I bought a lot of old photos in a basket at the auction, and I’ve scanned most of them. They are below in this post. A few have names /etc. on them and I’ll post those as well…some have things on the back hard to read… any help, appreciated. My hope is a: to find the families who might be working on family trees… the second is to figure out some of the places and people and things… of particular interest is the boardwalk scene (where?) the man with guitar and banjo … and the tennis player… the back of the tennis shot says Forest Hills – 1921 and then the names Tilden & Shmidgne (the second I’m not sure of). I love stuff like this. I’m nearly certain this must be a photo of William Tilden – a famous US Tennis player.
NOW THAT THE BIRD HAS YOUR ATTENTION… Listen up.
First off – I wish theoretically honest, up-front bloggers and journalists who don’t use Amazon as a publishing platform or – in most cases – even write books – would quit splashing alarmist headlines all over the net ‘explaining’ how Amazon is now going to give your work away for free and it’s the end of books. I’m going to use bullet points and make this as quick and clear as I can.
1) The new payment plan Amazon just unveiled does not affect your books that are available for “sale” on Amazon at all. It only affects books that have been published exclusively on Amazon as part of their Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited Plans, and of those books, only the Kindle Unlimited books. Any book that is just “bought” on Amazon is being paid exactly as it always was.
2) An upfront note. It is a bad idea for most books to publish them exclusively on Amazon, and the Kindle Select program is only a good idea if you have a title that has proven itself to sell very well on Amazon and not so well anywhere else. Out of the 1200 titles we currently have at Crossroad Press – we have maybe 8 in those programs. Even those that ARE part of the program still generate a lot of sales each month, and those sales are paid at the same royalty rate they have always been. Only when someone who has paid for a Kindle Unlimited Subscription “borrows” the book does the new plan come into affect.
3) The plan itself: If someone borrows your book, they have a particular amount of time to read it. Amazon will monitor whether they actually read all of it, or part of it, and pay you for the number of pages (determined by a pretty generous algorithm, I can add, because I know that a book we published that was 500 pages in print has figured to 815 pages in their formula) that are read. There is a pot of money – just like there has always been for Kindle Unlimited – but instead of paying you each time someone borrows your book, they are paying you for the number of pages read each time someone borrows your book.
4) The purpose is to stop scammers who have been gaming this system. Everyone is upset that they think their share will drop, but honestly, a huge number of the borrows up to now have been people cheating you out of your money. They upload a ten page pamphlet – or ten of them – and then have 100 friends borrow it – while they do the same for those 100 friends. Every time that ten page pamphlet is borrowed, it gets the same share as a 500 page book by a talented author. Also, there are tons of very short stories of questionable quality being uploaded just because numbers count in this game. If you – instead of an 80-100k word book – write ten 1500 word stories – you can get an equal share every time one of those stories is borrowed – or you could. Now, you can still write them, but your share will be proportionate to the words and effort invested.
5) Quality of the offerings being borrowed is going to improve. Good writers aren’t worried about people borrowing their books and quitting on page five. People paying a subscription price are going to READ the books they borrow to get their money’s worth. This system is better in every way than the previous system. It is not Amazon trying to cheat authors, it’s Amazon protecting authors from people trying to cheat the system. Don’t get me wrong, I think Amazon is out for Amazon, but they aren’t – in this case anyway – doing it at your expense.
6) Most important thing. The Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited programs are not right for most books. As I stated above, only about 8 of our 1200 titles are in these programs. They are there because they have consistently sold above average numbers on Amazon, whlie selling next to nothing anywhere else. MOST books do not benefit from losing Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google, Kobo and all the other possible outlets. IF YOUR BOOK IS NOT REGISTERED IN THE PROGRAMS THIS CHANGE MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO YOU. NOTHING. ZILCH. That is the most important thing. I’ve seen articles all over the net in theoretically trusted outlets and found that – without really checking their sources, they’ve cut a few lines from Amazons announcement and not applied them to the bigger picture – then splashed click-bait headlines all over about how Amazon is now only going to pay you a tiny amount per page – as if that was all of Amazon and not a single, exclusive program that you have to opt into to even be involved in.
I hope this helps clear some of the clouds from this issue… and I hope that – if you read this – you will think twice before sharing or retweeting one of the misleading and misinformed articles prophesizing the end of books because of this policy. No one has even been paid under the new policy and already everyone is depressed, giving up writing, etc… I suggest you spend less time on blogs and FB and more time writing – it’s easier on your heart and mind.
My novel Sins of the Flash is included in a very cool deal over at Storybundle.com starting today. I love these bundles…you pay what you want to pay and get six books, meet a bargain price for the lot and get five more. It’s also very cool to be included along with authors I love and respect, like Clive Barker – who’s novel Cabal is in the bundle, David Morrell, who is in with The Brotherhood of the Rose as well as friends and colleagues I’ve known and worked with most of the twenty-five plus years of my career, Ed Gorman, Tom Piccirilli, Bill Pronzini, Steven Savile (who is the curator and creator of this collection that he calls MEAN STREETS).
There are some authors in the bundle I’ll be checking out myself for the first time – Maynard Sims, Tony Black, Sean Black, and Stephen Gallagher. All of these books have a theme – something that ties them together. Dark Streets. Alienated characters – black-hearted villains and questionable heroes. This is a bundle of books where crime noir meets horror – where mystery meets deeper shadow.
The Titles included are: Serpents Kiss by Ed Gorman, Falling Apart at the Edges, by Maynard Sims, Carmody’s Run, by Bill Pronzini, Laughing Boy’s Shadow¸ by Steven Savile (one of my favorite novels ever), Truth Lies Bleeding, by Tony Black, Cabal, by Clive Barker, The Innocent, by Sean Black, Down River, by Stephen Gallagher, Nightjack, by Tom Piccirilli (complex and absolutely brilliant), and The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell.
My own novel, one of my favorite, has several distinctions. It has one of my most amazing covers, courtesy of Mr. Harry O. Morris. It was scheduled for publication by no less than three companies, all of which imploded, or ended up not publishing it. Eventually, it found a home at my own Crossroad Press. Sins of the Flash is the first novel-length appearances of detective Tommy Doyle, who also appeared in the short story “Burning Bridges,” in the anthology All Hell Breaking Loose. Tommy comes from a family of police officers, most of whom either died badly, or spent their time chasing very strange crimes.
This novel features Christian Greve – a photographer who believes he has the talent to be world-famous, but who also believes his models have been sabotaging him by subtle shifts in their posture, or changes of expression. It drives him – slowly – crazy. Christian’s search for perfection leads him down some strange, dark streets, and it’s up to Tommy, and his partner “Big “Mac” Markum, to follow and stop him before the body count gets too high – and too personal.
This is a very dark novel. It was written out at sea, on board the USS Guadalcanal. Several of the characters are named for shipmates of mine – maybe they’ll see this deal and pick up a copy after all these years… This mystery is also set in my fictional town of San Valencez, Califonia, where so many of my novels have started, or ended… It’s one of my favorites, and I hope you’ll pick it up – along with all the others – and settle in to read. If you do – and you like what you read in my book or any of the others, please take the time to stop by Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads.com and leave a rating or a review. In this modern world of self-marketing and social media promotion – feedback from fans and readers is the only weapon an author possesses, unless he’s rich.
Along with all the wonderful books, these bundles support some very worthy charities. A percentage of all income goes to Mighty Writers, Girls Write Now and Special Effect – what these people do:
SpecialEffect are putting fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with disabilities by helping them to play video games. By using technology ranging from modified games controllers to eye-control, they’re finding a way for people to play to the very best of their abilities. But they’re not just doing it for fun. By levelling the playing field, they’re bringing families and friends together and having a profoundly positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation.
Girls Write Now helps mentor girls so they can develop writing skills, leading to a more successful future no matter what path they decide to choose.
Distinguished as one of the top 15 after-school arts and culture programs in the nation by The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Girls Write Now is New York’s first and only organization with a writing and mentoring model exclusively for girls. From young women exploring writing to seasoned professionals practicing their craft every day, GWN is a community of women writers dedicated to providing guidance, support, and opportunities for high school girls to develop their creative, independent voices and write their way to a better future.
Over the past 15 years, more than 4,500 underserved teen girls have benefitted from the GWN community and 100% of seniors in our flagship mentoring program go on to college—bringing with them portfolios, awards, scholarships, new skills, and a sense of confidence. Girls Write Now has built a record of achievement and innovation recognized twice by the White House, by The New York Times, and the MacArthur Foundation, and evidenced by the hundreds of Scholastic Art & Writing awards our girls have earned.
Over on Twitter, author Chuck Wendig laid down a challenge (through his blog) to use a random cocktail generator, take the drink that was offered, and write a story (no more than 1000 words) post it in your own space and then link to it in his comments. I got… The Walk Me Down. The recipe for this drink is at the bottom of the story…seems sort of appropriate, I think, on a St. Patrick’s Day… Enjoy.
Walk Me Down
By David Niall Wilson
The bar on the corner used to be run by Sean Macklemore. He was a ruddy, red-faced Irish guy with a big silver tooth front-top-center of his smile. He and Pop had known one another longer than I’d been alive-that bar was my Pop’s second home.
Every morning I walked the two miles to school. Pop worked in the match factory halfway there. Every morning we’d get up and have our breakfast. Pop would read his paper, and I’d shuffle through homework, or scan a comic book while scooping oatmeal and eggs into my mouth. When the paper was read, and his cup was empty, it was time to go, and it didn’t matter if I’d finished eating, or forgotten to put on a shirt. “Come on boy,” he’d say. “Let me walk you down…”
We walked together every day for all the years I was in school, and the first ten that I worked with him at the factory. That’s where I ended up. That’s where we all ended up, those in the neighborhood who didn’t escape straight out of high school into the army, or, for the privileged few, to college. There wasn’t much happening in Random, Illinois in those days.
Then, one day on the line, Pop turned to the man next to him and said something incomprehensible, and keeled over flat on the floor. Turns out he had a bum ticker, sticking and clicking off beat like a confused phonograph needle.
He was never the same, and he never went back to the factory. He still loved that bar, though, and Sean – who had retired and passed the business on to his son, Seamus. He and Pop were like local royalty in that corner booth, but without any subjects.
Every day I walked to the factory, and on the way, after my coffee and the paper. I’d call to Pop, it was our joke – one of the only things that could make him smile, no matter what. I’d say, “Come on, Pop, I’ll walk you down…” Just like he said to me all those years.
The factory got a little seedy. Half the workers were let go. Pop and Sean went on about it – talked about the glory days, the safety regulations that were supposed to be in place, and weren’t. I sipped my whiskey and took it in, but I counted myself lucky I hadn’t been cut with so many others. I still had a job. It paid the bills, and one of those was the bar tab at Macklemore’s…
One night, three whiskeys in, I heard a story I hadn’t heard before. Sean started talking about the factory. I’d sort of wondered why he cared. Pop worked there, but Sean just served drinks. That’s what I thought.
The Macklemore’s had lived in Random for generations, and what I hadn’t known was that Sean’s brother, Liam, was part owner of the factory. The two had gone down different roads after high school. Now Liam had died, and Sean found himself part owner of a sinking ship.
Pop had plenty to say too. No one listened to either of them. Except me. The whole thing got me thinking. Safety regulations were being ignored. The building was declining, and the workers were being let go, one after another as business dwindled. The city – Pop – Macklemore’s – my life. All headed down the crapper like they were stuffed there with some sort of cosmic plunger.
Except, I had this idea. As ideas go, it probably wasn’t too original, but hey. You go with what life gives you. Life gave me Pop, a dead end job, and a friend named Seamus with a dad named Sean. He gave us whiskey. It all gave me that idea I mentioned.
One night I left the bar late. Pop was three sheets in – so was Sean. I left a note for Seamus telling him I’d be back for Pop. Had some things to take care of.
There wasn’t much security at the factory by night. No one broke in – everyone there was looking for a way out. I made it to the storeroom undetected. I’d thought it through. Faulty wiring. A factory full of wooden matches. Sean and Seamus would collect on the insurance, and Pop and I would hang on like leeches for the ride. Maybe I’d learn to tend bar.
Except… Pop and Seamus followed me. They’d had a lot to drink. Too much. They slipped by me in the dark, and if one of them hadn’t tripped and banged into a door, I wouldn’t have known they were there at all. Maybe they didn’t see me either.
I was already on my way out, and those two crazy old bastards were heading into the storeroom. I never found out why. I started back after them, but it was way too late. Smoke came billowing so fast and thick I could barely breath.
I got out alive, and I got back home. I washed and changed clothes, and I headed back to the bar – like I was coming after Pop. All I could think was that the whiskey they’d polished off must have gone up like gasoline – cooked them quick from the inside. Never even heard a scream.
Me and Seamus, we take turns tending the bar now. We don’t talk about the factory, or our Pops. Don’t talk much at all, truth be told. I listen to people tell me their problems, how the town is dying – how the world is going to hell…
That’s another place I think about. I’m getting older…my time will come soon enough. I expect, when it does, I’ll see Pop standin’ there in front of me… He’ll say, “Come on boy,” and I’ll follow. It will be hot, like the factory- like all the matches in creation. He’ll say… “Let me walk you down…”
WALK ME DOWN
1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Triple sec
1/2 oz Rum
1/2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Tequila
1 oz Sour mix
1/2 oz Blue Curacao
Add the shots, 1/2 shots for the ladies. Over ice is best.Mix well.
I’ve been watching something pretty closely, and I just wanted to clarify it here so people are aware. Amazon.com has their top 100 paid books list – their version of bestsellers – but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s any kind of a level playing field.
A while back, Amazon changed things so that free books no longer compete with paid books on the bestseller list. Two separate lists. This is why I tell people, making your book free probably won’t help it’s sales. First, it makes it no more likely to be noticed than it was before, and second, even if you become the #1 bestselling free book on Amazon, the minute you put a price on your book, that ranking disappears and you are starting over with paid sales.
Now there are new things. In the top ten of Amazon’s paid bestseller list you will find four titles currently filling slots that are #1 in multiple categories. These books are not even published yet, officially. However, there is the Kindle First Program, and there is Amazon Prime. Combining those two, you can buy these pre-release books for a price of… nothing … if you are a prime member. Free brand new books. All four titles are also published by Amazon imprints where (as we all know) they will be promoted in ways and to quantities of Kindle readers almost nothing else can match… In other words, your book is competing against brand new pre-release free books being published by the people compiling the list. You can see that this is a problem… four of the top ten slots are being gamed by the publisher and retailer, using free sales they semantically report as paid sales – and I’m not telling you this because we should rise up and stop them – it’s their store. I just want you to be aware. You are probably NOT going to make that top ten list. In the image above, two of the three top books today are Amazon books that are pre-orders and Kindle First.
Crossroad Press recently had a book sell over 3500 copies in a day and it made it to #12. That was with a price drop and a great third party promotion (that was not cheap). Consider that to GET that promotion, the book already had to have a great cover, good reviews, etc… and you can see another “gaming” piece fall into place. If you can sell thousands of free pre-orders and they count as paid sales…those buyers can also leave reviews. That means, those books will be eligible for bigger promotions from other sites right out of the gate, and not because they are better books, but because Amazon has promoted them through the roof.
So next time you wonder how in the heck some of those books got there and stay there, remember this article. Currently four books by authors I’ve never heard of are kicking butt on Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and James Patterson (who doesn’t actually write books, but has his name on a lot of best-selling ones) … and if those folks aren’t in the top ten, the rest of us can start figuring our odds using negative numbers.
Katie and I have been slowly ammassing quite the little fossil / geode museum. Thought I’d collect the pictures in one place… her Megadolon tooth is over 5.5″ – huge. We have a Masotdon tusk and two Auryx horns…a turkey platter sized trilobite, a set of masodon teeth..a mosasaur tooth…lots more.
Meet my series character Donovan Dechance in the first of his adventures. Motorcycles, leather jackets, a young artist with an amazing ability – voodoo – and of course… DRAGONS. Pass this link on. Spend some time reading… This is a chance to try this new series at no cost…
Let me preface this by saying (as I have said before) – I’m a runner. I intend to lose weight, get myself in good shape, and take care of myself. I will race, because it’s fun, but I’m not out to push the limits of endurance, or move mountains. Other people, however, ARE out to do that, and since a buddy of mine, Bob Burnett, is involved in this sort of race, I thought I’d post something about them and fill in those who may have missed the new craze.
Spartan races come in four flavors – Sprint, Super, Beast and Ultra Beast. All are obstacle-ridden courses, differing in length and difficulty. They are being held around the world, and people are calling them unforgettable, life-changing experiences. I bet they are. Most of the photos I’ve seen of finishers resemble others I’ve seen of soldiers crawling through swamps, or people lost in the desert for days… The thing is, all these people are smiling…
I am not an expert on Spartan racing, but I have a couple of links to share. Before I do that, I’m going to explain very briefly why I’m posting this, and why I’ll post follow-ups about Bob and his endeavors, along with my own ramblings on the more mundane sport of road running.
I feel good these days. I’m much healthier, and I know for a fact that my progress has influenced others already. I sort of formed a team – over at US Road Running – beginning with my daughter Stephanie and my son Zane (hope to slowly expand that). I’m going to be involved in healthy things. Endurance races, 5k, Marathons, etc. It won’t always be me doing them, but I am very supportive of a healthier lifestyle- more exercise, less food, happy people. I now consider Bob the official Charter Spartan for the “Crossroad Cruisers,” the team name I did not give much thought to, but that actually fits (Synchronicity?) Roads. Cross-fit. I have passed a lot of crossroads in the last few months, approaching 500 miles and a bunch of them this year.
Head on over to the SPARTAN RACE HOME PAGE and check out all the pictures, events, sign up for their notices, and – if the Spartan Spirit moves you – choose a race. If you plan to do that, FOLLOW THIS LINK FOR 15% OFF ANY SPARTAN RACE. Don’t say I never gave you anything…
Running With the Butterflies
My First Half Marathon – The Dismal Swamp Stomp
Today I ran my first official ½ marathon. I did better than I expected to, not quite as good as I hoped to. I saw amazing effort from a wide variety of men, women, and children. I saw compassion and caring, genuine pleasure in the eyes of strangers as they shared one morning in the spring sunshine. And I saw butterflies.
I have been running, as many of you reading this know, most of my adult life (starting around age 30) but there have been huge breaks where I quit, got lazy, got fat –and any number of other things I regret. Last August I found myself at nearly 230 pounds, 54 years old, and pretty much disgusted with the way I looked and felt.
I had just finished reading (thanks to my buddy Roger Knowles) a book called Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. This book changed my understanding of some aspects of running that have actually, in turn, changed my life (not just the running part). For instance, I now wear VivoBarefoot shoes without exception. The key is not that they are this brand, but that they are “minimalist,” or barefoot shoes. I have had problems with my right foot, hip, and my lower back for years. Changing to shoes that forced me to learn to walk properly, and to run without slamming my heels into the pavement, has very literally removed all of that pain.
Still, I didn’t start off right away. Born to Run is about the Tarahumara – a tribe in Mexico who run like scared rabbits up and down mountains and across the desert. It was an inspiring book, but I don’t intend to train for any fifty mile races in my lifetime. What I got from the book was the shoes, the technique, and the very interesting concept that Homo sapiens outlasted and outlived Neanderthal for the simple reason that we have an Achilles tendon, and we were born to run long distances.
Since, as you also know, I’m a writer, this got me thinking. I actually ordered the silly sandals those Mexican runners used. They didn’t work for me (no big surprise). I also started thinking about running again. Next I ordered some “minimalist” shoes from New Balance. They didn’t fit right – too tight – but I kept looking, and I kept thinking.
Someone somewhere suggested I look at Vivobarefoot shoes. Either that or I just happened to search for barefoot dress shoes and found that, at the time, they were the only ones making any. I bought a pair of black semi-casual dress shoes. I started wearing them, and immediately noticed a change for the better. Still, I had not started running. Not really.
My life has become a complexly scheduled mess. I have a career as an IT Manager that I love. I have a family, and a house. I have a writing career, and now I have Crossroad Press. For me, finding time to run has always been part of the issue. A couple of years ago I clocked a lot of miles by running at lunch and paying for a downtown gym membership so I could use their showers and treadmills. The cost ended up being too much, and for a while after that, I quit running again. That was several years back.
To make a long story short, I am back to a schedule I’ve never really loved, but have managed to stick with it. I get up at 6:30 in the morning, and I run. I started back up in August, when I bought my first pair of Vivobarefoot Neo Trail Running shoes. I had a vague plan that I waited a while to tell anyone about. I wanted to run 100 miles before my 54th birthday. Considering that when my overweight, 230 pound, bald old body hit the road… I was able to do about 1.5 miles in the morning (maybe 1.62) and make it through a shower and off to work. I ran on weekends as well, but at first, those 1.62 miles were it. I got a little faster, and it got easier to finish, but progress was slow going this time around.
Over time, I stretched it out. On the weekends I managed to bump it first to 2.2 miles, and then a bigger jump to 3.5. My pace was horrifyingly bad. Probably in excess of 12:30 miles. I kept at it, and things improved. I managed a 4.5 mile and then even a 5 or 6 mile run. My pace picked up a little. I hit the 100 miles before my birthday, and I was very proud of it.
Still, the 230 pounds was melting way so slowly that it was barely noticeable, and I started to get discouraged. That’s when Trish chipped in. She was also losing weight. We’d bought a serious treadmill from Nordic Track, and she started walking and reading during the day. She also changed her diet drastically. Fiber/protein bars… very little more during the day, and by mutual agreement, we dropped dinner to a reasonably sized portion (not easy).
Along with this, I stopped going to 7-11 for breakfast. I have oatmeal or a fiber/protein bar for breakfast with a banana. I’m now down to rice and steamed vegetables at lunch, a pear or other fruit, or an avocado for snacks and a yogurt in case I still get too hungry. This, along with eating small portions at supper, and running, has dropped me (as of this morning) from 230 to 202 and I’m still dropping. Most of the sites that claim to know how much a person should weigh from their height, etc. say 195 would be my ideal weight. We’ll see where it evens out. I’m not starving myself or doing anything crazy, so I figure when I hit that “just right weight,” I’ll stop losing.
It wasn’t too long after I finished my first 100 miles that the old worry kicked in. I hate to run in the cold. I’m also not really fond of treadmills, but more on that later. I remembered a friend of mine had done the Dismal Swamp Stomp several years ago, and I looked it up. They were already taking early registration for it, so without giving myself time to think about it, I signed up and paid my money.
I had no idea how to train for a longer race. I knew that if you were going to run a marathon you needed to go past 17 miles at least once…so I figured there was probably a “wall” for half marathons too. There is. I found all kinds of useful training programs.
Unfortunately, they were generally 12 week plans, or even shorter. I was months out. So I modified them all into my own plan. I started running longer runs on weekends. I still only had time (at first) for about two miles in the morning. On the treadmill, I did 20 minutes. Soon that bumped to 25 and then up to 30. I didn’t get any more time, I just got faster. On the weekends I stretched out to four, and then five miles.
I want to put this in perspective if I can. When I started, as I mentioned, 1.6 miles was pushing myself. I had gotten way out of shape, and when I say this changed my life, I’m not kidding. When I moved up to five miles, that day was one of the hardest running days I can remember. But I kept at it. I regularly ran 3.5 to 4 miles at least on weekends, and three of five days in the workweek (sometimes four) I ran 30 minutes on the treadmill.
Then I pushed it out past 6 miles – the first 10k since I’ve started running again. Again, this felt almost impossible at the time, but I pushed past it. All this time the regular runs in the morning 30 minutes on the treadmill, began climbing in mileage, the pace quickening.
Currently my morning run is a 5k. If I have to do it on the treadmill it comes in slower, but since I’m in this for endurance and for weight-loss and health, I don’t mind that. I tended to run faster on the road. I still didn’t know, though, if I was kidding myself about the 13.1 miles.
I mapped out a course that was between 7 and 8 miles, running from Elizabeth City back to home down a windy back road. Trish drove me out, dropped me off, and I was on my way. I made it, but there were periods of walking, and I was not fast. I recorded it, kept running, and looked ahead.
I finally figured it was time to find out if I was in, or out. I opened the app I use to keep track of my miles and runs, http://www.mapmyrun.com, and asked it to give me a route that was 12 miles. It actually gave me several. I studied them, and picked one that looked like I could finish it, a big loop that led me back home. I got my belt with the twin water bottles (I know now they are too small). About 2:00 in the afternoon I headed out. I had a power bar with me, but I lost that somewhere on the first mile. When I get to what I’ve learned about equipment, I’ll explain this. I was not worried.
I should have been. The thing about maps and country roads… little things like missing street signs don’t show up on them. They also don’t shop up in your “app”. First lesson learned on this run was that driving the route first is a good idea (maybe even stashing water along the way). I ran out, and at about the five mile point, I should have turned. There was no sign. I saw the crossroad, and thought about turning, but I didn’t. I ran on. Eventually, after having gone more than six miles, I knew I’d made an error. I knew, however, that I needed to turn right. Foolishly, instead of backtracking, I turned right.
I will shorten this surreal story into bullet points:
1) People who live out on farms and in trailers in the country don’t understand running.
2) Directions given by such people are not reliable.
3) Dogs, chickens, horses, and wild turkeys are all interested in runners, but no help in finding your way.
4) When you ask directions, and they ask you where you want to go, and both of the choices are a lot farther from home than you thought you were, it’s not good.
5) Having a way to track yourself is a good second idea to driving the route ahead of time.
6) Carrying your phone on a really long solo run is a GOOD IDEA.
By the time I finally got back on the road that I knew led home, I had already run about ten miles. There were a few patches of walking, but for the most part, I ran. I kept running. I ran past 13.1 and finally stopped any pretense of running at 15.1 miles. Why? Because my mp3 player battery died and I could not listen to the audiobook any longer. My Garmin watch showed low battery, and I wanted to save the 15.1 miles before it died and I lost the information. I was starting to feel light-headed, and only had about half of one of my too-small water bottles left. I also (as it turned out) had three or four miles to go.
I walked. I still hadn’t seen anything that I recognized, and I was dizzy-brained enough at that point to think I might even be walking AWAY from home, but I stuck with it. I ran out of water, and was REALLY dehydrated. It was getting darker, and it started to get cooler, almost chilly, which cooled the sweat and did not help. I even started watching the side of the road to see if someone might have tossed a bottle of water that wasn’t empty… I was pretty desperate.
I knew Trish would be looking for me, because I was way past when I should have been home (like an hour). She was. As it turned out, she missed the same turn I did, and when she finally got to the road I was walking down, she passed just ahead of me. I arrived where she turned AFTER she passed.
I turned down old Highway 17 with about a mile and a half from home, literally stumbling. The final turn runs directly between the volunteer fire department, and the Ruritan Club. At that point, moving forward, I saw a car with lights on across the way, watching. Thankfully – it was Trish – because I am not 100 percent certain I could have walked that last mile. I crawled in, and they got me home – we swapped mumbled stories about being lost, but I was probably not very coherent. I got home, managed (I have no idea how) to guzzle a bunch of water and get in, and out of the shower. Then I started to shiver like I had a fever. I curled up in my reclining chair, wrapped a San Diego Chargers throw blanket around me, and chattered myself to sleep. No idea how long I was out… When I got up, I ate, had some more to drink, and – basically – still felt okay…but shaky.
It was a close call, and it drove home just how little I actually knew (and likely still know) about distance running. I didn’t take enough water. I ran by myself. I didn’t take anything to eat (or a suitable substitute). I didn’t take my phone. I didn’t verify the route. Bottom line is I’m lucky not to have collapsed alongside the road. Also, I’m lucky to have Trish, who not only got me home, saved my life and fed me, but has been putting up with the running all along, even when my run on the weekends interferes with other activities.
Despite all of that, the 15 mile run verified that no, I was not crazy and yes, unless something went horribly wrong, I was going the distance. After that I continued my weekly pace of about 18-20 miles, long runs on the weekend. I ran the 8 mile track one more time and that went pretty well.
There’s more, though – there is ALWAYS more. I booked a hotel room in Chesapeake Virginia for the night before the run. I could have gotten a room at the Hyatt, where the race expo was set up, but I did not. Instead I chose to “double my HHonors points” and stay at the Hampton Inn, nearby. (There is nothing bad to say about the Hampton Inn – the room was nice, the beds were comfortable, and the Internet and TV worked – all I needed). I got the dogs reservations at their kennel (The Barking Lot). I arranged the time off from work so I could make all my preparations on Friday.
My last purchase, a case of “GU” energy gel, arrived on Thursday, right on schedule. I had read in the book “Running with the Kenyans,” by Adharanand Finn, that he and his fellow marathoners used the gel packs for a burst of energy, calories, etc. I didn’t do anything about my low water supply because I knew there would be aid stations. That turned out to be correct – I did not need much of my own water.
We got the dogs and other pets settled for a night without us, and when Katie got out of school, we picked her up and headed to Virginia. We had a quick start, and made good time. It only took me one “turn around navigational thingie,” as the family saying goes, to reach the Hyatt Place, where the race packets were to be picked up. A very nice man helped me find my registration number and then Katie and I went into the back room to pick up our bags, complete with safety pins and number bibs. Mine had the Chrono Track chip on a strip on the back. Katie signed up for the “Cub Run,” a ½ mile run for kids to take place at 11:30, 3 hours and a half after the race started. At that point I hoped I’d be back from my own run in time to watch, or hobble along at her heels.
We both got shirts, too, which was cool. I saw some t-shirts in that room that I’d like to have – “The Dumbest Idea on my Bucket List,” and “Seems like a lot of Work for a free banana,” and my favorite – “If found beside road, drag over finish line”. I’ll probably collect some of those shirts in the months to come, but I ignored them at the time. We still needed to find our room, check in, and meet my son Zane and his buddy Matt for dinner.
This is where it got interesting. We got to the hotel, and the parking lot was FULL of bikers. Literally. “Free Rollers Inc.” were in town for their annual Chesapeake gathering. I later read on the net that they had a dinner, and a dance to attend. They arrived just ahead of us, and there were a lot of people in line at the front desk. There was also a lot of talk about beer runs and Crown Royal, but it was a pretty calm gathering. I rode with Tiburon MC in Rota, Spain and in Norfolk, Virginia later on, so I was right at home. Katie, however, had a moment when she tried to use the restroom and found it contained a very large, very naked lady changing clothes who had not bothered to lock the door.
In any case, we got into our room, changed clothes, and hit the road to pick up my youngest son, Zane. He’d just come back to the area from US Navy “A” school in Great Lakes, and we’d made plans to go to dinner with him, and his friend Matt. We got Zane, overcame restaurant confusion, and got to The Olive Garden for a carb-up Pasta meal (and salad) for me – and various other Italian delights for everyone else.
The meal was a success, and afterward we handed Zane off to Matt and headed back to our hotel. It was about then that I started to realize Trish was not feeling well at all. She was shivering, and pale, and lay down almost immediately. We watched a little TV, and I checked Facebook, and e-mail, but at that point I was wondering if the run was going to happen. No way I’d have taken her there and left her two hours in the sun if she was too sick…
We set all the alarms available for 5:30 AM and – thankfully – slept pretty well for a little over six hours. In the morning I had fresh oatmeal, a banana, and coffee. We got all our stuff into the car, headed out into a very nice morning – weather perfect – Trish feeling a little better – and headed for the foot of the Dismal Swamp Canal trail – the carved bear – and the culmination of a LOT of miles.
We got there just in time for me to hit the line at the porta-potties. EVERYONE seemed to be in those lines. I got to the front after a short conversation with a very nice guy who lived in Hertford, NC who said he was more of a bike rider, but looked like he could crush ½ a marathon. The door in front of me opened and a very tall, pretty black woman stepped out. She waved me away with a warning. No paper. I waited a little longer – again – disaster averted… As it turns out, she was one of the elite runners. She came in fifth or sixth, but still in about half the time I did.
After that, there was nothing to do but to load up my hydration / equipment belt. I took four GU packs, poured “Smart Water” into my two plastic bottles, hooked up my MP3 player, and started to drop out of everything but the moment. I was listening to “Eat & Run,” by Scott Jurek. I figured what better way to spend my miles, than with someone who ran hundreds of them at a time. He has not convinced me to drop meat a hundred percent, but I’m already leaning down the healthy eating trail, and he has some powerful arguments.
They lined us up, made some speeches, talked about the charity and the sponsors… and had us let the hand-crank bike competitors to the front. There is a story of heroism. A four year old in one of those bikes finished the 1/2 mile cub run, and most of the other hand-crank athletes finished the 13.1 miles in just a bit over the time it took the elite runners. That’s a story in itself. They sent them off ahead of us, and they tried to arrange the runners that followed by pace. It was still something of a jumble.
I have never run a race of this type, so it was a surprise to me to see the grouped people “pacing” – playing music that kept them at the right speed for 2 hours, 2 hours and fifteen minutes, etc. The only other time I ran this distance it took me nearly three hours, but I had a personal goal set for the Dismal Swamp Stomp – to try to beat 2:30. The first part of the race I set myself up for this by making sure I was following the 2 hours and 15 minute pace group. I can say that for nearly eight miles, I was ahead of that 2:30 group. Then they caught up with me. I ran ahead again, and they caught up again…but that’s getting ahead of myself (and not of them).
I started off the run at a pace slower than I’m used to. I don’t know if that was a mistake, or a good idea, and likely won’t know until I’ve run the distance a few more times. The truth is I could have cleared the first 6.2 miles in under an hour, and if I still held my slower pace after that, would have beaten the 2:30 handily. Overthinking – under-thinking – and unimportant. I was happy. It was a beautiful day. I was running a few yards from the trees that lined the Intercoastal Waterway, stretching all the way from Virginia down to Florida, and engineered by brilliant men like George Washington.
Along that route, I know, is the point that was the border of Virginia and North Carolina in the late 1800s, and the site of the Lake Drummond Hotel – sometimes called The Halfway House, because it stood half in one state, and half in the other. My novel, Nevermore, a Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe, was set in that hotel, and in the swamp beyond.
I was chasing ghosts, both real, and those from my own stories. I found myself catching up to, passing, and then being passed again by the same groups of people. For the first five or six miles, it was just like any of my regular runs. I listened to Scott Jurek tell me about his epic 50, 100, and beyond mile runs, heard how turning vegan changed his life, and I ran. (More recently I’ve listened to another ultra-marathoner talk about eating Hawaiian style pizza while running, so I take it all with a grain of salt.)
Just before I hit the half-way point, I saw my first butterfly. I happened to glance off to the side of the road, toward the swamp, and there it was. It was a beautiful Zebra Swallowtail – silver and black–and it was pacing me. I watched it as closely as I could, not wanting to lose my footing and have to explain that I didn’t finish the ½ marathon because I was watching a butterfly and tripped. Amazingly, I felt a surge of energy, and at the same time, I felt myself relax. Some of the strain drained away, and I nearly laughed. The silly butterfly had centered me in a way that I couldn’t define. It was almost like a sign, though I’d hate to speculate from whom, or from what.
I kept religiously sucking down the GU gel packs every half hour, as directed on the box and on web-sites I’d checked (I think that’s too many now, but that’s for another day). I had been chasing the two hour and fifteen minute pacers, but they were out of sight. The groupings were more spread out on the second half, and though I still passed, and was passed by, some of the same folks, it was like a second, completely different race.
I started hearing that little voice in my head, for one thing. It’s the one that says – what are you doing? You can walk – as long as you pass the finish line, what difference does it make? You don’t even know these people. I hear that voice (and ignore it) a lot…but it was strong out there. Fortunately, I had allies. The butterflies became more frequent after about mile 7 – or maybe I just started noticing them. Sometimes they flew beside me. Sometimes they flickered into sight, and back, without spending any time. By mile ten, though I’d walked a few steps, I knew I was going to finish it. I sucked down my last GU pack and got to work. I kept watching for, and smiling at the butterflies.
The last mile, I sped up. I started picking each person in front of me and working to catch them. I managed to pass seven people in that last mile, one just before the finish. As I started that last half mile, the butterfly made a final pass. This time, it was coming straight at me, slipped by on my right side, and was gone…I never looked back.
I am sure that I’m going to remember that first long race. I’m also sure it won’t be the last, or the longest. There is a marathon in my future…something I would have said before, but not really believed. Every time I run a little farther than I have before, I sort of stand at the end, and wonder how much more I could have done.
From now on, wherever the roads take me, I’ll be watching for the butterflies, and when I see them, I’ll follow. Who knows where they might lead…
Now… I’m not an expert, but I have some thoughts for people who want to embrace the running kind of crazy. Take the time to learn to run in some form of minimalist shoes. It’s not about being barefoot, it’s about running with the right posture, and decent form. Your feet know how they work better than you do – and better than Nike, too, for that matter. Trust them.
If you are going more than 5k in distance, take water. There are dozens of ways to carry it. You can just carry a bottle of water in your hand. I have a belt with two pockets for small water bottles, but I’ll be upgrading soon. That same belt has to be able to hold something to eat, possibly your phone, or your mp3 player…money is a good idea. You don’t expect something to go wrong, and most of the time you’re fine believing that. Trust me when I say, though, that when you are staring down three beer-swigging rednecks who wonder if you’re crazy, or making the wrong turn around that cotton field and heading for the next town instead of home, you’ll be glad you were prepared.
Along with the water, take something with calories and protein. I recommend GU gel packs. They taste like frosting, and their effect on your body mid-run is almost magical. There are a lot of other gel packs, and power bars. The Gel Packs are easy to pack into your pockets or belt. Don’t leave the wrappers out there – Mother Nature deserves your respect.
Choose goals to work toward to silence the inner voice that says it doesn’t matter anymore. You ran that ½ marathon, it’s saying to me now. What else to you need to prove? Roll over and go back to sleep… (I run at 6:30 in the morning because it’s what I have for time). I try to run at least a 5k every morning that I run, and I go out at least four, and hopefully five days a week. If the weather allows it I go at least 6 on the weekend and hopefully will be pushing that up to 10 and 12 this summer… When I started, a 5k would have put me down in the dirt. Now, I can run one in the morning, and if someone came by during the day and said let’s go, I’d go and be happy to do it – because I like to run, and because everything has changed.
I used to play an online game named Bejeweled. When you finished something – met a goal – a deep rumble shook out through the speakers, and a big imposing voice said… “Level Up.”
I leveled up after the Dismal Swamp Stomp. Now I just have to shoot for that high score. Thanks to everyone who prepared the race, organized, handed me water and didn’t laugh as I chugged past. Thanks to those who took time to talk, smile, joke, or encourage. Thanks to the dogs, and the amazing hand-crank athletes, and those incredible elites leading us all the way…the pacers and the plodders, the racers, and the rest. Thanks for a wonderful day – and the perfect culmination of an entire winter’s work.