A bit of stream-of-consciousness on the subject of running.
I stared running when I was 19 years old, and have, more or less, never really stopped since then. I’ve done a few 10ks and so on, but nothing really serious.
My son’s girlfriend Alicia and I have made a little habit of running the ‘Beat the Blerch’ 10K in Seattle every fall, and it’s coming up in a few weeks, so I was out running around Stanley Park the other day, trying to up my distance a little. When I run, I listen to music, or sometimes podcasts or audio books, mostly so I can’t hear my own laboured breathing.
But it always hurts.
So there I was the other day, slogging around the park, regularly being passed by the young ‘uns [and, full disclosure, a few old ‘uns, too…]. A sweet young runner sped past me just as the podcast ended, and suddenly I had a full-on epiphany.
I watched her surge on by, and, well — it was okay. It was okay she passed me. She SHOULD pass me. She’s an athlete — something I will never be. Because what I am is a word nerd. As a kid, while I did learn to swim, I never competed in a single sport. Except compulsive reading. [Note: Not a sport.] Lifelong reader and writer. Not an athlete.
When I started running at 19, the only thing that really kept me going was the sure knowledge, gleaned from all the experts I could find who would slow down enough to talk to me, that it would get easier.
It hasn’t. And, yeah, it’s been a LONG time since I was 19.
But I still do it. And I’m here today to tell you it’s okay to run like a word nerd. It’s not only okay — it’s really, really worth it.
First of all, if you are a running word nerd, you are not alone. Writers Sheri Radford and Anita Daher both know their way around a heel blister. My buddy, agent & writer Nephele Tempest knows how to lace ’em up. And lately I’ve been following my writing pal Chuck Wendig’s posts about his own experiences running. [If you haven’t read his discovery of one of the less savoury side-effects of running, you MUST. Quintessential Chuck! Also? Very, very accurate.]
Like the rest of us wordnerds, Chuck knows that running is hard. The very idea of it goes against every writer’s instinct to melt into a chair for the day with a book or a pen or a typewriter, and without pants.
I’m here to tell you, it’s nigh-on impossible to run with a typewriter. I need to put it down first. And the book. [I often keep the pen.] Then I put on my pants, and go for a run.
The beauty of being a running word nerd is that you don’t have to run far. When I started, I remember running around a single city block, and hoping for death by the end. I run a bit farther these days, but not much. My usual running time is around half an hour. Sometimes 45 minutes. Once a week I try for a longer jaunt, if I can. And each time, the same thing happens.
I run. I pant. I sweat. I think I’m going to die.
But instead of dying, I finish the run, and then stretch a little. And while I am stretching, a wee miracle arrives on endorphin wings.
The first thing those little winged angels remind me is that I am DONE running for the day. Cause for celebration right there. But that’s not all. Running clears my head. I get my best ideas during or just after a run. I fix plot snarls mid-stride. It’s good for my writer self.
It’s also good for the doubter who lives in the black, hairy nest in one corner of my brain. The doubter who fosters pessimism, self-loathing, imposter-syndrome, quitting. Know that guy? I do, too.
Running doesn’t shut him up completely, but it squishes down his monsters for the day, to a size where I can manage or ignore them long enough to get my writing done.
I don’t have to run far to get this benefit. In fact, I think it’s kinda been good that I run like a word nerd — which is to say sorta slow and not very far, but pretty regularly. My knees still work, and for that I’m grateful. Because my head works, too, and my heart, and I credit the running for that.
So, please consider this permission to not have to be an athlete when you run. It’s okay to run like a word nerd. Walking is good, too, and I’m going to address that whole element another day, for those who just ain’t into the whole shambling thing. So no pressure. But I just want to say, every writer I know who runs, is better for it.