Confessions from the Trail: ‘Tis the Season (For Illness)

Season’s greetings from my couch. Yup, like many this time of year, I’m sick. Unfortunately for me, I’m also supposed to race in two weeks and seriously, body? THIS IS NOT THE TIME! But it was also somewhat inevitable…

Since it’s apropos and I definitely have time since I’m not running today, this post is all about getting sick during a training cycle. I’ll be giving you some insight into why it seems to happen so often so close to race day, help you decide if you should keep training or not, and help settle your fears (and mine) about whether you can race.

What happens when you go from this to this?

Why am I sick? I lead a healthy life!

Let’s knock the first question out of the way: at this point, my doctors don’t think I have COVID-19, my breathing is fine, and I likely have a bacterial infection (yay, strep throat…). But like many of you who experience this so close to race day, I’m thinking, “why, oh why does it happen now??”

There’s a fairly simple answer: I’m depleted. I’ve been running hard and long for months now. Last week Sapper and I did our “Runningest Writer Showdown” for the Fisher House Foundation. I ran the hell out of myself through bad weather, hot on Thanksgiving and then cold and rainy on Sunday. No, the old wives’ tales that cold, wet weather makes you sick is just that, an old wives’ tale. But, when you’re already run down from hard training, as you would be toward the end of a training cycle, it’s harder to fight off those opportunistic bugs. I am utterly unsurprised even though I’m annoyed.

To train or not to train?

This is where you have to use sound judgment. The typical run of thumb is if your symptoms are from the neck up (runny nose, sore throat), you can keep training and if it’s below the neck/full body (cough, full-body aches, fever, fatigue, nausea) don’t train.

**COVID-19 caveat!** If you suspect COVID-19 at all, I had better not see you on a trail. Stay home, call your doctor, wear your damn mask. Most COVID-19 symptoms fall under the “below the neck” category, so you probably won’t choose to train through it, but don’t be an ass.

I had a sore throat with nausea and fatigue, so I’ve chosen not to run this week. It sucks, I hate being inactive, but the fatigue pretty much flattened me. I spent most of the last three days lying in bed listening to Force No One on Audible, working on a commercial writing piece associated with my day job, doing homework, playing videogames (hello World of Warcraft expansion!), and feeling sorry for myself.

Part of my fatigue comes from not eating. Low-grade nausea meant everything I could choke down felt like it might come back up, so I didn’t eat much the last few days. Even laying around all day, the body burns calories and, as you saw in “Race Weight,” when when calories in are less than calories out, you lose weight, even if you aren’t exercising. I wish I could say this was the healthy weight loss I wanted, but it’s not. That’s right, friends, starvation is a bad weight loss tactic! The best I can do now is gently add more food into my daily intake, get some strength back, and keep rolling.

Plaid flannel and a good book cures all woes

What happens next? Oh no, can I still race??

Short answer, yes, you probably can with some important notes. It will depend on how long it takes your symptoms to resolve and how close to your race you are. I have roughly two weeks until the BUTS Bearly Ultra (13.5) and I’m at the tail end of being sick. I have a week to get my feet back under me, return to a healthy and full diet, and get one last long-ish run in before my taper. If I were a week closer, I would have accepted this is my taper week, carried an easy to moderate training load, and only taken a couple of days to taper. (I will cover tapering next week for those unfamiliar with the term.)

When deciding if you should race, here are the criteria I use:

– Am I still feeling symptoms?

Can you train with some symptoms? Yes. Should you race with symptoms? Bruh. No. A normal training load is probably ok to continue training, but the extra stress of racing will overload you. You will extend how long you are ill and risk a Did Not Finish (DNF). Ask me how I know… That’s right, I took a decongestant the days before and the day of Mississippi 50k 2017 and tried to power through. Guess who not only didn’t finish the 50k course (made it 20k and stopped) but ended up on the side of I-20 calling their spouse and asking if they should go to the ER or wait? Yeah, this chick. Don’t be dumb like me.

– Have I returned to a full diet for at least two days?

Training depletes your glycogen stores. It’s why people “carb load” in the days before the race; they’re trying to get fuel back into the muscles. If you haven’t been eating well and don’t get the critical chance to refuel your body, you can’t make it up by eating while you run.

– What is my resting heart rate?

I can tell if I’m overtraining, dehydrated, or ill based on an elevated heart rate. If you have a fitness device that monitors heart rate, you can track it over time and gauge when your heart rate is higher or lower than usual. If I see mine rise by more than 20% (average resting HR: 42, 20% = ~8) to 50bpm or more, I assume I’m sick, dehydrated, or overtrained. In any of these cases, it would be unwise to run.

– Do I feel mentally prepared?

Let’s face it, being sick is mentally taxing as well as physically taxing. I get loopy when my fever spikes. I get stressed by being sick. I get even more stressed when I’m hoping to get better close to a race. You need focus before a race and if your head isn’t in it, today may not be the day to race. I know that BUTS 13.5 has a ridge crossing like you read about: thirty feet of slippery, muddy trail with sheer sloping sides on both sides of the trail. There are firefighters on both sides, but they will only help you *after* you fall. That is not the trail conditions you want to find yourself up against when your head is floating off your shoulders from cold medicines, fever, or worry.

What’s the bottom line?

The course will always be there. There will be other races. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to train so hard for something only to have to bow out at the last minute. But your health is worth more than a finisher’s medal. Be safe, be smart, be healthy!

Happy trails!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

The Hunt for Beta Readers

Edited papers

As many of you saw from my posts across social media, I am on the hunt for one or two more beta readers for my novels. I’ve gotten a lot of positive responses so far, but a host so questions too. This, of course, means I want to blog about it! Today’s post will cover what a beta reader is, things authors look for in a beta reader, and what I want from my betas.

What is a beta reader?

The basic answer is that a beta reader is someone who will read drafts of a piece before it’s released to a broader audience. This person or people are generally unpaid and it’s their job to help the author find grammatical mistakes, plot holes, or suggest improvements. A beta helps the author add a layer of polish before showing a work off. They are usually the step between finishing a first draft and a manuscript being sent to the editor or publisher.

What do authors look for in their betas?

A beta holds a special position of trust to authors, which drives the characteristics an author looks for in their beta readers. First, of course, a beta reader should have a strong command of the English language (or the work’s primary language). They should be able to catch spelling and grammatical errors as well as things that spellcheck can’t catch, like their/there/they’re. Second, the beta should know something about the author’s style and mindset. This helps them discern what an author might have in the head but have been unable to quite get onto paper. Finally, a beta has to be trustworthy. They are being entrusted with works before release. Authors pour their hearts and souls into writing and many are nervous about showing that work to another person. Additionally, a beta is trusted to read the work and not share details without permission from the author. In a world of modern social media, keeping spoilers from fans becomes a huge part of that trust.

What do I personally look for in a beta?

I like my betas to be a blend of grammar police, advisor, and sounding board. So far, all my betas have been close friends I can count on to catch my dopey mistakes and offer insight into the plot; I lean on each in different ways. My spouse is my first beta and a wonderful sounding board. But he also knows how I think too well, which means he knows what I mean and misses where I haven’t fully fleshed out a detail. My second is Beta Charlie, who I trust to find plot holes and give what I can only call “man advice.” He gives me the male reader perspective and points out where a male character’s reaction isn’t realistic/appropriate. My last beta, who has since gone inactive, was great at finding plot holes, throwing out great ideas, and finding connections in the plot that I didn’t even realize I created. That said, he tended towards Canadian English and grammar, which gave me a lot of comma drama when we were prepping Pantheon for publication!

Maybe it a new book? Maybe it’s not! Gotta join to know!

With my new betas, I need all the things I listed under “What do author’s look for in their betas?”: a strong command of English syntax and grammar, trustworthy, and an idea of where I’m going with my works. Before now, I’ve known all my betas personally, so I could rely on them knowing me well enough to know the shape of my thoughts, even when I didn’t articulate it clearly in my work. Now, I need readers familiar with my current body of work and style: Pantheon, Born Not Bitten, and Confessions From The Trail. I need someone who can kindly point out mistakes and plot holes; offer their thoughts and opinions on the plot without being offended if I don’t ultimately use them; and finally, offer perspectives outside my own. I highly value diversity of thought when it comes to my writing. I need to know when something doesn’t resound with someone and why. Or when I hit an emotional nerve. Which characters do you love/hate and why? Which characters are just background static?

Being a beta is work, for sure, but you get that early access to works, a chance to guide the plot, and of course, an advanced reader copy once it’s been published! So, if that sounds like it interests you, join the mailing list here. I intend to send details about becoming a beta within the next week.

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Confessions from the Trail: Race Weight

Hello fellow distance runners, fitness lovers, and distance runner stans! Today we’re tackling another topic that requires a disclaimer upfront, just like Confessions From The Trail: Nutrition. Ready for it?

I am not, nor have I ever been a certified nutritionist, dietitian, or even remotely trained/certified in telling people what to eat.

Got all that? Cool. Don’t sue me. Any time we talk about nutrition, keep in mind that everyone is a walking chemistry set and what works for me may not work for you. Or, your mileage may vary. Literally YMMV.

Since I’ve already covered nutrition, today, I’ll focus more specifically on weight. Before you get out the torches and pitchforks, please understand that this post will focus on getting the best weight for *your* race. As always, YMMV. Speaking from experience, there is a huge difference between maintaining a certain weight for health, for a bodybuilding competition, and for endurance racing.

When you’re maintaining weight for health, the upper and lower boundaries are fairly wide. As long as you are neither severely underweight nor overweight, your day to day weight should be relatively effortless. Going a few calories or pounds over or under doesn’t impact your daily life.

With bodybuilding, many competitors are willing to accept a temporary impact on their overall health to achieve that ripped stage look. However, it requires incredible dedication to a very strict diet and the look is unsustainable. I have had negative impacts during both seasons I competed and it’s part of why I am taking three years off between seasons. I know I will never be a professional and I value my health over winning. At the very lean body fat seen on stage (~14% for me), I have almost no energy and the idea of running a 5k, let alone a 50k, it’s beyond the pale.

Running is a different beast. Your weight should be dictated by performance, not a look; however, many people enjoy the aesthetic they achieve with their race weight. To me, my race weight should balance a light and lean physique with sufficient body fat to allow an energy reserve during long runs. Or more colloquially: a good thrust to weight ratio.

It’s not polite for a lady to say her age or weight, but I’m going to break the weight rule today. I am 5’8” and today I am sitting at 155lbs and 22% body fat. I am healthy, I look healthy, and I feel good.

That said, losing 7-10lbs of body fat will allow me to race at my best weight. “Best weight” is a very subjective term, but I’ve found this to be the ideal balance of leanness and energy.

In the 145-148lbs range, I have ~20% body fat. I am lean enough that I’m not hauling body fat I don’t need and I’m not adding extra stress to my joints as I carry that weight over many, many miles. On the other side, I’m not bodybuilding stage lean and I have enough energy to carry me through race day. I find that once I start getting below 140lbs (or ~18-19% body fat), I start seeing my energy levels decrease and negatively impact my long runs.

For those doing math at home, yes, at 5’8” I’m at 20% body fat when I hit 145lbs. I carry a lot of muscle for a runner. I’m a runner with a bodybuilding problem and yes, my teammates on my endurance racing team mock me mercilessly. I’m not giving up the weights, though, because they make me a strong, if slightly more dense, runner.

What can you take away from this? First off, I want everyone to understand that you should listen to your body. Learn from the feel or it. When do you feel tired? When do you feel energetic? When do you feel extra strain in your back, knees, and hamstrings? Those will help inform you where your running sweet spot is.

Second, there are some general rules of thumb you can start with for body fat percentage. The American Council on Exercise provides the following table for men’s and women’s body fat percentages.

What category should you aim for? The “essential” category is what you see on a bodybuilding stage. Very lean with visible muscles but no energy. I think of the “athletes” category as your professional athletes. The high end is closer to a sustainable level of body fat, but many people find it difficult to keep their daily diet strict enough to maintain it and will drift up during their offseason. The “fitness” category is what I aim for early in my training season as I lean out during training. It also is a very nice balance of the “fit” look and sustainability. The “average” body fat is very sustainable and provides a good energy reserve from which to draw; however, many people find that at this body fat, they have greater stress on their joints and they don’t feel they reflect a “fit” look.

Finally, the “obese” range. Oof. I won’t lie. I have raced and finished many endurance races in the “obese” category. It is 100% possible to race well in this body fat range. I found that I was more tired, had greater pain in my knees and feet, and just plain didn’t like my look at this level of body fat.

35%+ body fat (considered obese) vs. 20% body fat (athlete/fitness levels of fat)

Bottom line: there are many resources available on the internet that will help you find the best race weight, but it will also come down to how you feel, both physically and mentally in that weight.

Update: I not only made my race weight for the Mississippi 50k, I am still slowly shedding some winter weight and can see my abs again!

Happy trails!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

You’ve finished Pantheon so now what?

You tore through that book, reading late into the night because you HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?? And now you’re done and have to wait until … well, we’ll get to that later. 😀

In the meantime, I’m working to get a few mini-fictions out for you to nibble on before we through out the next round of meaty fiction.

I hope you enjoy this tiny peek into the daily life in Limitless Logistics. For my military friends, you’ll probably get a chuckle out of it. For my civilian friends, you’ll get a good look at military communication at it’s finest.

And if you haven’t read Pantheon yet, don’t worry, it’s spoiler free! But you can pick up a copy here.

Poor Marco, he just can’t catch a break!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Pantheon Release – One Month as a Published Novelist

Hello, I’m KR Paul, recently welcomed into the vaunted circle of “Published Novelists” for my novel Pantheon, and I’m writing to you from my private island while surrounded by my enormous piles of money.

Ok, ok, I’m back now. Sorry, I had to pull myself off the floor where I lay, wheezing with laughter.

Like many of you, I had misconceptions about how my first month as a published novelist would go. It didn’t go how I expected, so why not peel back the curtain and write about it?

I want to start off by stating that while I had misconceptions, I’m really, really pleased with how the first month went. Everyone dreams of becoming an overnight success, but I had also listed out a set of what I felt were reasonable goals based on my research. Yes, I did a lot of research over the last six months.

Back in March and April, I did a lot of research. I had signed my contract, the book was with the publisher, and I held off editing the sequel until I knew the publisher’s style. I was also quarantined, then on telework, then on a weird hybrid of telework, so I had time on my hands. I’m glad I spent that time researching because it helped me take my wild fancies of Being A Famous Author! and re-shape them into something more realistic and achievable. I used my slightly more realistic expectations to build my goals.

Let’s look at the misconceptions/fantasies I had just after signing my contract, what my achievable goal looks like, why I chose that goal, and how it’s going.

Misconception 1: My book will be a runaway hit! I’ll sell millions!

Reality: The average debut novel sells 250 copies—some as few as 5.

Goals: Beat the average and sell enough to be commercially viable.

During my research, I found several figures on how many books a first-time novelist sells. Some of it is outdated (read: pre-e-books and Kindle Unlimited) and some I question the source (blogs trying to sell marketing); however, the best average I could find notes that a new novelist is likely to sell only 250 copies of their book. That’s not a lot. That’s not enough.

So, my first goal was to beat the odds: sell 250 books. (Which I’m pleased to say I beat in a month.) The next goal was to double that by the end of the calendar year. Finally, sell 1,000 copies by the end of next year.

Why 1,000? I have to take my ego out of this equation and look at it from a purely commercial standpoint. After all, most of my rejection letters from Literary Agents noted that I was a “captivating writer but not commercially viable.” That’s a really nice way of saying, “you write well, but unless you’re willing to produce a book a year, you won’t make us enough money.” Or, more colloquially, “the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

So, in answer to “why 1,000?”: because if my math is correct, I start reaching the point where I’ve earned back my advance. My juice is worth the squeeze. And I can show my publisher that I am worth the investment of time and money they made in me.

Misconception 2: I will suddenly become very popular across social media

Reality: I’m a little bit more popular, but I hustled my rear end to gain followers

Goals: Build a loyal and active fanbase

Six months ago, I believed that publishing a novel would draw social media followers to me like moths to the passionate fires of my writing. I had that 100% backward! Well, maybe 98% as I’ve had a few people follow me just because I’m an author, but for the most part, books sale come from followers and not the other way around.

I’ve spent the last few months tailoring my “brand” to my genre, researching ways to build followers, and executing my crazy plans. I don’t have a huge marketing budget. I basically don’t have a marketing budget. But, to quote Taken: “I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.” No, I’m not killing people for followers. Still, after many years in my day job, I am very good at research, building plans/strategy, and executing those plans. I’m not great at self-promotion, but my gods, I can fake it ’til I make it!

“Taken,” 2008, 20th Century Fox. The devine Liam Neeson.

It seems to be going well so far. In July, I got a whopping 35 new followers on Twitter. In August, I was up another 67, doubling my followership rate. In September, my release month, 186 new folks joined me, and I crossed the 1,000 follower mark in October. I’m also slowly building a Facebook following and an email list. These are also taking research and plan modification to find what things people want to see and what draws followers in.

Misconception 3: I can take a breather now that the hard work is done

Reality: I have worked an average of 1-2 hours a day after work and an additional 4-6 hours on the weekend since the start of September

Goals: Position myself to take advantage of opportunities as they come

This is a really squishy goal. I wish I could articulate it better, but I’m working to balance my day job and the time/energy I owe to family life and a writing career. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I get a bit of a promotion next year while fully recognizing that it will slow the pace at which I can write. I hope that by front loading some of the work I’m doing now, I can take breaks from this later when the other parts of my life demand more time.

Misconception 4: I will be fabulously wealthy from sales

Reality: I will be very happy to earn back my advance!

Goals: As with the sale numbers, I want to sell enough to keep selling. If my book tanks, then I may not get another shot.

What I didn’t expect:

– Friends and family coming out of the woodwork to support me. Writing is a relatively solitary activity. You pour your heart and soul, fears and hopes, into a story. If you’re wise, you ask a few trusted friends to read and critique your work. Until the day I signed my contract, there were only four people who knew it had even been offered. I still keep very quiet about it at my day job.

But, of course, I told my Mom who told all my family. And I finally put something about it on my personal Facebook page. Now I’ve had people I hadn’t talked to in years reach out to congratulate me. I’ve felt very loved and supported by the people in my life this month, which means a lot to me.

– Becoming obsessed with Amazon’s metrics. For the first week, I think I check Amazon’s Author Central twice a day to see how the book was doing. I’ve calmed down a bit now, checking only every couple of days

– How much I would have to learn about marketing. As I chipped away at Misconception 2 (I’m InstaFamous!) I learned a lot about what it takes to market a book and market yourself as a brand. Let me tell you, marketing a book is a breeze compared to marketing yourself. At least, it’s easier for me. I’m extroverted by nature, but I also have a family, and, in this day and age, I’m vigilant about protecting their privacy. I’m not always perfect, but if my social media seems self-focused, it’s because on those accounts, I am The Brand, and I don’t want to use my kiddo for likes. (Yeah, I’m not even subtle about dragging Mommy bloggers who throw their kids faces out on the internet for likes.) I’ve tried to match The Brand with the theme/tone of my genre (Action!) while keeping it real. As I talked about in CFtT: Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable, I truly believe you need to experience some of these things yourself, so I only talk about what I’ve personally done or I’m training to do.

I’m also learning to work around several constraints/restraints with my day job. Like only ever calling it my “day job.” One day, many years in the future, I’ll be able to open up about how fantastically cool my job is, the amazing stuff I’ve done, and how it’s shaped me as a person and as a write, but for now… It’s like Fight Club.

– I have really cool fans! Y’all have been great. I love seeing Pantheon out in the wild! I love seeing you holding Kindles, paperbacks, and patches! I also love hearing the fan theories, fielding questions about “Why didn’t [insert scenario here]? ” and getting to meet folks in the first Meet the Author. That was more fun than I anticipated and I’m excited for when I can get out to conventions and things to meet folks in person.

And yes, as it turns out, I didn’t know that I have a couple fans here in the local area. It was odd to realize some of y’all live less than five miles from me or just a town over!

All The Books!

It’s been a wild month. I’m so thankful to my publisher, Force Poseidon for taking a chance on me. I’m grateful to my growing fanbase for the support. And I’m thankful to my friends and family for encouraging me and supporting me while I’ve chased this dream. I can’t wait to see how the rest plays out!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Confessions from the Trail: Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Breaking your characters with realism: The intersection of ultramarathons and writing fiction

It was a shitty, but awesome long run today.

Yeah, blink hard and read that again. I ran 6 miles, at a fair pace for me, in driving rain with 1-2” of standing water on the trail.

It was terrible.

And it was perfect.

Why? Because I slogged those miles out at a good pace with wet feet. And you know what I’ll have at MS50k this spring? That’s right, 25+ creek crossing and 7-9 hours of wet feet.

Six miles isn’t hard but six miles on wet, rough terrain is a mental battle.

I’ve talked about the “pain cave” and why sometimes you have to run when it sucks. For those who don’t want to read the article, the TL;DR is that the race will suck, you will be in pain, and training your body is great, but if you don’t train your mind to push through the pain, you will not finish.

Ask me how I know.

Mississippi 50 2016: I was a DNF for the 50k, only completing the 20k course

But what does running through pain, foul weather and tough terrain have to do with writing? Everything. Tough running can, and likely will, break you. MS50k broke me back in 2016. I didn’t finish the full 50k, settling for a paltry 20k (12.4 miles for my non-metric friends). I was broken physically, mentally, and emotionally. Maybe cracked, not fully broken, but it’s taken a full five years to have the courage to try again.

Now think about your favorite characters, the ones who really mattered to you. Did Frodo simply walk into Mordor? Or was he tested, broken, and forced to rise again? A good character is one who is not only told “no,” but “hell no,” then kicked in the teeth for good measure. They’re the character we root for when we watched them come to the brink and faced with the choice to accept the inevitable yet rise against all odds.

And that breaking is where ultramarathons and fiction writing intersect. I love the adage, “write what you know.” Dear readers, let me tell you, I know what it’s like to be broken. To rise again. To stare into the void, see the eyes that stare back, and tell them to fuck off. And hot damn, when I put it into my writing, it’s some powerful stuff.

One of the problems is, how do you write a character that steps to the edge of the void without going there yourself? I would offer that more writers need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This isn’t a new concept and I’ve seen it on may  TEDTalks or ultramarathon documentaries. (One of my favorite talks comes from David Goggins, who in addition to being a former Navy SEAL and Air Force TACP, is also an ultramarathoner. Yeah, he’s a bonafide badass.) You can do all the research in the world on a subject, but until you try and test yourself to the limit, how will you know what your characters feel?

Now, am I telling you to go get hit by a car, break your leg, break your heart, get shot, or attacked to know what it feels like? Hell no. Don’t be silly. But you can get adjacent to experiences. Need to know what the adrenaline rush feels like? Go do something exciting: bungee jumping, skydiving, hang gliding, or some other experience that’s equal parts fun and death-defying terror. Be uncomfortable.

Death-defying adventure is my favorite!

Maybe your character is put into a painful experience and you need to be able to describe what it’s like. Find an activity that will drain you physically and make you hurt, but not injured. I, of course, advocate for a long run. Don’t just do the run; listen to your body. How do your legs feel? How does your mind feel about it? What does it feel like to be mildly dehydrated? What are you doing differently because you’re tired and achy? Make your character feel that, only amplified. Be uncomfortable.

And for the love of all you hold holy and dear, keep a notebook! I have a “Confessions from the Trail” notebook. I write my milage, the book ideas I got while running, and how I feel in the notebook. Later, when I need to write a character who is breaking or in pain, that’s my go to.Be uncomfortable and take comfort in that discomfort. As our grandparents would say, it builds character(s).

Happy trails!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Confessions from the Trail: Gear Monsters

“You carry HOW MUCH?”

Another question I fielded as I started talking ultramarathons on this blog was, “What [piece of gear] do you use?,” “How much does your pack weigh?,” or the ever incredulous “You carry HOW MUCH?”

It’s no secret; ultramarathoners are gear monsters.

I do know some runners that are minimalists when they run. They are the stoics, the monks of the ultramarathon world. They, like I, believe that our culture has gone soft and isn’t used to enduring discomfort and a little pain to achieve a goal. However, they take this to extremes as I think there are certain items you need to have to complete a race. (The average course director has their say as well, mandating each person carries a minimum amount of water, flashlights, and batteries, or they don’t race.) On the far end of the spectrum, you get the folks who have every cool gadget, gizmo, and doo-dad you can possibly carry. More power to them, but it’s extra weight I don’t want to lug for the long haul.

What, in KR Paul’s inexpert but somewhat experienced opinion, is necessary, nice to have, and not needed? Let’s dive in!

The gear layout for Mississippi 50, 06 Mar 2020. My last race before the world locked down for COVID-19

First off, my credentials for those who are new: I’ve been an endurance racer for over ten years. I’ve run distances from 5k up to a planned 50k in March 2021. I’ve completed five Ironman 70.3s. And with my current spin up for the Mississippi 50 (50k/31mi) and Bataan Memorial Death March (26.1 mi), I’m logging 15-20+ miles a week, mostly on the trails. I’m also a woman, so my gear recommendations will be from that perspective. Male bodied friends, take my thoughts with a grain of salt, and I’ll try to be specific if something is a direct recommendation for those of us with hips, butts, and boobs.

The Necessary: If I forgot anything on this list, I can’t race.

Clothes: You could run naked, but you’d probably be thrown off the course. Hell, on hot days, I’m wearing as little as possible, but some clothing is still going to be necessary. If nothing else, what are you going to pin your race number to? I look for synthetic clothes, usually listed as “performance wear” or “wicking” because chaffing is horrible! I recommend layers on cooler days as a 50F starting temp can easily reach 80F by mid-day. Conversely, when the sun goes down, you’ll be back to 50F and need that long sleeved shirt again. Well cushioned socks are a must and NO HOLES. On hole over five miles is fine. One hole over 15 miles puts a hole in your foot that you will have to repair mid-race.

Ladies: You’ll need a high quality bra. Like shoes, this is one area I just don’t scrimp. For my A/B/C ladies, you can be less picky, as long as they hold the girls in place. For those of you who, like me, are double delightful and beyond, this is probably the single most important investment you can make. I prefer the SheFit brand because I can tighten both the chest band and shoulder straps. (Not a SheFit affiliate; they just make good stuff.)

Shoes: Rule number 1: get a shoe fitting from a reputable running store. They will identify how your foot strikes the ground and make a recommendation based on that. Be a good customer and buy the pair they recommend. You can buy the next pair on Zappos or Amazon or whatever, but get the fitting first and buy the shoe.

GPS: Some people might debate that GPS is only a “nice to have,” but I get way back in the woods and need something that doesn’t require my phone and will always get me back to where I started. For example, MS50 has almost no cell service at the course start and it’s patchy at best during the race. I need a GPS to tell me milage for my nutrition plan.

Headlamp (with spare batteries): If you are going to be running after the hours of daylight, the course director will probably require not only a flashlight but spare batteries as well. I have two knuckle lights I use for early morning runs on the road, but for a trail run, I need my hands. I highly recommend getting a headlamp. The beam will always point where you want it and it’s more steady when worn on your head than your wildly swinging hands. It also makes for an easier time grabbing snacks! 😊

Three different packs but all fairly similar: pack carry hydration bladder, chest strap/closure, and pockets for snacks

Hydration pack: You must carry water. Non-negotiable. Unless you’re in a timed, looped course where you are back at the start every hour or so, you must carry your own water. I know some folks who use handheld bottles, but as with the light source, I want my hands free, so I like a vest style hydration pack this this one from Ultimate Direction. (It’s an older model, they have newer ones out now.) Plus… pockets for your snacks!

My current running hydration rig plus some snacks

Food/water: As discussed in my nutrition post you will need to carry food and water with you. Know what you like, but know that it’s necessary

Nice to Have: If I forgot anything on this list, I could race, but it’s probably going to be a tough day.

Spare clothes/shoes: Many longer courses allow you to have a “drop bag” or, like MS50, will loop back by the starting point so you can access your car. After two or more hours slogging in wet clothes, it’s really, really nice to change into clean, dry socks and shoes. Can I make the second (or third) lap without them? Sure, but I’ll be miserable.

Hat/visor: Many of the courses I’ve run are trails through wooded areas and a hat/visor is unnecessary for keeping the sun out of your eyes. However, you’ll occasionally have the one stretch through an uncovered gravel road where you’ll be missing that cool shade on your face. One caveat: in cold weather racing, a hat is necessary.

Sunglasses: same as the hat/visor. I don’t need it, but it’s really nice when I hit those sunny patches of the course. Or a mess of spider webs. But let’s be honest, I’m a middle- to back-of-the-pack runner; someone’s always catching spiderwebs for me on race day!

Headphones: These are the borderline between “nice to have” and “unnecessary.” I don’t hear headphones on trails. But if I’m doing any training on the road, which is typical as I ramp up into race day, I need my tunes.

Gloves: I buy the cheap $1 knitted pairs from Walmart or the Dollar Tree. Use them for the start of a cold race and throw them away at the first aid station.

Bodyglide/Vaseline: This will become necessary by the end of the race, but enough aid stations have them that I don’t usually carry my own. That said, if you have many, many miles between aid stations on your course, carry a small baggy of your own.

Sunscreen/bug spray: Is my body incapable of running without either of these? No. Am I going to look like a lump, bug bitten lobster the next day without them? Yes. YMMV, make smart choices here.

Small med kit (in your drop bag): Your feet will get chewed up. Your shins and shoulders will get branch whipped. Your body will take a pounding and you will undoubtedly need tape, gauze, band-aids, and Vitamin M (ibuprofen) at some point. Good aid stations will have what you need, but I keep a small kit in my drop bag and carry a small plastic baggie of band-aids in my vest.

Tampons: Friends who menstruate, training and racing at this level will mess with your cycle. I  carry two tampons in a baggie because you never know what will happen. Friends who don’t menstruate, you don’t have to carry them, but maybe be a pal and have one available for a friend. Or, use them to plug the hole you just punched in your thigh when you ran into a jagged log. (Yeah, I’ve seen some shit.)

Look, some of us are clumsy, ok?

Gaiters: I ran my first six or seven years without gaiters. I don’t plan on wearing them for MS50, but it’s a go/no-go item for Bataan. Gaiters will help keep sand, sticks, rocks, etc. out of your shoes. On wet/muddy courses, I don’t want them, but on sandy courses like Bataan or running here locally, I need them.

Unnecessary: I don’t carry it, rarely carry it, or it’s just plain goofy.

Trekking poles: Ok, ok, I know. Some people really love them. Especially if you’re going to be running where it’s mountainous or rocky, they’re helpful. But for me, I like having my hands free and I haven’t found utility for them based on my local terrain and race terrain. YMMV

Expensive running apps: Sure, you can drop a ton on an app that will track every mile, climb, water intake, food intake, and ounce of sweat exuded. Or you can just run and see what works, then log your miles on a spreadsheet. Or in a notebook. Or don’t log. Seriously, most of this is running by feel. I do have Strava and Garmin Connect, but mostly because I’m hyper-competitive (see: my two week long running duel with Angry Staff Officer), but I don’t find much utility in having a ton of data. Plus, they kill your phone battery and most courses are too remote to get good cell service mid-race.

This was the basic framework for this year’s training cycle. I’ve made updates since then but the basics are still there

A coach: Oooh, I’m gonna get feedback on this one! Does a coach help? Yes. Can they help you improve your time? Yes. Are they a good resource for when you first start out? Yes. Ok, that said, coaches are DAMN expensive so unless you are using your coach as a really good accountability partner, there are enough resources on the Internet that you can teach yourself what you need to know. The rest is holding yourself accountable and following the plan you create. When it all comes down to it, your coach isn’t running these miles, you are. If you didn’t put in the work, it’s not your coach’s fault. On the flip side, if you PR a course, you’re still the one who put in the miles, not your coach.

Now that some of you are ready to grab your torches and pitchforks, I’ll remind you, these are all recommendations based on my experience, not hard and fast rules. YMMV

How much does it all weigh?

Ok, for those of you who’ve set down the torches and pitchforks and are still with me, I bet you want to know how much all this gear weights. The answer is, not as much as you think. My shoes, clothes, hat, sunglasses, and GPS don’t generally weigh more than five pounds altogether. My vest, food, and water range from five to ten pounds depending on how much water I add.

Update: You can find the gear list for my last three races at the bottom of each race report

BUTS Bearly Ultra: A cold weather, very hilly course in the foothills around Birmingham, AL

Bear Bait 25K: A cooler race with flat but technical (read: rooted) trails in Pace/Milton, FL

Mississippi 50k: A full ultramarathon that spanned cool to warm weather and a non-technical, mostly flat course with multiple creek crossings.

Happy trails!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

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Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Confessions from the Trail: Welcome to the Pain Cave

What It’s Like to Run for Hours

Running an ultramarathon is no easy feat. An ultramarathon demands not just physical effort, but the intense mental struggle of putting one foot in front of the other, long after your body wants to quit. Pulling from the list of questions about ultramarathons again, here is a great one: “What’s it like to run for so long?” The answer is different for every person, but for me (and many others), an ultramarathon is a period of highs and lows as well as trips into what we call “the pain cave.” And at the end, you have something you have truly earned.

The name “pain cave” is not unique to ultramarathons. Some of you are probably smirking and snickering as I’m sure the pain cave could be a physical location if you’re into that kinda thing. (I won’t judge, you do you, boo!) For triathletes and some CrossFit fanatics, a “pain cave” is your garage which has been converted into your own personal gym. Bike, treadmills, and weights aplenty; it’s everything you need except that the unchanging small space gets monotonous when you have long workouts.

For ultramarathons, as well as other endurance sports, the pain cave is a mentality and state of being. It hits at different times and the best you can do is accept it and keep moving.

Here’s a quick look at what I think (and feel) throughout an ultramarathon:

Mile 1: It’s a liar. Your legs, feet, and back feel fine. Your pace is easy, effortless even. If you could run like this all day, you’d cross the finish line with a smile on your face. It’s all a big, fat lie.

Mile 2-5, first hour: Settled into my pace, my mind is fully functional and I’m focused on the run. Tempo, pace, the strain of elevation; I feel it all.

Miles 6-10, the second hour(ish): My mind starts to wander; I usually have an alarm set on my watch or phone to remind me to eat. This is *my* golden hour because I’m most mentally capable but not longer purely focused on the run. My best plot building happens here. Most of Pantheon and its sequel were written in this beautiful hour.

Miles 10-15, the third hour: Pain is starting to creep in and my focus comes back to my body. How fast am I running? How do my feet/knees/lower back feel? Have I been eating and drinking enough? This hour will probably set the tone for the rest of the race. If my head isn’t right to go into “the pain cave” and dig deep while in pain, I’m not going to make it. It’s also the time where my stomach has to be right as well. If I can’t take in food and beverages here or worse, they’re coming back up, I’m definitely not going to make it.

The Pain Cave – Photo by Tsvetoslav Hristov on

Miles 15-25, hours four and five: Fuck this, screw this, I hate everything! Oh god I love running! I’m flying! My feet have the wings of Hermes himself and I am flying through this – GD it, I hate everything! Between the pain, fatigue, and an ever slipping grip on reality, my mind alternates between hating everything and trucking along happier than a puppy with a ball. There’s no in-between.

Miles 26-30, hour six: You are now definitely running an ultramarathon. For me, all I can do its mentally chant I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it. That chant is on repeat for about an hour as I shamble my way through the final aid stations and ignore that every part of my body is in pain.

Mile 31, an infinite and immeasurable amount of time: The last mile is tough to explain. You’ve come so, so far, but thirty miles done doesn’t make that last mile any easier. Honestly, I try to divorce myself from all reality. I place one foot in front of the other. The best I can do is keep an eye out for the finish line so I can dry my tears and wipe the snot off my face before someone gets a picture of me staggering across the line.

70.1 miles and 8 hours plus 3 minutes after I started, I finished Ironman 70.3 Orlando (2010).
Honestly, I thought I was smiling when this photo was taken.

As you can now see, crossing the finish line for an ultramarathon is about more than physical endurance and nutrition. There is a mental endurance factor as well. You have to be strong enough to go into that pain cave and come out on the other side. Your body will keep moving much longer than your mind wants to allow. You spend so much time and mental effort convincing your mind that your body can go on, that you only hurt, and that you aren’t dying. I suspect this is why ultramarathoners get better with time. Some of it comes from putting in the years required to build that kind of stamina and endurance, but it also comes from living life.

Be honest, life beats you down, but every time you find the strength to stand back up and keep moving on, you build a little more mental resilience. The first three times I trained for a 50k, I thought I was mentally strong. After all, I had been trained “in the hardest of schools.” But it wasn’t enough to keep me moving forward. (Concurrently training for an Ironman has its effects, but I think I could have handled the pain cave better). Now, I’ve had some shit go down. I have seen the bottom of the hole and climbed back out. I’ve worked through my issues and have better coping techniques for mental resilience. I’m ready to go into the pain cave, battle my demons, and come out victorious.

I think many of us want to be tested. We recognize that our culture is soft, seeking softness and comfort in all things. The idea of willingly submitting your body and mind to this the antithesis of American culture.

But it shows you who you are.

Being able to subject your body to the battle with the course, to go into the pain cave, battle your demons, and come out victorious is something you can’t buy. You can’t cheat it. There is no short cut.

When you cross the finish line of an ultramarathon or other endurance race, you know you have earned every mile.

Happy trails!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Big Week!

Do you remember finals week from your last week of school? Or maybe a particularly tough week of military training right before graduation? The “stressed but excited” and “I just have to make it through a few more days!” feeling? That was this week. It was a big week.

On Sunday, my friend and fellow writer/blogger/awesome human, the one and only Angry Staff Officer, was kind enough to let me pontificate on two of my favorite subjects: Star Wars and strategy. Or rather, the inaccurate depictions of strategic writing in Star Wars. Yes, I’m a nerd. Yes, I’m 100% ok with this!

Some fluke in the algorithms cause Google News to pick it up and thousands of people read it! Given that I’m pleased as punch to have 50 people read a “Confessions From The Trail” post or 20 people reading “Born, Not Bitten,” I was floored.

Yup, no big deal, just an article I wrote picked up by a major news stream.

Not long after that article started going off the charts, I learned that some of my lucky readers got their paper versions 3, 4, and 5 days ahead of the official release! Very cool and it was a real treat to start seeing that book cover out in the wild, especially later in the week when the Kindle version was available as well.

Pantheon in the wild

On Tuesday, I had a birthday. I figured it would be ho-hum, nothing major but my family and coworkers really made the day feel special. I even got a custom Pantheon mask from my Mom. If that doesn’t scream 2020, I don’t know what does!

And of course, on Wednesday at midnight, Pantheon released.

I woke up to some positive feedback on Twitter from some of my kind readers. When I took a quick lunch break, three of my closest friends got almost identical texts:

The excessive exclamation points feel justified

Yup, in just over 10 hours on the market, Pantheon was the #85 Superhero book for sale on Amazon. At one point, as you saw in “Welcome to the Unreal,” it was the top 0.5% of book sales on Amazon.

By some stroke of luck, my box of books shows up a few hours before the release party. My spouse was kind enough to capture the moment. I thought I would be happy but mostly stoic. I did not think I would cry. I cried.

We cruised through the virtual release party and the lucky few who joined us got a chance to hear what it was like writing the story, my character creation process, the joys of running through the night, and more. It went more smoothly than I would have thought, so in the future, I might do virtual book signings and author meet ‘n’ greet events. Then, maybe once COVID is over, I can get out and meet you all in person!

Honestly, the rest of the week has been a blur. I turned off my social media apps while at work to keep focused there, but it as a struggle! Now I’m bringing my heart and mind back down from the stratosphere to sea level and the real world:

I’m doing Sober October with a friend. I ran a virtual 10k on the road last Saturday and I’ll run even further on the trail this Saturday. I signed up for the Mississippi 50 again, as the full 50k course. I’m determined to finish the distance this year! That means keeping on my training calendar and watching my nutrition.

Ultra runners are ultra crazy

But I’m still writing! I have an unrelated project due at the end of the year. I’m working through Act II of “Born, Not Bitten.” And of course, I’m doing my final edits of the next book in the Pantheon series, which will be titled…

…just kidding! You’ll have to follow me a little longer before I release that!

So, I will wrap this all up with a huge “thank you!” Thank you to my friends and family who have supported me. Thank you to my new friends, followers, and readers for taking a chance on this book. Thank you to everyone who has dropped a review at the purchasing source or on Goodreads. I feel so honored and lucky to have you all on this journey with me.

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

Confessions from the Trail: Pre-Race Traditions

One of the questions I fielded as I started talking ultramarathons on this blog was, “What pre-race traditions do you have?” And I love this question because each person’s pre-race traditions are unique and hold a special meaning or purpose.

As for me? I’m mostly trying to stay sane!

The Traditions:

Obsessively packing/re-packing my gear/bag: Chalk this one up to getting my start in triathlons. They require a lot of gear: hat (with race number), goggles, tri suit, race day tattoo, cycling shoes, cycling glasses, helmet, bike, pump, towel, running shoes, sock, bra, sunscreen, three types of food, two types of drink, and a GPS was a bare minimum. If I was missing one of those items, chances are I was going to be a DNS (did not start). Unlike road racing, ultras require a boatload of gear, with a minimum requirement established by the course director, so you don’t die. I’ll cover gear later but assume top, bra, socks, two to three pairs of shoes, hat/visor, food, drinks, sunscreen, GPS, and a pack are the bare minimum. If it’s long enough, assume you’ll add more shoes/socks and a flashlight with extra batteries to the mix. With that much gear and a high risk of a DNS/DNF for not having it, I tend to double and triple check my gear the night before. I have probably packed, unpacked, and re-packed it at home as well. I’m a little obsessed.

Packing for Ironman Chattanooga, Ragnar 200 TN, and the BUTS Bearly Ultra

Trying to sleep (and failing): While I’ve never written it down, I probably don’t average more than four or five hours of sleep the night before a race. Unfamiliar bed, nerves, weird noises, and the constant fear I’ll oversleep what is always a very early alarm means I wake up often and usually abandon my bed by four or five.

Calling my loved ones: I’ve traveled solo to most of my races. Let’s face it, getting up early to sit around in the wilderness waiting for a single glimpse of your loved one isn’t exactly a thrilling vacation. Now that I have a kiddo, my husband and I are rarely able to race the same event. So, I tend to travel to races solo and always call my family the night before to say good night and let them wish me well.

Cataloging the number of toenails, cuts, and bruises I have: One is likely to decrease and the other two are likely to increase. It’s good to know what’s new.

Mentally gauging the other runners: We all do it. We’re all also really bad at it, especially in ultras. That middle-aged lady who looks like she’s comfortably settled into an extra fifteen pounds? Yeah, she’ll be kicking your ass by mile 20. The super lean yoked dude doing CrossFit stretches? Yeah, he’ll burn out by mile twelve and you’ll probably pass him retching in the woods at mile twenty. The slim string bean with a beard so wooly you think all his chest hair migrated to his face? Yeah, he’ll be done, have collected his medal and be headed home as you’re hitting the last aid station.

Triple checking my GPS battery: My poor aged Garmin 310XT has died on the USAF Marathon and the Mississippi 50, so I’m wary of the old girl. **Update (09/30/2020): I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 945 for my birthday and it’s awesome! It’s been going days without a charge and I’m looking forward to using it at MS50 and BUTS Bearly Ultra.

By now, you’re probably asking if I have any fun or cool traditions and I’m sorry to disappoint you, I really don’t. I’m neither superstitious nor religious so there are no funny dances, fervent prayers, tokens of luck, or pre-race foods I have to have. My traditions are all good (mostly) habits born of a long time doing endurance racing. There’s definitely not a stuffed green Cthulhu that I must sleep cuddled up to any time I travel for a race.

Don’t worry, he’s been missing that eye for a while now.

Definitely not.

Happy trails!

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!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find my first novel here and it’s sequel here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and TikTok. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!