On April 15th 2013, I was on my couch with an icepack against my face recovering from dental surgery. Having run the Boston Marathon in 2009 and 2010, I had scheduled the surgery that day so that I wouldn’t be thinking about the race. Once you’ve run Boston, on Patriot’s Day you can’t help but wish to be one of the runners.
Then the bombs went off at the finish line, and I decided, in my painkiller haze, that I would run Boston again.
That April day really wasn’t the best moment to be making plans for huge commitments of my time and energy. Days before this scene on my couch, I had undertaken a different large-scale commitment. I had just accepted a place in Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program.
Thus began my year long odyssey of putting one foot in front of the other, both literally and figuratively, heading towards these two goals. There have been many times these past months when I wished I hadn’t taken them both on at the same time, but the two pursuits are surprisingly complementary.
Marathon running makes me push myself to do more than I want to, many times more than I think I can. The long runs have taught me about pacing. Whatever you do at the beginning might come back to haunt you when you get to the hills. You have to make sure you leave enough gas in the tank to get to the finish line. The short runs have taught me about consistency. You can’t run the 26.2 if you don’t run lots of 5 mile runs. And I’ve learned a lot about my body which at 43 is not as resilient as it used to be. I need to take good care of it, make sure I have what I need. Get rest. Drink plenty of water.
And all of this serves as an almost too easy metaphor for writing a novel. You have to push yourself to do more. You have to learn about pacing. Consistency is often the thing that separates the successful novelist from the talented writer who never finishes. And you need to take care of yourself. Make sure you have what you need—readers you can trust, support from the people you spend your non-writing time with, a little armor to take the blows of criticism, a sense of humor.
So, here I am at the end of this vision quest. I just sent my revised novel to my Novel Incubator classmates, and I am about to run the Boston Marathon for the third time—all in the same week. Maybe I didn’t learn enough about pacing.
But one thing I know for sure, whether it is running or writing, it’s always a good idea to drink plenty of water.