college. The debt collectors talked to me more than him and I was desperately in debt from buying his groceries for three months. Warm ramen noodles were cold comfort each night as my student debt grew.

At my wedding, he was hurt not to be asked to walk me down the aisle but so clueless that he introduced himself to my brother, his own son, who was my escort for that long and beautiful walk. His Father-of-the-Bride speech was so horrific that the photography company mercifully cut half his speech out of my wedding video.

Peppered through my adult life are phone calls where he waffled between waxing poetic over my childhood (most of which he missed) and rants that were so racist and sexist I would hang up on him.

The first time I ever struck back at him was on my final deployment. I was not many weeks removed from the event that started my PTSD; I was sad, homesick at the holidays, and cold from dry December winds that whipped across the dunes. He mocked me and chided me, making some asinine comment that at least I wasn’t guarding the gate at some CONUS base on Christmas. As if being deployed over the holidays was some comfortable and pain free existence. I stabbed at him the only way I knew how: cutting off all contact over social media. My silence was the first wound that ever hurt him. I reveled in the peace while I knew we withered.

I left the silence flow. Drawing back, shutting him down, and refusing to acknowledge him. Because that’s what every deluded narcissist needs to thrive: an audience. I could almost feel him bleed out from the violent peace of my silence.

I was so close to freedom.

A single call drew me back. My beloved grandmother was dying. Finances had to be arranged, wills updated, and plans made. She passed peacefully, but my father, the ghost and ghoul, had made last minute changes to her will, effectively cutting out everyone but himself. When he called to tell me of her passing, I acknowledged it and hung up. His mother was a gift of a woman and a bright light my life, but she had tied me to him and while I mourned the loss of her, I knew it was another tie severed. I vowed not to speak to him and was successful until this past holiday season. He had my grandmother’s home, which meant I could evict him from the home I owned, one he had lived in rent free for nearly a decade. He reluctantly moved, a specter lingering in the back of my mind as I waited for a text to say he was gone. My silence continued to bleed the narcissistic soul from his body.

“There’s some damage I need to fix up before you can sell it.” Like so many statements from him over time, it was a life. A half truth. An obfuscation meant to deflect actual anger. In reality, there was missing, rotted drywall, black mold, a broken HAVC system, and thousands of dollars in damage. The specter haunted me still and I couldn’t cut the final tie until the damage, which may have spread across to another unit, was repaired and the property was finally sold.

The pain and anger that was tied to the home created an emotional burden that crushed my spirit and my spouse had to take over the project. What should have taken six weeks dragged on six months because the pandemic made materials and labor scare. We finally had to make the decision to sell “as is” or let the specter linger on. For my sanity, we elected to sell it as is, my sanity was worth more than the time and money it would take to see the project through. We to could push the labor and materiel problems to a company looking to flip the unit before universities opened again. The cost was worth it.

At 7pm today, the property was under contract.

The ties are finally cut.

The roles are reversed and now I am the axe. I can cut him in the only way I know how, severing the tie like an artery, halting the flow of blood to his narcissistic heart. Crush him with my silence and let him be a ghost for the last time.

My father died today.

I’m not sure if I killed him or if he took his own life by a suicide that took nearly thirty years.

One day I will get a call from the local sheriff’s office telling me that his body has died, finally withering away like his narcissistic heart, and his burden will haunt me the one last time. But today, I am free.

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What Drives You? Pain.


It takes a lot to write a novel but if you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I write my own pain into my work. As I said recently, it’s been a long week and you’re getting the darker side of my writing these days. Why? Because this blog sometimes functions as my diary and repository of all my thoughts. Unfortunately for you, its been a tough week. So, enjoy what is probably fiction; maybe its not. Either way, this has rattled around in my brain since Thursday.


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A hand stretches out and over it, I see angry eyes, unwilling to turn around.

They fought over his father’s death, a man my father hated for the pain and indifference he inflicted on the family, but it was leveraged to make my mother feel bad. It wasn’t her fault that we missed the funeral; we were out of the country, visiting family in Ireland. But he’s as cruel as his own hated father and uses the funeral as an excuse to manipulate my mother and excuse his own behavior. Their words shake the tiny house, the only one we can afford since it seems beneath him to pay his court-ordered child support. After all, the trip to visit family had been subsidized by her father, so we could finally meet them.

Angry words rattle the windows before he finally storms out. I’m just old enough to know that if I let him go, I’ll never see him again. My slender, childish legs labor to reach the end of the drive before he pulls away and I’m still too late. The last I see of him is his angry eyes in the rearview mirror as I reach for him and fall sobbing to the cracked pavement in front of my home.

Restless teenaged years go by before the Internet grows enough for me to track him down. He lives in Hawaii with his new wife. She’s only seven years older than me. I’m sixteen and horrified. But at my insistence, hopeful for some Hollywood style reunion, he comes to my High School graduation. His new wife draws too many comments and I’m uncomfortably aware of how close in age we are.

When I enter college, I keep him at arm’s length. As I start my career, I push his overtures at reconciliation even further away as every time I try, he’s there for six months at most before he disappears again, leaving me lost and alone. Wondering what I did wrong or why this can’t be like the homey fairy tale media feeds me.


“He’s sick. You have to come,” an email tells me from an unknown sender. A friend of his, who thinks well enough of him and believes the lies he tells. This man thinks I am a soulless woman, uncaring of an ailing father. He doesn’t get to hear my side of things, my years of pain, torment, self-doubt, and quest for validation.

Despite my reservations, I move heaven and earth. Money spent. Time spent. Tears shed into an aging couch that should have been replaced with the money that was spent.

I don’t love him. Love left long ago. But a societally imposed sense of filial duty drives me to action. The wheels start rolling as soon as work is done. A forgettable night in a motel and another six hours of driving brings me to his side.

The sense of dread that has grown over the last twenty-four hours is realized as I walk through the door. Trash, rotting food, and unrecognizable filth fill the tiny apartment. He staggers around, unaware of his surroundings. Blind and unable to smell the pile of soggy Cheerios that makes me gag.

A few carefully posed questions make me think he’s had a stroke or other mental event. Against his protests, we “kidnap” him and take him to the ER. Not the closest, but the one he said takes itinerant people, because he has no insurance and can’t afford the medical bills. He has a home, I’ve bought a small condo for him to live rent-free, but he’s so terrified of declaring bankruptcy for medical bills a second time that he won’t let us take him anywhere else.

Settling him into the hospital bed, I feel as though I’ve done the right thing. He’s safe and settled under medical care that can undoubtedly sort out his myriad issues. But hours go on, he grows cranky and irritable. Words come fast and hard. Hurtful. Cutting in a way only he can slice me. Because his slashing words don’t hit me directly. They’re aimed at my mother, the one adult who loved and cared for me. The bitter words of a life wasted and devoid of love slash at me like a scalpel.

Something in me breaks, cracks, and dies. After thirty years, I break out of the shackles of societal expectation, filial devotion, and unrealized expectations.

“You will not speak of her that way,” I cut off his next round of insults, long memorized and repeated to sympathetic and unknowing friends. “If there is anything in me you like and respect, it comes from her. Not you. She raised me after you left me sobbing in the street. Don’t think I don’t remember,” I whisper harshly. “There is nothing,” I say coldly, “nothing of you in me.”

I rise and turn away. The sound of a hand hitting the hospital bed’s rails rings in the small cubical. The little plastic button that holds the hospital band on clinks against plain metal as I walk out of the room.

A hand stretches out, but I’m too angry and tired to turn around.


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Born, Not Bitten (Part 15)


Hey, all! Maybe you found me by Twitter, maybe by Instagram, maybe Facebook, maybe my book on Amazon, or maybe just by accident searching the web. No matter how you got here, I’m glad you stopped by. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage, settle in, and enjoy what I have to offer.


“I haven’t had much success narrowing down their location,” Chuck told her with a wince. “I’m sorry.”

Summer gave a half shrug. “Me neither and I think I have the more keen nose.”

“True, but I have years of tracking experience,” Chuck told her. “I’m sorry,” he held up a hand. “I didn’t mean that to sound condescending.”

Summer lifted one eyebrow and stared at him.

“You know what, you’ve turned my entire world on its head! I’m smooth. Debonair, even. Men and women fall at my feet. But around you, I shove my foot so far in my mouth I’ve got shoelaces in my colon. Everything I try ends up a disaster. Woman, you are unmaking me!”

Summer took a half step back in surprise. It was the most forceful Chuck had been since kidnapping her. “You really aren’t messing with me? This isn’t some elaborate incubus game to fuck me?”

Chuck shook his head. “No. Your Auntie was right,” he swallowed painfully and Summer winced, “I have no effects on werewolves.” He shook his head. “If I did, I’d seduce my way into a pack to end them. Instead, I used guns. I–” he gave a slow shake of his head, “I have regrets now. Now that I know.”

“Know what?”

“Know that there is a difference between a feral beast and,” he looked up, finally meeting Summer’s eyes, “those who are in control of their lives.”

A line formed between Summer’s eyebrows. “Chuck?”

“I’ve killed a lot of werewolves, Summer. And now? Now I’m not sure I should have killed them.”

“Oh.” Summer let out a huffing breath. “Well,” she shook her head. “Well, there’s nothing either of us can do right now. We just have to–”

“Atone,” Chuck cut her off. “I can atone. I can help you. And your pack,” he said almost as an afterthought. “It doesn’t make it right, but I can try to atone for it.”

“I need boundaries, Chuck. You don’t know them, you don’t really know me, and despite the fact that your guilt means you can feel remorse, I don’t know if I trust you.” She gestured to her couch, a battered monstrosity in the middle of her living room, but carefully placed to face the large windows that looked out onto the bay.

“Ok,” Chuck said as he settled onto the couch. He perched on the edge of the cushion, facing away from the view and focused on Summer. A look of wariness crossed his face as if he was hopeful Summer would allow him to stay but worried what she would ask to remain in her presence.

“You don’t shoot any wolves,” Summer told him bluntly.

“None? Even ferals?”

“Hmph,” she grunted, “we’ll have to work on that. I need you to help take them out, but we need a way to identify my pack from the feral pack.”

“We have to find the feral pack first.”

“That too.” Summer settled back against the arm of the couch. “And no more twenty-questions. I’m not comfortable giving you any more information, even if it’s in the context of hunting ferals.”

“I’m not sure I can do that anymore,” he whispered. Chuck’s head dropped and his shoulders sagged. “This has been my whole life for almost thirty years and I don’t know if I can do it anymore.”

Summer surprised herself by reaching across the couch for his hand. His hand was larger than hers and rough with calluses. “You’ve remade yourself before, right?”

Chuck nodded, not looking at her, his eyes on their hands.

“Can you do it again?”

His hand squeezed hers quickly and relaxed, but he didn’t release hers. “Yes.”

Chuck’s other hand covered Summer’s and his thumb ran along the back of hers. Even that light pressure dragged his calluses over her soft skin. Summer’s eyes shot up to his, taking in the intensity of his gaze.

Had she ever thought his blue eyes icy or some other trite description? No, the blue of his eyes was the low gas flame of the Bunsen burner in her college chemistry class. The blue flame, she had been taught, was the hottest part of the flame, capable of searing flesh and incinerating impurities from ceramic instruments. She could certainly feel a searing heat across her skin and “impure” was definitely the word she would use to describe her thoughts.

Chuck altered his grip, sliding his index and middle finger along the webbing between her thumb and index finger, curling to lightly stroke the palm of her hand. Summer gasped, closing her eyes as her mind saw those two fingers sliding elsewhere and the delicious havoc they would cause her body. Chuck seemed to read her thoughts and he swirled the pad of his thumb along the back of her hand. She opened them again to see his wicked smile. Summer had never attended a church service in her life, but the smile on Chuck’s face could only be described as sinful and she understood why the Church would hunt down Incubi as agents of Hell.

“No,” she told him and jerked her hand back. “No, I’m not doing this.”

“Doing what, Summer?” Chuck’s voice was pitched low.

“I’m not letting you derail me. Pulling whatever incubus tricks you’ve got. And don’t,” she went on quickly as he opened his mouth, “tell me you can’t. I don’t care if you don’t have magical sway over werewolves, you’re damn sexy and I don’t trust you enough for this.” She waved her hand vaguely in his direction.

“What?”

“Sex. Flirting. Romance. Whatever it is you’re aiming for,” she said, carefully keeping her eyes on his face and nothing else. She definitely ignored the way the muscles of his chest and arms pulled his shirt taut. Summer shook her head. “No trust, no lust, Chuck.”

He leaned back into her couch. “Fine. I’ll stop for now. But I will keep trying.”

“Why?” Summer snapped.

His mouth curved into a devilish grin and he stared at her in a way that caused the breath to catch in her throat. “First, because I desire you. I want you in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.”

“What makes this so different?”

“It’s genuine,” he told her. “It’s a pure kind of hunger, not the hunger of a predator.”

Summer frowned.

“I want you the way a man wants any attractive woman. It’s pure, not tainted by the hunger of my kind.”

Summer nodded once, slowly.

“And second? Because the day you do give in, the day you find yourself writhing atop me, lost in pleasure, I will know it’s because you finally trust me. And that,” he told her, his smile deepening, “is more precious than anything you can give me physically.”

Summer swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. His words had put thoughts and images in her mind that robbed her of coherent thought. “I,” she swallowed again. “I supposed that’s possibly true.”

“Then how do I earn your trust?” he asked quietly.

“Help me,” she said on a shaky breath. “Help me fight this feral pack without calling in a cabal of Hunters. Surely you know someone who can help that can be trusted not to kill everything furry in sight?”

Chuck let his head drop back as he lounged on her sofa. Soft creases in his forehead and he rubbed his slightly crooked now. “I might. He may not help, but he might.”

“Who? A Hunter?”

“No. A,” he hesitated a beat, “friend.”

“Can you possibly be any more vague!”

“We were in the Army together. He was a medic, a brand new, very young medic. He got out, went to college, bulked up even more, rejoined as an officer, and now he’s a commander.”

“Of what?”

“The Army Ranger’s Florida course.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No, he’s just up the road at Camp Rudder,” Chuck said with a little shrug.

Auxiliary Field 4, 14 miles south of Camp Rudder, author’s own photo, 2021

Summer considered his words. “I think I drove past that a few times this week. North of the Air Force bases? And he’ll help us? What can he do?”

“I’m not sure if he will. We, uh, have a history.” Chuck rubbed his nose again as he thought. “But if he will help us, then he’s probably got thirty Rangers at his disposal. They could be trusted not to shoot a wolf on sight and are certainly smart enough that we can teach them what to look for.”

“What’s the catch?”

Chuck scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well, we had a falling out. So, he would be well within his rights to throw me out on my ass as soon as we walk in the door.”

“Falling out?”

“Lover’s quarrel. A loud one. In the middle of the Iraqi desert. Embarrassed the hell out of both of us and we were lucky no one saw it for what it was and threw us out of the Army.”

“Oh, shit,” Summer whispered.

“This may not go well for me, but know I’m willing to do it if it will build your trust in me.”


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Race Report: Bataan Memorial March


Welcome back to the wild world of ultramarathon training. By this point, you’ve read all about my current training cycle, my successes at the Bear Bait 25k, my semi-failure at the BUTS Bearly Heavy half, the pain of training in times of COVID, and the ups and downs as I chase down that ultramarathon goal. Its been a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person. But you’ve already read about the triumph, I finally completed the Mississippi 50k!

Today you’re getting my full race report for the 2021 Bataan Memorial March (26.2 miles)

This race as different from all the other this seas for two reasons. First, unfortunately we aren’t far enough out of COVID times for them to have held the race in person. I was very bummed in December when the race coordinators made the call but I understood and think it was the right call at the time. Second, due to extenuating circumstances you’ll read below, we had to break the race into two separate days that were almost a month apart!

Check in/ Starting line:

Hahaha. I got my packet in the mail nearly three months ago, we picked out date, and hoped for the best. Check in was me giving a quick safety brief to all the runners locally who wanted to go with us, even if they didn’t complete the full distance.

The course:

This is my home court. I have run literally hundreds of miles on these loops as I trained for BUTS Bearly Heavy half, Bear Bait 25k, and the Mississippi 50k. It was on this particular trail that I realized I couldn’t breath and ended up in the ER three weeks before the 50k.

Speed Demon – run 8 times in a row…

One of my running partners and I decided to train for the Bataan Memorial March way back in August. We had trained for four months before word came down that they were making the race virtual. Both bummed, we realized that our usual Friday 5k(+) loop, run 8 times, was almost exactly the 26.2 miles needed for the virtual race. Our plan was to complete 8 roughly 5k laps, starting at the top of each hour until we completed the race. Given our usual run paces, it would have given us 10-15 minutes down time between laps to restock on food and water. Or just to kick out feet up while perched on my hatchback. Our initial run date was 09 April 2021 and we finished on 07 May 2021. Yeah, it took a month.

Weather: Oof. The first planned day was in early April, which in the Florida panhandle is warm and rainy. April showers bring May flowers… but also torrential downpours and lightning. Our first lap started at the sun broke the horizon through a light drizzle. But fo’ shizzle, that drizzle… turned into a torrential downpour in minutes. By the second lap, we could hear peals of thunder and it was darker than it had been at dawn. Just past what I knew to be the last turn around point (meaning it was shorter to continue the loop) the lightning was directly overhead. One of my pacers/partners jogged up our line to tell me we needed to stop. We had a quick running conference as I knew we needed to stop but we needed to get people somewhere safe and figure out if the race was recoverable.

Here’s where it sucks to be “the adult in the room” sometimes: it was my plan, my race, my team, and ultimately my call. I elected to call a 30 minute halt, put everyone in the relative safety of their vehicles. I spent the time calling the local base’s weather Squadron for an update. Unfortunately, the weather was there to stay and I made the heart wrenching choice to postpone the race until another day. I hated making the call, but it was the safe call and therefore the right call.

It took almost a month before we could get all our runners time away from work to complete the remaining 6 laps but, the day of Part II, the weather was absolutely perfect.

Trail conditions: Overall, great and exactly as expected after eight months running on them.

Terrain: The first 1.25 miles is a steady rise of roughly 60 feet followed by a long flat section and then a gentle decent. There are two minor hills on the backside of the loop which we ended up walking after the initial two laps.

Aid stations:

My car! Like the looped course at Bear Bait 25k, we used my car as a snack staging area. With the loops only being 5k, we didn’t really need to carry vests since we were back at my car every hour.

The Snack Wagon set up for our first attempt. There were more snacks and more water for the second attempt.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Yes, but only a little bit. With 10-15 minute breaks after each lap, it was a delightful mental and physical reset before each lap. I had a few moments on the last lap that I felt bad but being among my team and the breaks meant it was very smooth.

The unknowns:

The weather was the only real unknown. It sucked but we made it through

Crew:

Yes! For the first time I had a whole crew out there running. This wonderful group of people was made up by folks from my workplace who’ve been poke, prodded, and motivated by a crazy leader who runs too-long distances. I don’t have a great photo of the group from the first attempt but it was largely the same group. One of the folks who finished the whole distance has been training with me since day one. Another two have been doing long Sunday runs and the Friday 5k(+) with me since the early part of the year. I was humbled to have so many folks who decided to join me in this crazy, virtual race.

The crew who started and the crew who finished

The finish line:

I would love to say we sat around with beers but unfortunately, we had work! Six of us sat huddled around my work phone as we listened in on a teleconference from the trailhead. I don’t regret it though, that allowed us to get the maximum number of folks out running without missing work events.

Final time:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Really, it’s tough to stay. We averaged 40-45 minutes a lap over the eight total laps but since there were both a month between attempts and the wait between laps it could be counted as one month plus eight hours, eight hours total time (including rest time), or about six hours moving time. I don’t care, it was the joy of running with friends that was my win.

How long did we run? Until we were done.

Overall thoughts:

This was my last day in my current job and extremely “on brand” that I would skip working in the office to take my team for a run. While I’m sad we didn’t finish it the first time and it was a gut wrenching call to make, it did mean that I got to close this chapter of my work life doing what I love.

Maybe next year I will get to run it live at White Sands

The Gear List:

My gear lists so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. As usual, some affiliate links, most aren’t; I am not sponsored by any specific companies.

Clothes:

Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – Yes, I’m doubly vaccinated now, but we used masks when needed.

Tank Top: Pearl Izumi running top, circa 2010, no longer sold – This one is a good top for warm runs and I’ve worn it for nearly a decade now.

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles. I now put two strips of sports tape under the tab and it works perfectly.

Shorts: Nike Fast Shorts – What a game changer for me! I have thick, thicc thighs from trail running and squats. They rub together. All the time. In tights, it’s not an issue but in loose shorts, I end up chaffed. And most stretch shorts only have a 5″ inseam which means the end *right* where my thighs rub. However, Nike’s new trail shorts have a blessed 7″ inseam which left me chaffing free, even after almost 20 miles.

Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy, but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes and how wet your feet get. At some point, no sock/shoe combo will save you from everything.

Shoes: Altra Olympus Trail Shoe – The Olympus have the thickest soles of my trail shoes which were good for keeping my feet comfy over the full ~20 miles. I keep at least two of these in my inventory at all times so I can swap for dry shoes.

Gaiter: Altra Trailer Gaiter – Designed specifically for Altra trail shoes and fits well (will not work on other shoes!). They kept out the small sticks, rocks, and debris of the trail.

Hat: My trusty finishers hat from the River Cities Tri a few years ago. It wasn’t cool enough to need a warmer hat.

Nutrition:

Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 – This is my “new to me” but “older model” vest I got on sale for half price. There’s a new version, but I’m glad I gambled on buying this one as it’s been a real champ. Lots of easily accessible pockets, good bottle holders, and the bladder holding set up keeps it from rattling around or slipping its loops like my other vest. Not as easy to access the bladder for refills once it’s on, so I had to completely remove the pack AND bladder to refill between laps. Not super convenient, but I don’t feel like I lost a lot of time and almost all packs will be like this.

Liquid Salt/Carbs: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder – purchased with coupons on the Gatorade website, which is good because I still don’t love it. It’s not as strong a flavor as regular Gatorade and it does well for replacing salt/carbs quickly but… I dunno, maybe I’m too picky, I don’t love it. But, I’m kind of a cheapskate and won’t buy anything new until I finish this container. Note: I also refilled with Heed at one aid station, which was WAY sweeter and I’m happy to stick with my Gatorade mix.

Snacks, self carried: Both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle. These were tough on the last two races due to the cold, but this time the temperature was perfect. The chews were easy to consume and the waffle broke like it was supposed to. Maybe too easily because I think I inhaled a few crumbs as I ran.

Sacks, from the car: I made my team brownies. 🙂

Other:

GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk-offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time accurately.


Happy trails!


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Born, Not Bitten (Part 14)


Hey, all! Maybe you found me by Twitter, maybe by Instagram, maybe Facebook, maybe my book on Amazon, or maybe just by accident searching the web. No matter how you got here, I’m glad you stopped by. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage, settle in, and enjoy what I have to offer.


*Beep.*

“How could you leave her?”

*Beep.*

“We need you.”

*Beep.*

“You should have stopped it!”

Summer’s thumb stabbed the delete button.

*Beep.*

“When are you coming home?”

*Beep.*

“Did you bring her body back?”

*Beep.*

“The memorial will be Saturday at noon. I guess you’re welcome.”

*Beep.*

“Summer, we need you.”

*Beep.*

“There were another two incursions tonight. One wolf, one… not? The wolf was dead. We suspect the other was your — friend — killing the wolf.”

*Beep.*

“Summer, come home. We need you, Pack Mistress.”

Summer deleted the last voicemail, stabbing an angry thumb at her phone as she stalked along the knee-high weeds by her car.

Over the last few days, she had systematically followed any leads and clues she had about where the feral pack was hiding. As someone who never trained as a private investigator, that mostly subsisted of checking Google Maps around Baker, Florida and seeking likely hole up sites. Her only clues were that it was a larger than average feral pack, meaning twenty or more feral werewolves, and with that many ferals in a single area, it had better be a damn big area. More than two ferals in a square mile meant fights. More than five meant bloodshed. More than ten and she might as well be looking for a giant crater in the ground from where the group detonated.

The day after Rose’s murder, Summer had sat at Pepper’s Cantina in Shalimar, listening to patrons talk about farms and missing livestock before heading to the corner of Range Roads 681 and 235 outside the local military bases. She had transformed and run through the woods, mostly certain she was on a military base, or at least it’s well wooded range as she tried to scent the pack.

Her efforts were fruitless and she returned empty handed and weary. Her weariness was compounded when, upon her return, she found a small Styrofoam container at her front door with a single orange rose tucked neatly under the twine that held the cooler closed. Opening it, she found two thickly cut steak tenderloins. There was no note, but she suspected she knew the giver. She put the meat in her fridge and vowed to ignore it as long as she could without ruining such a nice cut. Summer fell asleep frustrated and exhausted that night, waking equally as exhausted on Monday morning.

“Emma, I’d like to take a sick day,” Summer told her boss over the phone.

“My god, Summer, are you ok?” her boss’s shocked voice came back early on Monday morning.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s just a cold. I’ll be back in a few days,” she assured Emma. She adored working for Emma, even if the job itself was a drag, and felt bad for lying.

“Are you sure? I mean, I have your doctor’s excusal, per the union,” her voice dropped. “Stating your menses are very bad and might need up to three days a month. Oh girl, I understand and empathize. Plus, union rules and all that allow it. But I’m so glad you’ve never taken more than a day. And other than your day per month, you’ve never, ever, been sick. In six years!” Her boss’s voice dropped again as she prattled on. “Do you know how rare that is? Honestly, it makes you one of my most reliable employees.”

“Uhm, I guess I didn’t know.” Summer rubbed the pain between her eyebrows as Emma continued.

“Summer, you’ve never once tried to scam a system that could have allowed you to take double the sick days you take. You take the time you need, honey. I’ll make the paperwork look right. I’m sorry, but you sound like hell on the phone. You are approved for a week of sick leave. Feel better soon!”

Summer had spent that night shifted and spent the evening scrounging the area around Krul Lake in Black River State Forest, not to be confused with Blackwater River State Park, slightly south. She caught whiffs of werewolves in the area, but nothing new.

When she returned, tired and frustrated, a second foam cooler sat on her doorstep, this time topped with one red, one orange, and one pink rose. Sighing, Summer turned to search the dark paring lot. She sniffed the gentle bay breeze but couldn’t smell more than a lingering trace of Chuck. She scooped the box up and stumbled exhaustedly through her door. She set the three new roses in the vase with yesterday’s rose, frowning at the even number, and returned to the box. This one held two tomahawk cut steaks, long protruding bones almost pushing a hole in the foam. Summer rewrapped the meat and tucked it next to the two from last night.

She knew they had to be gifts from Chuck. Gifts of apology, perhaps? Two steaks seemed to indicate he hoped to be invited to dine with her, but the stab of rage and sorrow that hit her when she thought of him said it was unlikely. Summer eyed the bay out her back door. There was the barest hint of light on the far horizon. She pulled the butcher paper holding yesterday’s steak out along with a container full of leftover mashed potatoes. A few minutes later, she was curled up on her couch eating old potatoes with the tenderloins as she watched the sun begin to color the sky.

The rest of the week was spent scouring the one hundred miles around Baker, Florida, sleeping and eating between non-full moon shifts. Every day it was the same: leave at dusk, return tired and frustrated, find the increasingly extravagant gifts of meat and flowers, cook the previous day’s gift, and fall into an exhausted sleep as dawn broke the far horizon.

Summer hadn’t lied to Chuck when she shifted almost a lunar month ago; when she said that she could shift even when it wasn’t a full moon. But she had never elaborated on what it cost her. She burned extra calories, making her both exceptionally hungry and superlatively tired. The Waffle House a block from her townhouse had her late afternoon breakfast order memorized now: pecan waffle, three eggs over medium, biscuit, two strips of bacon, and hash browns that were smothered, chunked, and capped. By Friday, she knew her favorite waitress’s name and cellphone number, needing only to text “I’m awake” for the kind soul to start her order. Or maybe it was an almost ten dollar tip on a twelve dollar order that enticed to woman. Either way, Summer thanked her profusely as she slapped down a twenty and took the stack of Styrofoam boxes that were her only meals other than what Chuck provided.

Summer crammed laden hash brown into her mouth as she walked. A car honked at her from the corner gas station and she shot the bird to the driver with one greasy finger.

“Oh, I can just imagine the headline now,” she told herself. “’Florida Woman enjoys meth and hash browns!’ with this picture.” Her mouth quirked up at her own joke and she walked briskly to her townhouse. Her nose wrinkled as she unlocked her townhouse door. Sighing heavily, she walked in long enough to deposit the now lightened boxes on her kitchen island and wash her hands. She sighed again and walked to her front door.

“What do you want, Chuck?” she called out into the bright Saturday morning.

Chuck seemed to materialize from where he had been staking her out behind a clump of trees. He walked to her, his gate tight as if he were expecting her to attack him.

“I want to apologize. I feel like I should.” Chuck’s voice was tight and he didn’t meet her eyes; instead, he chose to stare at her chin.

“Not out here, get inside,” she held the door open.

Chuck didn’t quite scurry inside, but if he’d been a pup, his tail would have been tucked between his legs. Once inside, Summer was almost amused that a man almost a foot taller than her could cower.

“So, what are you apologizing for, Chuck? Clearly spending weeks, if not months, stalking me so you could later kidnap and possibly murder me? Knowing critical information about my family and my background then failing to tell me? Failing to help me save my Auntie?”

“Yes, all of it. I’m sorry.”

She stared him down.

“I know this is the worst way to say this, but look at it from my perspective. I didn’t know you. You were an assignment. I did what I always do: research a target. But the more I did, the more conflicted I became. By the time I abducted you, I was already conflicted and almost certain I couldn’t kill you. I knew enough about your family that I needed to tell you what was coming, but I didn’t know how. What would I do, come up to you out of the blue and say, ‘Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve been stalking you for months and your father really is alive and about to murder the rest of your family’?”

A strangled laugh burst out of Summer. “No.”

“I,” he hesitated, “I needed to take you. So, I could hedge the truth later. Tell people I had taken you and let my reputation fill in the blanks. As far as they would be concerned, you’re a gonner.” He shook his head. “And I did try to tell you. I did tell you your father was alive, but things went so completely off script, I never could tell you the rest.”

Summer nodded once, but her jaw was clenched tight and she didn’t speak.

“I’m so sorry, Summer.” Chuck shook his head. “There wasn’t time.”

“I don’t trust you.” Summer’s voice was quiet, devoid of emotion.

“I don’t expect you to.”

“Where do we go from here?”

“What?”

“I still need you. You aren’t wrong. I can’t teach the pack how to defend themselves. I have no idea what they need.”

“We build trust. Slowly,” he said and raised his hands, palms out when she glared at him. “I show you that I care about you and can be trusted to provide for you,” Chuck told her, finally meeting her eyes.

“The steaks?” she asked quietly.

“An apology. A courting gift,” he said and shrugged.

“A what?” Summer spluttered.

“I, uh, want to court you?” Chuck ran a pale hand through his soft brown hair. “I don’t know. I know how to court a human woman. I’m less sure about a werewolf. If you were a human woman, I would woo you with jewelry, wine, and flowers. But I didn’t think you’d react well to silver necklaces or wear gold earrings through a shift. I guess I tried to think of what a woman and a wolf would both want. Steaks seemed like a good choice. And after I realized the only meals you ate this week were what I brought and that abomination,” he said and pointed at the empty Waffle House containers, “I’m glad I did.”

Summer shifted slightly, embarrassed. “It’s close,” she mumbled. Taking a deep breath, she composed herself. “Thank you for the meals and the flowers. They’re lovely.”

Chuck gave her a hopeful smile, but she held up a hand.

“But meat and flowers don’t buy my trust. You have to earn it back. I don’t know what I can trust from you. You’re almost worse than the fae. I know that every word has to be true with the fae, even if it’s not always the whole truth. From you?” She shook her head. “I don’t even know if what little you do tell me is true.”

“It is. I am,” Chuck paused, thinking, “similarly bound. I can’t lie, not an outright lie.”

“But you can bend the truth and clearly leave things out,” Summer huffed and crossed her arms over her chest.

Summer watched the flow of expressions across Chuck’s face. She could almost see the internal debate. Admit he’d been holding things back? Admit that he could lie? Admit he had ulterior motives?

“Yes,” he said simply.

Summer looked at him. A silence stretched, taunt and brittle, between them.

“It’s not the answer you want, I know,” he told her when the silence had stretched too long. “But, it’s the truth. And if I’m going to rebuild your trust in me, I should start with honesty,” he looked down, “even when I know it’s not what you want to hear.”

Summer eyed him.

“For what it’s worth, it still leaves me more honest than the average human.”

“I want the whole truth when we talk now.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Summer looked up at him. “Tell me about the ferals. My Pack needs me.”


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Pantheon Release – Six Months as a Published Novelist


In my first update as a published novelist, I described some of the misconceptions I had and the reality of publishing a novel. In the second update, at the three month mark, I gave further updates. I stand by my three month update and not much has changed.

Oh. Other than:

BOOK TWO COMES OUT IN SEPTEMBER!

This is not a drill! Pantheon’s sequel, working title “Ares and Athena” releases on September 9th, 2021

That’s right, only six months after the release of my debut novel, I’ve done well enough that my publisher, Force Poseidon, is putting my second book out. The current working title is “Ares and Athena” and it releases on September 9th, 2021. Even better, this is the first sequel they’ve published! For those of you counting along at home, that means I will have published two books in just under a year. Not too shabby for someone who considered the publishing of their first book a fluke.

But how is it going? Really?

Well, let’s address the elephant in the room: I’m still not on my own private island surrounded by enormous piles of money.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Alas, I’m not fabulously wealthy and still have to work for a living. However, as I have learned, money isn’t the only measure of success in publishing. Let’s look instead at the more tangible ways one can measure success as an author. I’ve almost doubled the number of reviews on Amazon and GoodReads over the last three months while still hovering near the 5-star level, which I consider a strong win! (One quick plug, if you’ve read the book, please review it on GoodReads and Amazon so more people can be introduced to Pantheon.)

A GoodReads rating of 4.63 stars and Amazon rating of 4.9 stars! Not too shabby.

Sales are slowing, but that’s to be expected six months later. The initial blast of marketing has faded and I’m down to word of mouth as my main marketing strategy. That said, I anticipate a small bump in sales as the second book releases from folks who see marketing for the sequel and want to start at the beginning. My social media presence continues to grow, aided and abetted by my “Confessions from the Trail” series, which is now being published on Medium as well.

And yes, the hard work continues! While I have a generous six months until publishing, there’s a lot of work left to do. My editor and I will iterate on the book as we nail down a perfect copy. I’ll send copies to my beta readers for one last sanity and grammar check. Then it’s a marketing hustle: build an advanced reader list and send them copies to review, promote my book on social media, look for local(ish) conventions I could attend to promote my work, keep releasing blog posts as I go through the process, and of course finalizing the cover art and title to release in advance of the publishing date. I’ll also be reading fellow author’s books and providing feedback and reviews in hopes they return the favor. (Hey, it’s great to be on a team!)

Oh, did I mention I have a full-time job while doing all of this? Because I’m about to level up in my day job as well. So, while I’m really excited to have a publishing date, I also know my weekends slept slacking off are over for the next few months.

It will be fun.

It will be stressful.

But I’m fueled by my passion for writing and my drive to achieve.

As I stated in “How I Got Published!” I was turned down many times when I first tried to get published a decade ago. “A good author with a compelling plot, but because you cannot publish on our schedule, you would not be considered commercially viable” is soul crushing to read. At the time I received that rejection, I couldn’t commit to writing a book every 18 months due to my work commitments. To be fair, I still can’t make that kind of commitment and expect my third book to take much longer, since “Ares and Athena” was 90% complete when I signed the contract for “Pantheon.” But the books will keep coming out and I’m so excited and grateful for the opportunity.


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Confessions from the Trail: After the Race


Welcome to my twentieth and, likely, the final post in the Confessions from the Trail series! I started this series as a way to pull back the curtain and show people a sport that many will never even attempt. I started with “Chasing the Ultramarathon” and talked about failing to accomplish my goal three times. I wrote two follow-up pieces called “But Why?” and “Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable” to explain the lure of the ultra. I’ve also talked about ultramarathons’ details: gear, lingo, nutrition, pre-race traditions, race weight, and tapering. I’ve written about my journey through a sick week after Thanksgiving, critter encounters, the “pain cave,” and the training run that put me in the ER, followed by two weeks of quarantine in the final push to race day. And, of course, I’ve talked about my races: BUTS Bearly Heavy Half, Bear Bait 25k, and the big finale, Mississippi 50.

It’s been a long road and I’ve enjoyed having a platform to talk about a sport I love. But now the race is run and it’s time to close this series out by answering one last question: “What do you do after the race?” For me, there a few things I have to do, a few things I should do, a few things I should do but usually don’t, but as with my pre-race traditions, I’m mostly trying to stay sane! I’ll also close with a “so there I was…” and tell you about my colossal failure at MS50. Learn from my mistakes, folks!

Things I should do: take a moment to sit and stretch, eat a reasonable post-race snack (like a banana), then head to my hotel for a shower and real meal with some protein. Possibly reflect on my accomplishments.

What I actually do: stagger through the finish line to a kind volunteer who throws a medal around my sweaty neck. Proceed to eat my body weight in cookies and bananas. Lay down in the dirt to contemplate my life choices and entire existence. Decide I can, in fact, move a little. Stagger to my car. A quick shower at the hotel and then I stagger to an eating establishment to consume my weight in fatty food, gulp down a beer (two if someone else is driving). Finally, I go back to my room and pass out.

Exception: Ironman Orlando I managed to shower and go out to the Universal Studios parks to see the recently opened Harry Potter World. Rock and Roll NOLA I was able to get my butt showered, gulp down a beignet and Coke, then go on a TWO HOUR WALKING TOUR OF THE FRENCH QUARTER. I’m a dumbass sometimes.

What you definitely shouldn’t do: Of course, in my second Ironman Orlando, I spent part of the afternoon attempting to disassemble our bikes and accidentally put the (very dirty) cogs of my bike through my unprotected foot. I had about a second of shock where I could pull the bike out of my foot, look at, see exposed bones before the pain hit. How I managed to text my spouse after, I’m still not sure, but I think it was something along the lines of “SOS/911, help. Foot blood bad!” He reappeared moments in a panic. The panic did not resolve when he saw that I was bleeding bad enough to soak through the towel on my foot.

This is where I learned that my spouse loves me very much but is very freaked out when I’m hurt. I was thrown in a wheelchair (I could still walk) and he missed two exits for various hospitals before finally making the turn off for one in his panic. I, on the other hand, was in the back of the rental van calmly calling my boss to tell them I’d be on limited duty when we got back. Shock is a hell of a drug.

The Incident:

Oh boy. The things I don’t post live to Twitter… Let’s start this off with a “so there I was” and I promise this whole story is actually true as opposed to 10% true.

I was just a little stressed

As I mentioned in my Mississippi 50 race report, I drove to the race in full dark and followed my GPS. It was a dry and dusty route in and I strongly suspected my GPS sent me further south as I saw two cars turn off the paved roads further north. Additionally, in previous years where I’ve done this drive, at sunrise, I turned towards the start further north of where I turned in the morning.

When I left the race area that afternoon, I had spotty cell service and my GPS turned me in a different direction. My poor, abused brain just assumed that was to the more northern turn and, since a truck ahead of me turned that way, I followed along. My GPS, however, told me to turn away from the path the truck followed. I had a half-second where I considered following the truck but trusted my GPS. This was the wrong choice.

I now found myself not on a dry, dusty trail but a wet, muddy trail. I hit one patch where I felt my Subaru’s All Wheel Drive get me my money’s worth and again, had a half-second where I thought, “this is wrong” but, my dumb post-race brain decided to continue. Maybe a mile later, I found myself axles deep and high centered in thick, goopy, shoe-sucking mud. I was about 4 miles from the race start and 2 miles from a paved road with spotty cell service.

I called my insurance for roadside assistance and they dispatched a tow truck. A few minutes later, I check the status and it shows the service has been canceled. I frantically call the tow service and they canceled it because they’re too far away. It’s now 3 pm and I know the sun will set in 2.5 hours. I also know I am physically incapable of walking even the two miles to a road. I manage to connect a call to my insurance again, begging them to find another tow service.

Difference between finishing a half marathon and an ultramarathon: after effects. By this point, I am shaking violently. Normally I shake a little after a long run/race, but now I’m cold, exhausted, and quite literally in the middle of nowhere with only the food and water left over from my race.
This would be the point I realize that I was in deep shit.

While I wait for a wrecker that may or may not appear since the road ahead of me isn’t much better than what I’m sitting in now, I start making my contingencies. If I start shaking harder or I feel light-headed or I start vomiting or my hands go numb, I will call 9-1-1. Otherwise, I’m going to wait. If the wrecker can’t make it, I’ll call 9-1-1. I have no idea what they might be able to do, but if I can stagger to a paved road, maybe someone can at least give me a ride to my hotel. None of the towns close by are big enough to support taxi services or an Uber driver.

I won’t lie, I cried. I curled up in my passenger seat, huddled under my towel and cried while I tried to text family or friends, anyone who would reassure me that I would be ok. The pain cave at mile 27 has nothing on sitting in my stuck vehicle, my ability to get out uncertain, and knowing full well I have no one to blame but myself. I will probably have nightmares about this for a while.

Fortunately, the tow truck arrived and hauled me out. He told me how bad it was up ahead and said he’d lead me out so he could haul me out again if I got stuck. Of course, my luck, THE TOW TRUCK GOT STUCK ON THE WAY OUT. Y’all, I can’t even make this shit up. He hauled himself out and I drove halfway up a bank to get past that point. Once we reached the paved road, I thanked the tow truck drive profusely and went on my way.

I finally got back to my hotel four hours later than expected and in a bad way. With no more food, water, or ibuprofen, I was in pain and deep calorie debt. I managed to get my shower and food, but the whole calamity was a real damper on my day.

Learn from my screw up. Your head won’t be on right after a race this long. You will be tired and weaker than you will expect. I highly recommend bringing a friend, pacer, or crew to help you at the end of the day and make the good decisions your poor tired brain can’t.


Will I race the trails again? Most certainly. Will I write race reports in Confessions From the Trail? Probably? But for now, we’ve run the race and are at the end of the road. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.


Happy trails and enjoy the journey!


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Race Report: Mississippi 50k


Welcome back to the wild world of ultramarathon training. By this point, you’ve read all about my current training cycle, my successes at the Bear Bait 25k, my semi-failure at the BUTS Bearly Heavy half, the pain of training in times of COVID, and the ups and downs as I chase down that ultramarathon goal. Its been a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person. But let’s not bury the lede:

I FINISHED AN ULTRAMARATHON!

Exhausted and muddy, but happy.

Today you’re getting my full race report for Mississippi 50 – 50k (31.1 miles) Race

Check in:

Like all races recently, they’ve done a good job adapting to the times. They had to cancel the traditional pre-race dinner, but other than that, it was the same brisk in-and-out of years past. I had my packet in less time than it took to drive the 10 minutes from my hotel to the pickup location. Like most ultras, the goody bag was very stripped down: a few pamphlets for local stuff I chucked immediately, a shirt, and a flexible cup.

Starting line:

Packet pickup is in Laurel, MS, but the race is held in the Desoto National Forest at the Longleaf Horse Trails, a 40-minute drive south. Half the drive is on paved county roads; the other half is on rough dirt roads that are not easily navigated in the pre-dawn, a factor that will come into play after my race.

The course:

Gosh, I love this course! It’s smooth with almost no technical spots. My only gripe is a perennial gripe: the damn puddles! There are five or so creek crossings and while you can cross some of them without getting too muddy/wet, there are two that you have to run through. My feet were a disaster from all that soaking.

For the 50k course, we did two laps on the big loop (20k) then one smaller 10k loop to finish. Each lap took me past my car, where I had my gear set up to assist me as I ran. I have run the 20k loop on all my previous attempts but never had to take the 10k loop, which was all new trail to me.

Two 20k laps and one 10k lap

Weather: Sheer perfection! At the 6 am race start, it was a cool 49F, but it was perfect weather and sunny by my second lap. By the last 10k lap, I was running in a tank top and it was a beautiful cloudless 64F.

Trail conditions: Overall, great, but there was a 4-mile section that had burned the day before. There was a smoky odor lingering in the air and I worried my previously trashed lungs would react, but I had no issues.

What’s a little char between friends? Sorry for the crappy quality, I didn’t stop running as I snapped the picture.

Terrain: Flat! It is relatively flat and I only logged 1,700’ of elevation gain over the whole 30+ miles. For reference, at BUTS Bearly, I had logged that in just the first six miles.

Aid stations:

The aid stations are conveniently spaced and while they have made some changes for COVID mitigation, there was still a broad array of snacks available, including a cooked strip of bacon I ate at mile 27 that was pure mana from heaven. One aide station just past mile 4 and just outside the burned-out areas another was at the head of an out and back section, so you hit it at just past 8 miles and 10 miles as you entered/exited the out and back. There was one final aid station at the start/finish. Since this was a looped course, I came through that aid station three times during the race and finished at the aid station.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Yes. Fucking, yes.

Kind of a big “duh, of course” for this one. On my last two races, I was well trained for the distance and either didn’t hit the pain cave point, or I stepped a toe into the cave, but a snack pulled me back out. To give you an idea, I’ll break it down by mileage with a rough estimation of how/what I felt.

Mile 8: I wasn’t in the pain cave, but I met a man that I had passed and been passed by a few times over the last five miles. He asked if he could follow me a bit since he was “mentally in a dark place.” I told him, “ah yes, the pain cave, I’m intimately familiar, follow as long as you want.” He followed quietly for a bit, but we got to chatting, which seemed to pull him out of his pain cave and delay me hitting mine. It turns out, this wonderful man is a trauma therapist specializing in PTSD. We talked a long time. The whole race, in fact.

Mile 14: my first dip into the pain cave came not long after finishing the first lap. I did some mental math, realized I was roughly 1,000 calories behind, ate a snack; it went away.

Mile 20: physical pain in my feet and knees dragged me in but chatting with my new friend and pacer helped pull me out.

Mile 25: just after the end of the second lap and into the third, we found ourselves on new trails and entering the unknown. Physical pain is increasing and starting to affect both our moods. He gets quiet and I’m gritting my teeth.

Mile 27: we are both into the unknown as neither of us has ever run further than a marathon. My feet and knees are screaming on the downhill and we’ve slowed to a brisk walk with occasional bouts of a shambling jog. I get a cooked piece of bacon around here that pulls me out for a few minutes.

Mile 28-30: I have no idea. By this point, I can only manage a brisk walk because my stomach is cramping now so bad it almost felt like early labor. I want to stop. I want to sit down for a minute, but my new partner and I both acknowledge that if I sit down now, I’ll never stand back up under my own power.

Fortunately, mile 30 connects you back to the first big loop and I now know not only where I am but that we are no more than a half mile from the finish. We both broke into a pained jog, each of us tripping on the smallest things, but we staggered across the finish line.

The unknowns:

Everything after mile 25. Possibly anything after mile 17. Because of my trip to the ER, my two 20+ mile training runs were wiped off the board. I never made it further than 17.5 miles in training and no more than 23 miles over 48 hours. I had never run longer than a marathon and that was ten years ago. While I’ve run the big loop, I’ve never run the little loop, so that was an unknown as well.

Huge shout out to my pacer back home who pushed me to run further on my Friday runs; I think running more miles back to back really helped build my base, even if I never got my longest runs in.

Crew:

No crew for this race at my distance, but there was limited access for pacers on the 50 miler’s last 10k lap only. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have needed a pacer.

Tired, but I made it.

The finish line:

It was the post-COVID ultramarathon standard: flash your number, get your medal, grab a snack if you need it, and they send you on your way. The only change here was that Zac, my new friend for the last 20 miles, and I snapped pictures for each other to commemorate our first ultra finish. We gave each other a quick fist bump of triumph and parted ways.

Final time:

7:29 for 30.6 mi (GPS mileage was just shy of the billed 50k, which is the usual way of things).
My goal was to finish, hopefully sub-8:00. To have finished was a win; to finish half an hour ahead of my goal was a triumph.

Overall thoughts:

I knew the course and terrain I faced and built my entire training plan around it. That bit me in the butt when I did BUTS, but I was 100% ready for this race, even after losing two critical weeks at the end of the training cycle. A day later, I was up and walking around with no problems. Heck, I was speed walking through the Dallas airport in heeled boots without problems. Two days later, I started running again with no issues. My new technique of taping where my bra chaffs worked great, not one single problem there. That said, if it had been much warmer, I would have sweat the tape off and been in trouble the last few miles. I’ve got a few blisters and one incident post-race, but overall I’m thrilled with how well this all went.

I did have one colossal screw up after the race which deserves its own post. I had already planned a “After the Race” post but now its also going to include a “learn from my f*ck ups” section.

Stress level: EXTREME

The Gear List:

My gear lists so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. As usual, some affiliate links, most aren’t; I am not sponsored by any specific companies.

The clothing layout for Mississippi 50. I did carry a spare running skirt, but since I didn’t wear it, I don’t list it below.

Clothes:

Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – required to run. Must wear items for check-in, race start, and going through aid stations. This mask is what I was wearing when my office was hit with COVID and I never got it. Not sure if it’s magic, but I’m sticking with these until I can get vaccinated.

Top: Nike Women’s Dri-Fit Element Long Sleeve Running Top – This one is a good top (45-55F) or middle layer (<45F). Plus, thumb holes and it covers half my hand.

Tank top: Infinite Tank workout top from Nike. It was great as an only layer later once it got warmer (>60F), but it does well as a base layer too (<60F).

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles. I now put two strips of sports tape under the tab and it works perfectly.

Tights: Curve ‘n’ Combat Boots Empowered Black (V1) – As with my bra, it’s not desired as running gear, but it fits me well and does the job. These are designed as weightlifting tights and the dimensions are for a woman with thick legs. Like, babe, you are squatting 225lbs as a warm-up and the squat boots/thighs are strong and the waist is small! They fit me perfectly, but if you have a more traditional runner’s body, then they may be too baggy or slip while you run. Since I cut down to race weight, these slipped a bit the first 2-3 miles but after that I sweat enough that they stopped slipping.

Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy, but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes and how wet your feet get. At some point, no sock/shoe combo will save you from everything.

Shoes: Altra Olympus Trail Shoe/Altra Lone Peak Trail Shoe – The Olympus have the thickest soles of my trail shoes which were good for keeping my feet comfy over the first 25 miles. I switched to my Lone Peaks, which have a thinner sole and are lighter weight, for the last loop because they were dry. I appreciated drier feet and probably saved myself from more problems, but the thinner soles meant I felt more as I ran.

Gaiter: Altra Trailer Gaiter – Designed specifically for Altra trail shoes and fits well (will not work on other shoes!). They kept out the small sticks, rocks, and debris of the trail.

Hat: My trusty finishers hat from the River Cities Tri a few years ago. It wasn’t cool enough to need a warmer hat.

Nutrition:

Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 – This is my “new to me” but “older model” vest I got on sale for half price. There’s a new version, but I’m glad I gambled on buying this one as it’s been a real champ. Lots of easily accessible pockets, good bottle holders, and the bladder holding set up keeps it from rattling around or slipping its loops like my other vest. Not as easy to access the bladder for refills once it’s on, so I had to completely remove the pack AND bladder to refill between laps. Not super convenient, but I don’t feel like I lost a lot of time and almost all packs will be like this.

Liquid Salt/Carbs: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder – purchased with coupons on the Gatorade website, which is good because I still don’t love it. It’s not as strong a flavor as regular Gatorade and it does well for replacing salt/carbs quickly but… I dunno, maybe I’m too picky, I don’t love it. But, I’m kind of a cheapskate and won’t buy anything new until I finish this container. Note: I also refilled with Heed at one aid station, which was WAY sweeter and I’m happy to stick with my Gatorade mix.

Snacks, self carried: Both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle. These were tough on the last two races due to the cold, but this time the temperature was perfect. The chews were easy to consume and the waffle broke like it was supposed to. Maybe too easily because I think I inhaled a few crumbs as I ran.

Sacks, from aid stations: Rice Krispy bar, a mini Snickers, a bag of potato chips, and a strip of cooked bacon. For real, I don’t need a finished picture; I need an action shot of me charging uphill, bag of chips in one hand and the other stuffing a handful of chips in my mouth like some kind of running raccoon/trash panda.

Photo by anne sch on Pexels.com

Other:

GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk-offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time accurately. I set it up for a few of my closest friends to be able to track the run. There is a way to push the track to Twitter, but I didn’t need that many folks following along live. The LiveTrack was hit and miss, my Mom was able to follow just fine, but my husband’s link didn’t work.


Happy trails!


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Pantheon 2 – Ares And Athena


Chapter 1

Here is the first look at Pantheon’s sequel, “Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena,” which released on September 9th, 2021. Just like The Memo and Make It Three while there are no spoilers, but I highly recommend you finish reading “Pantheon” prior to reading as the characters and their roles will make much more sense that way.

Haven’t bought it yet? You can find Pantheon it in both paperback and e-book on Amazon and the pre-order for Ares & Athena on Kindle.

Already read it? I’d love you to write a recommendation on GoodReads or on Amazon!


Murphy – 0130Z/0430L, 20 APR

US Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Murphy Hawkins rolled over in his narrow rack, snuggling up to the furry body next to him and relishing the warmth.

“Good morning, Zora,” he said with a smile. He ignored the gnawing hunger in his belly and his hand lazily patted his dog’s face, scratching under her fuzzy chin.

Zora sat up, her weight depressing the center of the canvas cot. She gave him a smile, tongue lolling out in a happy doggy grin.

“Aww, come on pupper, don’t get up yet.” He glanced at his Ares watch and groaned. “We got fifteen more minutes before we need to be up for the patrol.”

Zora stared back at him, one ear pointing straight up, the other flopping down. Belgian Malinois breed standards dictated that both ears should be “stiff, erect, and an equilateral triangle.” Her slightly drooping ear had almost been enough to disqualify her from the Military Working Dog puppy program. Murphy thought it gave her a roguish look. Given that Zora was the only female he loved, he was glad she made it through the working dog selection program despite what some might consider her “deformity.” He scratched the floppy ear.

“Okay, girl, okay. If you insist,” Murphy said to the dog, rising. “We can get up.”

Zora hopped off the cot as he rose, circled his tiny room, nose whuffling at the piles of dust strung along the floor.

Murphy gave the floor a disgusted look. The insidious moon dust grit drifted in despite how often he swept. After his many deployments, his hatred of sand was growing to epic proportions.

Murphy and his team had been in Syria for five weeks and he was still struggling to adjust to the change from his home in north-central Florida. Florida had a sultry, humid spring and sandy clay dirt, but this part of Syria was hot, dry, and coated in the damned moon dust. Murphy dressed, closing the last Velcro tab on his body armor and grabbing Zora’s armor.

“Here, girl,” he said quietly. Zora sat obediently in front of him as he gently lowered the canine flak vest onto her back. Hands swift and sure from long practice, he affixed her buckles and gave a final scratch of Zora’s ear before he snagged his guns, checked both magazines, and opened his door.

Zora sneezed and Murphy squinted into the pre-dawn gloom. Its smells and sounds of the Al Assad suburb of Damascus assaulted both man and dog. Around him, other doors in their make-shift urban camp were opening, and his security team members gathered for their pre-patrol briefing. Murphy eyed the dirty courtyard where they gathered. Sunrise was at least an hour away and dim lamps illuminated cobblestone roads. The door beside his hootch opened and the last two members of his team stumbled out, yawning and fastening body armor buckles.

“Okay, team. Keep the radio discipline strong. My team is ‘Red’ and you’re ‘Blue’ today, Gonzo.”

Gonzales gave him a gap-toothed grin.

“Same deal as yesterday,” Murphy continued with a wry smile. “The LT, who will be ‘Red One,’ wants us patrolling the eastern blocks while Blue Team goes west.” The new second lieutenant nominally led Murphy’s team and their sister team, at least that’s what the manning roster said on paper. But Murphy was a highly experienced NCO and was breaking in the fresh lieutenant so he didn’t hurt himself or others.

Everyone knew Staff Sergeant Murphy Hawkins had been living the traditional NCO ritual of gently guiding the new lieutenant since the young officer had arrived only three weeks before, his body armor still pristine and smelling like the plastic bags it came in. Second Lieutenant Alex Anderson was a model graduate of the United States Marine Corps Officer Basic School, gung-ho and full of fresh book learning, but no combat time at all. Plus, he was a whiny pissant. The team had been forced to politely allow the young man to believe he was in charge while Murphy systematically field trained him to be a worthwhile officer.

The men bent to double-check guns and gear pouches full of ammo. Murphy’s second in command, Sergeant Gonzalez, unclipped the lead from his own dog, Bali, preparing for departure.

Murphy gave him a quick fist bump. “Good hunting, Gonzo.”

Gonzalez said, “Cheers, bro,” with a smile that displayed the new gap in his grin where he’d lost a tooth the week before. Not from enemy contact, but after a patrol where he’d gotten accidentally clocked in the face with a rifle butt trying to film a video for social media. Rather than allowing himself and Bali to be removed from the team and sent to the rear and a dentist, Gonzalez had pulled out the severely loosened tooth himself with his multi-tool and gone back on patrol the next day.

Bali joined Zora and the two frisked briefly across the sandy alley before returning to their handlers.

“Questions, comments, concerns?” Murphy asked the group when they’d finished settling their gear. He ached for a cigarette, but his two-week stash had run out the week before and they hadn’t had the luxury of running to a 7-11 since arriving. Murphy reminded himself that his life in the Corps was only two more months. In two months, he would transfer to the Navy.

“I got a question, Sarge—what’s the chance we find some pussy on our patrol?” Lance Corporal Strake asked with a leer.

“About as high as finding some damn Cope longcut, Strake,” Murphy told him.

“And that’s the reason why you’re still a damn terminal lance, Strake,” one of his men muttered too quietly for him to catch who said it.

“All right, fuck faces, any real questions?” Murphy asked. If Strake was feeling his oats this early, it was going to be a long day. Young Marines love four things: the Corps, women, booze, and tobacco. In that order.

Heads shook in compliance. “Right. High fives, team, then let’s move out. And I swear to God, if you fuckers forget your MREs again, you will fucking starve. I’m not sharing with stupid people again.”

“Sorry, Murph.” Rawlins called from his right.

The team exchanged their traditional quick round of high fives and moved out.


Their eight-man squad, comprised of two fire teams, moved into the streets of suburban Damascus. Each fire team consisted of a grenadier, an automatic rifleman, a rifleman, and a designated marksman, and the team leader. In the case of his group, Murphy and Sergeant Gonzalez were both canine handlers and team leads. Usually, fire teams didn’t have a K9 partner, or “fifth man,” but for their mission in Syria, Murphy’s teams did. Zora and Bali were charged with sniffing out bombs and bomb-making supplies as well as taking down suspected terrorists as they fled. They also provided an intimidation factor. While the terrorists Murphy and his team sought were usually fearless, something about two fierce Malinois scared the shit out of the Syrians. Additionally, Murphy was a trained Arabic speaker, able to interpret and interact with the local community. Between his Arabic and Zora, he was the ideal team lead.

The first hour of their patrol was simple. The same mind-numbing monotony Murphy’s teams had experienced for the last few weeks. Theoretically, they were hunting suspected terrorists hiding in and around the outskirts of Damascus, but so far, their daily searches had been fruitless. Murphy let his mind wander as Zora loped ahead, sniffing the courtyards and alleys ahead of the team.

Six weeks ago, he’d been in the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Sterling had interviewed him personally on his pending award of the Navy Cross. Murphy had been both pleased and embarrassed to find out he was being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps’ second-highest honor for action during his last deployment to Afghanistan. He had sat stiffly in the chair offered to him, body nearly rigid, and uncomfortable during the whole interview.

While he knew the interview was merely a formality, a chance for the Commandant to get to know him before awarding the medal, he had been nervous. The Commandant had asked him about his time in the Corps as well as what Murphy thought of his future. Murphy knew damned well the Commandant had expected him to say he was staying in the Corps. The general officer couldn’t have looked more shocked had Murphy slapped him in the face when he said he was transferring to the Navy in three months.

He’d demanded to know why Murphy would leave when he was so obviously needed in the Corps. Murphy, as calmly as he could, told the general he had always wanted to be a Navy SEAL. Murphy had been irked to learn that his recruiter had lied to him and that Marines were ineligible.

The Commandant had a murderous look for a fleeting second before acknowledging that a man who’d earned the Navy Cross was surely good material for the SEAL program. By the end of the conversation, he’d even offered to write a letter on Murphy’s behalf to the acceptance board. Murphy had smiled politely and thanked him, fully expecting it to be a polite formality—until the General called his aide in to take Murphy’s name, home phone number, and the date of the in-service SEAL selection board. A genuine smile had broken across Murphy’s face before he departed with a handshake.


Murphy scanned the dark, narrow, sludge-filled alley in front of him with a strange, unsettling feeling. Roughly fifteen meters down the alley he could see movement behind a stack of rugs. He whistled quietly and Zora heeled, pressing against his leg. He motioned silently for his team to stop, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. Murphy listened carefully, ears straining to catch any sound. He caught voices speaking in hushed English, a rarity in the outskirts of Damascus.

“No, Yaʿqūb, it must be in less than two months,” a voice said nearby. “If the bombs do not go off, and inside your nation of infidels, then the plan will not work.”

Murphy silently motioned his team forward and gave Zora the sign to search out the voice. They had been searching for high pay off targets for five weeks and this was the most promising lead he and the team had thus far.

“No, three months is not soon enough. If we are to show our strength, it must be two weeks or less.” The voice paused, clearly listening. “Yes. Good then. Until tomorrow, may Allah bless you.”

Murphy’s team flanked the walls of the narrow alley, moving steadily and stealthily forward towards their high payoff targets. For a brief moment, the only sound combat boots on sand.

Damned infidels. They still believe we are on the same side but agree to their half of the destruction. By coordinating bombs in both their nation and ours, we can show how far reaching the power of the caliphate,” Murphy heard the voice say in Arabic.

Cold fear dropped leaden into Murphy’s belly. Terrorists in Syria coordinating with a group he could only assume was on American soil? The thought horrified him. He signaled to his team. On his count, they would break down the small wooden door they had surrounded. Murphy tapped his throat mic, calling his lieutenant, by now at least three miles in the opposite direction.

“Red One, Red Four, possible contact with HPTs. Coord for an extract to interrogation, twenty mike,” he whispered.

“Copy. Stand by, coordinating,” the young man’s voice replied. The lieutenant might not be the most seasoned veteran, but he was good at coordinating.

Murphy nodded to his team and counted down with his fingers.

Three.

Two.

One.

A press of bodies burst through the door, Zora hot on their heels. Murphy followed, running with a practiced gait that minimized the rattle of his gear, the butt of his rifle held tight to his shoulder and in the ready position. Before he could cross the threshold, chaos erupted.

Angry shouts in Arabic came through the door as Murphy entered. He flicked his ballistic glasses off his nose and looked through the tableau. Two men in traditional long kaftans and loose pants held guns that we directed at Murphy’s men and Murphy’s team had their weapons up, tense with tightly leashed lethality. Both groups were tense. Zora growled at the men who were seemingly more terrified of her than his men.

Put down your weapons,” Murphy barked out in Arabic. Slowly, the men complied. Murphy felt a loosening in his tension, but the hair at the back of his neck still prickled. “Hands in the air,” he told them. Their quick compliance bothered Murphy.

Murphy’s eyes flicked over the room, noting bomb-making supplies scattered across makeshift worktables. He gave a sharp nod to Rawlins, who was breathing hard at his right. This was exactly the thing they’d been sent to catch. He wanted to relax, but something in the two men’s speedy compliance nagged at him.

“Cuff them and we’ll bring them to the courtyard. LT has an extraction in twenty,” Murphy told his men. They restrained the two men and marched them out the door.

As Murphy exited, gunfire erupted in the dark, narrow alley.

Murphy’s mind went into overdrive as he watched the men controlling the terrorists drop, bullets tearing through their bodies. Murphy tapped his mic. “Red One, Red Four, contact three miles east of base, two men down,” he shouted. Without waiting for a response, Murphy pressed forward to look for shooters from the doorway. Before he could get his barrel through the doorway, Zora leapt forward.

“No!” he yelled at her. A bullet struck her and she emitted a pitiful yelp as she fell. “NO!” Murphy roared. He’d been scared and angry to see his men ambushed, but seeing Zora felled by a bullet drove the fear from a cold fury in his belly, directly into his heart.

Heedless of the hail of bullets, Murphy darted forward. His mind in overdrive, he saw Zora laying on the ground next to his two men and the terrorists. He knew that Rawlins was at his back, ready to provide suppressing fire for his two downed men. Murphy dropped into a baseball slide, stopping next to Zora. He lay his body over hers as he scanned for targets. At one the end of the alley, he could see a group of armed men rushing toward them with weapons drawn and point at his team.

The swarm of oncoming men outnumbered and out-gunned them. With only Rawlins and Murphy able to fight, the five armed men approaching them would be a match, even for two Marines. He eyed the room they had just exited. It wasn’t perfect but might provide a measure of cover, of safety, for his team while they unscrewed this mess.

“Red One, Red Four, I say again, contact three miles east of base, two men down.” Murphy raised his own gun, squeezing off a burst of gunfire. “Requesting any available air support for E-CAS.” Getting emergency close air support was a long shot at best and risked his life almost as much as it offered support.

Rawlins yelled wordlessly and Murphy looked back. At the opposite end of the alley, another hostile group was running towards Murphy and his men. Chips of mud wall and dust rained down on Murphy as the men opened fire.

Pushing down his fear, Murphy tried to rally his thoughts. He knew he and his men would soon be overrun and would likely be killed. He needed a safe place from which to fight and, hopefully, get a little airpower rained down, two-thousand pounds at a time.

“Red Four, stand by for E-CAS.” The lieutenant’s voice was calm as it crackled through his radio.

“Copy,” Murphy growled as he dragged Zora back inside the building, crouching low. He thanked any god he could name the hostiles were terrible shots and he could make it to even this small measure of safety unharmed. With Zora out of the middle of the alley, he rejoined Rawlins, who crouched over their two injured Marines and the handcuffed terrorists.

“Cover me, I’ll drag them both inside,” Murphy yelled.

At Rawlins’ nod, he grabbed each man by the handle on the back of their armor and pulled them inside the door while Rawlins’ gun sprayed a blast of covering fire. One of the men, Swanbourne, was still conscious but was bleeding profusely from both legs. Murphy tossed him a medical kit and quickly made sure the man’s gun was at hand.

“Stop the bleeding, then be ready,” Murphy said and darted back out the door. “Rawlins, pull back, we’ll use the door frame for cover. I assume they won’t shoot their own,” he nodded to the two terrorists still in the alley. Murphy leveled his gun, aiming down the alleyway.

The smaller man bolted for the door and Murphy gave him a quick high-five when he settled against the doorframe. Murphy glanced around the small room, taking in each man and Zora. The building’s meager walls would provide only a small measure of protection. He needed to pause this fight long enough to get them to safety.

Incongruously, his mind went back to the Commandant’s office once more.

Clean.

Safe.

Zora gave a quiet whine, almost inaudible in the rising gunfire and shattering of concrete around them. Murphy’s mind sought safety. He drew in a deep breath and released it, picturing some place safe. In his mind, he felt as if he was reaching for that safety. Without conscious effort, Murphy Jumped himself, his three men, and Zora into the office his mind had sought.

At his desk in the Commandant’s office, General Sterling was reviewing paperwork late into the night. His first wife had hated when he worked late. His second had used it to sleep her way through half of Quantico. The third merely accepted it as part of being the general’s wife. Regardless of the havoc it created in his personal life, he enjoyed the peace and focus it gave him when reviewing critical documents.

When four sweaty, dusty men and a dog suddenly appeared in his office, he gave a yell of surprise as he stood so fast he knocked his chair over. A career spanning thirty years in the Marine Corps had taught him to expect the unexpected but the sudden arrivals strained his calm. He gave the bloody, dirty heap of men a quick glance and recognized one of the dust-covered men.

“Staff Sergeant Hawkins?” he asked with more calm than he felt.

Murphy heard a voice calling him but ignored it. He was focused on what was in front of him. Breathing hard, he searched Zora’s chest with shaking hands, seeking the bullet hole. He found only a small line of scarlet where the bullet had grazed her. Murphy ignored the sudden quiet that followed the chattering of gunfire as he pulled gauze from his pack and pushed the wad onto the wound, securing it with a second roll.

He turned to his men and rocked back in confusion. Adrenaline allowed him to ignore the sudden fatigue weighing him down, but it didn’t account for his confusion. Where was the building they had just been in? Still ignoring the voice calling to him, assuming it was the lieutenant in his earpiece, he took in his men. His heart rate, already racing from the adrenaline, ratcheted up another notch when he noted blood now seeping across their uniforms.

“Sergeants Hawkins!” a voice bellowed, finally pulling his attention away from his team.

“LT, I need just another goddamn minute to sort this cluster out and we can talk about extraction,” Murphy said into his mic.

“No, Sergeant, I don’t think you need an extraction. I think you’ve got it under control,” the voice told him.

A gentle hand clasped his shoulder and Murphy tensed. His skin still burned with adrenaline, his breath was harsh, and his hand started to move without conscious thought as he stared at the carpet in front of him.

Sudden realization sunk into Murphy.

Carpet. Quiet. Clean. Things that meant he was safe. The arm moving to do violence slowed.

Murphy expelled a ragged breath, vision focused on the deep blue carpet under his hands. He looked up from his men, his focus finally taking in the rest of his surroundings. The Commandant’s plush office surrounded him and his battered team; he could feel the grit of Syrian sand digging into his knee where it pressed into soft carpeting. Darkness crowded in as Murphy pulled a whining Zora close.

 “Nancy,” General Sterling called to his open door, knowing full well his secretary was there despite dismissing her hours ago. “Call Marco Martinez at Limitless Logistics. Tell him I need him in my office, right now. Tell him,” General Sterling paused a moment and gave a wry smile, “the Pantheon is expanding.”


I hope you enjoy this first chapter! I will start releasing additional info about the coming sequel in a few weeks. In the mean time, I would love to hear from you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or by email! Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list. As always, thank you dear fans!

Cheers,
Kay

Confessions from the Trail: Training and the COVID Rollercoaster



“I refuse to fail again. After all, I want to see the void blink.

Wow. What a week!

Sunday was Valentine’s Day, a holiday for which I feel ambivalent at best. I dislike the commercialization of it, it all feels performative, and I just plain have terrible luck with Valentine’s Day.

It started in High School. I was supposed to go on a church youth group ski trip that happened to fall over Valentine’s Day. The young man I was seeing, upset that I wouldn’t be around, dumped me. I went on the trip anyway and, of course, broke an ankle. Even worse, while in the ER, I picked up strep throat and spent the entire seven-hour drive from West Virginia back to North Carolina puking my guts out while trying to keep my foot propped up. There have been other Valentine’s Day mishaps, blizzards, and fights, but that really set the tone for my perception of the holiday.

It should come as no surprise that Valentine’s Day 2021 started as a trail run and ended in the ER.

For those of you who have only recently started following me, on Sunday, I was three weeks out from running the Mississippi 50k, a feat I have attempted and failed three times before, but the lure of completing it keeps drawing me back. It’s been a struggle at times, but last week I felt like I was really dialed in and the last few weeks before the race would tick by easily.

Then life happens. Remember my last post?And in this, the era of COVID, meeting with the wrong person could wreck my lungs and put me in the cardio penalty box for six weeks.

Oof. Big oof.

Sunday was supposed to be a 20-mile run, one of my last long runs before taper started, and I was excited to burn some calories before chowing down on the delicious dinner I had planned. Friday’s run had been an easy and steady six-mile run with no problems. But on Sunday, by the end of the first mile, I knew something was wrong. I spent a few miles trying to resettle my vest, adjust my bra band, and do anything that would ease the tightness settling on my chest.

By the first water stop at 5 miles, I was in a mental boxing match with myself and deep in the pain cave, something I had been staving off until at least the 10-mile mark recently. At mile six, I had to make the decision to quit my run. I was breathing hard. Harder than I should for how low my heart rate was. I was constantly stopping to walk and catch my breath. Even after readjusting my vest and bra, I still felt like I had a band around my chest.

At mile six, I acknowledge what I had been trying to ignore: I couldn’t breathe.

I can run through a lot of pain. In fact, my notably high pain threshold and lack of self-preservation are exactly what makes a good endurance athlete. But while the pain cave can be ignored, a distinct lack of oxygen cannot. I staggered back to my car and went home, resolved to try again on Monday.

An hour later, I got the first text: “Bad news… I just tested positive for COVID.”

I’m sure there is a compound German word for “the feeling of dread when your subconscious fear has been confirmed.” COIVD has been an ever-present threat for almost a year now and I have been fortunate. I got sick once back in November, but it was, mercifully, only strep throat. I have been careful. I’ve diligently worn my mask at work, at the gym, even while running when I’m near others. I look like a dork, but a safe dork.

Wear a mask. Wash your hands

I spent the new hour working with my coworkers to identify who had been near who, who needed to get tested, and how to move forward with folks on quarantine. The whole time, my breathing became more and more labored. Another hour and a phone call to my nurse later, I was on my way to the ER.

The ER staff was amazing; I’ll give them that. I was taken back to a room in under five minutes and saw a doctor almost immediately. Based on my symptoms, they did a rapid COVID test, but everyone acknowledged the rapid tests have a high false negative rate this early (based on when I had contact with the three positive folks). Unsurprisingly, it was negative; however, I was in a bad way, so I was essentially told, “look, you *do* have COVID. Go home, quarantine from your family. We’ll retest later.” They gave me an inhaler and I drove home, my mind whirling.

Ending my trail run early to go to the ER.

COVID affects the lungs and heart… as an endurance runner, I kinda need those to be in perfect working condition.

Dazed, tired, and scared, I told my family what I’d been told by the doctor and we worked out our plan. We split which parts of the house I would use and what they would use, plus where we would wear our masks.

You know that first second after the drops start on a rollercoaster? That was Sunday. Monday through Thursday were the rest of the ride, whiplash and all.

I spent Monday and Tuesday too sick to do much more than stagger to my computer desk, my bed, or the bathroom. I had to use my inhaler regularly and the emotional toll on my family was staggering. My kiddo’s birthday is soon and we’d planned a party this weekend, which we then had to cancel. More than a few tears were shed over that.

On Wednesday, a couple of monsters snuck up from work and I spent the day battling them while finally letting a few of my very close friends know how sick I was.

With every puff of the inhaler, I wondered what might be happening to my heart and lungs. The occasional burning feeling in my lungs or heart palpitations scared me, but I was too fatigued to do much more than lay on my bed worrying. I was sad I might have to drop out of Mississippi 50, thus failing to complete the distance for the fourth time. My doctor helped calm me down a bit as we talked through my symptoms and what I could expect. He recommended a second test to confirm, but with as hard as it had hit, he ordered three other tests from the same swap.

On Thursday, I got the utter delight of having the full depth COVID swab. I’m not a fan. It didn’t hurt, but it was very uncomfortable and unpleasant. I spent the rest of the day wondering what the results would be. The ER doctor was insistent that I had COVID. I had COVID symptoms. But I never had a fever and I never lost my sense of taste or smell. It was such an odd feeling while I waited. Fortunately, by the afternoon, the results were back: I was negative for COVID again. And two strains of flu and a common respiratory infection. Stumped, the doc and I walked through what I needed to do now (spoiler: wait until my 14 days had elapsed) and what my family could do (come off quarantine, yay!).

What a rollercoaster. COVID! No COVID! I feel like the rollercoaster cart is pulling back to the loading and unloading area, but I’m not off the ride yet. I have six more days of quarantine to ensure I don’t start exhibiting (additional) symptoms and I’m trying to do my job from home.

Where does this leave me for running Mississippi 50? Well, at this point, I still plan to run in the race. My health has improved each day since Wednesday and I feel confident I’ll be out running as soon as my quarantine ends. Which, of course, is the start of taper week. I’ll miss my two 20+ mile runs.

It’s unfortunate that my last two weeks to push through long runs are shot because I can’t leave my house. But I have eight months of training behind me. As my thesis advisor would say, “the hay is in the barn.” All I can do now is make good nutritional choices, keep my focus, and keep up with a good bodyweight strengthening program until I’m allowed back out. It’s not ideal, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt.

And I refuse to fail again. After all, I want to see the void blink.


PS – during my downtime, I decided if/when I recovered and finished that f***ing race, I’m getting a new tattoo. I spent some time sketching out the design ideas below. I’m not set on any of of them yet, but I’m narrowing down what I like. So if you wondered why they were all plague doctor themed, now you know.

PPS – I finished Mississippi 50k and got my tattoo!

“This too shall pass” with “50k” on the shoes

Happy trails!


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