Setting the Bar on Fire: Crafting Your Story


If you identify yourself as a reader, you know that a good story must have challenges for the main character. Several challenges. Intricately woven together. With suspense, and intrigue. We typically want our characters to overcome the obstacles, but we don’t necessarily want them to emerge unscathed. Rather, we want them molded. We want them sculpted. Transformed by hardship’s bumps and bruises; maturing into a character with more depth and experience. We want our characters to relate to our human condition.

Of course, it isn’t necessarily how we’d craft our own story. We don’t typically seek out problems to add to our lives. We aren’t usually in the habit of searching for obstacles to hinder our dreams, crush our relationships, and humble us to new depths of self-doubt.

We like things to be easy. Comfy.

If this is how we are crafting our life story, our memoir will be boring. Difficult to read. Boring. It will perhaps be free of pain, but it will also be free of interest and intrigue.

Sometimes we have to just take a leap, and throw ourselves into a new challenge.
Sometimes, we have to grab hold of a new rock, and just start climbing.
Sometimes we have to not only set the bar higher, but perhaps, we have to also light it on fire, so we can jump through the flames.

Lately, I’ve joined a group of about 70 runners for speed workout on Wednesday nights. I’m not easily confused with things that go fast.
I lumber.
I amble.
I trudge.

But as a writer, I am learning to add layers of difficulty for characters to face. I am also trying to take a page from that writer’s playbook, and add obstacles to my own life. I’m trying to challenge myself. To set the bar higher.

Like the escalation of challenges facing characters in our favorite stories, tonight I faced an escalation of running challenges, each designed to push me further. Each designed to propel me forward, and inward, digging deeper into my core and testing my limits.

Here was the escalation of challenges tonight:

Challenge 1: 6 x 100 meters –
Run 100 meters, 6 times, with short interval breaks (30 seconds) between each run.
This was a warm up; a prelude of things to come; hinting at the speed I would experience. Alluding to the temptation of comparing myself with others. Pointing to the mixture of exhilaration, and self-doubt I would soon experience.

Challenge 2: 1 x 800 meters –
This. Is. Real. I’m going to be pushing myself. There is no escape now. What was I thinking? When will this end? Not so bad – yet.
Hydrate fast and line-up for the next challenge.

Challenge 3: 1 x 400 meters –
I’m thinking, I can do this.
Okay, hurry up. Next event.

Challenge 4: 2 x 200 meters –
Two quick sets of running halfway around the track. Yes. Sweet. I got this. Can we end it here?

Challenge 5: 1 mile time trial –
I have several minutes to wait to cheer for the runners in the faster group. Wow, they are really hoofing it. Elegant, graceful gazelles at the front of the pack. They were made for this. Gritty, determined, grinders bringing up the back of the fast group, running balls-to-the-wall and looking ready too punch anyone that crosses their path.

Outwardly I yell and scream, encouraging them to dig deep and finish strong. I’m inspired, at least on a surface level. But inwardly, I’m starting to dread this. The expressions on the grinder’s faces tell it all – this is gonna suck.
Every step.
And I realize,
there are way too many steps
in a mile.

It’s now time for the slower group, (where I reside) to line up for our time trial.
Oh crap. I’ve run many so many miles before, but when they are strung together in longer distances, I determine the pace. I make it manageable. On those runs, I have a full tank of energy, and I choose to slowly burn my fuel.
This? This is no-holds-barred, leave no gas in the tank, lungs searing while gasping for breath, with awkward facial grimaces and spittle shooting out of your mouth as you round the track, nasty.
Burn baby burn.

I grind through every rotten, glorious step, crossing the finish line in my fastest time in years!

Hydrate fast. My group is getting lined up for the next challenge.

Challenge 6: 4 x 800 meters –
I start out slow, figuring I’ll barely be able to walk after finishing the mile. I’m surprised by how much spring is in my step. My mind says “Easy Tonto!”, but my legs want to dig, push and fly. This is a new me. It’s kind of cool. Our group pushes through each of the four 800’s, and my legs are fresh for all of them. But I know the evil trinity is still lurking. The grand finale awaits.

We hydrate quickly, and take the long green-mile walk to the end of the course.

Challenge 7: 3 x 500 meters –
This whole run is a tease. You start out going at a strong pace, pushing the first 200 meters as if you were running a half-marathon. Then, comes the highlight of the night. There is a short, brief, tiny stretch of 100 meters that you essentially jog. You could carry on a pleasant conversation if you were so inclined.
But nobody is inclined.
They know that each comfortable little stride draws them nearer to flipping the ignition switch. With 200 meters left, you push the throttle all the way forward, gunning it for home. After all the different events tonight, you’re demanding your legs to forge ahead, forgetting pain and fatigue. You’re running purely on will-power.
As you hit that last hundred meters, you’re expected to do the impossible. Light the after-burners. Dig deeper than you imagined you could and summon every molecule of speed to thrust you ever forward. Don’t stop pushing until you cross that @%&*# finish line.

High-five your fellow finishers,
who are gasping for air.
Right now.
Now get your rear back down to the end of the course.

Here we go again. Another 500 meter gauntlet.

And then, one more.

The bar is higher. It is farther away.
And I only have a few seconds until I have to run towards it again.

I’m fully engaged. As a reader of my story, and as a writer of my memoir. I’m crafting a thriller.


One thought on “Setting the Bar on Fire: Crafting Your Story

  1. This IS thrilling. I don’t run at all, but you had me running beside you, feeling the intensity. I have definitely noticed that Teachers Write! seems to be focusing on creating conflict for main characters. That has pushed me. Conflict is what it’s all about, isn’t it?! It’s what shapes, defines, and challenges us to be better human beings. To finish the race that was set out for us…hurdles and all.


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