I’ve been on hiatus for a while now, but I’m slowly getting back into things again. I have these concept art images from Jerry Shaffer to share today.
After months of training, I got to take my shot at the full 26.2 miles of the Louisiana Marathon and I finished it.
My first marathon, it was one of the hardest physical things I had ever done before in my life. Those last six miles were brutal, breaking down into longer and longer periods of walking and shorter and shorter periods of running. My legs-my entire body-ached, but not so bad I couldn’t move. Hell, I even ran up that god-forsaken overpass in the last couple of miles. I just felt like I ran out of gas, literally like a combustion engine trying to run on fuel fumes.
I think a few things contributed to this. First, I tried running a slightly faster pace than what I trained for, which is always a mistake, but I kept it up for 18 miles or so. I finished my training schedule more than a month early (You can read about that here.). While I did my best to maintain my conditioning, the weather, the holiday food and booze, and family concerns worked against me. And the race day temperature started in the mid-60s and got into the low 70s with some humidity, so it was significantly warmer than it had been for any of my long runs.
I also knew some friends and coworkers that ran into their own problems. One fell down early in the marathon and scraped up her hands and knees pretty badly. Another pulled a muscle around mile 19, but had been running at a pace fast enough that he had time to limp the rest of the way home before the sweep bus came along.
So, my finish time wasn’t great, 5:20, but it was still a finish time. And I have the medal to prove it. After running that thing, just the accomplishment of doing it is enough for me (for now).
Covered in body salt (and probably stinking terribly), I made it to the victory party with plenty of time to spare. There was a variety of food from several different vendors. Most of it was just free and didn’t require using one of the six stamps on my event bracelet. The Abita Brewing Company was out there with its trucks serving up its most popular beers. I had a Purple Haze, but there was also the Amber and The Boot – Louisiana Exclusive. It’s all pretty good beer, but after chugging a gallon mixture of water and powerade for the last 5 hours, my stomach wasn’t quite ready for beer or food.
Still, I had what I could stand out of principle, at least until I got back to my car and stopped at Jack in the Box on my way home. Eating an Ultimate Cheeseburger meal has become my post-marathon and half-marathon tradition it seems.
I wish I had my own pictures of the course itself, but I didn’t want to fumble with my phone while I was concentrating on staying with the pace team. The first half is great, aside from some rough roads. It goes from downtown Baton Rouge to Tiger Stadium on LSU’s campus by way of the streets around the LSU/Baton Rouge Lakes. This is obviously a matter of (completely biased, damn those last 10 miles!!!) opinion, but the second half of the route was just kind of plain. You were running through neighborhoods. I had more than my fill of that during my training. It was psychologically disheartening in a way. Still, there were tons of spectators and police officers and volunteers along the either leg to cheer you on.
People dressed in Batman and Super Troopers costumes shouted for us to keep going. Others offered us snacks and drinks and funny signs reading things like, “I don’t run marathons. I watch them on Netflix.” And the pace guy I ran most of the race with, as well as most of the runners, waved to and thanked each of the officers we passed. It was a good show of solidarity after such a rough year for the state.
With the marathon over and the training (thankfully) behind me, I’m turning my focus back to writing now. But really, writing a new book is just another kind of marathon. That’s depressing to think about right now, so I’m just going to stop.
If you’re curious, you can view the 2017 Louisiana Marathon results here.
I’ve been training for the Louisiana Marathon (@thelamarathon) these last few months. It (and other personal issues) admittedly sapped a lot of my free time and mental energy. So, I’ve been neglecting writing and blogging for about as long as I’ve been training, which is unfortunate because I wanted to blog about my training along the way. I can at least recap why I decided to run the marathon, how I trained for it, what the training was like, etc.
First, I ran the Louisiana Half-Marathon in January 2016 as part of Ainsley’s Angels and a group of coworkers that organize to push another coworker through the half marathon route. The company I work for was very supportive of the effort and made it into a big media event for us. I’ve avoided blogging about it or speaking too much about it on social media, because I try to keep my writing endeavors as separate as possible from my professional endeavors. I even wrote an article for the company newsletter about the experience that received a Hermes Gold Award, but thought it was best not to post a copy of the story on my personal site.
I can say it turned out to be a great experience. There were only a handful of veteran runners on our team and some of them were only with us until the half-marathon route split from the full marathon route. I have been running for years, but I considered a long run to be 5 miles. I believe I once ran a little more than 7 miles in my 20s, but that was it. When the fall before the race came around and I agreed to join the team, I had a lot of training to do. My coworkers gave me bits of advice, but I mainly just tackled it on my own, running in my neighborhood. Seven miles was easy to reach. 9 miles became a wall for me for a while. Sometime in October, I managed to run the full 13.1 miles and some more (closer to 14 miles). And I maintained this until the race in January, doing 6 mile runs mainly and the 13.1 miles runs a couple more times.
When the race came around, I was more than physically prepared for the run. But what made me hate even agreeing to the entire thing was having to go down to downtown Baton Rouge before the sun was up and wait in some of the worst cold January wind I had ever experienced in my life. I was miserable for hours until the race started, the winds died, the sun came up, and our team established a pace. The run turned into beautiful tour of the LSU campus and the nearby lakes, as well as parts of the Garden District.
What stuck with me, and motivated me to attempt the full marathon, was my memory of reaching the point in our route where the more veteran runners of our team went one way and we went the other. With roughly 10 miles into the run, I completely believed and felt that I could have gone with the veteran runners and done the full. Not only that, I wanted to go just to see if I could do it. So, I promised myself that if I was able to, I would sign up for the full marathon the next year. And I did.
The full marathon at 26.2 miles, however, is much more than just twice the distance of the half. It takes work, time, preparation, and experience to get to 26.2. When I reached that point where the routes split and thought I could have run the full, I would have failed, probably dying out around mile 16.
Knowing I would try for the full, I continued running on a regular basis as I normally did, but ran more longer routes of 5 and 6 miles more often. And when it came time to train, I sought advice from the Internet. I discovered Hal Higdon’s (@) site and settled on his Novice 1 training. The training would begin with a weekend long run of 6 miles and peak with a weekend long run of 20 miles a few weeks before the race. Fearing inclement weather and potential illness, I started just before the LA Floods.
The training was a catastrophe, initially, at least. The heat index was regularly above 110 degrees F. And the three short, back-to-back runs during the work week were wearing me down. In fact, my entire body was wearing down. Where I was able to run 13.1 miles without issue, I struggled to run just 7 miles. My legs ached, my back ached, my body felt like a lead weight, and it didn’t matter how much water I drank; I would just overheat.
Thinking this was all due to just the extreme heat (which it partially was), I tried running on a tread mill in an air conditioned gym. And still, no dice.
My body was just worn out. It didn’t matter how much I slept or what I ate and drink or didn’t eat or drink. The training was damaging me a little more with each new run. I started to think there was something wrong with me, something I couldn’t just explain away with being older. I went to the Internet again and discovered the obvious.
I would often take the OTC drug to treat aches and pains from working out, believing I was helping my body by reducing inflammation and ensuring a more restful sleep. In reality, I was handicapping my body’s ability to properly heal itself from exertion and recover. More than that, every time I had taken a couple pills a few hours after a run, I basically undid any benefit the run might have gained me with muscle and bone growth. It also seemed to screw with my body’s ability to properly hydrate itself. During my treadmill run, I actually became water-intoxicated and stepped off dizzy.
Ibuprofen is a great remedy for treating injury and the occasional injury of illness-produced body ache, but it’s not for the soreness that comes with training. Once I quit taking it, the training became a whole lot easier. Granted, I was apprehensive at first that I actually discovered what was holding me back, but the longer runs and shorter weekday runs got easier and easier. My legs became stronger and stronger. Any soreness I had after a run decreased in duration with each week, despite the miles I was running increasing. It was kind of startling and I’m curious what effect not taking the drug will have on any other training I plan to do after the full marathon.
So, discovering this about my favorite pain-reliever was a huge boost, but I ran into other problems.
Chaffing became a very serious concern. I finished the 15 mile training run bloody. I wasn’t completely unaware of the problem and had long since adopted the practice of protecting my nipples with band-aids. It sounds silly until you finish a run with bloody nipples and have to take a shower. That is pain, friend. Chaffing, too, becomes so much more exacerbated on longer runs with sweat-soaked clothing (dry-fit stuff doesn’t stay too dry when the humidity is well over 80%). I experimented with various runner lubricants for my more sensitive areas and found that the Gold Bond Friction Defense stick worked for me, as well as running in shorts with a lighter material.
With chaffing settled, I next had to contend with my running shoes wearing out. A couple of my long runs turned into complete slogs simply because my shoes were EOL. Various factors play into how long your running shows will last, but the ASICS running shoes I prefer are good for a little more than 200 miles before they die. This was an easy problem to fix, so long as I keep a mental odometer for my shoes.
I was able to run the longest run of the training, 20 miles, just before Thanksgiving. While it was a successful run I ran into another problem. I got to mile 18 and felt great. I even considered trying for the full 26.2 to see if I could do it. But between 18 and 20 miles, I ran out of gas. Finding that regular Gatorade is so sugary it makes me too thirsty during a run, I had been using the reduced-sugar G2 version, diluted with half as much water. And this worked great for balanced hydration. The weather had gotten cooler, so I wasn’t sweating as much, and I could sip this solution as I ran. It worked for me, except it only contained like 7g of carbohydrate. That’s not enough fuel for a 200 lbs. man to maintain a 5-hour run.
So, another problem and another fix. I needed more carbs. I switched back to the regular Gatorade (which makes me thirsty) and diluting it. How well this will work during the actual marathon, I can’t say. I’ll likely be sipping Powerade and water at the relief stations. But I managed a 17 miles run without that same kind of fatigue. Unfortunately, the run was stopped shorter than I would have liked by my running shoes being worn out and making my knees, ankles, feet, and hips hurt.
All these problems I’ve discussed have been physically in the nature, but the second biggest problem I faced during the training was the psychological aspect. Doing anything for 2, 3, 4, or 5 hours straight without a break taxes the mind. You can only loop the same neighborhood so many times before it starts to drive you crazy. Even falling into that meditative state many of us runners are familiar with carrying us through runs becomes fatiguing.
To counter this, I started running across major streets into other neighborhoods and, well, other parts of the city. New sights and curious holiday decorations helped, but only somewhat. I started running with my MP3 player, having to purchase a new one after sweat and salt killed the last one I had. On many of my longer runs, I’d listen to the LSU pre-game show on 98.1 and then about half the game itself. When football ended, I switched to the new Metallica album, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. As much as I enjoyed the 3-disc special edition version of it, there was something just defeating about being on a run and having the album finish and restart from the beginning.
I can’t stress enough how much mental effort it takes to do these kinds of runs, unless you’re able to run them at a significantly faster pace. When I say the only thing I wanted to do after a long run was to watch TV or YouTube (not even play a game), I’m not kidding. Fortunately, the excitement surrounding the actual marathon, as well as running with friends and coworkers instead of on my own, should be a great help with the tedium.
The race is scheduled for January 15 and the weather should be good. I don’t like going into it never having run the full race distance before. So, I’m putting my faith in the training I endured and “race magic,” as the veteran runners call it. I’ll eat my same pre-run meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast and see how it goes. My predicted completion time sits between 5 and 5.5 hours, but I would like to finish under 5 if I’m able. I guess we’ll see at the 2017 Louisiana Marathon (@lamarathon).
On a side note: I’m resolving myself to contributing more often to my site, as well as getting to work on Divergent Chill III.
Bargain Book Reviews posted their review of Divergent Chill: Battle of Nesma today!
It’s the harshest review I’ve gotten so far, but that kind of makes it more exciting. If you’re always being told how wonderful you are, you tend to develop blind spots and fail to see your weaknesses. Fortunately, it’s not a bad review, a solid 3.2 out of 5 from a tough reviewer.
An excerpt follows. You can read the full review here.
“To put it in perspective, Alden basically went into a jungle, trapped a juvenile tiger, put it on a leash, dyed its fur a different color, and decided to walk it around a major city like any other pet. What could go wrong?
In short? A lot.”
Thanks again, Bargain Book Reviews!
The route I took to finally writing a fantasy book was a long one with a lot of false starts and dead ends. And my influences were erratic ranging from Stephen King mini-series to R.A. Salvatore’s AD&D-based books to Dragon Ball Z to Star Trek. The Bard’s Tale: Castle of Deception by Mercedes Lackey and the late Josepha Sherman might have been one of my first major influences.
This book came out sometime in 1992. I was in 6th grade at the time, attending an Independent Baptist Christian School and Church. My English teacher was a fresh face at the small school, coming to teach there straight from college (I believe… I could research this to be sure, but there’s too many bad memories for me to bother.) Regardless of the details about the woman, she was very encouraging of my early writing. Part of a requirement for her class was to keep a journal. In this journal we could write whatever we wanted, so long as we hit the required numbers of pages/entries by the end of the grading period.
I had kind of already come to the conclusion I wanted to be a writer by 6th grade, so I dove into this journal writing project. I named my 3-subject Mead book, “It,” after Stephen King’s mini-series of the same name (which I rented on VHS as a kid and it scared the sh*t out of me), and began “writing” this epic plot about my friends and I developing superpowers and protecting the world/existence from eldritch horrors. I didn’t even know that word, eldritch, back then and hadn’t even heard of Lovecraft. But I knew King wrote scary stuff, so I modeled my bad guys off of how he did bad guys. They were unknowable powerful, unbound by reality, and utterly alien. In my stories, I had telekinesis, because I thought the girl in Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood was a total badass. She used her power to stand up to Jason Voorhees and won!
Still, I still have that little journal from that class and flip through it from time to time. There are actually some nightmarish ideas in some of those entries, even though they were beyond my ability to articulate them at the time.
Anyway, I was absorbed by own little fantasy world (too absorbed) and had just gotten into comic books. I was an avid reader, but outside of comic books, what I read usually fell somewhere on the list of whatever list of books were being recommended to children at the time. I never struggled to read those kinds of books growing up until I got to my first honors English class in high school and had to read The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Even through my college and professional experiences, I’ve never encountered a dryer, more boring text that for some mind-boggling reason is considered a classic. But 6th grade English was my first real chance to expand my reading horizons. We were assigned to write a book report on just about any book we wanted, so long as the teacher approved it.
My mother took me to the nearby bookstore, Little Professor’s, to pick out a book. Normally, we would have just gone to the library, but she regularly brought me and my friends to the little bookstore that was next door to where a K&B had gone out of business. You have to understand, this was in a time before the big bookstores existed (where I lived?). We had no Books-a-Million, Borders, or Barnes and Noble back then. And certainly no Amazon. There were locally-owned stores and little chains. That was it.
While shopping for my book for my report, I knew I wanted something different than Where the Red Fern Grows by the late Wilson Rawls and other such books. The saleswoman was suggesting books to my mother while I examined the newer, fantasy books and tried to make some sense of the names. You’d think I’d have gone straight for a Stephen King book, but I knew, either implicitly or explicitly, that the school and church wouldn’t approve of my reading a Stephen King book. This was the same institution that would later host a public burning of all sinful things, including vinyl records, books, dirty magazines, etc. So, I was looking for a book that catered to this new interest in writing fantastic things I had developed, while at the same time could fly under the radar at the school.
I spotted a book that was on one of the aisle end caps, thought the cover was interesting, didn’t really understand some of the terms on the back, but convinced my mother it would be okay for me to write my book report on this book. She had concerns, however, that my teacher (the school and church) wouldn’t let me read this one for my report because of how one of the women on the cover was dressed. The book in question was, Castle of Deception. And here’s my copy of it:
And now, you can see the scantly-clad woman that my mother was so concerned would get my book rejected by the teacher. It took some back and forth between my mother and my teacher to get approval, but in the end I got it. I still remember taking the book to school for my report and getting dirty looks when people saw the cover. The kids back then were hard-wired to revel in exposing any perceived breach of Christian character, and I was half-concerned having the book would get me into trouble. The other half wanted the confrontation.
So, now that I went through all the trouble of getting to read the book I wanted, I actually had to read it. And wow, the first 30 or so pages were awfully boring. Again, this was back in like 1993. There was no Internet. What I knew of fantasy came from cheezy movies, Nintendo games, the occasional odd cartoon (Voltron, Transformers, TMNT, etc.), and X-Men comics. Hell, I hadn’t even (knowingly) watched anime, yet. I picked this book out almost entirely because the cover looked cooler than the other covers I could see on the shelves.
There were also no readers in my life, either. The adults I knew read the newspaper, magazines, and the Bible. That was it. I had never heard of the Lord of the Rings and didn’t know anyone at the time that had read it. That was likely because most of the people I knew belonged to the same community where such a work would have been considered Satanic.
So, from the title of the book, you will notice the word, “Bard,” but I didn’t know what a bard was. The briefest exposure I had to one was Edward from the first RPG video game I ever played, the American Final Fantasy II. So, I’m reading this book, as a kid, about this apprentice musician that’s struggling to master an instrument I’ve never seen or heard before, doesn’t really know how to fight, and can’t really do any cool magic stuff. Eventually, he meets up with some elves (whatever the hell those were…) and they set out on a quest. I remember thinking I went through all of that trouble just to pick a really boring book. Fortunately, the story picked up and I was elated.
I haven’t read the book since 1993. I can’t recall any of the details or character names and places. What stuck with me, other than the boring intro, was how the action rose to a climax and completed with the kind of spectacle I had never experienced before in a written work. By today’s standard, it would be a paint by numbers kind of climax. Like, oh really, the bard finally learns how to use bard magic at the end and saves the day, I didn’t see that coming.
Well, I didn’t see it coming. How could I have with my limited experience? And it was friggin’ awesome!
The books I had been reading never did this, could never do this. Most of them were mostly grounded in reality where people are what they are and are rarely able to unlock some hidden potential/gain some powerful insight/power and lay the smack down on a BBEG. I had only seen this done in the movies, not in stuff I had been reading (not even the X-Men comics if I’m being honest). And as I write and plot books today, I remember that feeling, hold onto it, and try to build my story in a way that the action and the drama build to something and that there’s a payoff. I often tell other writers that your only agenda should be the story and not to try to make your readers feel a particular emotion. And in a sense, I’m guilty of doing just that because I want my reader to feel something as the story progresses. The stakes should build, not just because the narrator or some character says so, but because the reader gradually cares more and more about what’s happening.
Castle of Deception made me care in a way I hadn’t really cared before when reading a book. It wasn’t like the memento mori-type of pathos usually inflicted on children readers with people and animals dying tragically over and over. I was excited by the story, not rendered sullen about it.
I completed the book and my report. I got an A on it, despite how relatively complex the plot and character arcs were compared to the other books my classmates were reading. Most YA books back in the day have one character arc, if that, for the insert-self juvenile protagonist. In my book, the supporting cast had their own arcs, too.
Looking back at this dusty little book with mediocre reviews on Amazon, I can’t help but to smirk. I had no idea who Mercedes Lackey was when I read this book. And only in the last couple of years did I take it off the shelf and notice the name. To be honest, I haven’t read much, if any, or her work beyond the Secret World series I listened to on Audible and enjoyed. I also didn’t know the book was based off of a computer game (my family would not purchase our first computer for a few more years). And to my chagrin, I didn’t know that one of the worst companies in America (certainly the most directly destructive toward digital art), EA, had a hand in producing this book. I’ve sworn off purchasing EA games since the Mass Effect 3 debacle. Real sore feeling there, but I’m willing to give the devil its due for just this book.
Despite how much I loved the book, I didn’t take to writing fantasy stories about elves, dwarves, swords, and wizard. Anytime I tried, I either stepped right into the usual traps that turn good fantastical ideas into boring garbage (the kind they didn’t teach in school) or the people I asked to read it were well outside their depth and genre. So, I kept adapting and revisiting the silly stories in my journal, eventually believing I could turn them into something considered literary and not commercial. But I did keep reading fantasy with the odd Star Trek or X-Men book among the lists and lists of approved YA literature.
I ordered the second book in the series off of Amazon, Fortress of Frost and Fire, a little while ago. This time it’s Mercedes Lackey and Ru Emerson collaborating on it. I’m paying far more in shipping than for the actual cost of the book and I’m not sure I’ll even read it. I just want it as a reminder that I went forward; that it took decades, but I made it to the next part.
Reminding myself of that will be good motivation to get down to some serious work on my next book, I hope.
And just to be clear, I actually like Where the Red Fern Grows. It’s really the only other book from that time that stuck with me, so it’s also the only one I can remember by title and author.