Worst Parade Ever: Surviving My First (and Only) Marathon

On Sunday, March 3, 2019, I ran my first (and only) full marathon.

Having a handful of small races, a few half marathons, and even a Ragnar Trail Relay under my belt and faithfully following a training program did not fully prepare me for the physical and emotional roller coaster ahead of me.

Rather than subjecting you to all the arm-flailing details, I’ll share a quick summary of the run itself, a few vignettes from the course, and some concluding thoughts.

Running Details

The race route was actually gorgeous. We started in Downtown Stuart along the scenic waterfront, ran out to Sewell’s Point, up to the Jensen Beach Causeway, across the Indian River Lagoon to Hutchison Island, down A1A to Stuart Beach, over the Ernest Lyons Bridge down to the southern tip of Sewell’s Point, back the Evans Crary Bridge to Steele Point, passing back through Stuart on East Ocean to the Finish Line.

At the Start: My sister Bethany and good friend Jodee ensured that I arrived on time at the start, fully awake, hydrated, and stretched out. They even stayed to cheer me through the first few miles!

Miles 1-9: I hung with a pace group set to finish in 5 hours and 45 minutes. Unfortunately, once the sun rose fully, the course heated up quickly. With the temps hitting 87F and the heat index somewhat higher, I decided to drop into high/low intervals.

Miles 10-17: I ran high/low intervals. The 5:45 pace group left me behind, and the 6-hour pace group and most of the other turtle runners passed me as well. I was still feeling good, though, and moving at an acceptable clip.

Mile 17: Physical and mental breakdown on the Ernest Lyons Bridge (more on that below).

Miles 17-22: Shambling runs, uneven intervals, lots of shuffling and some fast walks with my hands on my hips. Heat and misery.

Miles 22-24: Mostly walking with a few little bursts of hopeful jogging.

Miles 25-26.2: Jogging again, because walking across the finish line was unacceptable.

Finish line: Joy and relief! Friends and family! Cold limeade! Ringing the PR Bell!

Vignettes from the Course

High points included lining up at the back of the pack with the rest of the slow-moving party crowd, coming upon a trio of older ladies mid-morning in lawn chairs offering runners scoops of ice to shove down their tops, and arriving at the finish line to discover friends and family holding out hope after the crowds had left and the crew had started shutting things down. (“If they took down the PR bell, we were going to riot!”)

Low points included soaring temperatures, my body pulling a bathroom emergency fakeout in Mile 16, and crying at the top of the Ernest Lyons Bridge in Mile 17.

I believe those two events are related.

The Bridge

By the time I hit Mile 16, I was running out on Hutchison Island, alone without a pace group.

I’d already rounded that bend near the Elliot Museum and was headed toward the double bridges to the mainland. I was running high/low intervals in a hot, airless section with no shade when my body informed me that we needed to find a Porta Potty, pronto!

Feeling pressure to deal with the situation and worried that further running might force the issue, I fell into a fast walk. While the stomach cramping faded within a few minutes, I’d lost my rhythm and drive right before I hit the Ernest Lyons Bridge.

I started up the bridge at a walk, continuing to lose steam as I ascended. The sun pressed down, the air thickened in my lungs, and the impossibility of finishing the race overwhelmed me just as my body gave out. My hands and feet began tingling. Black splotches danced across my line of sight. I swayed on my feet.

In short, I’d hit the wall.

I remember shuffling one foot in front of the other and actually grabbing the railing running between me and the sheer drop to the Intracoastal Waterway, hauling myself hand over hand toward the Olympic heights of the summit.

Just before the apex of the bridge, I stumbled upon a bench. Don’t do it, I told myself, even as I fell onto it.

I rolled onto my back, sticking my hands and feet in the air like a little bug. Tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, trailing toward my salt-matted hairline.

The moment had arrived. This was do or die, and I was fairly certain my body was making the decision for me.

Why postpone the inevitable? If I was going to quit, I should quit now and get it over with. No use shuffling any more miles. I should just surrender.

I dropped my hands and feet, leaving them to dangle over the sides of the bench. I opened my eyes, staring into the impossible blue of the sky. The black spots were gone.

On the bridge beside me, cars and trucks whizzed by. Even if I was going to quit, I couldn’t quit at the top of the bridge. It was too dangerous for anyone to park, for one thing; for another, I’d either have to roll over the cement barricade or be hauled over it. That sounded harder than walking down the bridge itself. Much better to walk down and call someone at the bottom.

After all, if I was quitting, I had plenty of time.

Fortunately, I could feel my hands and feet again. I rolled off the bench, stumbled to a standing position, inched over the tallest point of the bridge, and started down the other side.

A blessedly cool breeze lifted before me, and suddenly I felt fresh life. While I couldn’t run yet, hope rose. Maybe I wouldn’t have to quit after all.

A local man out for a walk up the bridge (it was an open course) passed me going the opposite direction. His gaze flicked to my runner’s bib (on which was my number and my first name), and he said, “Ruth! Your friend’s waiting for you!”

I didn’t have the energy to ask him what he meant, let alone puzzle it out for myself. A minute later, another passerby said something similar. “Ruth! You’re almost there! I saw your sign!” I broke into a shuffle.

There, at the bottom of the bridge, was my friend Alissa, holding a huge sign with my name on it, dancing like a crazy person. When she saw me coming, she ran straight to me, bearing iced coffee.

“You’ve hit the wall,” she told me. “So that’s over with.” I don’t remember what else she said, but I remember that only after talking to her did I feel that I might actually finish the race.

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The Song

The week before the marathon, I’d somewhat jokingly selected Psalm 118:17 as the theme verse for my race: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

That verse not only proved true but also was an actual comfort as I found myself shuffling through the dreadful miles between my breakdown and the end.

At one point, I was trapped in a sunny stretch along Sewell’s Point feeling like I might die at any moment.

Suddenly, drifting from the open windows of a residential home, I heard the strains of the worship song “O Praise the Name (Anástasis),” a song our church family has been focusing on in this season approaching Resurrection Sunday.

Themes of pain, death, and inevitable resurrection overwhelmed me. I would not die. I would live and recount the deeds of the Lord.

I didn’t have the energy to sing or the spare moisture to cry, but I raised a hand and mentally sang along.

Then on the third at break of dawn,
The Son of Heaven rose again.
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King!

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God.

Even now, I’m unable to put into words what it meant to me, hearing that song in that moment.

The Finish

Losing steam partway through the race meant that I was one of the final finishers. While I wasn’t the very last runner on the course, I was among the final dozen or so to trickle in. The police were literally taking down barricades and reopening intersections as I shambled through them.

Still, my family and friends (and random passers-by) cheered me across the line as if I were one of the top finishers.

And you know what? I’m not embarrassed by that.

I spent six months pushing myself to train, struggled through physical, emotional, and mental battles, and in the end, I finished.

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Concluding Thoughts

Running a marathon was an audacious goal for someone like me. Considering my age, temperament, and physical capabilities, it was truly an awesome challenge.

While I feel absolutely no drive to try a full marathon again, I have zero regrets about signing up, enduring the training, and suffering through the experience (although during the race itself, I couldn’t help but think the whole thing had been a huge mistake).

All I can tell you is this: if I can run a marathon, anyone can do anything.

Make a goal, set practical steps, and work toward fulfilling it.

Though you’re worried you might fail, share your journey with friends, family, and loved ones because you will definitely fail without them.

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For Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out (2018 Update)

I’ve never been one to enjoy being scared on purpose. I don’t watch horror movies, relish psychological thrillers, or visit haunted houses.

Occasionally, however, on a long fall evening, I will curl up with a book that matches the season; or while out on a late-evening walk, I will listen to something that will creep me out–but only a little.

If you like to cover similar emotional territory, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve been keeping a list for people like us.

Here’s the update.

Books

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

The author had me right where he wanted me, held captive with nothing but my fear of the unknown propelling me forward. I think I read it in a day, finishing during dinner just before it got dark.

Wildfell, by London Clarke

Creepy Gothic suspense with a modern twist. Romance, travel feels, and things that go bump in the night. Yes, please.

11/22/63, by Stephen King

This isn’t the only Stephen King book I’ve read (his book On Writing is excellent) but it was the first, largely because I was told it “wasn’t too scary.” And it really wasn’t. Just super intense and psychologically twisty. Because…Stephen King.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This is not only a vampire book for people who aren’t into vampire books, but it’s also a creepy book for people who can’t handle creepy books. If that sounds like you, go for it.

Podcasts

Lore, hosted by Aaron Mahnke

I actually gave this one up recently because it started scaring me too badly when I was out running in the early morning or late evening. If I only listened to podcasts from the safety of my home, though, I’d probably still be hooked.

Dr. Death, reported by Laura Beil

Fair warning: this is real life. You may find yourself avoiding medical care after listening to this one.

Happy Face, produced by HowStuffWorks with Melissa Moore

In 1995, Melissa Moore learned that her father was the Happy Face Killer. In this podcast, she reviews her childhood and adolescence, analyzing her life through the lens of this knowledge, understanding her past in a new way. It’s early days still (I’ve only listened up through Episode 3) but can already attest that it’s gripping.

Individual Podcast Episodes

From Stuff You Missed in History: “The Hagley Woods Murder” 

Truth is always creepier than fiction. I mean…who did put Bella in the witch elm?

From This American Life: “House on Loon Lake” 

Enjoy shivering your way through this account of one man’s lifelong obsession with an abandoned house. I first listened while road-tripping home in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Perfectly creepy conditions.

From Criminal: “A Bump in the Night” 

What would you do if you realized someone was living in the crawl space above your bedroom…and that he might be in the house right now…? As a single woman who lives mostly alone, I found this true story almost too much to handle.

From Fictional: “Give Him a Hand” 

A creeptastic modern retelling of the classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw.” I first listened one blustery night as I walked through my neighborhood at dusk. Palm branches flailed against low clouds and raindrops dribbled down the back of my neck as I shivered my way through this. I was never happier to get back to the house.


Are you the type who can only handle being moderately creeped out? If so, and you give any of these recommendations a try, do let me know how everything works out. I want all the shivery details.

Also, let me know what my lists are missing! I look forward to hearing your suggestions in the comments below. Remember, only medium creepy suggestions.


Happy October! While the majority of North Americans are enjoying sweaters, scarves, and pumpkin spice coffees, we here in Florida are still just sweating it out, dealing with soaring temperatures and tropical storms.

Whatever the weather, the days are getting shorter, both in terms of daylight and the number of squares left on the calendar in 2018.

So.

Two important notes:

  1. This week my debut novel Collapsible is enjoying a publisher’s discount on all major e-book distribution channels, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. From now until October 17, 2018, the e-book is just $.99–spread the word and snap it up!
  2. Very soon, I’ll be sending out my fall update. It will include news about my writing life, publication updates, planned appearances, and some personal stuff. Be sure you’re signed up so that you don’t miss out.

Happy Monday, everyone! May all your sweaters be cozy, your apple-picking delightful, and your favorite seasonal blend brewed to perfection.

7 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like an incompetent failure whose successes have been a fluke? Do you fear that your inadequacy will be revealed at any moment?

I do. Whenever the feeling hits, I resort to one of these failsafe methods.

7 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

  • Make it stare at my last finished project. (“Take a good look. I SAID LOOK AT IT.”)
  • Take it for a run. (It often grows tired and lags behind.)
  • Challenge it to a dance off. (We’re both bad dancers, but Imposter Syndrome’s worse.)
  • Sign it up for the SpaceX mission to Mars. (Of course I believe the rumors. And as a bonus, I can watch the launch from my front yard.)
  • Read aloud from Moby Dick. (The chapter on whales puts it to sleep.)
  • Punch it in the face. (Right hook.)
  • Banish it with coffee. (Effective and enjoyable.)

This morning I’ve opted for the coffee.


In all honesty, I’m not certain that Imposter Syndrome is the right term for what I’ve been feeling these days. It’s more like a languid torpor brought on by the sneaking suspicion that this project will never actually end.

I know it’s a lie, but at the moment, it feels true; and whenever it’s time to work, I just want to recline on my purple plush chaise lounge with a bottle of smelling salts like a damsel in a Victorian novel. (Also, I want a purple plush chaise lounge. But who doesn’t?)

Have you found helpful ways of dealing with Imposter Syndrome? How do you motivate yourself to keep going when you feel overwhelmed by challenging work? Please share in the comments below.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be stronger than your uncertainty.

4 Reasons to Persevere in Running Even if You’re Bad at It

When I first started running a few years ago, I was really bad at it. Even now, I’m still only mediocre. Yet I persevere. I have four good reasons for doing so.

Reason 1: It’s a Quick Calorie Burn

This is the main reason why I took up running in the first place. As a writer who spends a fair amount of time in a computer chair, I need regular exercise. Running is quick, effective, and a cheap alternative to the gym, since the streets don’t charge me monthly fees to run them.

Reason 2: No One Punches Me in the Face

Before I took up running, I trained in boxing and kickboxing. Our coach eventually moved out of state, however. The class disbanded, I stopped sparring, and working out now no longer involves the danger of dropping my guard and walking directly into someone’s glove. I can say with some confidence that even a bad run beats getting punched in the face.

Reason 3: I Don’t Have to Be Good 

I’m not out to impress anybody, bring home trophies, or even beat my own personal records. In short, I’m not in it to win it. My goal with every race, every run, and every training session is the same.

“You don’t have to be good,” I tell myself. “You just have to finish.”

The funny thing is, though, I am getting better; but it’s not because I’m pushing myself or following some slick training program. I keep showing up, and the consistency pays off.

Reason 4: The Struggle Is Worth It

Running is difficult. Everything about it is a struggle. In the end, however, it’s worth it.

I feel the same way about my writing. It’s a struggle from beginning to end, and none of those daily writing sessions feel important or impressive. I keep showing up at the keyboard, day in and day out. I plonk down on my computer chair, open a manuscript, and give myself my daily pep talk.

“You don’t have to be good. You just have to finish.”

And, eventually, I do.

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Training sessions and first drafts don’t have to be impressive to prove effective. They just have to be done!

Is there something you’ve been wanting to try but have been too intimidated or too afraid to start? Share in the comments below. Is there something you’ve finally started that you’d been putting off? Tell us all about it so that we can cheer you on.

You also may enjoy seeing how I worked some boxing and kickboxing exploits into my debut novel, Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder.

Happy Monday, everybody! May your coffee be stronger than your yawns.