Monday, January 25, 2016

Half Marathons, Star Wars, and the Post Race Zombie Shuffle

Did I mention it started at 5:30 & I'm not a morning person?
It's been a few days since I ran my first half marathon, and I still can't quite believe I did it. I actually went thirteen point one miles. When I signed up for it months ago, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal. But as the race drew closer and the long runs grew, well, longer, it started to seem like the craziest idea I'd ever had.

I did a pretty good job of making a training plan and sticking to it. When I really started on the long runs, though, I came down with strep throat and a sinus infection, and that threw me off. But fortunately, I had considered the fact that something like that might happen and accounted for it in my training plan, so it wasn't a big deal in the end. My longest run before the race ended up being ten miles. I figured if I could get to ten miles, I could surely do another three and change after that. Besides, I'm pretty slow, so I didn't want to take up a lot of time running on my weekends leading up to the race. And I'm lazy. Did I mention that? I'm probably the laziest person to ever run a half marathon.

Follow that Rebel pilot!
I used my love of Star Wars as a motivating factor for this race and signed up for the Disney Star Wars half along with a friend of mine. I spent a lot of time figuring out what to wear. Seriously, I probably spent more time on this outfit than I did on any other, with the exception of my wedding. I even pulled my hair back in a Rey-inspired fashion, with three little ponytails (my hair is too short to make the loops like hers). But I wasn't the only one obsessed with finding the perfect Star Wars/running outfit. Popular outfits included R2D2, Princess Leia, Rey, Chewie and Han, and BB8.

The run started just outside the park and then made its way inside. Initially we ran 'behind the scenes' where the service vehicles and park employees go. It was dark, and in some places bumpy, but doable. There was one grumpy guy who shouted a reminder about walkers to the right, runners to the left, before invoking Jesus, and not in prayer. That guy needed the endorphins to kick in, stat.

Stop for photos you must. Excuse to rest, it is.
Star Wars music played the whole time we ran through the park. It was great! And of course there were photo opportunities with some of the characters, also known as good excuses to stop and rest for a minute while waiting in line. Once we left the back roads of Disney for the main parts, it became downright magical. We ran through the castle, past Toon Town, and out of Disneyland and into California Adventures. We ran through Radiator Springs and the boardwalk area. I kept thinking, "Ooh, we've got to come back here!"

I ran without headphones, which I've done before, but not for such a long distance. Still, I didn't miss them at all in the park because there was so much to see and hear.

And then we ran out of the park.

These are tired legs.
The Star Wars music died away, and there was only the sound of feet shuffling on pavement, tired breathing, and conversation drifting around us as the sun came up. We ended up on Harbor Blvd, and we were on that road for a long time. A long, long time. Did I mention we were on that road for a long time? I panicked for a bit there, wondering how I was going to make it with roughly nine more miles without headphones, no more Disney park, no more characters.

But wait! There was more. Bands lined up a couple of miles down the road. They played for us and cheered us on along with some cheerleaders. They held up signs like "Worst Parade Ever!" Ha! They were enthusiastic and great. And then there were other people cheering us on, and a guy randomly handing out Red Vines. Thanks for the Red Vine, random guy.

But one of the best parts was one area of the course where a bunch of people dressed as Star Wars characters had gathered. There were characters from all of the movies out there with props and their cars painted to look like droids, and there was steampunk Star Wars, and just so many people dressed up and having a great time. It was like running past an SF convention. I loved it. Geeks and runners coming together, sharing their love of Star Wars!

With about a mile and a quarter to go, we passed our hotel. Our families were out there, cheering us on. By then, I was pretty sure I was actually going to make it to the finish line. It was so close! We left Harbor Blvd behind (thank goodness, I had seen enough of that street) for the side streets leading to Disney. The crowds grew thicker, and at one point, one person shouted, "You're only 400 yards from the finish! Only 400 yards from Starbucks!" It was like he knew exactly how to motivate me. My friend took my hand when the finish line came into view, and we crossed together. It was done! Over! That race was in the books!

Tired? Check. Proud of myself? Check!
And let me tell you, if you ever want to see a great example of what shambling zombies might look like, watch the people who have just finished a half marathon. I don't think any of us could walk straight, or very fast, or move a whole lot. We sort of shuffled past the ice and Biofreeze tent, grabbed our bananas and snack packs and water, paused for pictures, and then shuffled to the parking lot where we found an empty piece of asphalt and parked it. And getting to my feet after sitting? It wasn't pretty. There was a lot of moaning, just like zombies. And later when I took a shower, I was extremely grateful that grab bars exist.

Right after the race, my friend congratulated me and told me I had just done what only 2% of the population had done. I said, "Yeah, I can see why. It's hard!" I was glad to have it behind me. I swore I would never do another race that long ever again.

Today, I looked at signing up for a half marathon in October. Running a half is apparently like childbirth. Afterwards, you forget how painful it was and want another one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Guest Post With Daniel M. Bensen

Today I'd like to welcome Daniel M. Bensen to the blog to talk about how dinosaurs can fix your writing routine.


I wrote my newest book, Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen, while my wife was pregnant, and by the time I got around to publishing it, I had two daughters, 3 years two months old, respectively. Needless to say, my work habits suffered many changes in this harsh environment, but like small mammals at the end of the Mesozoic, anything left must be pretty good at surviving. If your house is inhabited by shrieking children (or something as distracting, such as war-cyborgs or velociraptors), you might appreciate some of the writing habits I've evolved.

1. Do what you can with what you have where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt got things accomplished, didn't he? And so can I!

In order to write, I need privacy, time, and energy. Sometimes I can predict when the three will converge, but most often, I can't. I have to make sure I am equipped (mentally and physically) to write in whatever free time falls to me, no matter where I am. I got a device I can use to take notes (I've tried my phone and a pocket-sized notebook, but what works best for me is the note-taking function on my kindle). I got another device I can use to word-process wherever I am (a small Asus laptop). I also leave bread-crumbs for myself like "describe the swamp" or "how does Andrea feel about her neighbors?" so I can pick up the thread of whatever thought process I was in when I was interrupted. When that isn't possible, I go back and read through what I wrote already, making line-edits. By the time I hit the place where I stopped writing last time, I usually have enough inertia to keep going.

2. Manage your expectations

But the other mental thing I have to do is acknowledge that in this place at this time, I won't be able to finish that climax scene with super-powered titans battling in a flood while a Tyrannosaur stalks them and life and love hang in the balance. It's just too big and complicated and damn it, this bus ride is only 15 minutes long. I'll just jot notes for an essay for my blog instead.

The hard part is when you don't know how long this window of writing time is going to be. Fifteen minutes? Two hours? Am I going to spend that time writing emails and taking notes, or will I be able to dig down into that bad-guy sex scene, where the formerly unassuming paleontologist sinks ever further into debauchery? Twenty-four five-minute chunks of writing time do not equal one continuous two-hour block. Even worse is a two hour period in which you might be interrupted at any minute. There's nothing more frustrating than spinning your brain up to speed to deal with the psychological horrors your character is experiencing and then getting yanked away from the computer because your daughter peed on the floor. Then, by the time you've cleaned it up and changed her pants and given her some more apple juice and cajoled her into coloring in her books again, you have totally forgotten what you were going to write. What you need is …

3. Routine

My very understanding wife and I have worked out a schedule. There are certain times of day when I'm "on duty" and taking care of the kids, and other times when she's "on duty," giving me an hour-and-a-half of predictable writing time that I can more or less count on. I'm also lucky enough to be in control of my own schedule at work, so I know when I have a long gap between classes. Before a big chunk of time, I can put myself in the mood by doing some sort of ritual. That ritual used to be "take a shower," but if I'm not at home, "drink a cup of coffee and chew mint gum" works as well, especially if all I'm doing is incremental changes to stuff I've already written. "Take a walk, and take notes while walking" turned out to be a great way to break writers block and write something from scratch. When I grow up, I'm getting me a writing treadmill like Brandon Sanderson!

So that's how I manage to keep writing as well as working and fathering. Of course, your mileage may vary. Some people won't be able to write during the work day. Other people will be able to work early in the morning or late at night while their kids are asleep (I can't. I just produce garbage until my body shuts down in protest). Maybe you have worked out another trick to squeeze that extra bit of writing in. Please tell me in the comments!

Please, please tell me. They'll be waking up from their naps any minute. And they'll be hungry.


Daniel M Bensen is a father, English teacher, and author. His new book, Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen is available now from Amazon. It has a baby in it! And some dinosaurs.