KR Paul Tries Blacksmithing: Frustration and Hilarity Ensue

This past weekend, my husband and I took a blacksmithing class as a date, and, true to form, I tweeted all about it. However, since this was my second time going to a class at the forges, my thread missed many things I couldn’t capture in the 240 character limit of a tweet. I asked if y’all wanted more and you overwhelmingly did. So, while I wait for my author copies of Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena to arrive, let’s talk blacksmithing! After all, if you’re supposed to “write what you know,” then this is all most fun and authentic when I’ve actually done the thing!

*Standard disclaimer, I’m not a professional, learn from someone who has more than two classes experience and I’m in no way responsible for your burnt/smashed fingers and hands.


The Basic Class:

I take my classes at a local forge (Traditions Workshop) that focuses on folks who want to dip their toe in the world of blacksmithing. They provide classes that build groups of skills then offer open forge time for those who move beyond classroom instruction. They require you to take an introductory course that focuses on safety and basic skills before you can progress on to more advanced classes.

I took my intro class back in July and let me tell you, standing in the dragon’s fire while surrounded by Floridian high summer is quite the experience!

The class starts with a 20 minute or so safety lesson: how hot the forge is (2000+ degrees Fahrenheit), how to move safely around other blacksmiths (“hot metal!”), and the location of all the quenching buckets. After that, we moved on to forge familiarity, learning the basic tools, the structure/design of the anvil, and what types of metal can be worked and how.

It was nearly an hour before we struck the first hammer blow, which is probably wise. Our first creations were nails. My first nail came out a bit wiggly, the top was nowhere near flat, and I was soaked with sweat. But, it was fun, engaging, and certainly a challenge. I was able to turn the end of a ¼” diameter iron rod into a nail in about fifteen minutes. Heat, hammer, turn, hammer, turn, heat, and create the tip. Heat once more, slam it into the nail maker to break the tip off, then smash the top flat. (My top was way off-center, oops!) I felt very proud of my accomplishment until my instructor told us that an apprentice blacksmith of old was expected to churn out almost sixty an hour. I don’t think I’ll be seeking an apprenticeship anytime soon. I made two more nails as we got everyone up to par on the skills then we moved into the class’s intended outcome: crafting a coat hook from the remainder of our rod. This taught us several of the basic blacksmithing skills: drawing out, upsetting, and punching. One frustrating, but still enjoyable, hour later, my coat hook wouldn’t win any prizes, but it was done! And so were my hands, I blistered most of my right hand. Not from hot metal or hot flake, but from the sweat causing friction on the hammer.


The Advanced Class:

This weekend we tried one of the advanced classes that was intended to make a “Viking spear.” This class combined all the skills we learned with the into class plus a few new skills. And, with the ever capricious nature of unknown steel… a few more!

The instructor demo piece

The class started with no safety brief as we were all held accountable for our previous class and dove right into the making. No whiteboard, no chalkboard, you listen and listen good, or you lose out on a step. Our instructor walked us step by step through the plan, which we soon deviated from. We also learned that we would not be using the expensive but predictable propane forges. We were going to the less expensive, less visible, and much more temperamental coal forges.

The first steps seemed relatively easy: heat your metal, craft your tip, create your shoulders, then draw out the steel to create the spears flared shape.

What happened: heat the metal, craft the tip, manage the fire, heat the metal, rework the tip, manage the fire and dig out metal bits to keep the air flowing and the fire hot. Rework the tip again. Realize the flue was cracked open and there wasn’t nearly enough airflow to keep the desired temp and why the metal wasn’t getting hot enough to work. Reheat the metal. BURN AND SLAG OFF MY ENTIRE TIP WHILE I GRAB A SIP OF WATER.

Want to cry.

Look like I’m going to cry (after 1.5 hours of work, wouldn’t you?)

Roughly 20 seconds after realizing I slagged my tip

The instructor hastily remakes my 1.5 hours of work in 15 minutes. Proceed to step two: shape the shoulder of the blade and draw it out. At this point, I just have to laugh.

Three hours in, we are severely behind pacing, there isn’t enough metal to make the collar of the spear and they have us try to forge weld the file onto itself to have enough material. Husband has seriously burned his hand (was in the bathroom for 30+ minutes cooling the burn) and we’re all frustrated.

Instructors call a halt so we can grab lunch while they hastily construct collars from spare metal and weld them on. Hubby and I munch on sandwiches and an apple in my blissfully air-conditioned car and contemplate how long it will take to finish and/or wash all the coal off.

The rarely seen spousal unit and I eating sandwiches in the car. Yes, that’s a lot of coal dust

An hour later, we’re revived, the collars are on, and it’s time for the grinder. Twenty minutes behind a belt sander, we’ve got the weld smoothed out, the edge formed, and we’re ready to harden and temper the blades.

This was relatively easy and fun. Mostly, we held our blades in a pair of tongs while the instructor heated the metal, then once the blade was no longer reactive to a magnet (lemme tell you, chemistry and physics are WILD!), we dunked them in oil.

The last bit was to temper the blade, so it didn’t crack overnight, a simple matter of reheating the center again. The final bit, now 2.5 hours over our time, was to affix the blade to a shaft.

Home with my new blade. I need a beer and a shower.

Thoughts:

Blacksmithing is fun! It’s also a lot of physical work in hot and dangerous conditions. It’s probably not like what you see on TV and your fellow blacksmiths don’t look like they’re described in high fantasy novels. Do you remember Perrin Aybara from The Wheel of Time series? With his broad “blacksmith’s shoulders”? It’s a lie. A damn dirty lie. The most talented, skilled, and experienced blacksmith at my forge is a wiry man in his middle years. He probably weighs what I do. It’s solid muscle, to be sure, but he is lightly built, not bulging with muscles.

Next time I go to the forges, I’m looking for smaller projects that take less time or skills. I will admit that my attention span can be short and I am a perfectionist. If it takes 6.5 hours and is not perfect, it is not worth my sanity to make it. (Yes, writing is a huuuuuge counter to this. Nothing I write is every perfect, it’s just done.)

So, yes. I will blacksmith again! (But in smaller doses and with cold beer waiting at my house after.)

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Race Report: Paddle At The Park

Welcome back endurance racing fans! We’re taking a different approach today and you’re getting my race report for a stand up paddle boarding race. I love endurance racing but some days its good to swap it up. And when you live on the beautiful Florida panhandle, you learn to love paddle boarding!

By this point, you’ve read all about my last 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, and the fact that I finally finished an ultramarathon. It was a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person. But I finished the race and immediately did what all endurance runners do, swear I will never run long races again, which is a filthy dirty lie. I also ran in the Charlotte RaceFest back in June and have signed up for the Rock and Roll NOLA full, but that’s when the wheels started falling off.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a new superpower: growing extra bones! Unfortunately, that comes in the form of bone spurs in my feet. Combine that with inflamed Achilles tendons and arthritis in my feet, I needed to back off run for a while. But my competitive nature remains, so a group of friends and I decided to try out the world of stand up paddle board racing.

Today you’re getting my full race report for Paddle at the Park – Stand Up Paddle Board Race (1 mile)

Check in:

Easy peasy. I decided to skip checking in the night before and get my packet at the park. No biggie, was done in minutes. The biggest wait was on weather! The night before, the beaches were listed as double red flag, which means no one can enter the water, even on a paddle board. The race director had put out a message stating they would make the call at 6:30 on race morning but by 6:45 there was still no word. In order to make my start time, I needed to leave the house before 8 which meant I was gambling a 40 minute drive that it wouldn’t be canceled. Fortunately, it wasn’t and we did race but it was choppy out there.

Starting line:

One of the most picturesque starting lines I’ve seen!

All race distances started in the same location, Henderson Beach State Park, and it was a run straight into the surf.

The course:

This race offered 1, 3, and 6-mile options as well as a kids race. Since I have never raced a paddle board before, I opted for the 1-mile course. One of my buddies joined me on the 1-mile and two were brave enough to attempt the 3-miler.

Full distance ended up less than a mile

Due to the weather hold, all the races started late and it was chaotic. So chaotic that I started a full minute behind the pack. The horn went off as I was still hustling my board to the starting line! However, the pounding waves made many people slow and strategic in starting, pushing through after the break, so I ended up not being too far back by about 5 minutes in.

Weather: Perfect temperature but the wind made for some chop and breaking surf at the shore. A little daunting for a new racer.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Hahaha. Nope! But, had I done the 3-mil course, I probably would have. Both my friends who raced that distance described it as “brutal.”

Crew:

No crew for this race, just a few friends from work. The Running Crows were the Paddlin’ Crows that day.

The finish line:

This was a wild experience for someone who’s never raced SUP. To finish, you ride your board in as far as you can get, then ditch it. (A volunteer collects it for you.) Then you *sprint* up the beach, paddle in hand, to the finish line. Why? Because you have to hand a paddle in hand for it to count as a finish!

Hauling it!

Final time:

15:26 for slightly less than 1 mile. I had no goals other than finishing and not losing my board! I did not think I did very well with my delayed entry and left once I’d packed my board and said goodbye to my friends. Of course, not one minute after I’d cross out of the park and on to the highway, one of my friends called to tell me I took second and to come back for my medal. Since I was already out of the park I asked him to collect my medal and hang on to it for me. Thanks Kenny!

Overall thoughts:

I had a blast! Hung out with my group of friends, took in the sun, and enjoyed a new experience. Even better, I got a cool medal for it!


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:

Swim Suit: I’m a disaster here, I have two different brands on! My top is the Tyr Durafast Diamond Back Workout Bikini. Great top for swimming and SUP if you need more support than their tieback tops. The bottoms are the Nike Essential Cheeky Swim Bottom. Doesn’t cover much but it stays in place and I like the freedom of movement, especially as I’m running of popping up on the board.

PFD: I’ve just switched to the Drift Belt since my bulky kayaking PFD impeaded my movement too much.

Leash: Uni Gear 10′ Coiled. I’ve never needed a leash before but damn I needed it on race day!

Hat: My trusty finishers hat from the River Cities Tri a few years ago. Lost it to the waves on turn 2, but a kind race watcher found me and gave it back after the race.

Nutrition:

Snacks, self carried: None because, duh, water. I did pack myself a nice bagel with peanut butter that I snacked on while watching the 3/6-mile race.

Other:

Board: Bote HD 12′ – It’s big, its bad bass, its versatile, and my daughter loves riding it. That said, she’s heavy, turns like a pig, and it’s a great racing board.

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 16)

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.


“Jackson Elliott, you can get the fuck out of my office right now,” Colonel Morrison barked as soon as Chuck crossed the threshold.


Chuck gave him a half grin and nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “Walker, you always were a hard-hearted bastard.” Chuck sauntered forward, charm and swagger oozing from every pore.

Summer’s nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed as she watched him advance on the Colonel’s desk. She had watched Chuck transform over the last hour. When he had arrived at her townhouse in the gray beater, its engine purring under a rusted hood, he was the man she knew. His movements were strong, purposeful, and spoke of a man who possessed the ability and skill to do lethal violence but simply had no need at that moment. He had stood straight upright at her door, his shoulders square and his weight balanced slightly forward on his feet as if he was unsure if he would bolt or fight as she grabbed her purse. He nodded at her practical pants, hiking boots, and plain cotton t-shirt but had rubbed his nose once as well, as if in irritation. The short drive from her townhouse up a rural road to Camp Rudder had been largely uneventful. Chuck navigated the gray beater over weathered asphalt surrounded by Southern pine.

“Thank you for texting to say we could go up today,” Summer told him.

“Sure thing. Thanks for taking my text.”

“I’ve been thinking about you,” Summer started.

“Oh?”

“Not like that,” she huffed. “How well do you know this Ranger guy?”

The cracked asphalt hummed under the beater’s tired for a moment while Chuck considered her. “At one point in my life, he was the person I trusted the most in the world. We were lovers at a time when the military, well, most of America, would have kicked our asses to the curb for just that. But it was more. I,” Chuck hesitated, “I thought very highly of him. He had my back and I had his. We were battle buddies, keeping each other sane as we patched up the few wounds in the war.”

“Did you love him?”

Asphalt hummed again. Summer watched Chuck rub his nose once, then scratch his chin when we caught himself.

“Chuck?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“What always happens.”

Summer frowned.

“He’s human. Eventually, I pulled energy from him, as an incubus would. I think he had already figured it out, what I was. Am. He didn’t want to be a literal meal ticket and confronted me about it. We fought. We fought in the middle of the desert and he broke it off. Said he couldn’t trust me. I don’t think he was made I had pulled from him, although it made him weak, I think he was mad I didn’t tell him what I was.”

“It’s why my trust in you is so important, isn’t it?

“Yes.”

Quiet minutes stretched behind them until they pulled up to the gates to Camp Rudder.

“Summer, no matter what happens next, remember I have your best interests in mind.”

Summer’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?”

“I know you still may not believe me, but I’ve never gone full incubus on you. You’re about to see it.”

As soon as the gates came into view, Chuck’s entire demeanor changed. His strong, straight posture melted into something languid. He flowed back into his seat, giving the appearance of swaggering as he sat still.

“Good morning, Corporal,” Chuck all but growled to the guard at the gate. His voice dropped half an octave and played across Summer’s ears like fine silk. “My companion and I are here for Colonel Morrison.”

The young man at the gate stuttered something unintelligible and waved them forward. The rest of the journey to Colonel Morrison’s door had gone much the same: they would encounter one of the many servicemen on the compound, Chuck would growl and swagger, the confused or blushing young man would wave them on.

Colonel Walker Morrison’s immediate rebuff of Chuck’s advance spoke volumes about his personal fortitude.

“Get out,” Colonel Morrison grunted.

Chuck put a hand on his hip and turned back to Summer. The look on his face held such intensity that she jerked back. Ever since the first time he’d come back to her townhouse, his face had been open, honest, and readable. Now, it held the strange intensity she had seen the night he kidnapped her. She took a single step back as he looked at her. Suddenly, his face opened again and he gave her a quick wink. Summer’s mouth dropped open as his intense stare returned and he turned back to the Colonel.

“Walker, I need a favor. Then I will never bother you again.” Chuck took several steps closer to the desk.

“No.”

“Not even for an old friend?” Chuck put both his hands on the Colonel’s desk and leaned in.

“Friend? You ruined my life,” Morrison spat. “You ruined my life and I broke your damn nose for it!”

Chuck cock his head to the side, clearly disbelieving but Summer saw his hand twitch as if it wanted to go to his nose again. “You’re now a full bird in charge of the Florida Ranger schoolhouse. Surely you can’t tell me this is failure?”

“I had to leave my entire life because of you. I left it all behind,” Morrison growled.

“From what I see, you’re back in the Army, better and more fit than ever,” he gestured to the Colonel’s physical form, imposing even from behind a desk. The man’s uniform must strain the regulations as much as his overdeveloped pectorals strained the buttons of his shirt. The forearms resting on his armrests were thick with muscle and some scars, giving him the look of a well polished pirate.

Chuck flexed his fingers slightly where they rested on the desk. “Just one favor?” he whispered and leaned in further.

Colonel Morrison leaned back slightly before leaning forward once more. “What do you need?” he asked quietly.

“A few of your men to help me clear out some,” he hesitated, “vermin.”

Summer flinched and frowned, but the military man looked stunned, ignoring the implication in Chuck’s voice.

“When?” he asked slowly, his eyes darted to Summer then back to Chuck.

“This week, maybe as late as next weekend. They don’t have to travel far,” his deepened voice caressed Summer’s ears as it did the Colonel’s.

Colonel Morrison started to nod then closed his eyes. His face suffused with blood, turning a deep shade of crimson. “God damn it, Chuck!” he roared finally. “No. No, you don’t get to fuck around in my life anymore!” He stood from his desk, towering over Chuck.

Chuck stepped back from the desk.

“You get the fuck out of my office,” Colonel Morrison roared and pointed to the door.

Summer caught the glimmer of gold on his hand as he pointed and nodded. She stepped back into the hallway, knowing Chuck had overplayed his hand.

Chuck followed a moment behind her, took her elbow lightly and walked her out to his car.

“His mind is as strong as ever,” Chuck told her as he settled himself in the driver’s seat. “It’s how he caught on to me being an incubus in the first place.” The beater’s deceptively well tuned engine purred to life and Chuck hauled ass out of the schoolhouse parking lot.

“Jesus, Chuck, what was all of that?”

“I tried to put the whammy on him like I did all of his soldiers, but his mind is too strong. Only a little less strong than yours. I almost had him convinced, seduced, but he overcame it.” Chuck shook his head.

“That was your incubus side?”

“What? You think an entire base full of highly trained and extremely disciplined soldiers just let us walk in?”

“No.”

“I gave you the look too,” he told her. His posture was straight again as he turned to smile at her. “You reacted to my expression, but not the incubus.” He shook his head ruefully and smiled again.

“That was intense,” Summer said on a shaky breath.

“Imagine that look, but I can manipulate your emotional response too. Hell,” he said and his hand tightened on the steering wheel, “it still happens when I’m not consciously suppressing it. Thank God for grocery delivery services. I can barely go out in public if I’m not on my game.”

Chuck and Summer both inhaled deeply then. They noticed the other and gave twin nervous laughs.
Summer shook her head, “I’m glad I’m only a werewolf and have control over my shifting. Well, all but three days a month.”

“Don’t worry, Summer, I’ll never hold your time of the month against you.”

Summer’s jaw dropped and she stared at him. Chuck finally burst out laughing.

“It’s a joke, Summer!”

Summer prepared to blast him with her reply but his phone rang then and Chuck fumbled for it as it rattled in his cupholder. Chuck frowned, gave Summer a “shh” gesture, and thumbed the phone on with speakerphone engaged.

“Walker, I’m surprised you still have my number. In fact,” he drawled, “last time we spoke, I didn’t own a cellphone. You stalking me?”

“I’m sorry, Chuck. I reacted badly,” Colonel Morrison’s voice echoed from the phone.

“It’s ok. I didn’t think that would go all that well anyway.”

“You alone?”

Chuck’s eyes darted to Summer. “Yes, why?”

“Why did you come today?”

“I was being honest. I need a favor. I need some of your Rangers. I’ll take trainees if you don’t have full Rangers to give up.”

“Why me?”

“I’m in town for something. I need to accomplish something locally and you were close,” Chuck said.

Summer caught the furrow of his brow as he worked out why Colonel Morrison was so concerned. Summer gave him a slight smile because she already knew why Colonel Morrison worried about a sexual demon reentering his life.

“Are you doing it for the woman?”

Chuck gave her a glance, catching her slight smile. “Yes.”

“Then it’s not to get closer to me?”

“No. No, Walker, it’s not that,” Chuck said quickly.

There was a sigh that came across the phone and Summer nodded to Chuck.

“I have a family. My husband and I have children. I can’t have you messing that up.”

Summer smiled at Chuck as his mouth made an “O” of surprise.

“No, it’s not you, Walker,” Chuck said as an easy smile came across his face. “I can tell you, in all honesty, it’s for her.”

“Good. Good. I think I always hoped you’d end up going that way. In that case, I’ll help. The students need more comprehensive training anyway. Meet back here tomorrow and we’ll plan the op.”

“Thanks, Walker.”

The line clicked dead.

“You knew?” Chuck asked her.

“Of course,” Summer said with a light laugh.

“How?” Chuck sounded mystified.

Summer gave him a quizzical look. “Chuck? He was wearing a wedding ring. And those were the pretty muscles of a bodybuilder, not a Ranger,” she told him. “Clearly, there’s someone at home that he loves deeply and wants to keep impressing. Of course, he would feel threatened when his supernaturally alluring ex-lover showed up. I’m just glad he still holds enough affection for you to call you once you were out of eyesight and not as much of a threat.”

Chuck captured one of her hands in his and brought it to his mouth. The light kiss he placed on it sent a shiver through her.

“I like having you around, Summer. You catch what I’m willfully ignoring.”

“You’re a menace,” she told him lightly but didn’t pull her hand back.


Enjoy what you just read? Please share on social media or email utilizing the buttons below, fans like you sharing what they love are what keeps this train rolling!

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Race Report: Charlotte RaceFest

Welcome back to endurance racing! 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, and the fact that I finally finished an ultramarathon. It was a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person. But I finished the race and immediately did what all endurance runners do, swear I will never run long races again, which is a filthy dirty lie.

This weekend I ran my first road race since COVID started. My last was the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in New Orleans, LA, where I pushed myself to a new PR. This being my first time off the trails since February 2020, I set my expectations and goals low, knowing that between the hills and recent long (read: slow) training, I wasn’t in PR shape.

Today you’re getting my full race report for Charlotte RaceFest – Half Marathon (13.1 mi) Race

Check in:

If you’ve read my race reports for BUTS Bearly Heavy half, Bear Bait 25k, and the Mississippi 50, you know that races have changed with the times over the last eighteen months. Social distancing, masks, and overly anxious race directors were the new normal. I can tell you that race directors are still concerned with making the race go on time, but this was the first race that felt “normal” in a long time. Packet pick up was a relatively brief affair at a local brewery. Some folks had masks but many others, like myself, were fully vaccinated and didn’t wear masks. As with many small local races, the packet was minimal: a bib number, fliers for sports related local establishments, and a chip clip. Honestly, the chip clip was the best thing because I used it to hold the plastic bag full of my sticky race clothes closed while traveling home. There was also a nice race shirt in a pretty pale mint color and nice U-neck. I might actually wear that one.

Starting line:

Not exactly a huge field

Held in the parking lot of the local brewery, the race start was small but enthusiastic. They did a good job balancing pacing groups and despite it being a fairly narrow course, I felt like the pack un-bunched within a half mile.

The course:

This course offered both a half marathon and a 10k option. The first portion of the course was a 10k out-and-back and at the 5 mile point split to allow the 10k runners to turn back up hill to the finish line. The back end of the course was a mix of paved greenway and gavel roads. Unsurprisingly, I did better on the gravel than I did on the paved greenway.

One ~10k out-and-back plus extra to complete the 13.1 miles

Despite some pain in my feet and ankles from pounding the pavement, this was a really really pretty course. I grew up not too far from here and looking across the greenway, into the heavy woods and creeks felt like home. I felt a keen sense of nostalgia running this course and I think I half expected to see my cross country coach at the bottom of the hill yelling at me to work “short, choppy steps, Kay!”

Weather: Sheer perfection! At the 7 am race start, it was a balmy 73F and humid but 10% what I expected for a North Carolina summer morning. The shade provided by the greenway kept things cool and I didn’t have to regret forgetting my sunscreen.

Trail conditions: Not applicable here. There was a little gravel through stretches’ but the greenway path was well maintained.

You are *not* almost there

Terrain: Flat with one massive caveat! The preponderance of the course was flat with minimal rise which made for a great run. The one caveat was the first and last mile which featured a 3/4 mile steep climb. And by steep I mean: “no one ran, everyone walked, and my heart rate was pegged *walking* up the hill” kind of grade.

That first and last mile were a killer

Aid stations:

Boy am I used to the Wild West of aid stations. Here might be the one major failure I had on this race, I didn’t look at where the aid stations would be and what they would have. I rolled in with my usual assumption that they would be well stocked with a variety of food and beverages.

I will give them credit, the aid stations were well spaced and well manned. That said, there was only water and Gatorade available at all but one station and a sugary gel at one station around 6 miles. It was an unfamiliar brand and I can definitely say I’m not a fan.

Had I taken the time to study the course and what was offered, I would have carried a water bottle full of my usual Gatorade mix and some Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) but alas, I did not.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Not really. My feet and ankles ached around mile 7 but by 10 I was only a 5k away and just girt my teeth. I was barely getting enough calories in from the Gatorade and felt on the verge of hitting the wall during the final hill climb. But as far as the deep pain of the ultramarathon Pain Cave? No, I wasn’t even close.

Crew:

No crew for this race and it was short enough that I didn’t need a pacer.

The finish line:

This was the first course to feel like a real party at the end. Music was cranking, runners had a coupon for a free beer, and there were sport massages available. It really felt like road racing pre-COVID.

The bling

Final time:

2:25:32 for 3.1 mi. My goal was to finish in a window 2:15-2:25 and I just missed it. But, this was also my first time back in the game and hillier than I anticipated so I’m pleased.

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.


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 – carried but not required to run. Must wear items for air travel to and from the race but Charlotte did not enforce mask wear for the vaccinated per current CDC guidelines.

Tank top: my trust Pearl Izumi tank that’s so old, I can’t find it for sale any longer. It’s a great top layer for hot/humid runs and it gave me minimal chaffing.

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 mostly chaffing free, but for the humidity, it was inevitable.

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 Provision – I have both the Provision and the Torin but chose the Provision today since it gives a little more stability, something I probably needed with the foot pain I’ve experienced lately.

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:

Snacks, self carried: None because I am dumb.

Sacks, from aid stations: Gatorade and water. One terrible energy gel that I promptly forgot the brand.

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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My Father Died Today

This is the companion piece to “What Drives You? Pain.” Following a long, rocky, and glacially 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 on June 19th, the property was under contract. At noon on Tuesday, 30 June, I signed the last document to sell the property with tears in my eyes. Two witnesses, my spouse, and a notary public watched me fight back tears as I severed the tie to a man who had been a ghost for decades.

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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