Sunday, April 25, 2010

Writing Lessons from My Inner Runner

This morning I ran three miles at an average pace of 9 minutes and 45 seconds per. This despite telling myself, not so many months ago, that I should probably make peace with the idea that running a 10-minute mile might just be a personal pipe dream. And yet while I was distracted with the excitement of starting my official marathon training, I went and got fast. Fast for me anyway. Because though I know that in a lot of running circles a 10-minute mile places me firmly in the snail category, it's downright hare-ish when you compare it to the runner I was at this time last year.

I should say that nothing about this morning's run screamed personal best. Running downhill, I entertained the same fantasies I always do about having been transformed into Cathicus, Greek Goddess of Fledgling Runners. Going uphill I either get totally freaked out by the complete and utter appropriateness of the lyrics of the song currently playing—this really ain't no place to fall behind, Mr. Ryan Bingham, is it?or taunt my inner hypochondriac with the idea that the burning in my quads isn't lactic acid at all but a sign that my muscles have entered into an alarming frayed-rope-like state. And yet even weighed down with all that mental chatter, I still paced faster today than I ever have.

Mayhaps I should get out of my own way more often.

Like so many bloggers, I'm a bit of a ruminator. Will I? Won't I? Should I? Shouldn't I? I'm exactly the kind of person who keeps perusing displays of thingamahoozits for months after I've already bought that very thingamahoozit. So it should come as no shock to anyone that when people ask me how my novel's going, I tell them, "slowly." It's a lie. It would be more truthful to tell them: "The pace of my revision makes glacial progress seem like an Olympic luge by comparison—thanks for asking!"

What if the writer in me took a cue from the runner?

The runner in me keeps track of her progress, but she's not beholden to false goals. The runner in me will run 10-minute miles if and when she's good and ready. Are you taking notes, oh, writer in me? Because how many birthdays have to go by before writer-me stops promising herself that this will be the last year she has to put finish the book on my list of goals.

The runner in me knows that if I look beyond today's mileage on my training schedule, I risk suffering existential vertigo by reminding myself how quickly my long runs trip over into double digits (I'm up to ten miles as of May 14). Instead, the runner in me focuses on the mileage for today's run. Once I'm on the street, it's all about putting one foot in front of the other. Tunes help. What if the writer in me stopped casting ahead to the murky second half of the book and turned her focus on the scene she was revising today? Wouldn't those scenes add up quickly? Wouldn't she find herself revising her way past the black hole she was worried about in pretty much the exact same way the runner in her left the ten-minute mile in the dust today? Why yes. And yes to you, too, Mr. Bingham. I will pick up my crazy heart and give it one more try.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

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