Pace, Colorful Accessories, and Community: 26 Writerly Lessons from the Boston Marathon

Because I’m a writer and because apparently writers are incapable of going for a long run without thinking about how it applies to their writing lives, here are 26 things about running that resonated with my writing life.

  1. Runs

    Runs by Steel Wool

    Your pace is the only one that matters
    The first few miles, I was passed by a LOT of people, even though I was going slightly faster than my planned race pace. But I had to remind myself that trying to ‘keep up’ with everyone would majorly hurt me in the long run. Even if everyone else seems to be going faster, it doesn’t matter. Your journey and your work is the only thing that matters to you.

  2. You have to put in the time
    You can’t go to the start line and know you’re going to finish without having trained for weeks (months!) beforehand. And you can’t write a novel without sitting down and writing and rewriting and revising for weeks (months! years!).
  3. Conditions don’t have to be ideal
    When we started seeing weather predictions for the 70s, I got nervous. I feel way better running in the cold than I do in the heat, and I was afraid I’d get sick in the middle of the course. But I adjusted my plans for pace and clothing and fuel, and it all ended up working out. You can’t wait for the weather to be perfect or the muse to strike–you just have to accept the conditions you’re giving and adjust accordingly.
  4. Hydration by Robot Brainz

    Fuel accordingly
    Hydration is keep when you’re running. Coffee is key when you’re writing. Also chocolate. (Okay, water is key when you’re writing, too.)

  5. Recovery is necessary
    In our marathon training plan, we had specific rest days scheduled, and I took those seriously. Sometimes you also need breaks from your writing, like distance yourself from a story to better revise it later or to give your brain a break between projects. This doesn’t mean giving up–it means letting yourself rest so you can be stronger later.
  6. Supporting other people is fun
    Cheering at the marathon is the best, and so is supporting other writers at book events. Plus sometimes book events have cake!
  7. A lot of people work hard to make it happen
    On the DFMC team, we had a staff and lots of volunteers making sure our training could happen, and no one organizes a race like the B.A.A. Even though it’s easy to think that a published book just shows up on shelves, it takes a lot of people–crit partners, editors, agents, marketing teams, supportive friends–to get it there.
  8. Alone time can be nice
    Although I loved having organized group long runs, one of my favorite parts of running is having that time for myself. And while I love having a writing buddy, sometimes it’s nice to feel like it’s just you and your story.
  9. Get out of your comfort zone
    This was my first marathon, and ten years ago I never thought I could run a mile, much less 26. Writing also means pushing yourself out of your comfort zones–your characters need to make hard choices because that’s where the most compelling story is.
  10. Time by Moyan Brenn

    Make the time
    You need to set aside time to run and time to write. Otherwise it’s really easy to say “eh, I’ll do it later” and not give yourself any time.

  11. Having a plan is helpful…
    Our coach made training plans for novice, intermediate, and advanced runners. Having that on my schedule meant that I never had to guess what my weekly workouts should be. Similarly, having an outline (or at least a general idea of what plot points you want to hit) can make the writing process easier.
  12. …but plans can change
    All running plans don’t fit all bodies–sometimes you need to cross train on a day you’re supposed to run, and that’s okay. And as someone who’s never been able to accurately outline a novel, letting yourself explore as you write is okay, too. Do what works best for you and don’t get upset if that doesn’t fit into a plan.
  13. When you run into problems, ask for help
    In late January, I went for a long run and got major knee pain by mile 8. Instead of hoping the problem would go away on its own (like I’ve done in the past), I got advice from our team coach and connected with a physical therapist, who was also a fellow team member. Thanks to her help, I went into the marathon feeling strong and didn’t experience pain for those 26.2 miles. If you’re having a problem, there’s no reason to suffer on your own–reach out to your writing friends, your agent, your editor, your family, whoever can give you the support you need.
  14. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on stuff
    Why yes, I do need those new running leggings! And more books, please! Those things are great, but keep an eye on your budget. And utilize your local library.
  15. New running shoes by quimby

    But colorful accessories can make you feel better
    Hot pink post-its and bright blue running socks can give you that little extra boost that plain white just can’t match.

  16. Music can be a huge boost
    I never thought I’d be someone who had earbuds in on marathon day, but guys–5+ hours is a LONG time, and even if you have it on low so you can listen to cheering around you, sometimes what you really need is a boost from the Hamilton soundtrack. Similarly, I know writing with music on isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of my essentials.
  17. You end up talking to yourself
    Motivational chants on repeat in your head? Characters talking at you? No, you’re not having heat-induced hallucinations–you’re just a runner or a writer?
  18. Support can come from people you don’t even know
    A marathon would suck if there were no spectators. Their cheers make the difference when you’re struggling. And kind words from readers about how much they liked your book means way more than they might realize.
  19. You miss out on other stuff because you’ve got work to do
    Friday night party? Nope, sorry, got a long run in the morning and I need to be in bed early. Netflix binge time? Not until your writing is done.
  20. Self-promotion is hard but necessary
    I hate asking for stuff for myself or talking myself up, but those funds won’t raise themselves. Reaching out to friends/family about fundraising or book promotion feels so awkward, but most of the time people are either happy to support you in whatever way they can, or they’ll ignore it.
  21. Know what keeps you going
    I joined DFMC because I’ve seen cancer affect too many loved ones’ lives. Being part of the team, I heard even more stories about cancer survivors and loved ones gone too soon–and these people are why we run for Dana-Farber. Recently, my agent reminded me to forget all the stress and focus on the heart of my stories–the core that really matters, that truth I want to understand and share. Having that deep down reason makes the difference when things are hard.
  22. People who have done it are the ones who get it
    They know that writing a novel or running a marathon is a huge accomplishment, but those who have been there are the only ones who can really relate. They know all the hard work that goes into it, and that you’re not going to win/quit your day job anytime soon.
  23. Take it step by step
    Thinking about a whole book or a whole marathon can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it all at once–all you need is to go word by word and step by step.
  24. You’re stronger than you think you are
    Looking, running is hard. Writing is hard. It’s easy to look at these activities and think, There’s no way I could run a marathon/write a whole book. But if that’s what’s calling to you, the drive is inside you and you’ll surprise yourself by how far you can go and how creative you can be.
  25. You love it even when it’s hard
    Running a marathon and writing a book looks so impressive and exciting when you have the end result, but there’s a lot that goes into it that most people don’t see. You log lots of miles, you revise over and over, you feel stressed about it and doubt yourself. But at the end of the day, even the hard work is the work you want to do.
  26. The 2016 DFMC team photo

    The 2016 DFMC team photo

    Your community matters
    Running and writing feel like solitary activities, but having a supportive community matters. I never could have gotten to the finish line without the support of so many people. From my family and friends to the Dana-Farber team and staff and volunteers to people cheering for us on the course, it didn’t feel like I was alone in this journey. And I’m just as glad to be part of a supportive writing community that inspires me and encourages me every step of the way.

Lessons you’ve learned from writing and running? Share them in the comments!

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