On writing and running

I can’t be the first writer to compare writing a book for training to and running a marathon, but as of last week, I can at least say I’m qualified to write about it. It’s been a week and a day since I ran the Chicago Marathon, my first marathon (and probably not my last). The soreness is gone, I can walk like a human again, and I’m down a few toenails, but the memories are a strong as ever.

It’s hard to describe what it felt like to round the corner onto Columbus Dr and see that the finish line was in sight, but maybe it’s fair to say that it felt a little like sitting on the beach at Watch Hill, and seeing my agent’s name on my cell phone (she only calls with good news). The end was in sight, or sort of. Because of course, I soon learned that selling the book was one of the many steps toward seeing that book in print, toward holding it in my arms like a baby and sniffing it. (No I haven’t been able to do this yet, but heck yeah, I plan to.)

The thing about writing a book and running a marathon is that anyone can do it, but only some of us ever do. It takes training and persistence and grit and time, always time. There are things you can control (lacing your sneakers and going out there whether you feel like it or not, getting your butt in the chair day after day) and things you can’t (the weather on race day, the cover your book eventually gets, who is assigned to review it). At the end of the day, all you can do is put in your best work, your best effort and put your faith behind that.

As I toed the start line (okay, as I stood in my place in the middle of corral F wondering if I should’ve stopped by the porta potties), I couldn’t help but ponder this one piece of wisdom that Bart Yasso shared at the previous day’s shakeout run. Run the mile you’re in. Well, duh. Pretty hard to run the mile you already ran. Or the mile ahead of you. But of course he was right, so completely right. It’s so easy to look back–at failures, mistakes, the things we wished we could change–and so easy too, to look forward, to gaze into the future trying to figure anything out. It’s hard to stay in the moment. And it’s that way with writing, too. I’m always fighting that inclination to go back, fix the work from the previous day, previous week. Or to jump ahead. To get so lost in all the things I still have to do for the piece that I’m simply overwhelmed.

Run the mile you’re in. That was my mantra for the race. As the crowds cheering us on and the thousands of runners around me distracted, made me forget the pace I had practiced, in all those long solo runs, running around and around a nearby pond, I came back to that one line. Run the mile you’re in. It’s that way with writing too. Write the sentence you’re in. The paragraph. The page. The scene. The chapter. That’s all you can do. All you have control over. That blank page in front of you. Everything else falls away as you focus in.

As I’ve spent the last week sitting on my butt (I mean, recovering), I’ve been trying to apply the lessons I’ve learned from marathon training to writing. Putting in the time. Accepting the results. Not every run is perfect. The first mile can be rough, but that doesn’t mean you won’t end up cruising, flying on that third mile, or as I surprised myself to find sometimes, that thirteenth or seventeenth mile. Same goes for writing. A tough start to the session can yield amazing gems, words you didn’t know were in you, revelations in a scene you couldn’t have anticipated before planting that butt in that chair.

Run the mile you’re in.

Thanks, Bart.

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