Write what you know: Exhaustion

Exhaustion is something may characters go through. It’s particularly common at the end of act 2, when the character has given all they have to give, but what does it feel like? I’ve had a couple of brushes with it. I’m not talking about just being tired. I’m talking about the bone weary exhaustion that makes you wonder if you’re going to be able to push on.

Background: I’ve run several half marathons as well as a full one. I’ve hiked up a mountain after having no sleep. I’ve lain on the deck of a boat, curled into a fetal position because the effort of constantly throwing up drained much of my strength.

I ran eight miles this morning in preparation for a half marathon in a week. Right now, I’m laying on my couch. If I stop doing things for a few minutes, I’ll fall asleep. My body is tired. Once I finished and got back inside, I stretched. Then, I just stayed on the ground for about an hour. I just didn’t have the will to move. After that, I showered and ate something, but it’s now been almost five hours since I finished, and I still don’t want to move. Even holding my head up seems more trouble than it’s worth. This is my position as I’m typing.20150808_150016

I’ve endured worse. In fact, it was worse just a few weeks ago. It was my first attempt to run eight miles after moving to Utah. I’m pretty well adjusted to the higher altitude now, at least as far as breathing, but there something I didn’t realize. You sweat more at high altitudes. Back in Dallas, I could run eight miles without taking water with me, but here, after five, I was done. My throat was parched, and there didn’t seem to be a drop of moisture in my mouth. It was actually a little hard to breath. For eight miles, I have a four mile route that I do twice. As a result, I was only a mile away from home. I walked back, but by the time I arrived, I was shaking. There was salt crusted on my forehead since I had been sweating a lot and it had evaporated.

Another time was during my marathon. I had been doing 10-1 splits (run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute). At around mile 18, I had just finished a minute of walking and I tried to start running. I couldn’t. I physically could not force myself to run. There could’ve been the most terrible beast imaginable chasing me, and it wouldn’t have mattered. I was spent. Fortunately, in a marathon, they have water stations and people that pass out snacks. I walked for about ten minutes, taking advantage of these and was then able to run a little, maybe five minutes. This went on for the rest of the race. By the end, it was an effort to pick up my feet and put one on front of the other. The mind goes through its on strain. I tripped a couple of times. I can’t say how many because by then, there wasn’t really any coherent thoughts in my head. I was nauseousĀ for about two weeks afterward. I would sit or lay down, and it was a real effort to stand again. Of course, there was the soreness, but that’s secondary, barely noticeable next to the sheer exhaustion. Too often, characters rest for the night, and then they’re fine. It doesn’t work that way. The human body has its limits, and if you approach them, you’ll be days in recovering.

1 Comment

  1. Lee French
    Aug 9, 2015

    I discovered true exhaustion for the first time (I think) rather late in life, on Ragbrai. There’s nothing like riding your bike twice to three times as far as you usually do (averaging 70+ miles per day), in weather you’re not used to, on routes you’ve never seen before, and while eating food you don’t normally touch except on special occasions. All of this happens while camping every night for a week.

    I just finished my fourth Ragbrai, and during those four rides, I’ve experienced both heat exhaustion and hypothermia, as well as sleep deprivation, muscle strain, frayed tempers, and assorted digestive issues. I’ve passed out twice. I’ve crashed my bike, been insulted, listened to others’ despair, taken frigid showers, and made nice to people who asked about my books on the off chance they might buy one even though I wanted to nothing more than to sit and breathe for five minutes.

    At the end of Ragbrai, my favorite thing to do is lie down and sleep and not get up until I damned well feel like it. Because it’s a week of pure, total, perfect exhaustion.

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