What My Run Reminded Me About My Writing Practice
If there is one activity that brings on my creativity and inspiration it is walking. I am a walker. Nature soothes my soul and allows me to access inner safeness in a world that feels chaotic and overwhelming at times. I like to walk alone. I like to walk with my dog. I like to walk with friends and family occasionally, but mostly it’s just me on my walks and all of my parts that need some soothing.
However, last summer I decided I wanted to reignite my run/walk self. I am currently 49 years old and I wanted to give a gift to my future self. I wanted to give her — this glorious 75- or 85-year-old future version of myself — the gift of strength and endurance and cardiovascular health. So I decided to embark on a run/walk training program just for me.
I’ve never considered myself a runner really. I have friends who are runners. They run marathons and ultra-marathons. I’m usually the person at the checkpoint or at the end of the race with food, extra clothes, encouragement, and a big hug.
I have run a number of 5K races, though. I was the head coach for my daughter’s Girls on the Run team for three years and about seven years ago I ran a 10K race with my friend. Up until recently, that was the longest distance I had ever run.
When I started on this plan-just-for-me last June, I didn’t actually plan very well for it.
I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I didn’t have any support for myself.
What did I have?
I had a Garmin watch and the Garmin Coach training app. I picked Coach Jeff on the app, because he had a nice face, and in his introduction video he told me he had run about a hundred marathons (he is in his 70s). He also said — and this was very important to me — that his training programs were designed so that you would never puke during a training run. Sold! That was good enough for me!
I chose a goal for my training, but I did not do any research on how to navigate the plan or reschedule a run if I needed to. I basically just jumped in feet first without any preparation other than my shoes and my watch.
I bet you know where this part of the story is going — it’s going nowhere. I was motivated at the beginning when I birthed this idea, but then life came in and crashed my party. I didn’t stick to the training plan and I didn’t know how to adjust it to fit my schedule. And this was predictable because I didn’t give myself the gift of support around this goal. So I settled for a few run/walks here and there but mostly stayed with my regular walking.
And there was nothing wrong with this, it just was not what I really set out to do.
I stayed in this limbo of half-trying for a couple of months. Then, I found a buddy. I found the perfect virtual accountability partner for me and my runs in my bandmate Elizabeth. (She lives in Kentucky and I live in Ohio.) Here are all of the reasons she is my perfect virtual running buddy:
- She has been on the consistent running train since the beginning of 2021 (or maybe longer) but had a similar history with running to me.
- She uses the Garmin Coach app so I could ask her how to do things if I couldn’t find the answers I needed with a Google search.
- I had a relationship with her already and felt comfortable being vulnerable with her when things were going well and also when things were not going well.
I asked if she would be open to being my accountability partner. Guess what? She said she needed one too! So last August we started texting each week with our training plans and then we texted each other after we completed each run. And sometimes we would text randomly if we needed support. It made all of the difference for me.
Setting a New Goal and Creating a New Process
In August of 2021, I set a goal for myself to run/walk a 5K. That was the entire goal. I didn’t sign up for a specific race. It was fun. It wasn’t overly stressful. It was just what I needed. It meant that I had three workouts per week. I met the goal in early November by running a 5K with my husband.
It’s now February and I have new goals set that are a little more challenging for me. It’s still a 5K run at the end, but I set a time challenge for myself knowing that my training plan would look a little different. I still only have three runs per week, but the workouts are more varied than in my last training plan and also more difficult for me. Really the time goal doesn’t matter to me all that much, it’s the process that I’m interested in, and to get to the process I have to have a goal.
Last week I had a big run on the schedule = 7 miles. To be honest, there was a part of me that was scared, a part of me that was dreading it, a part of me that was curious, a part of me that was determined, and a part of me that was a more than little excited at the prospect of being able to say that I did it for myself.
Up until that point last week, the longest run I had ever accomplished was 6.6 miles and that was just a week prior. Before that, the longest run I had ever done was that 10K (6.2 miles) I ran with my friend in 2015.
The big run was scheduled for Tuesday, but Tuesday was a polar bear of a day. It was bitterly cold with 15–18mph winds. I wanted to move my body and do this run, but I knew that this was not the day. Instead, I bundled up in layers and went for a three-mile walk instead. I really enjoyed that walk. It wasn’t a fast pace because I was walking through snow and wearing boots, but I was warm and I enjoyed my pre-writing time and the scenery.
Yes, I said pre-writing time. I consider my walks and runs for the most part to be pre-writing time. I always go out with the intention of mulling over something in my mind. It’s usually a post or a blog or sometimes I am trying to puzzle out a section of a client’s manuscript. It’s purposeful and something I do most days. I don’t always come to a solution for the puzzle, but I always make progress.
I looked at the calendar and based on my schedule and the weather, I decided that Thursday would be the best possible day of the week for the long run. Thursday came and it was cold but not as cold as Tuesday. The sun was shining and that buoyed my spirits. YES! Today was going to be the day!
Just as I was finishing up my client calls, a blanket of clouds covered the sky and it started to snow. The wind picked up but it wasn’t as bad as it was on Tuesday. I was nervous. I didn’t want to be miserable. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable for an hour and a half or more. I texted Elizabeth and she said just what I needed to hear, “Go out and give it a try. Something is better than nothing. You don’t have to do all of it if today is not the day.”
I layered up: cold gear running tights, joggers, and leg warmers; cold gear turtleneck, quarter-zip fleece, and light but warm jacket; gloves and hat. The temperature was 28 degrees but with the windchill, it felt like 18 degrees. I drove to the Metropark where all of the paths are plowed. It has some rolling hills so I was a little anxious about the possibility of slipping, but I reminded myself that I could take it slow and turn around if the snow got worse.
I started out very doubtful. I did not think I would be able to do the 7 miles on my training plan. I warmed up with a brisk walk for about seven or eight minutes and then started to run at a slow, easy pace. It did not feel good. In fact, it felt very uncomfortable. I felt like I had stilts for legs. But, I was not in pain and I wanted to at least get in a couple of miles, so I kept going.
Once I got to the second mile I started to warm up a bit — I wasn’t taking off any layers or anything, but I wasn’t feeling quite as stiff. And as a bonus, it was really beautiful with a very light snow coming down. Parts of the second mile went through a wooded area too so I was a bit more sheltered and protected from the wind. I told myself I could turn around at that point, but I really didn’t want to. I decided to turn on some music. I never usually listen to anything while I am on a walk or a run, but on this occasion, I cranked up the volume on my phone in my pocket and turned on the tunes. (I have really small ears and earbuds aren’t my friends.)
Everything started to feel pretty magical during that third mile. In fact, there was a moment when I felt like all was right in the world and I was absolutely sure that I was Wonder Woman. At that point, I knew I would do the 7 miles because I was already at the point where I had to turn around to do the second half! I was laughing at myself and marveled that I didn’t think I could do it. What had I been thinking? The music was pumping me up. By the time I finished the third mile, I knew in my heart that I could do this!
I was still on my high from mile three during the fourth mile. It was glorious. I was over half done. I still carried that “I dan do anything” attitude with me throughout the mile. I was starting to intersperse a little more walking with my running but I had a good rhythm of running a quarter mile and then walking for a minute or so. It was working well and I was still enjoying myself. I took off my gloves because I was actually getting really warm.
By the end of the fifth mile, I was drenched in sweat. I was not as dazzled as I had been in miles three and four, but I was content with what I was doing. Towards the end of the mile, it occurred to me that I could just do 6 miles instead of going for 7. The route I had chosen would have me right near my car at 6 miles. I really pondered this. I was beginning to get cold from the sweat and while I wasn’t hurting, I was starting to tire.
I hit the crossroads at the beginning of the sixth mile. And it was a LITERAL crossroad. The path on the right would take me to my car and I would be done! The path on the left would give me that last mile that I said I was going to do. I took a deep breath and took the path to the left, but I decided to walk a little more. I chose to run just as much as I could and would then walk. Run a little, walk a little. Run a little, walk a little. And I did this for the whole last mile.
Technically when my watch hit the 7 miles I was done, but I needed to do my cool down. So I walked for another five minutes letting the enormity of what I had just done sink in. I completed a 7-mile run and with my warm-up and cool down it ended up being 7.6 miles. Yes, I interspersed walking with my running and that is why I finished! I took it at a pace I could handle and I completed what I set out to do. In fact, I exceeded my expectations!
Before, During, and After
When I finished, I marveled at my accomplishment. And then I really examined what happened. I set the stage for myself to be able to do this. I created a Before, During, and After plan for myself that worked really well.
Before the Run:
- I consistently showed up for months for the training process.
- I reached out to my support person when I needed to.
- I picked the most favorable day possible to do this big run.
- I dressed appropriately to reduce my discomfort as much as possible.
During the Run:
- I didn’t push myself too hard.
- I pushed myself just enough to challenge myself, but not lose heart or strength.
- I listened to music because I knew that would help — even though I had never done it before. But music always soothes me and brings me a sense of confidence and hope. I used that when I needed it.
- I leaned on my reserves and all that I had done before.
- I talked nicely to myself when I needed to slow down and walk.
- I praised myself when I ran for longer than I thought I could.
After the Run:
- I allowed myself to feel joy and a sense of accomplishment for what I had done.
- There was a small voice that reminded me that I have friends who run marathons all of the time, but I reminded that voice that I don’t run marathons all of the time and this is a big deal.
- I stretched after so that I wouldn’t be sore and to ensure that I would be able to continue with my training. 7 miles was not my goal, it was just part of the process!
What My Run Reminded Me about My Writing Practice
Every time I am on a run I can’t help but make connections to my writing practice. Both activities require thought, preparation, determination, consistency, perseverance, and mental and emotional fortitude. When I was on my run, these are the lessons I kept hearing over and over in my head, mile after mile.
Almost everything that is challenging is easier with a supportive partner — even when the partner isn’t physically with you. (Writing practice, I’m looking at you.)
The process is the place to be. The goal helps you to get to your process, but the goal isn’t as important as the process itself. (Writing practice — again — I am looking at you. Practice holds the process.)
Even when you think you aren’t writing, you are still making progress. Pre-writing doesn’t always happen when you are on the page. You are prepping for the main event all the time if you are in your process. (Practice, practice, practice in all the ways you can think of — some days that might be a walk.)
Your Before, During, and After in your writing is just as important as in anything you do.
How Can You Plan for Before, During, and After in Your Writing Practice?
I spent a lot of time on my Before, During, and After strategy for that run. It won’t surprise you to learn that I spend an equal (or maybe even more) amount of time thinking about the before, during, and after of consistent writing practice. Writing doesn’t need to be miserable and tortured, even if it is difficult and challenging. When we plan for the event each time in its entirety, the more likely we are to feel safe and comfortable and able to handle the challenges when they come up.
Before Your Writing Practice:
- Create a consistent time for writing and block it on your calendar. Adjust if you need to without shame.
- Set up your writing space ahead of time before you sit down to write — maybe even the night before if you are a morning writer. Make sure your laptop or notebook is ready in your space. Do you need a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of water at your desk? Set the cup or glass out on your kitchen counter before you go to bed. And if you have a programmable coffee maker, set it up to be ready when you come into the kitchen in the morning.
- Do you need a cozy blanket to put over your lap? Do you need that favorite scarf to create a sense of safeness for you? Put these in your writing space.
During Your Writing Practice:
- When you sit down to write, make sure there are no other distractions — like notifications on your laptop or phone — vying for your time.
- Go slow. Speed up when you need to, go slow when you need to. The pace is the pace. You are here for your allotted time (20, 30, or 60 minutes) not a certain number of words.
- Use your outline — you know your route. Your outline or a bulleted plan can be your best friend in your writing practice. It gives you the flexibility and freedom you need to write within it or to choose to go outside of it.
- Join a writing community like The Writing Practice so you have someone with you virtually when you are writing. You don’t have to be alone. You can create a safe haven of support around you.
After Your Writing Practice:
- When you finish your session, notice if you have ideas about where you want to go and what you want to write next time. Jot these down as a compassionate gift to your future self and your next writing session.
- Acknowledge what you have accomplished! Not everyone steps on this path and you are not only placing your feet on the path, you are moving and making progress.
Who knew running for myself could parallel the writing practice in so many ways?
Originally published at https://www.cmcollab.com on February 2, 2022.