Friday, June 25, 2010

Unleashing Your Inner Churchill

For many good if absolutely avoidable reasons, my long run last Friday (see Your Turncoat Flesh) left me feeling likeand really this is the only word that will do heredog shit:
  • I almost passed out,
  • I was so nauseous I could neither stretch nor drink,
  • when I peeled it off my sports bra was so soaked I could literally ring it out, and
  • I had to nap my way back to some semblance of my pre-run self.
I know all of this was my own damn fault for starting a 3-hour run at 10:17 on a hot daya wake up call if ever there was oneso here I sit at 5:44, munching on a carb-infused breakfast in advance of today's 17-mile run. I'm gonna miss the 6 a.m. start time I was aiming for, but I'll still be back home before the time I set out last week. And while this whole fueling-at-dawn-to-beat-the-heat thing feels very responsible of me, the truth is for the first time in this crazy beautiful marathon journey of mine, I'm afraid.

They say (my husband, mostly, but I think a lot of famous head-shrinker-presidential-types said something like it, too) that the only way to slay fear is to run toward it. In my case, quite literally.

So I'll run. I absolutely will.

But though I know that true fearlessness is about staring down fear by channelling Churchill ("Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never..."), my inner idealist wishes that living fearlessly meant actually feeling no fear. And yet a more practical part of myself knows that if life without fear isn't a naive pipe dream, it's certainly an ideal reached only after years of unleashing your inner Churchill on fear after fear after fear.

In the few months I've been training for the Run for Grub (sponsor me at, the runner in me has taught the writer in me so much about how putting one foot in front of the other translates to stringing words together on a page. The runner has also taught the writer about dodging the inner critic who says you can't, you shouldn't, and who are you to even try? And my inner runner has even taught my inner writer a thing or two about accountability.

But now it's time for the writer to school the runner. Because the writer knows a thing or two about hurdling past fear. Just this week, my inner writer got more stuck than she's ever been, so stuck she stared into the abyss and flirted with the idea of tossing the manuscript in. And so this morning, as I feed my breakfast to an unappreciative and knotted stomach, the writer steps up to talk the runner from the quitters' ledge and guide her to the starting line.

Forget the 17 miles looming ahead of you, she says. What matters are those first, slow steps.

And if there's one thing my inner writer knows intimately it's starting again when by all appearances quitting seems like the best (and maybe even the only) option.

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


  1. Cathy,
    You have to be a realist about Winston Churchill. Except when he was a schoolboy swimmer and a good polo player (with one dislocatable shoulder strapped to his side) Winston hardly ever exerted himself physically his whole life. For many years his greatest effort was to light another cigar and ask his valet to pour him another brandy. Now please don't get me wrong. I have been a lifelong admirer of WSC but more for his great insights and political realism than his physical prowess.
    If you were a member of his cabinet he would have expected great devotion to duty on your part but not to the point of self-destruction. After all only three members of his wartime cabinet died of heart attacks. The important thing was that WSC NEVER, EVER missed his afternoon sleep. Nor should you.
    All the best,

  2. Cathy,
    I'm glad that you didn't ditch the manuscript (I assume) and the running. You've come so far with both. It seemed like a pleasant morning; hope the run went well.

  3. Point taken re: Churchill (and from a Brit, no less!). And thanks, Sally. No ditching. Just fantasizing about ditching and then coming to senses by forcing myself to work through the fit of ditch itch. Ha! The ditch itch. I think that term deserves to be as real a writing malady as writer's block. The ditch itch is the form of despair that grips a writer when faced with a writing problem that seems to have no solution. Key symptoms include an urge to walk away from the piece so powerful it feels like a full-body itch. The ditch itch!