I am one of those people who really love the allure of those X-day programs. You know the ones–30 Days of Yoga! 20-week Triathlon Training Program! National Poetry Writing Month (April), where you write a poem a day! My friend and fellow author Jennifer Nestojko is writing a sonnet a day throughout the month of October, which is pretty badass, and leaves me envious of her steadfast dedication.
So much ambition stuffed into one title. The promise of having one thing to do each day, step by step, yoga pose by yoga pose, until you end up at the end with an accumulated body of work, the ability to stretch farther than you could at the beginning, or some other concrete sense of accomplishment.
I love them … I’m terrible at them. I think I once (ONCE) in my life was able to write a poem a day for all 30 days of April, or maybe it was October, I forget. That’s one year out of 41, and it was a fun experience, but I’m unlikely to repeat it.
In Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem, he leads the writer through the 30 days of writing a 50,000-word novel (also known as NaNoWriMo.) In the book, he gives a week-by-week explanation of what it’s like to write 1,667 words a day and end up with a novel at the end of the month. The first week is, as one might expect, full of eagerness and motivation and sitting down every day to hammer out those words! Then, by the second week, that joyful sprint becomes a down-to-earth slog, and the work becomes much harder than it was in those first, happy days.
Yeah. That’s basically the story of every novel I write, and every habit-forming multi-day plan of ambition that I’ve come across. Sometimes, I succeed in making it through to the end with the requisite number of whatevers I’m trying to create. But even if I do, it’s never because I was able to hit that daily to-do list.
Instead, during the month of NaNoWriMo, or that 30 Days of Yoga, or that triathlon training plan, I’ll find myself veering off schedule, wandering down rabbit holes, relaxing at the end of the day and choosing a beer over a bike ride, the sorts of things undedicated, unmotivated people do. And sometimes–many times–I face the choice of completely giving up.
Or, the next day, opening my to-do list and starting again from the top. It often helps to start with the thing I didn’t accomplish the other day. Or a series of short, easy tasks. Or get my spouse to help me with the day’s schedule so I can’t use cleaning the dishes as an excuse to procrastinate.
As we head through PrepTober and into NaNoWriMo, I find myself once again wondering if I’ll be able to win this year. I also wonder how I’ll do on my triathlon on November 3rd, and if I should try writing a month of poetry. (NO, YOU MAY NOT WRITE A MONTH OF POETRY YOU HAVE A NOVEL TO COMPLETE.) But, I also recognize the importance of daily list tracking and, every once in a while, giving myself a break to have a beer.
I don’t think I’m going to be attempting NaNoWriMo this year … although every year I say that, and then every year I end up at least going to the website and starting a project. Some years I actually finish that project.
When I look back, I realize that most of my finished manuscripts came from projects I started or finished during the month of December. Some of them have been published. Some I may publish myself. But there’s something about the process of getting together with other writers and sprinting through the shortening days as we race against time to get those fifty thousand words.
And yes, I know that professional writers put that many words on paper every month anyway. (Or, in my case, SHOULD be putting that many words on paper every month. Heh.) But for me, NaNo is a chance to renew my commitment to the page, to get out of the house and into the company of my fellow keyboard-pounders, and enjoy the community atmosphere. And, when I win, treat myself to a new T-shirt or mug.
So yeah, I probably will commit to a project this NaNo. Feel free to send me a buddy request (username: siegerat). I’ll also be offering some tips and columns and resources over on my Patreon page. And once the month is over, I’ll be offering some discounts on my editing rates, so check back then!
Okay, back to this final proof edit of the anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight. Gotta get ‘er done! Happy Monday, and happy prepping to all my fellow Wrimos!
Up next in my series of interviews with authors from Stories We Tell After Midnight – Christy Mann. When I mentioned I was looking for flash fiction for the anthology, she sat down and write a short, punchy piece that contained my favorite phobia. (No spoilers–you’ll have to read to find out!) A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet her in person when the family traveled out to Utah. She is just as fun in person, and I hope you get a chance to read “Uncle Charlie” when the anthology drops on October 21!
Q (Infamous Scribbler): Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?
A (Christy Mann): Life has been pretty dark and ugly. I try not to focus on that, but it’s there and it tries to come out sometimes. Going to prison scares the hell out of me, but bottling up thoughts and emotions causes a lot of pain. I used to journal, but then I shifted to writing stories where I could process the thoughts and feelings without holding anything back and create the outcomes I look for, good, bad, and ugly without prison. Turns out, it makes for really good stories.
Q: What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you meet that challenge?
A: Everything but the writing, honestly. The writing comes easy, especially when there is a good story to be told. I rarely have to force the words to come. I struggle with the frustrations that come with editing, publishing, and marketing the work once it’s written. I remind myself that it is all part of the process and I can’t just pick and do the parts that I like if I want to get anywhere.
Q: What do you find most challenging/rewarding about writing in the short fiction format?
A: I get to write “The End” or “to be continued” a lot more often. I struggle keeping up with long stories where I have to keep track of who is wearing what, what they said previously, and where they are from scene to scene. I can do it, but I don’t enjoy it as much and sometimes I think the story and I suffer needlessly because of it. I can twist and turn a reader inside out easier with what isn’t said.
About the Author
Christy Mann is a psychological horror and thriller writer who lives in Utah. She has worked hard and provided editing and ghost-writing services for over four years. She especially enjoys writing flash fiction pieces to scare the soul. You can find more information about Christy Mann and her books on her website at: ChristyMannAuthor.com.
I first met our next anthology author through my local writing group back in North Carolina. The first story I read by J. Summerset stayed with me, even after I moved away. When I decided to put together an anthology of creepy, fantastical tales, I knew I wanted one of their stories in the mix. They did not disappoint! Their story, “Mirrors,” contains changelings and Fae, but also–real monsters.
Q (Infamous Scribbler): First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing? What do you write, how long have you been at it, what are some of your published works, preferred genres, etc?
A (J. Summerset): When people ask me what I write, my answer is always, “Whatever I feel like at the time.” I started writing when I was eleven, and it was a ghost of an RL Stine Fear Street book. This was before I learned the joy that was Fanfiction. My favorite genres (sounds better than preferred for me) are horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Or any combination of the three. One of my other published works was a short story called “Pins and Needles” in a horror anthology called Steamy Screams.
Q: What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”
A: I was playing with a story about a changeling for the longest time, and this gave me the perfect reason to get the lead out. I’ve never read a fairy tale or folk tale that wasn’t the perfect combination of Horror and Fantasy.
Q: Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?
A: Horror is amazing. I feel like it has way more sub-genres to play in than other genres. Also the worst horror story/movie/show can turn out to be hilarious, while the worst comedy is just the worst. That’s fascinating.
Q: What’s next in your writing journey?
A: Next in my writing journey is an anthology introducing a group of folks trained to trace and analyze supernatural phenomenon, answering questions that people can’t, while trying to solve the things that haunt their own lives.
J. Summerset is an American writer and artist. They love horror, bad sci-fi, myth-touched fantasy, and horrible entities buried beneath the earth. They write bad things very well and good things passably. J. Summerset makes their home in Fayetteville, NC, and spends their time dreaming up impossible situations and how they think they’ll survive them. Occasionally, they consume vast quantities of rum and will watch monster movies. You can reach them on Facebook and @Gen_Rev1 on Twitter.
Stories We Tell After Midnight, the Crone Girls Press inaugural anthology, is currently available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at a promotional price until October 20. Check it out!
Our next anthology author, Jane Hawley, penned the French Gothic tale that opens Stories We Tell After Midnight. She has a way with words that leave you entranced and disturbed, moved and recoiling at the same time. As an editor, I found myself less “editing” and more simply getting out of the way for her to share her prose. In her story, a beautiful, ancient Duchess leads a young man on a tour of her … orangerie …
Q (Infamous Scribbler): What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”
A (Jane Hawley): “The Orangery” is inspired by a confluence of a few different interests that I had at the time of conceiving the story. I was reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, an excellent book of extremely dark, feminist fairy tales, and a biography of Marie Antoinette at the same time. I began to dream up the character of an aristocratic lady who was jealous of Marie Antoinette, but I wanted the story to have a kind of fantastic, fairy tale feel. I sometimes teach Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues to my high school students, specifically “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” which are also about twisted, toxic love. My choice to frame the story as a monologue in which the duchess is speaking to her victim was influenced by the structure of Browning’s poems.
Q: Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?
A: I’ve always been drawn to the darker parts of life–the villains or ambiguous characters in novels and movies are often my favorite! Heroes can be so stereotypical in comparison. Writing and consuming horror is a safe way to experience the extreme emotions that are within all of us. You start to find your limits. What twisted things can you think up to do to your character? What really bothers you? Why would someone be driven to do certain things? I believe that terror and excitement can be bedfellows so writing horror is a particular challenge because you want to write something that draws a physiological response out of your readers. Their breath stops for a moment, the hair on their arms stands up, they feel a slight chill on the back of their neck…
Q: Who are some of your favorite horror authors, and why?
A: I love Mary Shelley. It’s said that she lost her virginity near her mother’s grave and kept her husband’s desiccated heart in the drawer of her writing desk after he died. Can you get any more goth than that?
JANE HAWLEYis a writer from San Luis Obispo, California. She earned her MFA in Fiction from Texas State University where she served as the Managing Editor of Front Porch Journal. Her work has most recently appeared in The Pinch, Memoir Journal, Day One, The Eastern Iowa Review, Southwestern American Literature, and Because I Was A Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages.
The Crone Girls Press inaugural anthology is a go! Currently available for pre-order from Amazon, I am hosting the authors here at my blog for a series of interviews about their work, why they enjoy the horror genre, and the “story behind the story” of their works in the anthology. Today, my guest is Tina Riddle. Check out what she has to say, and then go check out the anthology, which will be available for $0.99 until it launches October 21!
Q (Infamous Scribbler): What inspired your story in Stories We Tell After Midnight?
A (Tina Riddle): There are so many stories of children who enter wardrobes or fall down holes or some such thing. The things and places that they meet are wonderful, so it occurred to me, what if the thing you find is not so wonderful and friendly? Alice treats it with kindness and that is why the story has the ending that it has.
Q:Who are some of your favorite horror authors, and why?
A: I think almost everyone who grew up in the 70’s and the 80’s has to admit that they were massively influenced by Stephen King. Also the lushness of Anne Rice’s writing. They both place the horrific/supernatural in the ordinary which I try to do. Rice’s The Witching Hour and the Tale of the Body Thief are just perfection. These days I’m tending towards Shirley Jackson, Jessica McHugh, and Meg Hafdahl. They all have unique voices and an ability to paint with words. I hope someday I will be as fearless as they are in their fictions.
A: Hopefully publishing more fiction for Crone Girls. Also, I am polishing a few novellas and connected short stories that will see the light of day soon. Eventually I hope that one of my tales will end up on The Wicked Library podcast.
TINA RIDDLE is a fifth generation native Floridian who has been writing fiction since the fourth grade. When not stocking in hurricane supplies, she spends her time developing what she likes to think of as Sunshine Gothic. She also spends time with her husband of thirty years and an overly fluffy shelter cat, the Marquis de Carabas.
Tina Riddle’s short story, “Have You Come to Let Me Out?” debuts in Stories We Tell After Midnight, the inaugural horror anthology from Crone Girls Press. The book is currently available for pre-order at a special promotional price from Amazon, and will be released October 21.
With less than 24 hours to go before the first swimmer dashed across the sand, the race director made the announcement. The contamination in the water was at acceptable levels, and so the swim was on for my very first attempt at the Half IRONMAN distance, the Superfrog 70.3 at Imperial Beach in San Diego, CA.
While I was thrilled to not have an easy out of an activity that, frankly, was causing me sleepless nights, this also reminded me of the time in airborne school when the drop zone kept reporting that wind speeds were too high to jump, and then the first sergeant went down and magically made the wind go away. Also, I was wondering just how contaminated the water had been, because one of the first things I did when I got down there was show up for an early morning practice swim with the wild and crazy group of triathletes I was getting to know.
This journey began way back in January or February, when my old Army buddy, Liz V., got in touch to ask if I wanted to do the Long Beach Bayshore Sprint Triathlon. Previously, I’d completed exactly one sprint-distance tri, which by the way had been a nice, comfy pool swim and specifically designed for beginner triathletes. Bayshore was a bay swim in very cold water, I hadn’t bought a wetsuit, Liz swam without one in solidarity and nearly got hypothermia, and during the bike ride I caught sight of a dude all in black with a face scarf and machete, which he was rhythmically banging on a metal railing about 100 meters from the race course. It was a fun event, but I thought, perhaps that’s enough triathlon for me.
But no … Liz told me about this crazy group of fun people, and how they were going to do Superfrog, and how it was SOOOO far away, and I should sign up and train and do it with them.
And so … I sort of trained. I bought a training plan and tried to follow it. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though. Along the way, I joined the The Triathlon Club of Monterey, which actually helped a LOT. By joining them for group rides, looking for recommendations for things like wetsuits that fit my 6-foot frame, where the best bike shop and the best running shoe shop in the peninsula were, and just being around a group of experienced triathletes who could share their experiences, I started to understand more about the sport. And then, I really started to get hooked…
I posted here about DNF’ing Santa Cruz, and then chugging my way through the Santa Barbara triathlon. Both of those races hovered in the back of my mind as I changed into my bike clothes and got ready to head out on a practice ride with the group. Would I make it through the swim? Would I bonk on the bike? Would my legs carry me through the run without quitting?
The morning of the race started out as well as it could. We had picked up our packets and dropped our bikes off in transition the night before, so all that remained was to drive in, set up our stuff in transition, squeeze ourselves into wetsuits, and head down to the beach. Liz and I camped the weekend in her RV about 20 minutes away from the beach, so we splurged the $10 to park at a local high school and not have to worry about it. Phew.
At the beach, there was a parachuting demonstration by some Navy SEALS, which was cool, and then the National Anthem. Liz found like two or three other triathletes standing next to her who happened to be from Detroit. The rest of our group was forward of us–it was a self-seeded start for the 1.2-mile swim, and they were going for podium and Kona slots. I shared my “Attack, Attack, Attack!” mantra with Liz, and as the pistol sounded and we began slowly moving forward to our inexorable fate, I muttered it under my breath.
Finally, the buzzer sounded, the race volunteer dropped her hand, and I ran to the water. The waves were coming in at about one to three feet tall, and so there was a moment of trying to dive under and through them to get out past the break. I got past the break, and started swimming through swells that, even though they hadn’t yet formed waves, were still challenging. As I swam with my might towards the first buoy, I got hit by a huge sinking feeling. Not a literal one. This was the first mental/emotional obstacle of the race. My brain kept asking–are you really going to make it? You think you’re going to finish this swim? You are backstroking? Look! You’re not even heading towards the buoy! You can’t even force yourself to put your face in the water!
I tried to shut my brain off, but I basically forgot everything I know about swimming and wanted to just give up and float gently back to shore and maybe not ever do a triathlon ever again. I’m not exactly sure how I made it through the first loop, got out on the sand, ran across the timing mat, and headed back for the second loop. Oh yeah, and turned on my Garmin because I had completely forgotten about that. I was at the first buoy when my body rebelled. I had to tread water as I puked up my morning bagel. It was at this point that an official on a surfboard came by and asked, “Are you all right?” I told him: “Yep, just puking,” which I’m sure he’s heard before, but still felt strange. He said: “OK, well, you’ve got 25 minutes to make it back to shore.”
When I heard that, it was like someone had rung the 30-second timer bell to signify the end of a boxing round was coming up. Immediately, I put my face in the water and began freestyling, using bilateral breathing, sighted on the buoys–all the things I knew how to do. I made it to shore with about three minutes to spare. YAY! I made it! Oh, crap. Now I gotta bike 56 miles…
The bike … what can I say. The course consisted of four loops, and I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more mentally taxing in my life. During the very first part of the first loop, I bent down to grab my hydration bottle, filled with the NUUN I had practiced with, out of my bike holder. I took a quick swig and then, with some kind of weird momentum, as I bent back down, the bottle flew out of my hands and went rolling away. By the time this happened, I was already down the course. Ugh. They had electrolyte drinks on the course, and I got one (memories of Santa Barbara running through my head), but this wasn’t ideal. I was also worried I’d get a penalty for littering!
Right around the end of the second lap, I started getting distracted. I would slow down and then have to remind myself to get back on pace. I started thinking about how I wasn’t even halfway done. Also, I started getting discouraged by the fact that everyone–and I do mean everyone–was passing me. It was like pedal, pedal, pedal, ZOOMZOOMZOOM, pedal, pedal, ZOOM, pedal… What kept me from sinking too far into my head? Every time I saw Liz on the loop, she raised her fist and shouted, “Attack Attack Attack!” And of course, I had to do the same. Not only that, but Wendy Tokach, who was on track for her own podium finish, took time during her race to come alongside me, give me words of encouragement and inspiration, and make me feel like I was doing this with a team. (There’s a reason why the Army saw fit to make her a battalion commander!)
Right around the end of the third loop, another race official on a motorcycle came up next to me. “Doing all right?” Nod. “Got hydration? Nutrition?” Nod, nod. “Okay, well, if you don’t make it to the turnaround in 15 minutes, you’ll get pulled from the course.”
Pedalpedalpedalpedalpedalpedal….. Phew. Made it. Readers, I’m gonna tell you, that last loop was lonely … but I made it.
Then … The run. As I was heading into transition from my run, the announcer was reading the names of those triathletes who were finishing their race over the PA system. Most everyone at this point was out on the run course, and I tamped down my worry and told myself that I had made it farther than I expected, and now it was a race against myself–and the clock–but mostly myself. Since I hadn’t started my watch on time, I wasn’t sure how much time I had left to complete the run. I knew deep down that it wasn’t enough, but there was no way I was going to quit. I sprayed on an extra layer of sunscreen, stopped by the sunscreen booth to have them slather my back, and away I went.
The run was four loops, about 2/5 (I’m bad at estimating, it felt like a long ways) were located through soft sand. We went through the soft sand, down to the beach, back through soft sand, turn around, down to the beach, back through soft sand, a short distance on asphalt, a dirt trail, turn around and follow the same path back to the beginning. Four times. Right around the middle of the second loop, once again, a race official let us know that if we didn’t make it back in 15 minutes, we were off the course. Somewhere inside, I found a little extra push, and made it back on the course for the third loop.
Readers, that was to be my third and last loop. I just wasn’t fast enough. My chip time, which my spouse was following along with at home, showed me DNF at 11 miles of the 13.1 run.
I’ve spent a good amount of time since Sunday turning this race over and over in my head. What could I have done differently? What do I need to train on? What does post-triathlon recovery look like and why am I gaining weight when I just worked out for 8.5 hours and 68.2 miles? Some of the answers have to do with training consistently. Some of them have to do with adding speed workouts to training. Some of them have to do with experimenting with new forms of nutrition. All of the answers culminate in one, though: Always Forward.
Next year, the group is headed to Maine to take on the Old Orchard 70.3. My readers, I plan to be right there with them. No failure will defeat me–it is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to come back and give it everything I’ve got, again.
After a very short reading period for the Crone Girls Press anthology, I have begun sending out edits and contracts for the authors whose stories will make up our first slender volume. I’m pretty happy with the quality of stories I received. It made for an enjoyable reading experience (although given that it’s a horror anthology, I’m still somewhat emotionally scarred), and an even more enjoyable editing experience.
I’ve got a few thoughts on how I’m going to do things next year. (Did I say next year? Yep, I think I’m going to do this again. But with a more extended reading period…) I’m going to save those thoughts until I finish with at least the editing process. I’m shortly going to be adding a web page for CGP, which will include info about this year’s anthology, and how to submit for next year’s, as well as some local style guidelines, submission guidelines, and themes for the next few years. (Yes, I’m thinking that far ahead.)
One of the things that doing this anthology has reinforced for me is how much I enjoy the process of working with authors to help them improve their craft. After this month, I will be opening back up for freelance editing and coaching clients, looking for authors I can help get from idea to first draft to final draft to query.
Anyway, me writing about it online isn’t going to help make this publication a reality … so … back to the folder of stories I go! Stay tuned for more news …
About a month ago, the novel I’m working on stalled out. Since I’m a year past when I thought I’d be finished with it, this repeat delay had me questioning everything about my existence as a writer. I’d stare into the headlights of the 20Booksto50K group, thinking about how I needed to WRITE. RIGHT NOW. PUT WORDS ON THE DOCUMENT. And then I’d feel guilty and imposter-syndrome-y for not writing.
And then I picked up a book off my to-be-read pile. A friend of mine had lent me Paperbacks From Hell, and I had been meaning to read it to get in the mood to start editing the Crone Girls Press anthology. She messaged me to ask if I could return it, as she had another friend interested in reading it. I said yes, of course, and cracked it open. I ended up reading the entire book in one day, writing down notes until I had a list of about 20 titles to add to my reading pile, all in one horror subgenre or another. From that book, I went on to finish The Storyteller’s Secret, which I’d already renewed once at the library, as well as Robert Crais’ new novel, A Dangerous Man, and another book I’d borrowed from my friend, The Magic Toyshop. I then dove into Sam Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black, which I’d been meaning to get around to and then when I started, found it hard to put down. And this was all in the past week.
Something happened when I started getting back into this reading groove. No matter what I was reading, whether it was about the rise of splatterpunk, how the rule of three makes for an effective public speaking strategy, or the latest adventures of Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, somehow my synapses in the writing part of my brain starting firing again. What if, they whispered, instead of doing this — this other thing happened instead? What if ?
And when that started to happen, when things start to connect and congeal and make sense, I realized why I had waited so long. Because the right story wasn’t there yet.
I’ve still got a bunch of work to do this next week – anthology edits, my first stab at a brand-name triathlon, some Army Reserve stuff to tie up, and a short story I need to sit down and finish. But that THING that says, sit down and WRITE, not just because you’re supposed to, but because I can’t NOT write — that’s what’s waiting for me to put butt to chair, hand to keyboard, words to paper.
I’m currently sitting at my table in my sports bra, updating MS Word so I can start on anthology edits for Crone Girls Press, my back slathered in aloe vera sunburn treatment I bought at Target this morning. This weekend was grueling, challenging, and emotional–but in the end, it was a good weekend. It was the Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon, and it was the first triathlon longer than a sprint that I have attempted AND finished!
In my last post, I wrote about my attempt to knock out the Santa Cruz Olympic distance tri, and the heartbreak of a punctured tire that took me out of the running. Literally. Not only was I crushed to not finish, but I needed to complete a triathlon distance longer than a sprint before attempting the SuperFrog 70.3 next month. If I had to go to San Diego not having proven that I could handle more than a sprint distance triathlon, I would probably not have even gotten in the car to go down there. After Santa Cruz, I was seriously doubting myself and my ability to find the endurance to do this sport.
So, here’s the Santa Barbara rundown… The spouse and kids and I packed up the RV and headed down to the Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton, setting up camp and heading to a local restaurant for some good pre-race carb-loading. That night, I got what could be termed as very uneasy, restless sleep. I was good until my bladder woke me up at one in the morning, and then I just couldn’t fall back. When my alarm went off, I forced myself to hydrate, eat a banana and a bagel, and get the kids in the Jeep so I could go to packet pickup. I hate picking up a race packet the morning of the race, but there was no choice. I got most of the stickers in the right places while the family headed back to catch up on sleep, stood in a long, long, long line to hit up the bathroom, and sort of laid out my stuff in some semblance of order. Luckily, other members of The Triathlon Club of Monterey were also competing, and so saying hello and chatting with them helped to steady my nerves against that sinking feeling in my stomach.
The time before start both took forever and sped by way too fast. Finally, they were calling my wave start–age group women 25-44 AND Athena/40-over (this will be relevant at the end of the story.) When the race director called “GO” I channeled my buddy and told myself ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK and by the time I finished chanting it, I was in the water. Luckily, the surf was gentle and the water was almost warm. Not “don’t wear my wetsuit warm” but not uncomfortable. I started swimming, keeping each buoy in sight, telling myself “Just get to that orange one. Now the yellow one. Now the orange one. Now the yellow one. HOLY CRAP SUN GLARE WHERE’S THE BUOY? Oh, there it is … Okay, just go straight. Okay, don’t worry, all the later waves are passing you but that’s okay. Yay, the buoy! Yay, I’m on my way to shore! Oh crap, I’m the last one out of the water … again.”
I got out of the ocean after the one-mile swim feeling tired. In Santa Cruz, I’d come out feeling energized, re-vitalized, ready to rock and roll. But here, I felt lead in my arms and legs. I trotted up to transition, unzipping my wetsuit, feeling thirsty and wanting to sit down. In transition, I stripped off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes and looked for the extra water bottle I brought. Couldn’t find it. By this time, almost everyone was out on the bike except for me and one other guy. I made the decision to leave my water bottle, thinking that I had one on my bike, and there was a water point on the bike course.
Leaving out of transition, I hopped on my bike, rode for about a quarter of a mile, and was promptly passed by the dude I’d been in transition with. Now, I was the last person in the race. But I couldn’t think about that. I just concentrated on riding. Everything felt slow. I kept panicking that my tire was deflating. I worried because my legs felt like they did AFTER a long bike ride and not like they should at the beginning of 34 miles. And then came … THE HILLS. One after another, followed by steep downhills, many of which I couldn’t see the end of and so was braking because I didn’t want to crash. I also realized, by the number of people passing me, that I wasn’t – YET – the last one on the course. Finally, I reached the halfway point. I had consumed about 3/4 of my water bottle, which had a 3/4 powerade/1/4 water mixture. As I rode by the water bottle station, the volunteer held out a full bottle of Gatorade and said, “Water? Gatorade?”
Readers. MY DUMB ASS said: “No, thanks, I’ve got some,” and it was only when I was halfway down the next hill when I realized what I’d done. I started to worry, but also put it out of my mind. Either I would make it … or I wouldn’t, but there was nothing to be done now. I also remembered where I had put my water bottle in transition. Oh, and that I’d forgotten my sunglasses. Oh, and to put on sunblock. And oh yeah, probably should have used more chamois cream because that was getting uncomfortable. Finally, about 3/4 of the way, I rounded the corner and found YET ANOTHER HILL. This one … it just kept going. And going. And when I thought it couldn’t go anymore … nope. Kept going! Here, the guy from transition who had passed me when we started off came by and passed me again. This time, I knew I was the last person on the course because the sweeper vehicle started frog hopping ahead of me, then would wait, then would come back, and I started to see one of the race officials on a bicycle more often. On this hill, I swear, I wanted to make it all the way without getting off the bike and walking, but I had to stop three times. Each time, I’d walk about 30-40 feet, then hop back on and ride until I couldn’t anymore, then repeat. I don’t think I have ever been so happy in my life to see a road go flat and then start to angle down…
When I got back to transition, I finished off my water bottle, racked my bike, and got ready to jog/walk the last part of the triathlon–the 10-mile run. I drank a bunch of water from my spare bottle, ate some more dates, and remembered to put on sunblock. At this point, my arms were dead weight and I missed large swathes of my back. I knew that I wasn’t the last person on the course because I had passed one person who had stopped their bike at the top of the very last hill, but it was a matter of a few minutes before they came into transition. At this point, some people had already finished the triathlon, while the majority of the pack were coming around the bend of the last couple of miles. I headed out, the glimpse of the large crowd cheering runners in at the finish line the last opportunity I would have to see that.
I told myself to FOCUS. One mile at a time. True, this would be the longest I’ve run since injuring my knee in 2012. But I could do it. I’ve been building endurance, I gave myself permission to walk when I needed to, and I was going to complete this race. My watch is set on a timer to buzz me into a three-minute run and a one-minute walk. I only managed to run a straight three minutes a couple of intervals, but I managed to keep up an alternating jog and powerwalk. Remember the guy who passed me twice on the bike? Here, I caught up to him and jogged past. I also passed one more person. There’s no shame in being the last person on the course, but the mental game of telling myself “Don’t slow down or you’ll get passed again!” helped keep my steps moving forward. The sun … well, there was no shade for the first and last couple of miles on this course, which was out and back. I knew it was going to be rough when I got to the end of the first mile and saw another competitor, on their way back in, hunched over and puking. I was also feeling dehydrated, but luckily there was a water/Gatorade station every mile. (They were getting ready to tear down, too, in fact I had to tell one station there were two people behind me because they were radioing their intention to close up.) Readers, I walked through every single one of those stations and took one of each, and even then, as I came into the last mile of the course, I started feeling the early signs of a heat injury. I walked the last mile and a half, just telling myself that I couldn’t quit, I’d come too far.
Finally, on a long stretch of recreational trail, with the ocean on my right and the stereotypical California line of tall palm trees on my left, I spotted the blue-and-white flags of the finish line. As I got closer, I saw that, as expected, most of the crowd and volunteers were gone and people were packing up. I spotted my spouse and my two little Bugs, who cheered for me as I ran (jogged? limped? stumbled?) past. When I entered the chute, there were about four or five ladies who remained at the side of the finish line who clapped as I came on in. I passed over the timing strip and took a seat, handing off my chip to a volunteer as another one gave me ice bags to put on my back and down the front of my tri top. And … I got a medal. A finishers medal. A shiny piece of metal that says I have it in me to run a mile, bike 34 miles, and run 10 miles and not give up, no matter what.
Lessons learned from that day… First, get proper rest and hydration before the race, and make sure to hydrate during the race. I’m going to invest in a second bottle cage for my bike, as well as clip-in pedals. Next, lay out EVERY SINGLE THING that I will use. When I didn’t see the sunblock or sunglasses, I forgot about them. When I put my extra water bottle in my bag–I couldn’t find it. I must remember to assume that once the race starts, I’m going to get suboptimal when it comes to the concentration game, and so I need to make everything as easy as possible. Never ever ever turn down hydration on the course. Just take it, and if I can’t finish it, tuck it in one of my tri top back pockets. Finally — I’ve been trying to make PB&J sandwiches work as far as nutrition goes. I need to stop trying to make this happen. It’s not going to happen. Time to find an alternative to go with the pitted dates that DO work, and test it before the next big race.
And finally … I did this event swimming one buoy at a time, riding one five-mile bike ride at a time, running one mile at a time. Always moving forward, with the end in site. And I made it. From this past month, I know that the possibility of not finishing is always present, but that I can also move past defeat and find a way to accomplish my goal.
And remember that Athena/over 40 women’s division? Three of us signed up. I came in second.
There’s work to be done for the future, but this weekend was a blast, and showed me that that future–one in which I compete in and finish endurance races–can be accomplished.