Race Report: Recycle Run

Instead of an endurance run, today I’m giving you the race report for a 5k. Yes, just 5k. No, I’m not sick. My Mom came out for Thanksgiving and requested to do a 5k with me, so we did!

I’ve written extensively about other endurance racing events over the last 18 months and you can find those links below. Since finishing the Mississippi 50k, I’ve also run the Charlotte RaceFest and completed my first paddleboard race.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving 2021 as I write this and the weekend is about family. While I love, love, love my crazy endurance runs, this race was (more or less) about spending time with family. I also love the premise of this run: instead of charging a ton for another medal and shirt, they use all the left overs from the year!

Today you’re getting my full race report for the Run With It Recycle Run

Check in:

Like all the Run With It races this season, packet pick up was easy-peasy! Packet pick up was on a small table by the local park and was *not* complete until you stopped by a second table to pick up your t-shirt. Not a t-shirt for this race, but a leftover from one of the races this year. Or, in my case, a very nice Pearl Izumi singlet from the Northwest Florida Running Club. I love my PI tank (was wearing one t race in, believe it or not) and was delighted to get a new one.

Starting line:

After the three runs from the Wicked Triple, this is beginning to feel familiar. Same location, same corral, and same feel. I really enjoy the small town race feel, it feels more like an ultramarathon start: intimate and for runners who are genuinely happy to be there. Maybe because it was Thanksgiving morning, and everyone had things to do and places to be, the race start was exceptionally short. Call for line up, count down, and go! Not even a goofed up National Anthem or safety briefing.

The course:

This course covered many of the same roads as the 10k and half marathon courses from the Wicked Triple but far less vehicular traffic, probably due to it being Thanksgiving morning. Flat and fast, it’s a great course for a PR.

Weather:

Brisk and perfect! A cool 55F to start with very low humidity for Florida. It was in the mid-60s by the end of the race and really just as comfortable as you could desire.

Aid stations:

A single water only stop at mile 1 / mile 2. Really, this cool and short, we didn’t need aid stations.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Nope! My foot issues are healed and despite running 5k on the trails the night before, I was perfectly fine. That said, I think my Mom dipped a couple of toes in the pain cave. She twinged her hamstring in mile 1 and had to walk the remainder of the course

Crew:

Mom and I started together but soon split by mutual choice. My spouse brought my kiddo out and both cheered on runners as they crossed the finish line.

We’re that family that runs 5ks on Thanksgiving morning. I’m not even mad.

The finish line:

A quick jaunt through the chute and they took your name tag. A cup of water and a cookie finished it off. Of note, there were no race specific medals, just an assortment of recycled trophies from other events. (Hence the name.)

Very pleased with my effort

Final time:

5k (Saturday night): 26:08, 32 second faster than the Wicked Triple

Overall thoughts:

It was nice to just race 5k. It was lovely to run with my family.

That said, I’ve got another multi-race weekend planned for early February. I loved the Wicked Triple so much that I’m ready to try it again.

Gotta love that wobble for the gobble!

Want to read more about past races? You can find them here: Bear Bait 25k, BUTS Bearly Heavy half, a quik post on pain of training in times of COVID, 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.


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:

Tank top: My old yet still beloved Pearl Izumi top. So old, I can’t find it for sale online any more but its a quality top that has lasted nearly a decade.

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good,” as per sualy. 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 did not put two strips of sports tape under the tab and paid the price after the half marathon.

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 mile 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 Torin but with my brand new orthotic insoles. These insoles have been so helpful. No heel pain, minimal bone spur pain, but I did get a wicked blood blister in my right big toe..

Hat: I wore my brand new rubber ducky hat that my Mom gave me for my birthday and she wore her matching flamingo hat.

Nutrition:

None, duh. It was a 5k on Thanksgiving. We all know where my nutrition came from today!

wild turkey
Photo by ASHISH SHARMA 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.


Happy trails (and roads again)!


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Cave Diving: An Adventure Not Worth the Cost

Once upon a time in Mexico…

Truthfully, it really was a little over twenty years ago in Mexico that I did my first big cave diving exploration. A team of five of us explored caves that had been on the Earth for tens of thousands of years but were rarely visited by humans. Two dives a day, trekking through the jungle, down rickety staircases, with gear that weighed nearly as much as we did. At night, we drank margaritas on the rocks, ate the best food I’d eaten in my life, and hashed out the plan for the next day’s dives.

If you are a dive bum, you were living the life. If you were a normal, sane human being, you had the nagging suspicion that death stalked your every movement.

The trip was twofold: first, exploration of new and well-known caves. Second, a photoshoot for what, at the time, was one of the few dedicated dive equipment manufacturers for cave and technical diving. They footed most of the bill for our excursion and we posed for the necessary photos between gawking at the most beautiful rock formations known to mankind. We were able to get our photos as well as explore new caves, but with twenty years of hindsight, I now recognize how batshit insane the entire trip was.

Why is cave diving different?

First, if you have any experience as an open water diver, think of your favorite dive. It’s probably the bright, clear, and warm tropical waters of the Caribbean or Bahamas. Cave diving is done in dark, truly lightless caves. Many have silty floors that will obscure all sight with the flick of one errant fin. And finally, because they are caves, untouched by the warmth of the sun and fed by frigid unground aquafers. Cave diving is not for everyone. There are no beautiful fish or coral heads. This is a sport for people who enjoy pushing themselves to the limit, against the odds, and with the risk of death.

Clearly, you can see how I was drawn into it. (That and having a parent who was a fully certified instructor willing to lend/loan me all the very, very expensive gear I needed.)

Cave diving differs from open water in three main ways: environment, training, and gear. The most obvious is the environment described above. Open water divers are not certified to enter any overhead environments. This can be a wreck, cavern, or cave. The line between cave and cavern is drawn where sunlight ends. If you can no longer see sunlight, you’ve entered the cave. The cave and its overhead present unique challenges. In an emergency, where an open water diver can choose a direct ascent, even risking decompression sickness and a trip to the decompression chamber in an extreme emergency, this is not an option for a cave diver. In the event of a medical emergency or catastrophic gear failure, the only way out is the way in, the long trek back the way you came. That way back out can be fraught with narrow passageways and silty floors. When I say that this sport risks death, I mean that very literally. I know five folks who have died while cave diving, including one of the men from our Mexican expedition.

These challenges bring us to the second difference: training. The unique environment requires divers to learn specialized skills like how to find the guide line in near-zero visibility, crucial to a safe exit. They also must learn new kicking skills and practice precise buoyance control to keep from disturbing a silty floor, thus creating low visibility conditions. They also must learn different gas management techniques. In open water, when you hit your decompression limits, you start an ascent. In cave diving, one carefully manages their gas to turn “on thirds” or when you’ve used one third of your gas. This ensures you have twice the necessary gas to get back out in case of an emergency such as you or your dive buddy suffering a gear failure that requires you to share air.

Finally, the third difference between open water and cave diving: gear. Cave divers carry everything an open water diver carries, minus the snorkel, which could create a safety hazard by becoming entangled in lines or rocky outcroppings. Their wetsuits are thicker for the colder water, fins are stiffer for fighting currents, and they will usually carry two tanks. In addition to the standard open water gear, they will also carry three lights and a spare reel of line. Cave divers also tend to carry multiple tanks to ensure a longer dive time and have backups in case of a catastrophic gear failure. Finally, they rig up their gear to keep from having “the dangles,” free-floating gear that can get snagged or entangled.

Who actually does this crazy stuff?

Well, I did. Members of my family have as well as friends. Most cave diving instructors will not begin training you until you’ve met a threshold of open water dives, anywhere from twenty to fifty dives. You also need specialized gear, as noted above. The required prerequisite training, dives, and gear are expensive to obtain, which means cave diving is also for rich people. How did I, a broke college kid with only four open water dives, no income, and no gear of my own manage to enter the murky world of cave diving?

My father. Yup, that guy. He, in his supposed infinite wisdom, decided that an 18-year old with only four open water dives and no other experience was ready to start cave diving. And, because he owned enough gear to outfit a small army and was a fully certified instructor, he had the means to do it. Money? No. But he had the equipment and training required. And I, who had been more or less abandoned since age 12, was only too happy to try and build some kind of relationship and too naïve to realize how monumentally stupid it was to do what we did.

In just one short week, I was a qualified cavern diver. One week after that, I was a fully certified cave and Nitrox diver. To put my youth in context, my certification photo is of me holding my father’s cat because I was more enamored with the cat than the diving.

The dives were more than a little bit terrifying. The conditions were scary. It took a lot of physical effort to kick into a cave against the flow of the current. It took a lot of mental stamina to stay in a cold, dark, environment, where one wrong turn could lead you to death by suffocation and drowning. My father opined on this constantly. He went on long winded diatribes about how mentally and physically superior cave divers were to “the average fat tourist in the Bahamas.” Secretly, I would have taken the warm Bahamian waters over frigid caves, but since Dad wasn’t going to the Bahamas, I stayed in the caves.

For a time, cave diving granted me access to my father in a way I never had before. I thought maybe if I could build enough time underwater, get an instructor certification of my own, he’d be proud of me. He certainly harped on me to finish enough dives to get the certification. But I had other dreams. I had dreams of silver wings pinned to a blue services dress uniform. I can’t say “eventually I had to choose” because the choice was made before I ever certified. I chased the dream I’d had from childhood. I got a commission in the United States Air Force and went to navigator school. I earned those silver wings.

And I never dove in a cave again.

Ok, that’s not true. Some time in 2015, a decade after I’d last been in a cave and on one of the few occasions my father was still in communication with me, he invited me along for another photoshoot. Being a model for cave diving equipment doesn’t require beauty, which is in plentiful supply. Modeling cave dive equipment requires a diver who can hold still, hold their breath (no one wants bubbles in the photo), and move just right so their hair fans out in a wave behind them. I’m no stunner, but I fit all the other requirements, so I was brought along for the shoot. Unfortunately for him, I was training for my first attempt at the Mississippi 50k and had fallen on my face, scraping the hell out of my chin just before showing up. I was politely excused from top side photos but pulled in for all the underwater shots. This was the last time I would see my father in person and the last time I would ever cave dive.

What Was It Worth It?

I did have fun. The Mexican expedition was cool to a 19-year-old kid. I met and hung out with divers twice my age who respected my skill as a diver without simply dismissing me as “the kid,” a type of respect I hadn’t had before. I’ve got interesting stories, some of which are the seeds that would grow into scenes in my books. It afforded me an opportunity to chase a man whose respect and love I craved, even if I never really got it. While my father was a pompous windbag and most of his tirades were racist and bigoted, I did absorb his respect for fitness and mental toughness. A true irony because when pushed, I rise and he withered.

But was it worth it? The friends I’ve lost to caves would say no. The terror I felt the few times I thought I would die in a cave says no. The prohibitive cost that makes it a very narrow, very niche, and not welcoming sport says no.

It was fun for a moment, but it wasn’t worth it. Except for the stories…


Excerpt from Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena by KR Paul (2021, Force Poseidon Publishing)

Relieved that Wilson hadn’t seemed to catch his underlying interest, Ares steered her back to the thread of conversation Powell had started. “Mexico seems pretty remote for a dive.”

“Yeah, you aren’t kidding! You fly into Cancun, then you have drive to Tulum in whatever rickety rental you can get. Don’t even get me started on the ‘roads.’ Oh, and keep a few hundred pesos around because if the Federales see you driving they’ll find a reason to pull you over for a shakedown.”

“And the dives?”

She gave an indelicate snort. “Cake walk. Compared to north central Florida, it’s benign. The caves are shallow, so you don’t worry about a ton of decompression, and they go on forever. And there are always dive groups to join for company.”

Ares glanced at Powell who nodded again. “What’s the deepest you’ve been back in those caves?”

“Oh, we got a good way back on scooters one year. I mean, you can only really reach that spot on a scooter or by rappelling in. But if you fast-roped in, you’d have a hell of a time hauling out yourself and maybe sixty pounds of gear.”

“Can you show me?” Ares asked.

“Show you?” She looked confused for a moment. “Oh—yes, of course. Athena told me about the image transfer thing. Yeah, it’s beautiful.” She rose again and held out a hand. With a wicked grin, she grasped Ares’ hand.

Ares caught the image of the cave, with dark stalactites clinging to the ceiling, the room illuminated by a single beam of sunlight from a shaft many feet overhead. He caught an image of her wrist computer showing she was only thirty-some feet underwater, but there was the slightest hint of anxiety. This was the farthest in she’d ever been, and she was nervous that if her scooter died on the way back, she wouldn’t have enough air to make it out without being towed by another diver in the party. Even then, survival wasn’t assured.


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Race Report: Wicked Triple

Welcome back to the crazy world of endurance racing! I’ve written extensively about other endurance racing events over the last 18 months and you can find those links below. Since finishing the Mississippi 50k, I’ve also run the Charlotte RaceFest and completed my first paddleboard race.

This weekend I ran my first multi-event series. I’ve done triathlons (swim/bike/run) and duathlons (run/swim), meaning back-to-back events, but those are a single race comprised on multiple events. This was the first time I ran multiple distinct races as part of a series.

Today you’re getting my full race report for Wicked Triple – 10k, 5k, and Half Marathon race weekend

Check in:

This packet pick up was easy-peasy! I swung by the local running shop, Run With It, and had my three bibs, two shirts, and very little extra info in under ten minutes. I was glad that they had the packets for all three races in one location, it saved having to get to the starting line early for three separate races. That said, the race was relatively small and I could have managed.

Three bibs, zero medals.

Starting line:

10k: The 10k start was a small corral behind the run shop and typical for a small local race. I really enjoy the small town race feel, it feels more like an ultramarathon start: intimate and for runners who are genuinely happy to be there. The race director played the national anthem from YouTube on his phone, gave a minimal safety brief (“it’s an open course, there’s cops, but don’t get hit by a car”), and we were off with no further fanfare.

5k: The 5k parking was at a restaurant but the starting line was across a 4-lane road and heading in to a residential neighborhood. Aside from playing Frogger to get to the start, it was packed, but low key. Another simple “don’t get hit by a car” safety brief and we were off.

Half marathon: This was the same small corral behind the run shop as the 10k with a smaller crowd than the 5k. (Go figure!) The race director got the national anthem right on the first try then it was a quick “Runners! Ready! Set. GO!” and we were off.

The courses:

Welcome to the Wild West of endurance racing! This weekend offered 10k, 5k, and half marathons as individual races or you could be crazy and do all three. Clearly, I’m crazy.

10k (Saturday morning): flat, fast, and quiet. The course started at a park in downtown Fort Walton Beach, FL. We ran under a bridge and into quiet neighborhoods. The

5k (Saturday night): flat, fast, and packed! This was by fa the most popular distance. There was a crowd at the start but our team quickly broke with the pack and found ourselves on quiet residential roads. This was also familiar turf for me as I had run there extensively before my most recent move.

Half marathon (Sunday morning): this covered many of the same roads as the 10k course and was also flat and fast. A little more vehicular traffic as we crossed certain areas but most drivers were respectful of the runners.

Weather:

10k (Saturday morning): Warm, but not hot. The only thing that kept it from perfection was the oppressively humidity. The entire Team Crows group was soaked in sweat by mile 2.

5k (Saturday night): a cold front started moving in around noon and blew out most of the humidity if not all of the heat. As the sun set, it got cooler and we were relatively comfortable on shaded lanes.

Half marathon (Sunday morning): perfect! A cool 55F to start with very low humidity for Florida. It was in the mid-60s by the end of the race and really just as comfortable as you could desire.

Aid stations:

10k (Saturday morning): Water at every mile except 3 (the turn around) but nothing else. It wasn’t a detractor since I rarely need nutrition before an hour expires. I felt it a little as I came around the final turn, but I still finished in a good time.

5k (Saturday night): I’m vaguely aware that was water on this course but I ran so fast I wasn’t really looking.

Half marathon (Sunday morning): Having seen the previous day’s water only stations, most of the team decided to load up with our own water packs, electrolytes, and snacks. As always, I had Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and my Gatorade mix. (Full gear/food list below) It was a good call because I realized after only two miles I was still depleted from the day before and had to start snacking much earlier than I usually would eat. (Mile 2 vs. mile 4-5.) Additionally, the Gatorade mix helped a lot more than the plain water at the aid stations.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

10k (Saturday morning): I looked inside the cave, gave a little shrug, and continued on. I probably ate too much pre-race and it sit on my belly harder than I wanted, but other than some mild stomach cramping, it was all fine.

5k (Saturday night): nope! One moment of hitting my lactic acid threshold sprinting it out to the end but that was it.

Half marathon (Sunday morning): Despite starting the race at effectively 9 miles into a run, I didn’t start having pain until mile 12. I spent most of the run chatting with another Team Crow runner which made the miles fly by. At mile 12 I started having shooting pain the back of my thigh and in my left foot (bone spur) but I sucked it up and ran on. The pain was maybe a 6 or 7 out of 10, but brief enough that it didn’t drag my fully into The Cave.

Crew:

I had my Team Crow through all three races running along side me and my spouse brought my kiddo out to help man an aid station on the 10k course. Kiddo was very happy to hand out water and cheer on runners!

The finish line:

10k (Saturday morning): The finish line was the same simple corral that started the race.

5k (Saturday night): Another simple, narrow chute that was probably too small for the numbers of runners crossing.

Half marathon (Sunday morning): The same finish line as the 10k.

Of note, none of the finishers medals arrived on time so we turned in the slips on the bottom of our bibs. I guess I’ll get my medal later? I’m honestly a little sad not to receive them since I’m rebuilding my collection after the movers lost the box with my medals in it!

It was a really, really small chute!

Final time:

10k (Saturday morning): 1:01:08

5k (Saturday night): 26:40

Half marathon (Sunday morning): 2:33:11

Total time: 4:00:59

Overall thoughts:

What a weekend! This was a new and difference challenge but I really enjoyed it. I felt like I ran much stronger than I anticipated, I enjoyed running with my team so much, and I’m so excited to be back running with others!

Ultramarathon training and endurance racing in general is a lonely conquest. It’s rare to find folks who are as crazy and dedicated as you are. So I was extra glad that three of Team Crow were able to run all three races as well as see such great crowds.


Want to read more about past races? You can find them here: Bear Bait 25k, BUTS Bearly Heavy half, a quik post on pain of training in times of COVID, 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.


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:

Tank top: three of my trusty Skirt Sports tanks. It’s a great top layer for hot/humid runs and it gave me minimal chaffing.

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good,” as per sualy. 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 did not put two strips of sports tape under the tab and paid the price after the half marathon.

Bottoms:

10k: Skirt Sports skirt with built in shorties. Unfortunately, the shorties were too short and I chaffed the inside of my left thigh pretty badly. I guess the right side was pulled low enough.

5k: The Hylete Iris Short with Liner. These cute little shorts are my go to for lifting workouts but they have started being my go to for sprint workouts as well.

Half Marathon: Nike Fast Shorts – What a game changer for me! I have thick, thicc thighs from trail running and squats. They rub together, as seen above in teh 10k. 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 Torin but with my brand new orthotic insoles. No heel pain, minimal bone spur pain, but I did get a wicked blood blister in my right big toe..

Hat: No hat on Saturday but I wore my brand new rubber ducky hat that my Mom gave me for my birthday.

Nutrition:

Snacks, self carried: None on the 5k or 10k. For the half marathon, I carried both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle.

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.

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 (and roads again)!


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Pantheon Release – One Year as a Published Novelist

Pantheon Thriller

I feel like this post needs the clip from Avengers: End Game where filmmakers punched the audience in the face with the time jump.

One

YEAR

Later

I’ll skip any additional melodramatic effect and save it for my novels. Yes, novels. Plural. Because one year later, I have two published novels! And, SUPRISE, a chapter in a whole other book too!


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. The most recent update at six months, I was able to share the good news that Pantheon‘s sequel, Pantheon 2: Ares and Athena, would release on September 9, 2021.

But surprise, quietly in the background, I was working to write a chapter for To Boldly Go, a strategy and leadership anthology framed in the context of science fiction which published on September 30, 2021. For those of you counting along at home, that means I will have published two books and a chapter in an anthology in just one year. Not too shabby for someone who considered the publishing of their first book a fluke.

Unboxing Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena

But how is it going? Really?

Boy howdy, it’s been a ride.

If you receive my newsletter, you’ve seen that I’ve had some personal hardships that have balanced out the soaring highs of successful authorship. But, hey, that’s life!

As with my last three updates, alas, I’m not fabulously wealthy and still have to work for a living. (Update: As of Oct 2021, I’ve sold out my advance and am now receiving royalties for Pantheon!) But also as with my last three posts, I have learned, money isn’t the only measure of success in publishing. I’ve continued to grow the number of Pantheon reviews on Amazon and GoodReads over the last year while still hovering near the 5-star level, which I consider a strong win! P2: Ares & Athena has been out for less than a month and is starting off strong with 5 5-star reviews. (One quick plug, if you’ve read the books, please review it on GoodReads and Amazon so more people can be introduced to Pantheon.)

GoodReads ratings of 4.67 and 4.7 stars and Amazon ratings of 4.9 stars! Not too shabby.

Sales are for Pantheon slowed for a while, but the anticipated “small bump” in sales as Pantheon 2: Area & Athena released was a respectable bump. 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.

The last six months before publication day was what military folks know as “hurry up and wait.” Finish writing then wait for my brain to dump it. Re-read and start editing. Wait a week then edit again. Send a final copy to the publisher and wait for them to read it. Set a publication date and finalize a title, then wait to announce it. Announce cover art and title! Then wait to do that final, final edits. Send to beta readers, then wait for corrections. Make corrections and wait to see e-pub. Freak out and become very excited to see the finished product, but wait for publication day.

It feels a lot while a pre-deployment line.

Oh, did I mention I have a full-time job while doing all of this? A new one, with even more responsibility and time commitments! To say it’s been a challenge would be a massive understatement and there certainly were sleepless night.

But I’m fueled by my passion for writing and my drive to achieve. And pain. Personal pain or the pain cave, I’m driven by that too. So, I guess we could say that after a year of be honest about what I’m willing to endure for a goal, I’m being upfront about what drives me.

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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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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