STOP & Bask in the Completion of Any Miles

I kept going. I told myself that was enough downtime. I told myself this was less training, much less at thirty miles per week. After all, I had run over 100km in twenty-seven hours on a mountain, a feat that I never thought this short human could achieve. I was stunned, probably. Nothing sank or stopped. I told myself, “what’s next is…” There was no question of “what’s next?” I told myself to stick with the plan. The month after the ultra, I published a book, THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (November 2019) and planned a book launch. Friends, family, strangers, dogs…we laughed and played trivia about health, dogs, yoga, and books. I made up the game. There were prizes.


And then, I drafted a chunk of another book, about 40,000 words in the month of November. And, carried on with my life—family, school pick up and drop off, sports, teaching yoga, teaching Religious Exploration, other projects, accepting submissions for volume three of the yoga book, attending awards ceremonies….


Around this time, I went outside by the vitex plants for meditation. I had become increasingly infatuated with vitex after writing a short and strange fairytale, “Where Bees Sleep”, in which the plants offer a portal to another world. It’s in a bonus section, “The Changeling Stories”, in the back of The Adventures to Pawnassus. I was mesmerized by the peacefulness under the plants where hundreds of bees hung upside down while sleeping on the purple flower blooms. Dew covered the plants and the bees. Even if I blew a breath into the eyes of the bees, they slept on, as if they were bats, dangling from each stalk’s tiny blossoms and facing the rising sun. I tried to go out early in the morning before daybreak truly warmed them. The ripe moments enthralled me, and I was convinced that I was increasingly onto them. The frost crystals and sunrise invited me outside to continue.


So, of course, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready to teach yoga at the Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra and run the 50km. About seven weeks had passed since the Cloudsplitter. I felt great teaching yoga the night before the race. I stayed close by at my parents’ house. The next morning gave us perfect early winter conditions. Not too cold, no snow, a little mud and fog. I was exuberant. I ran with pure joy and waved to my parents through checkpoints. I felt alive and happy, and I tripped. No problem. I trip often. Something felt tingling, almost burning through my body, as I carried on and focused on each step forward. I tried to shake it off. I snagged my toes on a few places but managed to stay off the ground, lurching suddenly forward sometimes. I walked for a few minutes and grounded until everything felt steady and ready to go again. Slowly, I trotted, faster, a little pickup, until it was alright. I settled into my stride, then I tripped and fell. I fell hard. My chest barreled into a tree branch. I was up and going, but I couldn’t seem to breathe any life into my legs with momentum. I tripped again and the pulse sent a shock of heat and fear through my face. My feet kept tripping on everything. I walked. I walked, trying not to ask too many questions, staving off the, “Why so many falls?” concern of my inner wisdom. I trotted again, passed a Santa Claus in the forest, and that made me laugh. High five, running. I regained my confidence, knowing I was headed out of this section soon. I made it to an aid station, distance from the mountain bike trails, and I was refocused.


Okay, I was going to be fine. I refueled, talked to some people at the aid station, saw my parents, and headed out, taking my time. I was going through the motions but instead of recovering as I usually could while going slowly through the process, I felt more and more depleted. I stumbled and fell a few more times, just while walking and once while taking a picture. I tried all of the checklist–I was hydrated, I was fueled, I had electrolytes, and I tried my usual program in a pinch–gum, music, that tree up there, lucky to be in motion, gratitude list, counting breaths, taking pictures. Usually, one in that list will fix everything and the bliss of running can resume for a while. This time, the unexpected happened: Chills. Shaking. “No!” That’s the worst anytime, but nothing worked to make them stop. I ran to get warm and fell again, sprawled out around by the lake. “It doesn’t make sense when it isn’t even that cold, and I haven’t even gone very far compared,” I told myself these things, teeth rattling. By this time, my frustration was at a high, but beyond that, I also knew that I was mostly frustrated because I knew that I needed to stop. I knew that I shouldn’t have run this far in a race without more time between ultras. I knew this truth suddenly was within me, and I was giving in to it. The chills and shakes made it harder for me to focus, challenging for me to keep good footing even while walking. As soon as I saw my parents at a road crossing, I got in the SUV. I called it and let the race director know that I was dropping out and going quickly to warmth. I couldn’t stop shaking and told my dad to pull over so I could throw up.


I slept for a few days and weeks, really. I mourned the loss of the second half of the Bell Ringer and my love of the trails that I wanted to run so much. I yelled at myself, but went back to sleep. I was bruised, hobbling, and sore from falling so often. I completely paused my running and writing. I slept until 1 pm. My husband picked up the pieces that I had to sit down for a while.
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I allowed the exhaustion to take over, but it made me sad. Sweating is inspiration for me, and running influences my mind and that determines how and when I write. “I have an addiction,” I told my husband. “I need to sweat and I’m an endorphin junkie for it, and I don’t know how to get through this. I feel so much happier after I’ve been active.” I didn’t enjoy the plunge of rest, the deep ravine that came after the mountain. I had expected the Cloudsplitter 100km (actually 69 miles) to crush me while I was there, but it was like a hungry ghost in waiting, pausing, lingering, and unexpectedly, I was hit with the weight and depth of it. I suppose that you can’t go into places like that without coming out of them a little torn for the wear, but I thought maybe I’d made it, been given a lucky pass that had allowed me to do just that.

This assumption wasn’t correct. I learned an important lesson in my own training, and that’s the length of total rest and relaxation that I need between big moments of exertion. My body’s chemistry was all mixed up, and I hadn’t recognized that the moment was ripe for rest. My hormones, my vitamin and mineral levels, everything needed time to replenish. Finishing a book and drafting a new one are mentally draining and that also depletes the resources of the body as well as feelings of vitality and peak performance. I didn’t feel typical feelings of failure because I know better than that. Yet, I still felt plagued by my lack of discernment to realize what I was asking from my body, but I also felt satisfied at allowing myself to go through the process naturally, with the plan that I thought was good for me, especially since it was my first ultra of this caliber at the same time as the growth of my writing practice.

Without trying the other ultra so close to the previous finish, I wouldn’t have known what I needed regarding a deeper level of rest. I would have wondered “what if?” had I not pushed myself with all of the activities at that time.

The process led me here, to the decision that I don’t want to repeat that learning experience, and I will give myself adequate rest between action. After over a month of rest and relaxation, which included walks and mild core exercises, I am finally recharged inside. I picked up my cross training, something recommended to help my running by G who I met during the Cloudsplitter. I started biking about ten hours a week, and I love it. I’m back running on the trails, too, but with less mileage right now. I took my running to the treadmill so that I can evaluate it. It works like sensory deprivation therapy for me–running inside on a treadmill facing a block wall, but when I turn the treadmill, there’s a window where I can see the vitex, a reminder to rest. I can focus on my body without any of the distractions of the trail for some of my training.

Before this happened, I continued to increase my trail running mileage and writing output in order to achieve more goals. I would make it to a milestone and plan for the next one, then keep moving. I didn’t stop to truly celebrate. I didn’t stop to soak in the rewards on a deeper level, one that’s rejuvenating for the whole body. In my evaluations, I also realized that happened around the time when I stopped drinking alcohol. While not drinking is wonderful for my training and focus, I didn’t realize how much celebratory events truly are intertwined with alcohol. When the drinks got pitched from my experience, my celebrations no longer included the rest that often came with time off for drinks.

So, I started going through the list of what provided me with rest and inspiration, as well as what made me feel celebratory—-being in the presence of my family and strolling along without a task, laughing with my husband, watching and experiencing dance, music, and art performances, simply observing in nature for no reason, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating cake, building bonfires, dancing, and playing on playgrounds. I’ve been enjoying all of those, and the awareness that it is satisfying to stop and bask in completion without looking forward, simply being tired and happy at the end of rewarding work.

Note: The Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra 50km is a beautiful and fun race that I have completed in the past. Here’s a blog about that experience.

Stashed Away–The Secret Letters

This is part three of a series on letter-writing in fiction.

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Secret letters can create many routes in a novel, and they offer the ultimate versatility to your story. These secret letters that suddenly appear in a book, they allow some of the deepest twists possible in storytelling. The story becomes the owl with its head turned all the way around, and you might even be able to stand the plot on its head at the same time.

I’ve noticed that the novels with secret letters don’t set out to be epistolary. Those secret letters are not referenced in the beginning of the book. The narrator never alludes to letters or secrets in that way. Then, the secret letters surprise everyone by showing up like a poof of dusty magic.

You can make it subtle, while retaining the lucidity of the scene and the significance of that moment in the storyline. In Multiple Exposure, Ellen Masters is legally adopted by her grandmother and grows up with a distant relationship to her mother. When her mother comes for a rare visit to see Ellen graduate from high school, Ellen’s mother finds all of the letters with money still stuffed inside that she and Ellen’s stepfather mailed to Ellen over the years. Prior to this scene, the narrator, Ellen, has never let the reader know that her mother and stepfather mailed letters and money to her. It should come as a bit of a shocking revelation on the part of the narrator to the reader for many reasons. The scene shifts again quickly, and this serves as a striking memory flash. Those letters are never mentioned again in the book, and there’s no reason to do so, as they served their purpose in the story.

You can make secret letters have a generational impact by revealing an even bigger secret decades later. In my second novel, Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel, I used the idea of secret letters again, and they lead to the revelation of a secret that changes the family structure (for this blog, I won’t spoil the story and reveal that here). These letters are about the history of the Ballard family and are never seen by the narrator, Robin Ballard. She hears the story of the secret love letters from her Great Aunt Cora, whose heart is broken as a young woman by not receiving anymore letters from her secret lover. She tells her great niece about it decades later: “I don’t think my heart stopped hoping I’d open the mailbox and find my name written by his hand until I finally married someone else and moved away from there. It was like the mailbox could never be the same again.” For Cora, the letters are painful, but for her great niece, Robin, they are a revelation.

To read more about Multiple Exposure, my
first novel about narrator Ellen Masters who is trying to raise her daughter, hold down a career and home, all while facing the fears that surface due to her husband’s deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq and a shocking murder that takes place close to her home, visit thorncraftpublishing.com

You’ll also find more information about my second novel, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, which follows the generational stories of a middle Tennessee family and the various talents of the Ballard family, from shaman, to moonshiner, to singer, and more.

Parts One and two in this series are about the confessional letter and passing notes in high school, respectively.

Flashback: Passing Notes in High School

This is part two of a series on letter-writing in literature.

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The days of passing paper notes in school are fading from our culture. When I was in high school over twenty years ago, we used notebook paper and created elaborate folds, code words, and nicknames. We knew where to pass notes between classes, when to pass them during class, and even who could be trusted to pass a note without reading it. Now, most students simply send texts and emails to one another with their phones.

In her novel, The Mosquito Hours, Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo reminds the reader about these changes in communications and letter writing. The epistolary novel doesn’t have to be a book about letters mailed and received through the post office. DeLorenzo shows how friends write notes in school, and she shares the correspondence between best friends Vivian and Raine in high school. DeLorenzo allows the reader to see Vivian and Raine’s code words. This reveals the slang and cultural trends, but it also makes the reader feel intimately involved in the relationship between the friends. Showing the letters expresses their relationship in a way that we wouldn’t have understood without the notes. We can see Vivian as a high school girl, even though she is a young grandmother during the current time of the story. The notes act as flashbacks to reveal a different time in her life. Thus, the notes show us their relationship rather than a character telling the reader about their past.

To read more about The Mosquito Hours by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo, a novel suggested as a Best Summer Reads of 2014 on OnPoint Radio, visit www.thorncraftpublishing.com

Next week, I’ll continue writing about letter-writing in literature. See last week’s post on the Confessional Letter for part one.

The Art of Letter-Writing: the Confessional Letter

IMG_9508Writing letters is an art that I value, and in Thorncraft, we enjoy seeing the practice within stories. How about all of you, writers? Is letter-writing part of your practice? There’s nothing like receiving someone’s handwritten thoughts in your mailbox.

I love when letters show up in books, even if it’s for a moment, as in Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher. One of the reasons I loved this novella, other than the young, inquisitive narrator Grace, was the confessional letters that were written during the events of the book. The letters reveal the central conflict and show depth of character where the readers might otherwise easily make judgments to disregard characters who commit a violent crime.

We, the readers, gain further insight into the people living in the rural south during the US Civil War by watching how they receive letters. Grace is the only member of her family who can read, and she is still in the process of learning, so the family must send for the preacher to read any letters aloud to them.

We see the dependence of the community on the preacher and those who can read and write in order to communicate for them. The novella reminds how important it is to cultivate the ability to read and to write, to correspond via letters and wait patiently for a response.

I’ll be sharing more about letters in books in the coming weeks in a series about the importance of the art of letter-writing.

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Visit thorncraftpublishing here to read more about Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher. The book has been adapted to the stage by Kari Catton and Dennis Darling. It has been performed as both a one-act and a two-act play.