Anyway, after slightly more than a year, I’m no longer an enthusiastic newbie. As I’ve settled into running and it’s become part of my day-to-day life, I’ve noticed that there are a great many parallels between running and writing. I’ve run around 1200 kilometres. I’ve written roughly one-and-a-half million words. I have so much to learn about both of these pursuits. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to synthesise a series of lessons which I think apply to both – and here they are.
- There are a hundred thousand reasons why you shouldn’t do it today. They are all valid, some of them are pressing. There is only one reason why you should. Because you will feel better if you do than if you don’t. I guarantee it.
- The first five minutes are always the hardest. Your body and mind will tell you that this is a bad idea. That you should stop. That you don’t do this. Don’t listen. Keep going. The feeling will pass.
- You may think you need the perfect circumstances in which to run or write: perfect weather/ time of day/ the right pen or shirt/ absolute quiet/ the perfect location. Bollocks. As you go on, you will realise you can do this thing under most circumstances. I went running on New Year’s Day. I was horrifically hung over. It was pissing down with rain, but I went out anyway. It was the most glorious, exhilarating run of my life. Similarly, I have written good, usable, important work in a text message on my phone while waiting in the car.
- There is no governing body that declares you a runner or a writer, no mysterious level you have to attain. If you are putting words down on the page, you’re a writer. If you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you’re a runner. Other runners and writers will welcome you. Anyone that tells you different, and tells you that you need to run at a certain speed or have written a certain amount to “qualify” – well, they have their own issues. Smile, put your head down, carry on.
- Go to the loo before you begin. As a writer this stops you interrupting your flow later on, and I also find the act of letting something go somehow makes space for ideas to come in. Don’t ask me why, but many of my best ideas have come mid-wee. As for running, there are gravity issues that come with all that pounding. I’ll spare you the details. Just go. Clear the pipes. You will thank me for this advice.
- There is no such thing as a bad run, there is no such thing as bad writing. It may be slow and plodding. There may be mud and nettles. You may feel you didn’t get anywhere. But you did it. And you learned something. Even if it was just not to take that route again.
- If you are injured, take it seriously. Take time to heal and look after yourself, so you are fit and strong to begin again.
- Maybe you’re a sprinter. Maybe you thrive on the adrenalin of racing. Maybe you like to go slowly, all alone, for a long time. Take time to find your pace and your style and own it.
- A few good friends who are on the same path go a very long way to sustain you in these pursuits, which can often be so solitary. With the wonders of the Internet, these can sometimes be people you have never met in real life, but they get you, and they will celebrate your successes and commiserate with your failures (C25k-ers, I’m looking at you).
- Vaseline. It’s cheap, and there is no better way to prevent blistering. Coat your feet in it, put it under any straps or bands that may rub. I can’t think of a parallel in writing for this, but I had to get this one in. It’s a lifesaver. Might be good if you have a blister on your mouse-clicky-finger. Who knows?
- You are not too young or too old. Run while you are young enough to enjoy the spontaneous strength of your body and the sheer joy of moving. Write while you are young enough to be free from self-consciousness and fear. Run when you are old enough to enjoy your staying power and your understanding of the long game. Write when you are old enough to bring a lifetimes’ worth of experience and reading to your work. The average marathon runner is over forty and many people run well into their eighties and nineties. PD James is 93, Ruth Rendell is 84.
Julia Cameron, in the wonderful, wonderful book The Artist’s Way, talks about the hostility she experiences in teaching people to free their creativity.
People say: “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/ act/ paint/ write a decent play [or run]?”
Yes… the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.