It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

I’m not the kind of person who looks like a runner. I don’t have cuts in my thighs that I could crack a walnut in. I don’t have a lean, aerodynamic form. I don’t own $400 running shoes. The armband that I put my phone into has this yellow powder on it from a fun run and I am convinced it is NEVER coming out.

I don’t even really look like I know what I’m doing when I’m out there bobbing around to my music. But I run 3-5 times a week, so I’m going to call myself a runner for the purposes of this post, and you’re just going to nod along and believe me.

As I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery with running and writing, I’ve been struck a number of times about how similar the two are. Now, I know what you’re thinking: one is very athletic and one has you sitting in front of your computer for hours (if you’re lucky, you’re actually writing your story and not on twitter).

But they’re also both very mental. It depends a lot on where your head space is at. I can run (most days). I know what I’m capable of, and I can set goals accordingly. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to accomplish them. I might go out on a chilly day, or the morning after I ate way too many french fries, or an afternoon after I didn’t drink enough water or get enough sleep.  Or it might seem like the stars have aligned for the perfect running day, and I will still phone it in after a couple of kilometers because my head just wasn’t in it. And there’s not a heck of a lot I can do about that.

It’s the same with writing. We know what we’re capable of, we know what a good writing day feels like, we can set ourselves up for success, and still find ourselves staring at the blinking cursor.

Sometimes, our mind is our greatest enemy, telling us we can’t do it, or it’s too hard, or just realistically acknowledging that this isn’t what we want to be doing today.  And while we might not be able to silence those voices, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right. Some of my best running days have started with me gasping and wheezing, fixated on how hard it is to run. Some of my best writing days have come after literal hours of procrastination, after writing pages and pages of absolute garbage before hitting my stride. Sometimes, it’s just about digging a little deeper, and seeing what we have left. I don’t believe it’s about telling ourselves–when we feel like we cannot even–that we’re going to reach our personal best. It’s not about telling ourselves when we start the first kilometer feeling like crap, that we’re going to run a 10K. It’s about setting realistic goals you can try to reach, places you can stop, knowing if you do so you’ve done your best for today.

Just 500 more words. Just 20 more minutes. I can do it.

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It’s about being kind to yourself and giving yourself the grace to fail. Because some days aren’t going to be as good as other days and that’s okay. I’m going to say it again for the people in the back. Some days aren’t going to be as good as other days and that’s okay. 

Runners aren’t expected to run a marathon every day. Writer’s aren’t expected to write a book every month, 5000 words every day, 3 books a year every year. We need to stop putting the pressure on ourselves to reach a level that’s unsustainable.

I’m going to be completely candid with you here. I have never run a marathon. I haven’t even run a half. Keep in mind that I live in Canada, which means I have about 3 months of the outdoor running season and 9 months of snow.

But in all honesty, I discovered my love of running about a year or two ago, and have just started to realize that running a marathon is something I actually want to do. So, with that being said, please trust me in what I’m going to say next:

Writing is a lot like running a marathon. There’s this huge goal that’s all we can focus on at the start. 42 Km. Publishing a book. It seems impossible. And I’m not going to lie to you, each step we take very often feels like it’s getting us nowhere. We forget to celebrate the little successes because we’re focusing on the bigger goal.

The first kilometer you run, the first chapter you finish, the first short story/poem/screenplay you enter into a competition, HECK, the first time you share your writing with someone else is a BIG deal. But it’s not running a marathon, and it’s not publishing a book so we don’t look at ourselves and say “I am so proud of you for accomplishing something you’ve never done before, even when it felt impossible.”

And we really should, shouldn’t we?

If you surround yourself with like-minded people, people who write, people who run, people who have completed a marathon or published a book, we can get so caught up in what they’ve accomplished, that we lose sight of the journey we’re on. How come they’ve done it, and we haven’t? How come they’re progressing faster than us? How come we had a crappy day on the couch with a chocolate bar, and they went for a 15 Km run this morning? The jerks. Don’t they know that everyone runs on the same schedule and our bad days are their bad days too?

We forget the reason we surrounded ourselves with these people in the first place. To inspire us.

Here’s the thing. We all need to take breaks, we just might not be taking them at the same time because we’re not all living the same life.

The concept of taking a break is something I think we intuitively understand on the physical level but have trouble comprehending on the more creative side. When running long distances, you have to back off. Your muscles will cramp, your feet will blister, your toenails will literally bruise and fall off. If we push our bodies beyond where they can go, they’ll let us know.

Investing creative energy in the writing process is the same way. We’ll burn out. Headaches, exhaustion, depression, stress, anxiety, sickness. But often, I find that writers try to push past it. The dialogue we have with ourselves sounds something like this: I don’t understand why it’s not working. Why is it so hard? I just need 1000 words today. I just need to finish this draft. I just need to…I just need too… 

We push ourselves beyond the threshold of what we can reasonably endure, and for what? At some point, I know the joy leeched right out of the process. How is that worth it anymore? Why don’t we understand it’s because: We. Need. A. Break?

People expect runners to take a step back to keep themselves in tip-top shape, and writers have to do the same. Because it’s a LONG process. It’s a frustrating process. It’s a daunting process. We have to hold onto the idea that this is something we WANT. The end goal is something we WANT to achieve. Nobody is going to come up behind you and force you to run a marathon or write a book (as far as I know). We just have to keep trekking, one foot in front of the other, one word after another.

We have to remember that some days are not going to be as good as others, and that’s okay! It’s not something we do once and forget about. Nobody writes a book in a sitting, gets an agent the next week, and decides that’s it for their writing career. This is something we want to commit to, and with the ebbs and flows of life, that means not every day is going to be easy. Not every day is going to feel worth it.

We have to remember to celebrate the little successes along the way. Because we are only going to be on this journey for the first time, once.

The first 5K, the first big race, this first time you crush your personal best!

The first competition you win, the first manuscript you complete, the first time you get an agent rejection (because come on son, that means you tried)!

It’s worth celebrating the fact that you’re further than you started. That you’ve done something you never thought you were going to do.

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but what worth doing ever is?

 

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