Why running and writing work really well together (Part 1)

I like my race outfits like I like my post-apocalyptic stories. Crazy with a touch of functionality.

I like my race outfits like I like my post-apocalyptic stories. Crazy with a side of comfort. [Photo is from the Lakefront Discovery Run (9 miles) circa 2013. Panda hats are very warm, if you weren’t already aware]

I am a writer. I am also a runner. Not an Olympic sprinter, by any means, but I run. And therefore, I am a runner.

I started running when I was in college. Over the years I’ve trained for a lot of events. I’ve completed countless 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. I’ve also trained for and completed one marathon, one triathlon, and one 12-person relay race over 200 miles.

I’m not here to tell you that I am a running expert — that I can help you attain a sub 7-minute mile, or that I know how to perfect your form, or that I know the right mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates to make your trainings more effective.

No really, I don’t know. So if you know, feel free to share with me!

But I know what it takes to set up a training plan. And I know what it feels like to cross the finish line. And I know how it feels to slosh through bad runs and make little gains. And I know what it feels like to push hard and dig deep for that endurance. And because of all of these experience, I know I can help you in a way that will also help your writing.

You may be asking, “Wait, what does this have to do with writing?”

EVERYTHING. Okay, the all caps probably wasn’t needed, but I really wanted to emphasize the point. Why? Because there are so many lessons I take from running that I now apply to my writing. Lessons that I only learned over the past year by actually putting it into practice to see what would shake out. Truthfully? It has made all the difference.

And with that I present you with the six things I learned from running that I’ve applied to creative writing and my professional writing process.

Lesson 1: Do it for you. No one else.

I don’t run because I think I’m going to be faster than the person I toe the line with (which, if we’re being honest, I stand WAY behind that line at the start of any race). I run because I can feel myself getting stronger. I can feel what it takes to put in the time and be able to run long distances in one stretch. I run because it’s a time to lose myself in my thoughts, or good music or in the changing seasons. I run because when I cross that finish line, I’m kicking sand in the eyes of my former self that ever dared to think I could never be a runner. I run because it makes me a better parent.

I don’t run for them.

All of the same can be said of writing. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Their path is not your own. Maybe you’re both in the race, but you’re each running your own race. You’re each trying to become the best version of you. Write because you know what it means to put in the time and create something of value. Write because it helps you lose yourself in a world unlike your own. Write because when you finish a big project or a book, you can slay the inner-skeptic inside you that dared ever think you couldn’t be a writer.

Write for you. Not them.

Lesson 2: If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail (not mine, but it’s worth repeating).

The person who proclaims “I just signed up to run a half marathon, next weekend. Doesn’t that sound fun?” is one of three things: a liar, delusional or that super fit coworker who can go out drinking the night before and run a personal best with little to no training.

Let’s just ignore number 3, because that’s the exception to the rule. Not the rule.

You need a training plan. Sure, maybe you could knock out a 5k or a 10k on a whim (a very agonizing and blister-filled whim), but almost everyone needs to train for a distance over 10 miles. Every time I’ve signed up for a race, the second  thing I do is create the training plan.

Creating the training plan isn’t hard. The hard part is whether or not you can stick to the training plan. The times I have, I run across that finish line with no regrets. I trained hard, I stuck to the plan and in the end I was rewarded. The times I did the bare minimum, I paid for it. Not only was it physically grueling, but I had a hard time focusing on getting through the pain because I kept having to beat down the negative voices in my head. And when I crossed the finish line? Always filled with regret that I could have done more.

I make a plan. I (try to) stick to the plan. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re technical writing or creative writing, you can get by with little planning if it’s a shorter piece. But anything past a couple thousand words? You need a solid plan in place. Start with a small goal, and work your way up to something that pushes you, but is sustainable. At times it will be hard to keep going, but just think of how good it will feel when you finish with no regrets.

Bonus: creating a daily or weekly writing practice will set you up for a lifetime of successful writing habits.

Reward yourself along the way with mini goals. 

Stay tuned for more…

Stay tuned for the other four lessons. They are not to be missed.

Updates: Read more in Part 2 and Part 3.

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