Run Write

Let me start with the disclaimer: this is yet another analogy of writing with running. If you’re not a fan, or were once, but the sheer size of the archive has soured your taste for them, now’s the time to hit that back button, close the browser, turn off the computer/phone/tablet, and maybe incinerate the device, depending on the degree of your antipathy to the topic.

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Ok, you’re still here, so I’ll get going. Writing and running involve, for me, almost identical emotions, mechanisms, and behaviours. I have the same kind of anxiety when it comes to both. If I haven’t written or run in a few days, my insides feel like there is a balloon inflating inside of me, forcing me to take only shallow breaths; my thoughts run to the catastrophic the more I refrain from running or writing; my mood veers to ever darker shades; my snappiness turns from sarcastic to bitchy to vicious every day that passes without either running or writing. And most tragic of all, even reading wonderful books fails to alleviate the absence of two. Nothing but writing or running can turn me human again.

I know this need. I live it, but it does not make approaching either running or writing with ease, let alone enthusiasm. Take this post. I knew I wanted to write it—guess what I was doing when I got the idea!—knew what I wanted to say, even drew up a mini-outline. All of these preliminaries and the certainty of feeling human again after I press the “publish” button have not prevented me from taking a half an hour break between the first two sentences of this paragraph and the next. Because procrastination.

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But mostly, because I fear failure. I have been running pretty regularly for almost nine years—with breaks after the babies were born and grown into toddlerhood, so really I haven’t been running all that long—and I have been writing for many, many more. And yet, every time I know it’s time to do either, especially if I think about it too much rather than just delving in, anxiety settles in. “I am not a writer,” it says. “I will not be able to say much, or anything intelligent, really, or anything that anyone else would want to read, so why bother?”

Yes, anxiety is me in those preliminary moments. It takes over, ventriloquizes me, and empties my brain, while also increasing the pressure in that stupid balloon that crushes me from the inside. It dismisses the one thing that would temp it down: “You don’t have the time to go for a run now, you have to write! Even if you do go for a run, you’re too tired to have a good run, and you know when you come back, you’ll be too hyper to sit down and write. But, oh, look, maybe see what’s going on on Twitter, and come back refreshed in five, eh?” Oh, yes, besides talking in Canadian idiosyncrasies and comma splices, anxiety has admirable self-preservation instincts. Because you know Twitter’s gonna calm me down like opening presents at a kid’s birthday party.

Thank fuck there’s another “but” coming: But I have been writing and running for some time now, so the stars must have aligned a few times, no? Sure, and I’ll tell you all about how much easier it is for massive celestial bodies to co-ordinate than for my petty little fears to be quelled. But even when I manage to get passed the pre-writing/running fears, do you think they just disappear, like so many defeated enemies clamouring for mercy? Oh, no, they don’t! They just take their wounded half-bodies, and hobble into narrow crevices where they have an open view of me, but I can’t quite see them, unless I look for them intentionally. Which I don’t for the first little while, fuelled by the determination of the righteous.

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So I’ll be writing/running for a little while, happily pounding the keyboard or the pavement, until there’s a tiny break in my train of thought—a period, sometimes even a comma will do—or in my soundtrack—a switch of songs or a brusque shift in musical genres. The dissonance makes me look around, and what do I see but the shining eyes of my concealed enemies garnering strength enough to start slithering—their bodies now healed—toward me again? Really, that’s just too precious and annoying and mixed an extended metaphor that should just die a slow death, so here’s what really happens, in its plain mundaneness.

Thoughts going on in my head:

“Oh, look, I’ve already written almost 500 words, that’s awesome, maybe I should take a break now to conserve my energy, because I totally know what I’m writing next, and that should set me up to come back after the break, and, really, I’m just going to be writing afterwards, too, because I’m writer, right, and I’ve been doing this for many years, and I know how to do it, and look at how many things I’ve already written, and I bet there are important things that I need to look at on Twitter, because #fomo, and I’m sure whatever’s happening will add another dimension to my thinking, and I cannot be out of the loop, because then I’m going to look like I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Or, if I’m running, I’ll look at my GPS watch:

“Oh, wow, my pace is awesome, but actually it’s too fast, and if I keep it up, I might be too tired on the way back, and I’m actually feeling quite tired right now, and I should really listen to my body, ‘cause if my body tells me I’m tired, then I should slow down, because if I get injured then I won’t be able to run at all, and so it’s better to just take a break now, and maybe I’ll just stop the watch so it won’t screw up my average pace, because really, I’m only taking a little bit of a break, and if I had slept better last night, which I’m totally going to do next time, I’m sure my pace would really be up there, but now I’m just going to take it easy, ‘cause there’s no reason to push myself.”

Look: I totally get it if you’ve just lost all respect for me. What can I tell you? I bet your thought-sequence even at its most inane sounds more intelligent than mine, but I can’t have *all* the anxieties in the world, ok? Because even when I do get my writing goals done, and my run completed at a good/better/best pace, I still go, “well, that was awesome, and I feel refreshed, and human, and deserving of friends and readers, and a life. But who knows if I can do it next time?” Invariably, having finished a run or a piece of writing takes me by surprise. Every time. Amateur!

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And here you thought it was fun to be me, no? Let me insult your intelligence once more with a short recap: before, during, and after running/writing, my anxieties surrounding these acts that keep me whole and sane and human do not abate.

Like anything in my life, the only things that keep me running/writing are routine, chunks, and friends: Sunday morning is for running; no-teaching weekday mornings are for writing. Running ten-and-ones; writing in pomodoros. Finding a running group when I slip; always doing shut-up-and-writes with friends.

Anxieties will always be here, but so will writing and running.

*All pics taken yesterday on my run. Yes, my GPS watch was off while I took them.

2 responses to “Run Write

  • I wrote my novel in a summer, and it was the same summer I started running, and for me they were so connected. “Just keep going, just keep going,” was my mantra, one word (or foot) in front of the other. Until I finally broke down in tears in Queen’s Park one day because *I HATED RUNNING SO MUCH*. I finished my novel though, and I am happy with the quit I ultimately chose. If I to choose one. Thinking about maybe trying running again this summer. Because I actually really liked it…until I didn’t anymore.

  • Margrit
    1 year ago

    First of all: a summer?! Wow! Second, how is it that the more we pile into our lives the more efficient writers we become? I was never as diligent or persistent ante-kids as I’ve been since. I’m still more organized (and sometimes even more productive) during the semesters than during the breaks.
    I’m not sure I fully like or enjoy running, still. But the flip side is how hard it is to go back to it if I take a break from it, even for one week. The only alternative for me is walking, which I enjoy immensely, and which kinda has the same sane-itizing effects.
    I wish I could propose we run together, but that’s hardly feasible given our locations. I am looking forward to hearing if you’ll back and how it turns out.

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