As I stepped out of the front door of my apartment block this morning, the air was frosty but the sky was bright and clear. The perfect kind of morning to run the four miles in to work rather than cram myself onto a sardine-like train from the UK’s busiest train station. I’ve learned to love running now, but at the moment it’s classified as ‘training’ until May 27, 2012, when I complete the Edinburgh Marathon.
In fact, in a lot of ways training for a marathon is a lot like writing a novel. Here are my reasons why…
1. You need the right gear… but gear won’t do the work for you!
Yes, you need the right gear to run. Properly fitted trainers, clothes that wick away sweat, maybe a heart-rate monitor so you can judge the improvements in your fitness… they will all help to better your training. But you can get carried away with gear – Nike+ or a GPS running watch? Barefoot running shoes or comfortable, sturdy Asics? You can get carried away with writing gadgets too. Plain Microsoft Word or Scrivener? Fountain pen or ball-point? Laptop? iPad? Spiral notebook? To start running you really just need a pair of running shoes, some clothes you can sweat in, and the road. Just like all you really need to write is good old pen and paper. You can’t let the pursuit of perfect gear prevent you from starting.
2. There are no shortcuts
When training for a marathon, you gotta put in the miles. There’s just no getting around it. Yes, when I’m running to work I’m sometimes tempted to detour toward the bus stop I know will take me straight to the office. But I know that that’s not going to help me on marathon day. Same with writing a novel – you have to put the words down on paper, or else you’re never going to end up with a finished product.
3. Sometimes you feel you’re not getting anywhere
I’m now running anywhere between 20-30 miles/week but when it comes to getting fitter, sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. Some runs are just plain hard, and I don’t understand why my body will scream against a 4-mile run when it ran 8 miles the week before. Writing feels like that sometimes. There are times when I feel like my writing is not getting any better (it might even be getting worse!), and the finish line feels further away than it ever did before. The only solution to this, I find, is to switch it up. Instead of a run, I jump on the cross-trainer at the gym, or go to the climbing wall with a work friend. Instead of forcing myself to write another paragraph on Oathbreaker 2, I’ll do a freeform writing exercise, or update the blog, or read a book to get inspired.
4. You need to have the proper fuel
In order to run, you have to fuel your body properly. My pre-run breakfast consists of porridge and a banana – boring, but it works! And for any run longer than about 6 miles, I take a bottle of orange-flavour Lucozade Sport. For this month’s Lucky 13s 13th day post, all the 13ers (including moi) are discussing what they eat and drink to get them through their writing days.
5. There will be pain
I’ve actually been fairly lucky when it comes to running injuries and (touch wood) I’ve never experienced anything that has been completely debilitating. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been pain, however! Pain in muscles I didn’t even know I had. Soreness that won’t disappear for days, blisters in between my toes, twinges in my knees and beside my shin bone. In writing, there is pain too. The pain of rejection – injuring the pride you didn’t even really know you had – the agony of not being able to solve a plot point in a storyline that you created, the reviews that cut to the bone… oh yes, and the most common of writing ailments: the dreaded papercut! Sometimes those sting really bad, man…
I haven’t completed the marathon yet, but I have completed a novel and I can imagine those experiences will have some similarities too. Friends, family and complete strangers will marvel, and say that they could never do a thing like that… they couldn’t run a mile, or they couldn’t dream of putting down that many words. But what they don’t realize is that to achieve those goals you just have to put in the miles, put in the sweat, put in the tears.
Or at the very least, give it a go. And if it’s not a marathon or a whole novel yet, start with a 10K race or a short story.
For every writing or running journey, you gotta start somewhere.