I started running in a very roundabout way. For a long time, I was fascinated with the idea of being a runner; I read books about runners and finished every back-issue of Runner’s World at my local library. But it took me about a year before I actually decided to try the sport out myself and put my theoretical expertise to work.
I had a very rocky start, but I’m happy that I stuck with it. Now, I try to run at least two miles every day. I’ve finished five half marathons, and I’m looking forward to running a sixth soon. Most importantly, through my running adventures (and misadventures), I have learned a lot about patience, persistence, and perspective, which I have applied to my writing.
I learned to pace myself. I’m a pretty slow runner, but I’ve learned that, in many ways, endurance can be far more useful than speed, and it’s more attainable. Instead of thinking about going fast in races, I think about keeping a steady pace the whole way through and not losing speed at the end.
In writing, I am always inspired by authors who talk about how they completed their novels slowly, but surely. Karen Thompson Walker, author of a wonderful novel called The Age of Miracles, said that she wrote the book “in the mornings before work—sometimes while riding the subway.” Running reminds me that it’s okay to take your time as long as you know where you’re going, you have an idea about how you’re going to get there, and you are always moving forward.
I learned the importance of thinking positively. One day, I noticed I that I ran up hills faster on foggy days when I wasn’t able to see the hills than on clear days. This made me think about how running is not only physical, but also psychological. The hills I ran up every day actually weren’t that difficult; they only became an obstacle when I imagined that were. I started wondering how many other obstacles in my life were actually imaginary.
Since then, I started focusing on getting into a more positive state of mind before going on runs. I try to get a lot of sleep, plan ahead, get into a good mood, and visualize a course before I run it. It takes a small amount of time to do these things before running, but it makes me run much faster (and it also makes me a happier person).
Writing is all about imagining obstacles for your characters, but I feel sometimes, I go the extra mile and imagine obstacles for myself, too. I think about people saying bad things about my writing or I worry about not being able to revise my stories sufficiently. When I decide to stop thinking about those things, I feel more liberated. Just like thinking positively makes me run faster, it also makes me write more productively.
I learned to appreciate where I was. After I ran my first half marathon and came back to school, some people asked me if I had won.
I hadn’t. I didn’t get 6th place or 16th place, either. I got 6,326th place, and I was completely okay with that. I ran a race I was proud of and I was happy with how things had turned out.
I realized that in writing, too, it’s important to appreciate where you are, because you’re always somewhere. No one comes from nowhere. Runners don’t come from nowhere (although many sports commentators would have you believe that). Writers don’t come from nowhere. As Cheryl Strayed once eloquently said on her Facebook page, “There is a strong and vibrant literary culture that exists and thrives in this nation, and it does not exist in a place called nowhere, whether you know about it or not.” I take comfort in knowing that we are all somewhere, with many wonderful people before us and after us.