Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leaving the Whimpering Behind

No, not MY whimpering (but thanks a lot)the dog's.

I have a greyhound name Bo (mostly we call him Bo-Bo) whose doggie personal ad would list his hobbies as taking long walks on the beach, streaking his nose across laptop screens, and meat.

He enjoys the occasional short sprint, but Bo's no distance runner, though lately he seems to think he'd like to be. In addition to marathon training, I'm also the primary dog walker in my family. I love walking, so this is totally fine with me. And up until recently, this was totally fine with Bo, too. But the time spent doing training runs needs to come from somewhere, so on the four days a week I run, Bo's walk gets cut to 15-30 minutes. I think of it as a warm up. He thinks of it as getting screwed.

On these short walk days, Bo's started tailing me as I strip off my coat and fiddle with my arm band for my ipod. When I go for by keys and head for the door without him, he stands in the middle of the hallway doing something that sounds like a cross between hyperventilating and whimpering. Whimperventilating? I don't know what you call it. Pitiful maybe. And his eyes. I know if I look into them, they'll hit with a ray of hurt and betrayal that'll sap me of my will to do anything but sit beside him on one of his three doggie beds (yup, he's totally spoiled) and scratch his hiney. Which isn't as creepy in practice as it sounds in print.

So as I head out for my run, I tell him I'll be right back, slip through the door, and race down the stairs. Not because I'm in any rush to start running, but because I can hear the whimpering through the door. And it breaks my heart. Which I find entirely unfair to me because I tried to include him in my running. I really did.

When I started the couch to 5K program last spring, I thought, how perfect. I'll train Bo along side me and transform my furry shadow into my four-legged, long-distance-running sidekick. How fun! How sweet! How short sighted of me!

The couch to 5K program does exactly what it says it will. In nine weeks, it eases a couch potato like me into a person capable of running a 5K race. From what I can tell, the program works because it tricks you into running bit by bit until all of a sudden, you can run a mile, and then two, and then three.

But Bo pooped out right out of the gate. The first day program starts with a "brisk five-minute warmup walk." He was right with me for that. The walk was supposed to progess to 60 seconds of jogging alternated with 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. The first 60 seconds of jogging, Bo kind of glanced up at me with his mouth open in an expression that said, well, this is new. By the second 60 seconds he was lagging so far behind a chucklehead passing us yelled "I thought those were supposed to be racing dogs!" And by the third 60 seconds, Bo's head was down and his feet dug in so completely, that forward progress would have involved dragging him by force. Bo's career as a distance runner was over before it began.

So it's understandable that when I go for a run I have to leave him to whimper at the door. Would I like a marathon dog to run beside me? Maybe. But then on my three-mile loop today I watched an old woman grunting as she cleaned up after her dog and realized that running sans Bo has it's perks. Because though I pride myself as a clean pet owner, I'm not sure how many miles I'd really want to run while carrying a bag of dog shinola in my hand.

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two down; Sixty-two to go!

I ran four miles at a slowish pace todayten minutes and 11 seconds perbut given that I managed to stay upright for every step this time, I'm counting today's run as a win. Though a definite loser emerged from the playlist.

To keep my mind occupied as I do these training runs, I'm quite literally running through all of the 135 songs I've put on my marathon playlist since the beginning of the year. A semi-final round, of sorts.

Today, Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock 'N Roll to Me" got green lighted, but "The Longest Time" gets the boot. I may be a big believer in creating a mix that includes the break of a few slow songs that buoy me, but doo wop a capella was doing nothing for the speed of my feet today. Sorry, snap-happy Billy. You are today's weakest beat.

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

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Grub Tale

Stories about the magic of Grub Street will appear in the blog and be archived in the "Grub Tales" tab above. If you want to share your Grub Tale, email your interest to


In the year 2000, I was a community reporter covering a planning board meeting packed with a bunch of suits going on and on about some zoning faux pas so dull, that my brain liquefied and started to drip, drip, drip from my ear and puddle on the floor. When I realized that the daydream that transformed snow melting off my boots into a brain soupy with boredom was the first fiction I'd written in years, I had one question for myself: How in the name of every writer I consider holy had I ever convinced myself that a career writing for a community newspaper could scratch the itch I felt to write novels?

I decided right then that an MFA at Emerson College would be the perfect bridge from journalism to fiction, so I whipped up an extended metaphor disguised as a short story and sent off my application, convinced this was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Unfortunately, the Emerson admission committee didn't agree, and a few weeks later, I found myself standing just inside the door to my apartment blinking at my rejection letter. It wasn't that I disagreed with the verdict—I was painfully aware of just how badly I sucked. But I still got trapped in a cycle of thoughts that went something like this:

I need Emerson to learn to write, but I need to learn to write to get into Emerson, but I need Emerson to learn to write , but I need to learn to write to get into Emerson...etc.

After repeating that extraordinarily unhelpful mantra for three days, I called the writing and publishing department at Emerson and asked the young-sounding receptionist if she thought that the continuing education classes there would actually help me learn what I needed to know to improve my application for the next round. At the time my salary was so paltry that I often had to put my groceries on a credit card, so I needed assurances that a class with a $1200-plus price tag was gonna be worth the price.

The receptionist sang the praises of the Emerson continuing education program for a few moments before she dropped her voice to a whisper and asked the question that would jump-start my life as a fiction writer:"Have you heard of Grub Street?"

When you take a second to reflect on this turn in the conversation, it's pretty miraculous. Even though I gave every indication that I was ready to empty my wallet to enroll in a continuing education class, an Emerson employee still pointed me toward Grub Street. Probably risked her job to do it, too. That's the Grub Street magic, right there.

That first Grub Street class gave me access to a community of like-minded word lovers who welcomed me as a writer as long as I showed up willing to brave honest criticism delivered respectfully. Better still, it was a community I could tap for encouragement, commiseration, and friendship. And truly, some of my closest friendships got their start at Grub Street—whether it was bonding over drinks with a writer whose work shook me in the way only the best writing can or the kindred spirit I noticed because when talk turned to "The Time Traveler's Wife," she pressed her hand over her heart in just the way I did.

For the most part, the non-writing world only recognizes writers once they've earned an Amazon sales rank. But Grub Street recognizes writers in the fast-talking breathless ways we speak when talk turns to writing and in our Herculean ability to nurture a willingness to stick to the page in the face of long, long odds.

For me, Grub Street's magic is about more than just an employee of a different school steering me toward the offerings at Grub. It's about guidance and friendships and all those ways leading to ways I can trace back to that first Grub Street class I signed up for almost nine years ago.

I'm more grateful to Grub Street than I have words to describe, so I'm doing this Run for Grub to pay it forward, as they say.

And should the training process help me blast through those last 20 pounds standing between me and my goal weight, well then we'll just add that to the long list of reasons I'm grateful to Grub.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Beat on the Brat

Run one of 63 today. Just three miles. Should have been easy. Should have been. But just before the halfway point, my rebel toe went and stubbed a corner of sidewalk that had been pushed into a cockeyed angle by an angry tree root elbowing for space.

For a millisecond my legs tried to convince my teetering center of gravity to err on the side of staying upright. But even as I let myself entertain the hope that I was gonna get off with inelegancestuttering a few steps before rediscovering the rhythm of my stridemy self preservation kicked in as I realized it would be easier on my body to let myself fall (nothing causes as much injury as trying to prevent injury, I've heard). So I put my hands in front of me and did just that. Even remembered to roll into the fall to spread the shock.

From what I could gather, my spill was pretty spectaculara Lexus slammed its brake in the road beside me as I went down, only speeding up again when I popped up, dusted off my scraped hands, and kept running. Once I turned the corner, I slowed my pace to take a quick inventory: Limbs still attached? Ankles feeling healthy? Embarrassment making my face burn even hotter than than my sweat-reddened face was already burning? Check. Check. And absolutely check.

Chagrin aside, I take full responsibility for the fall. No, seriously. I was asking for it. Moments before I went downand how!I was smirking at the utter foolishness of the song my playlist had just offered up for my running enjoyment: "Beat on the Brat." by The Ramones.

I felt a quick twinge of guiltwas bopping along to lyrics that demanded I beat on a brat with a baseball bat as bad as giggling at a tasteless joke? I don't know, but the song's too catchy for me to care.

So I started rationalizing.

What if the brat was my name for my inner critic? Yeah, that was it. Because beating on my brat of a critic is perfectly acceptable. And in the second just before I fell, I laughed, imaging writers everywhere doing the newest dance crazeThe Baseball Bat. All you have to do is swing your arms like you've got a major league beef with that brat who's too dim to figure out he's overstayed his welcome. Which was right about the moment my brat decided to trip me.

Here's hoping the rest of my runs go off in a perfectly upright manner.

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