Competition and Camaraderie

running-573762_640I’m always finding connections between running and writing. Recently, I was listening to an episode of the Runner’s World podcast, in which they talked about the recent attempt to break two hours in the marathon.

Around 30-minutes into the episode, they talk about how the pacers in this attempt were special in that they were all elite athletes–ie, runners who are used to focusing on their own goals and winning races. For this race, elite athletes were running to support someone else’s goal, in the hopes that one of the three competing runners would break the world record. Runner’s World columnist Alex Hutchinson, who was there for the attempt, talks about how the pacing runners were so supportive of the competing runners, and how this isn’t unusual for the running community. One particular thing Alex says about this:

“Everyone wants to be the best, but everyone wants everyone else to be their best, too.”

This really stood out for me as a great way to frame the idea of professional competition and camaraderie, particularly in the writing world. As much as I love to support my fellow writers, I’m also totally guilty of feeling jealous of other people’s successes (mostly because all you see on social media is SUCCESS SUCCESS SUCCESS over and over and over).

runners-752493_640But I also want other writers to be writing the best books possible–the world would totally suck if only one person got to be the best writer, and everyone else wrote meh books. I’d way rather live in a world where I’m always striving to write the best books I can, and in which everyone else is doing the same. We all end up pushing each other and challenging each other and inspiring each other.

And unlike professional running, there doesn’t have to be one winner per race. Okay, so only one book can win some award every year, but every book can be someone’s favorite. The more awesome books out there, the more everyone wins.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys–and happy holidays! This evening is going to be all above gift wrapping, dessert baking, and hopefully watching the Muppet Christmas Carol (the best of the Christmas Carol versions, obviously). In the meantime, here’s a look at what I’ve been reading, in fifteen words or fewer:

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Finally finished this series! Now I’d like a Wolves of Mercy Falls miniseries adaptation.

Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham
Interesting look at the connection of the mind and body, and the art of being mindful on the move.

And in case you need some media to get you in the holiday spirit, the latest episode of Crossover Appeal is live for your listening enjoyment.

Don’t Stop

It’s been a weird time for me as a writer. I’m at the beginning of a new project, but I’m having a really hard time getting going. It seems like everything that’s going on post-election is so much more significant than stories, and I’m doing a lot of soul-searching about what I want my writing and my career to be. It’s even been hard to focus on reading fiction, so I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction (mostly about running, in preparation for my 2017 Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber team).

The running theme has also extended to podcasts, including this episode of Human Race from Runner’s World. I went into the episode thinking it was about an 85-year-old woman who’s still running marathons, which is impressive on its own. But then I found myself practically crying in my kitchen as I listened to Sylvia Weiner’s story of surviving three concentration camps in the Holocaust and learning to run to combat PTSD. This is a powerful story and an incredible woman.

One quote in particular stuck with me, when the interviewer asked Sylvia if she had any advice for her:

“If you’re tired, if you’re really tired, okay, you’re allowed to take a rest…but don’t stop. If you have it in your mind, you won’t stop.”

Sylvia has survived so much more than I can imagine, and she still manages to run everyday, make people laugh, and share her story. Sometimes things can really suck. Sometimes you might have to take a break. But if Sylvia can keep going, we can keep going.

You can read more about Sylvia here, and I highly recommend listening to the whole Human Race episode about her. And don’t stop.

Quote of the Day

My friend Stephanie is a writer, blogger, wedding planner, editor, and professional athlete. She’s been sharing updates about her journey to the Olympics on her site, Fête, and I’ve loved hearing about her training and racing and the pressures and prep that drive that goes into being a professional runner. Recently I saw this from one of her updates and loved the sentiment:

Smith & Sons (1)

I love this reminder that, even if you have the training and the talent and the drive, you still need courage. Putting yourself out there and trying to achieve your dreams is scary, whether that’s at a big race or at your desk, staring at a blank page. You need to show up, and you need to have that confidence and that courage.

So train hard, put your heart into it, and be brave. We got this.

(Original photo by nchenga nchenga)

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!

Hugs and Hamilton and Unicorns: My 2016 Boston Marathon Recap

13015143_10106432024647863_1428968118740005225_nIf you ask me what my favorite day of the year is, it’s gotta be Marathon Monday. This year, after lots of training and fundraising and obsessively checking the weather forecast, I got to anticipate in Marathon Monday in the best way possible–by running the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team.

I’m still kind of baffled that it all actually happened, and more about how my experience as a runner relates to my life as a runner to come, but for now here’s a look at what the whole weekend was like for a newbie marathoner like me.

Marathon Weekend

I’m used to seeing runners come into town for the marathon, but this was the first time I got to go to the B.A.A. Expo and pick up a number of my very own. (Sightings of Meb Keflezighi and Kathrine Switzer were pretty cool, too.) On my way over to check in with the DFMC team, I stopped by the Barnes & Noble (because how do you pass a bookstore without going inside) and saw the shiny new paperback of Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs, one of my favorite YA authors and a fellow runner. I took this as a good sign for Monday.

On Saturday, I took it easy, painted my nails, tried not to check the weather forecast every 10 minutes.

IMG_3380On Sunday, the DFMC staff organized a pasta dinner for the team and loved ones. Our team raises money for cancer research, and even before I joined the team I knew that was a worth cause. Over the training season, I’d heard so many stories from teammates and volunteers who had lost loved ones–parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, children–far too early. At the pasta party, we heard stories from cancer survivors, from people who had lost loved ones. We heard about how the money we’re raising goes directly to research that will save lives and improve quality of life for patients. It was a great reminder that, no matter how the race went, we had already helped make a difference for someone’s loved ones.

Marathon Monday
12998649_10102662009154126_1143976374674644903_n5:30am
: wake up time. I slept better than I expected to the night before, including a dream about being part of a caper with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which I took as another good sign.

Walt, supportive guy that he is, woke up with me and drove me out to Hopkinton so I could catch the runner shuttle to the Athletes’ Village. DFMC rents out a church for team members, so I got to wait there until start time, drinking water and stretching and getting advice from veteran marathoners. The two biggest pieces of advice–go slower than you think you need to when you start, and enjoy the day.

10:45am: time to line up. Most of the DFMC team was in Wave 4, Corral 3, so we shuffled out to the start line, along with a ton of other charity runners. It was already hot out, and I was kind of worried about how I’d do in this weather. (I’m basically a vampire, so sun/heat does not work for me.) But even with that and worrying about all 26.2 miles ahead, I was so excited to be there and ready to run.

IMG_338111:15am: start gun blasts, and we were off!

11:52am: first 5k. I tried to keep the advice of my teammates in mind and keep to my pace, but it was so hard when everyone was passing me and it felt like I was going way slower than I was. Ended up doing about an 11:30 pace, about 30 seconds faster than I planned.

Fortunately, at the 3 mile water station, I got to see my friend and crit partner and Marathon Monday volunteer, Katie Slivensky. Getting a hug and cheering from a good friend made a huge difference at the beginning of the race.

1:20pm: 15k down (about 10 miles) and into Natick, I was looking for my mom 13006709_10102662009588256_6085196724015519346_nand a good family friend, who told me they’d be in front of a big church. I passed one and thought I missed them, but found them a couple of blocks later in front of another big church. I got more hugs, plus some water and gatorade and fuel and sunscreen.

2:00pm: half of the marathon down, and still a long way to go. Things started to cool down, and a headwind picked up, so heat was less of an issue, but I made sure to keep taking Gatorade and water at stops. Going by the Wellesley ‘scream tunnel’ was a big boost to get me into Wellesley Square and onto familiar turf.

3:52pm: 35k (almost 22 miles) done. Around mile 19, Walt and friends Emily and Billy, plus their adorable baby, were cheering for me and waving the best sign ever. They were standing where we’d all been a couple years ago, and it was so cool to be on the runner side of things this year. I got more fuel, hugs, and baby high-fives, and took off for the hardest part of the course–Heartbreak Hill.

Our team did long runs over Heartbreak a few times, so the sight wasn’t new, but running it after 20 miles was. But I’d been refueled and had been pacing myself well and, even though I saw a lot of people walking it, I wanted to run the whole way. I wasn’t much faster than the walkers, but I powered up and over and felt like a total badass.

461459_226329053_Medium4:30pm: 25 miles in, and I’d  passed through my old neighborhood of Brookline (even catching sight of friend and fellow writer Jill of Looks and Books!). The Citco sign was in sight and, even better, DFMC had a cheering section at mile 25. I ran over to get a hug from Sandy, one of our team’s most inspiring and committed volunteers, and felt so pumped to finish strong.

My legs were sore. My arms were chaffing. My feet were tired. But once I saw that sign that told me I only had one more mile, I got a burst of energy. I was doing this–I was going to finish.

I turned left on Hereford, right on Boylston, like I’d always imagined. And guys–nothing beats that turn onto Boylston.

461459_226292699_MediumEven though I was running at the end of the day, there were still so many people cheering. It was a beautiful day and I was in a city I loved on my favorite day of the year. My feet were light and my heart was full and I was going to cross that finish line.

4:44pm: I crossed that finish line.

I finished in 5 hours, 27 minutes, and 47 seconds. Since I was planning for a finish time between 5 and 6 hours, this was exactly what I was shooting for.

I always thought I’d cry after crossing the Boston Marathon finish line–and I only didn’t because I knew that if I started, I’d have trouble breathing and this was not a moment to lose my breath. Instead, I opted for awe and happiness.

I got my official Boston Marathon medal. (All medals should have unicorns on them.) I got a hug from Jan, DFMC organizer extraordinaire and the woman who keeps us all safe and running and inspired. DFMC volunteers guided me to the team recovery area, where I got changed, got food, and got a massage.

12987109_10102662008705026_4458592631801728958_nWalt picked me up, and we went home, where I showered and turned my phone on to see all the supportive texts and tweets and emails and comments from family and friends.

Running seems like something you do alone, but so much of it is about your community–your fellow runners, your supporters, strangers who cheer you on from the side of the road. So here are a few Marathon Monday thank yous of my own:

  • To my DFMC teammates, for sharing advice and running alongside me and inspiring me with their stories.
  • To the DFMC staff, for all their hard work behind the scenes to make this whole training season and marathon weekend a huge success.
  • To the DFMC volunteers, who took such good care of us all season, and who know all too well what it means to fight cancer.
  • To our coach, Jack Fultz, for his professional guidance and keeping us all on track
  • To my amazing PT, Danielle Adler, who got me from running in pain to running strong.
  • To fellow runners and athletes who asked about my training and really wanted to talk about it.
  • To Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton, whose voices powered me through my first marathon.
  • To the Trader Joe’s peanut-butter filled pretzel bites.
  • To Duncan and the OOFOS team for keeping our feet cozy off the road.
  • To Newton Fire Station 2 and the Newton Library, for having strategically placed bathrooms for long runs.
  • To the Newton and Wellesley police departments, who kept runners safe during our longest training run. (Sorry, people who were driving that day!)
  • To the Wellesley scream tunnel and the students outside of Boston College for keeping me pumped.
  • To the spectators waving hilarious signs and blasting fun music.
  • To the girl in Brookline who cheered, “I am so proud of you!”
  • To the fellow runners who caught my hat when it blew off a few times.
  • To the marathon volunteers who woke up early and worked so hard to kept us safe and hydrated.
  • To the marathon volunteer who saw my empty water bottle and offered to fill it for me.
  • To the spectators handing out cups of ice and spraying runners with water.
  • To the safety officials and race organizers who make sure we all have a fun day.
  • To the people who saw my singlet and cheered, “Go Dana-Farber!” with such support that I could tell their lives had been touched by cancer, and they knew what it meant to run for Dana-Farber.
  • To everyone who donated to my fundraising campaign, and who shared stories about battles they’ve fought or stores of loved ones who battled cancer.
  • To everyone who sent encouragement and enthusiasm on Marathon Monday and during my training.
  • To Emily and Billy for the best sign a marathon runner could have and giving me some serious sparkle power.
  • To Aunt Barbara, who was also a writer and reader and runner, and whose earrings carried me forward on the course.
  • To my friends and family, especially my parents, who never doubted that I could run the Boston Marathon, even though the Cardis are totally not sporty people.IMG_3388
  • To Walt for making sure I got where I needed to go, I had what I needed, and for supporting me in so many ways for months on this incredible journey.

I’m sore and tired but so happy. Stay tuned tomorrow for more thoughts on running and writing, but for now, this runner is taking recovery seriously and basking in the glow of 26.2 miles of awesomeness.

Miles, Pages, and Imposter Syndrome: Owning What You Do

This year, I’m training for my first marathon. I’ve talked here about what running means to me, and what the marathon and the Boston Marathon in particular means to me, but running an actual marathon always felt more like a bucket list item than an actual achievable goal. But I figured that if I was ever going to do it, I needed to try sooner rather than later, so over the last several weeks, I’ve been fitting weekday runs into my schedule and adding long runs to my weekends.

IMG_9985The other day, a coworker asked about my weekend, and I mentioned going for a long run and my training. She said, “No way! I didn’t know you were a runner.”

“Eeehh…” I said, and mentioned that I was really slow and still training and made all kinds of excuses for why I wasn’t like a ‘real runner.’

This weekend, I hit my longest ever distance of over 14.5 miles. What distance will it take for me to call myself a runner?

I get the same way about writing. If someone asks what I do, a lot of times I mention my day job first. Most of the time I follow up with, “…and I write YA novels,” but not always. Inside, I make a lot of excuses for why I can’t tell people I’m a writer: I don’t support myself entirely from writing, I only have one book out so far, I don’t always write every day, I don’t have a magical unicorn who helps me through the revision process, etc. etc. etc.

It can be hard to claim your identity as a writer. It means that you’re dedicating your time and energy to something–something that might not pan out the way you hope it will. And unlike a lot of other careers, there’s no way to know when you’ve ‘made it’ as a writer. Writers don’t have a test to pass or a certification to get in order to be a writer–which is great, because it means that stories can come from anyone and anywhere, but it can also be hard, because how do you know when you’ve really made it? And what if someone catches you calling yourself a writer? What if they find out that you’re really just trying to hold it all together?

The thing is: there is no point at which you know for sure you’re a writer. So many of us feel imposter syndrome, like someone is going to ‘catch us’ calling ourselves artists and call us frauds instead. Hell, even Meryl Streep has said: “You think ‘why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'” Meryl Streep, guys.

There’s no number of miles you can log, no amount of words you can write, that will tell you if you’re a runner or a writer. You’re a runner because you run and you’re a writer because you write.

You can spend your whole life making excuses for why you’re not a ‘real’ writer or runner or whatever you’re putting your time and energy into, but when it comes down to it, you’ve got to claim your identity for yourself. No one can tell you how many hours you have to put in or how many books you have to write or how many awards you have to win to really ‘make it’ as whatever it is you want to be.

So I’m going to put the time and effort in, as a writer and as a runner. And when people ask what I do, I’ll tell them.