Grit and Determination: On Ultrarunning and Life

My brother, Marcus, is an ultrarunner. He has finished (and not finished) several long-distance trail runs over the past decade or so, with the maximum distance being 100 miles.

Two weeks ago, he came back to Ohio to run the Mohican Trail 100. Mohican is a special place for us. We went there frequently as kids. So, I understood why this run was important to him. He attempted it in 2015 and didn’t finish. The weather conditions made the trails treacherous, and he was concerned about injuring himself and being unable to do another 100-mile race later the summer.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, it has some applications to life outside of running.

I was part of his crew for this most recent run. It was me, our mom, our aunt, and my husband. I have never crewed before. None of us had, except my Mom (Mohican 2015). My sister-in-law, Marcus’ wife, was also on the crew during the daytime hours, but she paced him at night during the worst part of things. Just calling her crew really does her a disservice, but she was there. And she is experienced at crewing, which helped us a lot.

Let me tell you, it’s WORK. If you have never crewed an ultrarunner, well, here’s a brief summary of how that works:

You haul the runner’s gear to every aid station you have access to. This means a cooler filled with whatever they choose for nourishment, and a bag filled with extra shoes, clothes, anti-chafe products, etc. You do this AROUND THE CLOCK. The runners don’t stop, so neither do you. You check at each aid station to see what food they have available there, in case your runner wants pizza or a cup of hot broth.

There is a lot of waiting at the aid stations. You watch runners get medical treatment (and sometimes leave in ambulances). You cheer for other runners as they come in. And when your runner comes in, you get them whatever they need to keep going – a bottle of Ensure, a grilled cheese sandwich, a leg massage. And above all, you stay positive and encouraging. It’s a mental game even more than a physical one.

And because things aren’t hard enough, we got torrential rain overnight. Bad for the runners. Bad for the crew (because parking wasn’t always right by the aid station, flooding was widespread, and keeping his gear dry was a challenge). Bad for everyone.

To make a long story short, he finished. The rain made the trails slick and muddy. There was poor visibility throughout the night. He told us that he could hear trees falling somewhere in the forest during the night, so conditions were even dangerous. His clothes and shoes were soaked through. Hypothermia was a very real possibility. The conditions slowed him down enough to where we were concerned he wouldn’t finish by the cut-off time (32 hours). But he pushed through, and he picked up the pace when daylight came. He needed that finish.

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Pure grit and determination.

That’s the takeaway from this.

I’m not a runner. I couldn’t even run around the block unless I was being chased by a machete-wielding maniac. But watching him finish was a victory for us, his crew, as much as it was for him. We were all invested.

And now I have my own long-distance run (metaphorically speaking) to finish. I’m starting grad school in the fall. This is my second attempt at grad school. I didn’t finish the first. I’m not going to get into the reasons for that – a lot of it was beyond my control.

But this time, I will finish. And I have a support system to cheer me on and push me forward. I can even visualize my graduation day. I need to keep that vision in my head. Eyes on the prize.

I wonder, at this point in my life, if I’m too tired to do this. If I’m too busy to do this. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time with adult responsibilities, and now I’m piling on another one.

Grit and determination. If ultrarunners can get through what seem like insurmountable obstacles to get to the finish line, I can surely do this.

The Nest

For me, one of the great joys of spring is when birds choose to nest in my yard. We had robins and mourning doves last year, and we did again this year.

The robins decided to nest in my weeping cherry tree, low enough that I could photograph it fairly easily. The babies just left the nest earlier this week (bittersweet!), but it was a fun two weeks watching them.

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The dove nest appears to only have one baby. Got my first glimpse of it today.

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Evolution

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I’ve been keeping some form of a journal or diary since elementary school. It all started with a little diary that locked with a key – perfect for writing third grade secrets. As I got older, I would use spiral-bound notebooks or the nice journals you buy at Barnes & Noble. (I often got them as gifts because it seems an obvious thing to give to a person who likes to write.) As I got older and carpal tunnel set in, I posted on Live Journal instead. The primary difference, aside from the medium, is that I no longer wrote for myself. I had an audience.

I still try to hand write in a journal on occasion, though it often causes a carpal tunnel flare-up. And my handwriting is much worse than it used to be.

For years, I kept every diary/journal I wrote in. A few years back, I looked at my very first one. I believe I was eight or nine when I got it. As you might imagine, it contained no deep thoughts – just a brief summary of my day and escapades with friends I can no longer remember. My entire world was home, school, church, and Girl Scouts, more or less. I didn’t feel the diary was worth keeping.

Recently, I pulled the remaining journals out of a storage container to arrange them on a new shelf. I thought it might be time to revisit them. I haven’t read most of them since I filled out their pages.

Last Saturday, I started reading through the journal I kept from 1991-1993, covering most of my junior year up through a few weeks after my high school graduation. I cringed in mortification at much of it. I had a certain obsession with an unrequited crush. Days alternated between the best day ever or the worst day of my life. My world seemed to be ending at every bad thing that happened. I clearly only saw the world in black and white. And I was so unrealistic about romantic love, clearly falling for the fantasy you only see in fairy tales and Disney movies. (And cheap romance novels, too, but I wouldn’t have known a thing about that at the time.)

So much teenage angst. I was embarrassed at myself after reading my journal, but I also had to forgive myself. What did I know of life from age 16 to 18? Hell, I’m almost 44 now and I still don’t understand anything about life.

I destroyed the notebook. It was spiral bound with pink-lined paper. It had bright pastel geometric designs on the cover. Very ‘90s. It was easy enough to rip out the pages and run them through the shredder. The thought of it outliving me and anyone finding it and reading it – it’s unthinkable.

I’m glad I read it, though. As cringeworthy as it was, it reminds me that I’ve come a long way from that awkward teenager. I have a much thicker skin, for a start. I have the strength and experience to handle adversity. I have more realistic expectations about the way life is – the way love is.

My life certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would at that age, but I’m so very glad it didn’t. I’ve had more adventure in my life than I ever dreamed possible.

And now I have other journals to read. The next one picked up where my last one left off in the summer of 1993 and finished up just before I started classes at Ohio State in 1997. That will, no doubt, cover a lot, as I attended community college, dropped out to go to travel agent school, failed as a travel agent, then went back to college (Bowling Green State University).

I may have more to say about this topic after reading that. It’s interesting to look at the evolution of my life.

Garden 2019

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Last summer, when I wrote The Accidental Gardener, I was in the middle of my second successful growing season. My stepdad helped me, insofar as choosing the plants or seeds and planting/sowing them. I took over from there.

I decided this year would be different. I would choose my own plants and seeds and plant everything myself. I even changed out what I was growing.

The past two seasons, I grew Better Boy tomatoes, which are incredibly productive and delicious. But after two seasons of Better Boy tomatoes up to my ears, I wanted to try something different. This year, I have one Cherokee Purple and one Husky Red Cherry – these I bought at Lowe’s (Bonnie Plants). I love to roast tomatoes and smaller ones are better for that. And I was attracted to the Cherokee Purple for the color.

I already had garlic sprouting. It didn’t grow last year for some reason, but it started shooting up through the soil in February. It wasn’t part of my garden plan for this year, but I worked around it.

The strawberries are starting to come back from previous years. And I dug up a couple of my raspberry bushes – three was two too many – and the one I kept is coming back. But I have to be vigilant. I have vines starting to pop up in the lawn and in various places in the garden where it’s not supposed to be. It’s really hard to control.

I bought the book Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting. I highly recommend it if you’re a gardener. I really helped me map out where to plant everything for the best possible results, including pest control. (In previous years, the raspberries in particular have been prone to pests. I’ve had Japanese beetle infestations, which I’m hoping to better mitigate this year.)

I wanted non-GMO seeds. And I wanted to support a local business. I ordered my seeds from Ohio Heirloom Seeds, which is based here in Columbus. To be honest, I picked out the carrots I’m growing based on the names – Cosmic Purple and Atomic Red. I am also growing Detroit Golden beets, Black-Seeded Simpson and Buttercrunch lettuces, Cherry Belle radishes, and Bloomsdale Savoy spinach. I also picked up some sweet yellow onion bulbs from Walmart (also non-GMO).

I added more garden soil this year and mixed in some fertilizer. Believe me, the soil was plenty fertile the first year because the previous homeowners composted the heck out of it – it was still pretty nutrient-rich last year without having to add anything to it. But I figured it was probably due for fertilizer.

I also bought some straw to use as mulch. With the garden prepped and all my supplies purchased, I got to work.

Two weeks ago, I planted the cooler weather crops: lettuce, spinach, and radishes. They are all coming up, but the radishes in particular are doing well. I need to thin them out today, actually. But the greens are good to eat (though with a bit of bite to them, just like the radish itself), so nothing is going to be wasted.

Earlier this week, I planted everything else. I had to cover the tomatoes last night because the weather has been chilly and blustery (no frost, but wind chills close enough to freezing that it’s better to be safe than sorry).

I’ll have to plant more seeds throughout the season to keep things going, though some things, like the lettuce, don’t do so well in the heat of summer.

One of my co-workers recently said that gardening felt too much like work and he couldn’t understand the enjoyment I get out of it. It gives me great joy to see these plants emerge from the soil, knowing that I dropped a seed into the earth and nurtured it. And it’s even better once that plant is ready to harvest and eat. Yes, it is work. But there is reward. And that reward is being able to pull a jar of homemade tomato soup out of my freezer in the dead of winter to enjoy the taste of summertime.

 

Columbus State Writers Conference

I attended a writers conference last Saturday at Columbus State Community College. It’s a free annual event. It doesn’t compare to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop I attended last summer (which, sadly, was the last AWW workshop – RIP), but I felt it was worth my time. And, as I said, it’s free.

The first session I attended was Susan A.C. Hogan’s “Writing Across the Landscape: A Workshop on Writing About Place.” As a former professional travel writer, I was curious about this session. She asked us to do a free write about our favorite place. Honestly, it was more difficult than I anticipated because no “favorite place” came to mind. So, I started to write about being home and, more specifically, my garden. Then I suddenly got a very vivid memory of watching the sun rise over Crater Lake. I ended up writing about that instead.

That is a beautiful memory. My husband and I were spending the night at Crater Lake Lodge in 2011. We were on a road trip from Seattle to Fairfield, California. He was still asleep, but I was awake early, so I crept out of our room and made my way down to the lobby with a book. I was going to read in front of the fire. But first, I found a spot on the porch and watched the sun rise over the lake.

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Afterwards, I sat in front of the fireplace in perfect peace and contentment, sipping coffee and reading a book. It was a highlight of the trip for me, and my husband slept through it all.

The second session I attended was Casanova T.L. Green’s “It Shall Spring Forth: Making Your Writing Revelatory.” It focuses on moving past personal barriers (trauma and bias) and creative barriers to produce impactful work. We didn’t do any free writing in this session. I suppose that’s a good thing. If you have a lot to unpack, it’s probably not a good idea to start unpacking it in a 50-minute session.

And believe me, I have a lot to unpack. I have written a little already about the emotional abuse I endured growing up (and well into my adulthood until I decided I needed to take control and put an end to it). There is a lot more I can write about that if I ever take the time to sit down and focus and unpack everything.

But what’s at the forefront of my mind now is the disastrous end to an otherwise successful two years I had in graduate school. Were it not for that, I would have a master’s degree. It’s something I need to write about. It’s been 16 years, and I’ve buried all my trauma and resentment from that time. I’ve made several attempts to start writing about it and haven’t been able to break through whatever barrier is holding me back. But I actually came to a revelation a couple days ago doing my morning free write – a habit I’m trying to get into. It’s something I never thought about before. And I think that lifted the barrier to writing about it. It’s just a matter of taking the time to sit down and write the story. I’m no longer ashamed of my failure. We all fail. It’s how you rise above it that matters.

The final session was Susan Flatt’s “How to Tip Toe Around Our Internal Editor.” Confession time: I am horrible at turning off my internal editor while I write. I edit as I go, which pretty much everyone says not to do. But I can’t help myself. I tried just this past week to free write for 10 minutes every day without correcting typos or any other mistakes, and the red squiggles that highlighted my mistakes were so distracting, I could think of little else. This was an interesting session, but I’m not really sure it helped me tell my internal editor to back off while I write. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

I think the sessions could be a bit longer, but otherwise, it’s a good event. I am hoping to go again next year.

Casita Bonita

Three years ago, right around the time my husband retired from the Air Force, we still hadn’t made any firm decisions on what we were going to do post-retirement. I had a good job already, so we considered staying where we were (Annapolis, Maryland). He would either go back to school and finish his degree or find a job.

One of the other things we discussed was living full-time in an RV and working remotely as we traveled around the U.S. and Canada. We could make it work on his military pension and any additional income we generated from remote work. On several levels, this idea was extremely appealing to me. But I was also sick of moving around all the time and really just wanted to feel settled. I was also worried about the impractical aspects of it. What about medical care? I’d rather see one doctor regularly than a different one each time. (I was already tired of changing doctors every time we moved – and vet care for the dogs.) How would we get mail?

There are full-time RVers who make this work for them, and I knew on some level we could, too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to fully commit to the idea. Living in such a small space with two large dogs would also mean less privacy – nowhere to really go if either of us wanted some alone time.

And then it became a moot point. He started sending out job applications, and the State of Ohio called. So, here we are. We have the house. We’re settled. I have a different job now (still a good job, just different). He likes the work he does. We feel blessed to have the life we have.

But he still had that RVing itch that didn’t get scratched. He spent the past three years pining away for a Wanderlodge in particular. He came close to buying one not that long ago. He had enough doubts about it that he stopped himself.

But he still talked about how badly he wanted some kind of camper for weekend traveling. I argued about the impracticality of a large RV for weekend trips. If we were going to get one, it should be something smaller and easier to deal with if we wanted to go away on short notice. We could think about upgrading to an RV after civilian retirement, and then we could take longer trips.

I think I finally convinced him. Last weekend, he started making a case for the Casita Spirit. We watched a couple YouTube videos about the 2019 models and what they offered.

I really didn’t need convincing. I knew this was something he wanted so much and had saved for. It’s far more practical for us than an RV. It will be easier to store and maintain. And I really don’t mind what kind of travel trailer we get, so long as it has the basic amenities and we can be comfortable in it.

Earlier this week, I left town on a business trip. While I was gone, he talked to the folks at Casita. He got a quote and the paperwork. When I came back Thursday night, I just needed to sign it to make it official. Our order is in. It will be ready in May.

Our very own 2019 17-foot deluxe Casita Spirit!

We already have three camping trips booked. The first at Alum Creek State Park, then at a resort outside Mohican State Park (the weekend my brother runs the 100-mile race there – we’re crewing him), and then at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park for my husband’s birthday.

I’m already trying to think of a name for it. I mean, you have to name something like this, right?

I am a writer

(Hat tip: How to Say “I’m a Writer” and Mean It)

“Her name will appear on books someday.”

That’s what my sixth grade Language Arts teacher said at an awards ceremony with school faculty, staff, parents, and other students present. She was presenting me with a special award. I was a star pupil.

I suppose it was the moment I realized I was meant to be a writer. Before, I wrote without thinking much about it. She noticed my knack for it and felt the need to encourage it.

However, I never really lived up to her statement that my name would be on books. It has, but not in the way she meant. I’ve been quoted in a couple books: Once as a book reviewer (a snippet of my book review was printed on the author’s next novel) and another in a book about being child-free by choice.

As an author, no. My name has never been on a book and may never be.

But I am a writer.

Writers come in many forms. It always amazes me how nearly everyone, upon hearing I’m a writer, assumes I write books. As if that’s the only thing writers write.

No.

There are poets. There are essayists. Short story writers. Playwrights. Screenwriters. Bloggers. Copywriters. Journalists. Novelists. The list goes on. And I’m some of these things.

Don’t get me wrong, any of the writers listed above can publish books. But people who don’t know me generally assume I’m a novelist, as if writer = novelist. And that’s just not true.

I started a novel once. It was at some point when we lived in Germany. I think I managed to get about 60 pages into it, and then I realized I bit off more than I could chew. Things went off the rails and I gave up, overwhelmed.

I rarely think of that unfinished novel now, but I still have it on my hard drive. I am unwilling to let go of it entirely. As long as it stays there, there is possibility.

After Grandma died, I found a printout of the first chapter among her belongings. She was so excited when I told her I was writing a novel. My only regret is that I never finished it for her to read. If I ever do finish it, I am dedicating it to her. I can at least do that.

My writing journey has evolved a lot over the years. I used to read and write a lot of poetry. I don’t, now. I wrote a play or two when I was an undergraduate. I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but I was experimenting. I’ve written a few short stories here and there. But I don’t think I hit my stride until I discovered journalism, blogging, and copywriting. Those genres are where I seem to excel. I’ve made my career out of them.

Travel writing became my main focus when I lived in Germany. First, it was blogging – I kept a Blogger site detailing my travels for family and friends who were interested. Then my blog got noticed by a few people who wanted me to write travel guides and articles for various websites. I started getting paid to write about my travels. Sometimes I traveled just to write about it because an editor was interested in a particular place.

After I moved back to the US, I couldn’t keep up with the travel writing quite as much. I did a little here and there when we lived in Seattle and again in Maryland. But the focus shifted.

I started writing about education and careers – things like how to become a medical transcriptionist or how to improve your sixth grader’s vocabulary. Not the most creative stuff, but it was steady work. Then I got a steady gig writing short blog posts for various law offices – again, not super creative. I also had a brief stint transcribing letters to Congress. This entailed listening to phone surveys with constituents and typing up the messages they wished to convey to their senators and representatives.

I had better assignments than that. I’ve written for The Seattle Times (the jobs section) a couple times. That’s one of the giant feathers in my cap. So, too, is the assignment I got writing facility descriptions for recreation.gov (which still exist on the site at the time I write this). I also had an article published in Stars and Stripes European edition in my early days as a professional writer. Years later, I still got emails from people who found it helpful. (It was a piece about pottery shopping in Nove, Italy – a popular trip for military spouses.)

A lot of the things I have written in my career seem rather insignificant, but over time, they have added to a rather large body of work. And I’ve proven to myself that I’m versatile. I can write with authority on a broad range of topics. (Mad research skills – thanks, Liberal Arts degree!)

This has led me to where I am now – in the marketing department of an MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) distributor. I write and edit product copy. I write and edit blog posts. I write short and long pieces – some more journalistic, others more marketing. I try to be creative when possible, though tools, parts, and shop supplies aren’t the most inspiring topics.

And so, this blog. This is my creative space. When inspiration strikes, this is where I go. And I never know where inspiration will strike. Or when. I often don’t have the mental energy to write after doing it all day for work.

Yet, I’m a writer. I may not be a disciplined writer when it comes to what I write outside of work. But I write. Every day.

Will my name appear on books someday? I guess only time will tell.