Saturday, June 26, 2010

What a Difference a Year Makes

Today's headlines remind me that yesterday was the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, and I'm finding it absolutely inconceivable that I nearly let such a momentous anniversary pass me by. It's not that I was a big Michael Jackson fan--I hadn't bought any of his albums since I was a kid saving her allowance to buy Thriller on cassette. But Michael Jackson happened to die on the day I ran my first road race, the JP Morgan corporate challenge in Boston Common.

When I showed up to get my number on June 25, 2009, all the iPhone people were buzzing about how Jackson was in critical condition; a few minutes later news hit he was dead; and by the time I rounded the corner of the last turn of my first 3.5 mile race, the big spiralling-strings-and-horns opening of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" was blaring from the radio DJ covering the race. All told, it took me almost 49 minutes to cover 3.5 miles.

Exactly one year later, I ran 17 miles in 193 minutes (3hours and 13 minutes). That's almost three minutes faster per mile over a distance that's 13.5 miles longer. That's a hell of a leap in one year. Next month I'll run a marathon. And next year? I'm thinking about doing all this again. Thinking about it. Will you think about joining me? And before you tell you that you're not a runner and couldn't possibly, consider that last year at this time I was you. Or my version of you. When someone joked that the next stop was a marathon, I told them I wasn't that kind of runner, that I couldn't possibly. And then I decided that maybe I'd try to be.

I'm not gonna lie to you. Training for a marathon has been no walk in the park, and I do realize that it's helped me immensely that I work a job with a non-traditional schedule and the fact that the sturdy stock that contributed to my personal gene cocktail seems to be paying off (my knees are fine, my back's golden, and the closest thing to injury I've experienced has been some slightly sore ankles and shins today after running 17 miles yesterday). In other words, I've been lucky.

I know there are quite a few very good reasons not to run a marathon. Maybe you've got small kids at home or you work a billion hours a week and can barely find time to write as it is. Or maybe you've got a medical challenge sidelining you. I understand that marathon's aren't for everybody. But if you're biggest reason for not running is because you couldn't possibly, I have one question:

What would it mean to you if you did?

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 at

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grub Tales: Jane Roper

Jane Roper is the author of Baby Squared, a narrative blog on about her adventures and misadventures in parenting twins. She also writes fiction, nonfiction, and a whole lotta advertising and marketing copy. Her debut novel, Eden Lake, will be published in 2011 by Last Light Studio. Her memoir, Baby Squared, about the highs, lows and in-betweens of her first three years as a mother of twins will be published by St. Martin's Press in 2012.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did you learn about Grub Street?
JANE ROPER: The first time I became aware of Grub must have been in around 1998, when I saw a photocopied, handwritten flyer up on a bulletin board at a coffee shop in Somerville. At that point, though I was secretly yearning to try my hand at writing fiction, I was too chicken even to think about taking a writing workshop.

Over the next couple of years, I started to dip my toe into the writing waters. I got my hands on copies of Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and Brenda Euland’s “If you Want to Write,” and started schooling myself in some of the fundamentals. That is, I just started writing – free writing in notebooks – almost every day. I also read short fiction hungrily and made a few embarrassing early attempts at it.

Meanwhile, Grub’s presence had grown — they now had plastic newspaper box things around town with their schedules in them. In early 2000, I grabbed a schedule and registered for my first workshop. It was Fiction 1, with Chris Castellani – and it was the first Grub class he’d ever taught. I’ve always felt a special bond with Chris over that. I'm not sure he feels the same way, but he always nods politely when I say it.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?

JANE ROPER: So much. I credit Grub with giving me the confidence and inspiration I needed to go from a timidly aspiring writer to a passionately aspiring one to a sort-of-kind-of-professional one.

I’ve taken Grub classes, taught them, been part of the team that helped transition Grub from a for-profit into a non-profit (I came up with the name "The Muse and The Marketplace" – one of my proudest Grub achievements), and have made wonderful friendships–close and otherwise–through Grub. It is, quite simply, the heart of my writing community. Love it to death.

RUN FOR GRUB: You’ve been in workshops at Grub Street and Iowa. Discuss.
JANE ROPER: I got a lot out of my workshops at Iowa. The other students were talented and supportive, and I learned a great deal about craft. But the level of energy, passion and support from my Iowa profs didn't even come close to what I got from Chris Castellani or Steve Almond, the two Grub instructors I studied with.

Iowa also had a generally competitive vibe, which I didn’t like. Financial aid for the second year was determined on the basis of your writing during the first year, which is absolutely antithetical to experimenting, exploring and taking risks in your writing. And isn’t a workshop the ideal place to do that?

I love that the Grub community doesn’t go in for competitive, elitist b.s. The publishing world is vicious enough. There’s no need for writers to be anything but supportive of one another. When I came back to Boston after Iowa and started teaching Grub workshops, I really felt like I was coming back to my writing home.

RUN FOR GRUB: What’s tougher—writing or raising twins?
JANE ROPER: I'd have to say the latter. As difficult and soul-wrenching as writing can be, it almost never requires wiping butts, withstanding double tantrums or having to referee knock-down-drag-out fights over who gets to use the red marker first. At least, not in my experience. But every writer has his or her own methods.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crap No One Tells You About Running: #9:

Despite how certain you were that the decision to sport sweat bands on the middle school playground turned that gangly kid into an unsalvageable geekazoid, somewhere around the eleventh time your eyeballs burn from the cocktail of sweat and SPF that beelines for the crack between your eyeballs and your contacts, you'll begin to fantasize about where you might get your own version of the international flag of geekdom.

And though some guilty part of you will know that your uncharitable thoughts about the aforementioned geekazoid make you a hypocrite for even thinking about where you might buy a sweat band, the part of you screaming sweet Jeebus, stop the BURNING will start to look for loopholes in the whole sweat-band-equals- geekazoid equation.

Unfortunately, you'll find none.

But through the kind of intense rationalization that only acute pain can inspire, you'll decide that if you embroider the head band with the Grub Street logo and the URL for the Run for Grub, that you're not letting your geek flag fly so much as rocking some seriously inspired marketing. Right?


Who knew running was gonna turn me into both a geekazoid and a hypocrite?

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