Birthdays, Marathon Running, and Life

This time last year I turned 49 years old – a few weeks after our youngest kid went to college and in the middle of the FORGE book tour. Immediately I started to think about what it would mean to turn 50.

In the decade between my 40th and 50th birthdays, I wrote and published six novels and three picture books. I also spent roughly one thousand days – 2.7 years travelling to schools, conferences, and on book tour. And I got divorced, remarried, moved twice, took care of dying parents, cheered from the sidelines as our first three kids navigated the shoals of high school and college, survived cancer, and read a lot of books.

I was tired.

As I hurtled towards my 50th, it was time to recover, reevaluate, and regroup. One of the first things I did was to give myself permission to exercise as much as I wanted. Shortly after that, I signed up for a marathon, something that I’ve always wanted to do.

My Beloved Husband is a born runner; he nearly qualified for States in high school, and is not all that much slower at age 53. Me? Not so much. I am a turtle. The back-of-the-pack runner. When God was handing out speed, I was in the library reading. But running does not have to be about winning. Running is best enjoyed when you stay in the moment, the child-like moment of play, heart pounding strong, hair flying, grinning from ear to ear. Zen running. It’s much like writing, when it works.

BH and I decided that we had two marathon goals: 1) to complete the darn thing, and 2) to complete it without needing medical intervention. We decided to try to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC.

We headed down to DC well before dawn last Friday. I was nervous. I had trained hard this summer, but had it been enough? I was so nervous, I ordered a big plate of fettucini Alfredo for dinner the night before the race.

I also forgot to eat or drink anything between my 3am breakfast and the 8 am start of the race. I was nervous about everything, but I was super-nervous about the Beat The Bridge rule. Anyone who didn’t make it to the bridge at Mile 20 by the cut-off time would suffer the heartbreak of having to ride the Straggler’s Bus to the finish line.

Given my natural lack of speed, this was a distinct possibility.

And of course, I was nervous about the notion of running 26.2 FREAKING MILES!

Thankfully, the race started before I collapsed from anxiety. It was cool, crisp, and sunny, perfect running weather. The first seven miles flew by, then the fettucini Alfredo kicked in. I will spare you the graphic details. Let’s just say I now hold the record for Number Of Panicked Port-A-Potty Stops During A Marathon.

But racing alongside so many soldiers and veterans, in the capital of the United States, kept my belly woes in perspective. I was surrounded by people who sacrificed more than I could even imagine. It was an honor to run alongside them.

One of the best parts of the day for me was that we shared it with two of our daughters and their partners. This is me catching my first glimpse of the whole crew around Mile 9 in Georgetown.

I ran into my family a few times on the course, which was a much-needed boost, especially between Miles 15 and 19.95 when I was having serious doubts about my ability to Beat the Bridge. But I had no idea what they had prepared for me. They had changed into these shirts….

…..pointing out that 26.2 Is The New 50. I did not start crying until I was past them. I cried because I was so happy. My blessings overflow my cup; love, family, friends, health, country, the chance to do good work, the joy of being very, very alive. I was, and am, deeply grateful.

We made it! Both my husband and I finished the race and neither of us needed medical intervention. The sight of him running down the hill to greet me as I crossed the finish line will stay with me forever.

Running a marathon felt exactly like writing a novel. I was scared. I was exhilarated. I doubted myself. I had supreme confidence. I cursed myself for a blind, arrogant fool. I leaned on my family for encouragement. I whined. I dreamed. I struggled. I took inspiration from the people around me. I laughed. I sang. I prayed. And I celebrated.

Here’s to the next fifty years!!

I will

This October I’ll be turning 50 years old. I am using this as my excuse for just about anything and everything these days.

One of the things I decided around New Year’s was to give myself permission to exercise as much as I want all year. I adore working out but often allow other commitments to get in the way. Not in 2011!

Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

Running 145 miles

Biking 99 miles

Walking 27 miles

Elliptical 21 miles

Swimming 11 miles

Rowing 9 miles

A couple of weeks ago I started lifting weights again, too, and am doing that 3 days a week now.

My blood pressure is low, my resting heart rate has dropped, and the pants that didn’t fit after Christmas fit great again.

Need some inspiration? Here you go.

Hey, Big Apple!

I am coming to New York City!!

On Sunday, March 20 at 4pm, I’ll be speaking at Symphony Space.

I am VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS!!!!!! (so excited, I find myself pounding the caps lock and spitting out exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!)

It gets better.

I will be chatting with the One, the Only, Maureen Johnson, who is a great writer and quite possibly the funniest woman in the world.

This is a ticketed event, so you’ll want to buy your tickets as soon as possible. Bring your book club. Bring your mom. Dad. Bring the whole family!!!

And also….

Please bring some ibufrofen and bags of ice. And a few bananas. I wouldn’t mind a bagel, either.


Because that morning I will be running (i.e. shuffling with great purpose) the New York City Half-Marathon. So, no, I will not be demonstrating any tap dancing routines at Symphony Space. But come anyway. We’re going to have a blast.



WFMAD Day 17 – Rocky writing

Not writing on a rocky shore.

Or rocky writing that is the despair of editors, or drives you to a vat of Rocky Road ice cream.

I’m thinking about my favorite Rocky. This guy.

I’m thinking of him a lot these days because I’ve stepped up my training. I’m now running three days a week and lifting weights three days a week and taking a ginormous nap on the seventh day. I’m hoping to squeeze in a couple half marathons this fall. When I get back from the book tour, the Big Countdown begins: I’m going to try to run in the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon.

What does this have to do with writing?


Our bodies were designed to move. A lot. They were not designed to sit in a chair for hours on end, particularly if the chair is a short trip from the refrigerator.

Many, many, many writers run. I am one of them. I am probably the slowest one, an accomplishment of which I am incredibly proud. (The race is not always to the swift you know.) My running feeds my writing which feeds my running which feeds…. you get the point.

If running does not sound like fun, you can swim or bike. Or walk. Dickens did. It sure worked for him. Exercise improves your ability to think clearly, learn, and remember, it combats stress, lessens depression. It won’t write the books for you, but I think it makes the writing easier and more fun.

We’ll close with a montage of Rocky Balboa’s training from the first Rocky movie. (Every time I run in Philadelphia, I make a point of running up those steps.)



“I belong to the Muse and She belongs to me.” singer Abby Lincoln in a 1993 interview

Set… shut everything off and go for a walk or run. Then you can write.

Today’s prompt: We often think of what our characters are capable of doing, instead of figuring out what they cannot do. Brainstorm a physical limitation for your character. It could be as simple as not being able to stand on one leg, or a limitation that has tremendous impact on her life. Or it could be a temporary limitation that furthers the plot, like Bethany cutting her foot and needing to use crutches in Twisted. OR write about one of your limitations. When did it start? How does it play out in unseen ways? Will it ever change? Do you want it to?


Roadtrip to hang out with me!!

My friends Ellen Yeomans and her husband Chris Arnold lost their daughter Paige to leukemia in 1994, just before she was due to start third grade. Frankly, I don’t know how they found the strength to go on after that. But they are amazing people. They did not simply find a way to live. They found a way to keep Paige’s spirit alive and help other families who have a child struggling with cancer or a catastrophic illness.

Chris explains the whole story in a recent article. Read it with Kleenex.

Every year they coordinate Paige’s Butterfly Run; a family-oriented 5K and Fun Fitness 3K Run/Walk. Last year they raised $140,000. This year’s goal is $150,000. If they make that goal, they will have raised ONE MILLION DOLLARS for children’s cancer since 1997.

Here’s a recent news program about the run.

Isn’t that amazing??

Am I going to be there? You bet! So will Queen Louise and various and sundry people we are related to.

If you live within 150 miles of Syracuse, you should join us. Heck, it’s going to be a nice weekend – if you live within 300 miles of me, you should make the trek.  If running is not your favorite thing, then walk the 3K course; that’s only 1.8 miles. Or just show up to watch (and donate!) After the run you can enjoy the Taste of Syracuse; a downtown food festival 140 different vendors and restaurants, great wines from the State of New York, three stages of live music.

If you’re in the mood to read than to run or walk, you can still help. The Syracuse-area Barnes & Noble stores (in Dewitt and Clay) will donate a portion of any books sold this weekend as long as you print out and use the voucher that you can download on the Butterfly Run’s website.

But wait! There’s more!! I am in a writer’s group with Ellen and so is…. Bruce Coville.

To raise money for Paige’s Butterfly Run, Bruce Coville will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble in Clay on Saturday June 5th from 4-6 PM.

I will be signing books at the at the Barnes & Noble in Clay on Sunday June 6th from 1-3 PM.

I think this requires you to plan a roadtrip, don’t you? The weather is supposed to be nice (no snow!), the cause is the best one possible, and if you stay home, you’ll miss out on all the fun. Just remember to print out the voucher before you shop at Barnes & Noble this weekend.

And if you live too far away to roadtrip it, I’ll hope you’ll make a donation in honor of a little girl who had the grace and strength of a butterfly.

Thanks for your help, my friends.