Running and Writing: Hand in Hand

The act of running and the act of writing couldn’t appear more different.  One is cerebral; one is physical.  One requires tennis shoes; one you can do with bare feet.  I guzzle water for running, coffee for writing.  One causes sweating.  The other — can cause sweating too.  Bad choice.  The truth is, I’ve discovered amazing similarities between the two.

You Do It Anyway
Some days you’re not in the mood to write.  But writers know that if you wait for inspiration to strike before you write, it’ll never happen.  So you pick up the pencil, or the laptop, and do it anyway.  Some days you’re not up for a run.  You resist every step of the way. But you lace up the sneakers and do it anyway.  And the more you practice each one, the easier it becomes.  That’s because the memory of the way you feel when you come to the end of a run or a writing burns into your brain and leaves you thirsty for more.

The First Mile is the Hardest
If I can just get through the first painful mile of a run I can sail along on something pure that doesn’t cause cussing or negative self-talk, such as,  What makes you think you can do this, you crazy old lady?   After that first mile I start to connect to the earth under my feet and the sky above my head.  I’m over myself.  And I suddenly love to run — until the next hill.

In my daily writing practice I complete a minimum of 750 words through a Morning Pages exercise that I learned about from Julia Cameron’s  The Artist’s Way.  Cameron says that it’s usually after the first 250 words on the page when the truth finally emerges.  She is right.  For the first page or so I’m brain dumping, shallow thoughts that meander all over the place. Then I’m able to turn off the censor within and find the truth as fingers, keyboard, and heart connect and I write myself home.

Affirmations Are Useful Motivators
Many writing teachers and running coaches preach the use of affirmations to keep us on the path.  When a run gets hard, repeating simple affirmations will motivate us, such as  “I am strong and getting stronger.”  I like to use praise at such times, “Thank you, Glorious God, that I’m able to do this.” Another one I like is a quote from Unbroken, a biography of Louie Zamperini, World War II POW  survivor and Olympic runner,  “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”  Not that I’m after a lifetime of glory, but Louie’s story is so inspirational that I like to remember him.

Affirmations may be even more important to writers because, as a whole, we’re a self-doubting breed.  “I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do.”  “I expect positive results from my writing.”  “God placed the desire to write in my heart and I’m heeding that call.”

Writers and Runners Both Use Tricks
Sometimes even the best affirmations aren’t enough, so writers and runners resort to mental tricks.  When running, I tell myself that when I get to the big oak tree up ahead, I’ll walk.  Then I get to the big oak tree and tell myself that I’ve gone this far I might as well do 500 more steps.  The goal is to find that second wind which makes all thoughts of abandoning the run vanish into the crisp morning air.

A writer I know sets a goal of 1,000 words per day, which is about four typed double-spaced pages.  Then she decreases the font size from 12 to 10, so four pages ends up being about 1,250 words.  Another writer sets her clock ahead by 17 minutes.  She promises herself that after she’s written for 20 minutes, she’ll run to the coffee shop for a latte.  So she starts writing but mentally switches back to real time and 20 minutes becomes 37 minutes.  Makes sense to her and she’s sold 14 books so far.

Struggles with Legitimacy
I’m not sure if this is true of other runners, or if it’s just me, but I struggle with calling myself a runner.  I’m not very fast and I don’t run marathons, but I do run 2-3 miles 2-3 times per week.  What’s it going to take to see myself as a legitimate runner?  On the other hand, I know several writers who struggle with legitimacy.  What makes us writers?  Is it simply the act of writing, as many writing teachers claim?  I’ve sold writing and won a contest or two,  but I’ve never made a living from it, so am I a real writer?  What will it take?

Both Benefit the Brain
We all know about the benefits of physical activity  on the body.  But it also has a profound effect on our brain.  Dr. John Ratey in the groundbreaking book Spark says a morning run is equivalent to taking a  dose of Ritalin and Prozac.  That’s because even moderate exercise can improve mood, decrease anxiety, sharpen thinking and enhance memory.  There’s even some thinking that cardiovascular exercise can grow new brain cells, and, oh, how I need those.  What’s more, such activity is linked to improved creativity and problem solving.

The endorphin-induced natural high that comes from running also happens for me when I write.  I written myself out of many a bad mood.  Writing forces me into the “now” as much as running does, and no matter where I write, it makes me feel I’ve come home.  (With running, I’m just glad to make it back home.)  For other brain boosts, I never write without a thesaurus at hand, and my memory gets a workout each time I manage to hold onto an idea that comes to mind when running.

For me, writing and running go hand in hand.  I’ll end with one more similarity between the two.  When I’m not able to write for whatever reason, I feel lost — and irritable.  When I fall off my running schedule, I likewise grow irritable, which in turn, affects my writing.

What about you?  Do you have a sport or a hobby that you must hang on to in order to write?


8 responses to “Running and Writing: Hand in Hand

  1. Oh I am so glad you posted. I was going to email you to see if everything was okay.

    I enjoyed this post. LOL my head or is it ego? says the same thing to me. What makes you think you can do this old lady. LOL


  2. I’m feeling really motivated to run. I think the 2 are very similar as well! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I can’t run, because of physical issues, nor can a friend of mine who used to be a marathoner, but she turned to biking, and I’ve still got my yoga. And if we can’t write in big chunks, we can write in smaller bits. Just keep swimming…

  4. I’m a runner and writer. I run anywhere from 4-6 days a week depending on what else I have going on that week. I run in the mornings because it usually gets my creative juices flowing and fills me with plenty of ideas for writing after that. I love your analogy here. It’s so fitting for me. And it’s nice to meet another writer/runner.

  5. The type of physical activity doesn’t matter – just so we keep moving. I won’t be able to run forever, but for now it feeds me in so many ways. Thanks for commenting, Beverly!

  6. Same here, Kelly! I see you are a children’s book author. Love kiddie lit!

  7. I’ve also found that writing and running really do go hand in hand. I, like you, struggle to call myself a runner when anything less than a ten minute mile is smokin’ fast, and I consider anything over 3 miles a long run. Mantras get me through it. Mine are – “just one foot in front of the other” and “make it to the top, coast to the bottom.”
    Have you read “What I talk about when I talk about running?” It’s a memoir by Haruki Murakami. You might like it.
    Thanks for the post – you’ve inspired me to get outside on this Sunday afternoon.

    • Thanks, Amy, for commenting. I like your mantras – ‘just one foot in front of the other’ can also be a mantra for life – or writing: just one word after another…..
      I haven’t read Murakami’s work, but you’re the second person to mention it to me so it’s now on my list!

      I’ve checked out your blog and will be subscribing. I like the fact that you’re in the west and I’m in the south but we’re on similar paths – balancing our every day life with a writing life. Have you read The Artist’s Way?

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