For me writing and running are very much connected, always have been. And I am certainly in great company.
Joyce Carol Oates writes in her superb The Faith of a Writer, "Running seems to allow me, ideally, an expanded consciousness in which I can envision what I'm writing as a film or a dream; I rarely invent at the typewriter, but recall what I've experienced; I don't use a word processor, but write in longhand, at considerable length... Running is a meditation; more practicably, it allows me to scroll through, my mind's eye, the pages I've just written, proofreading for errors and improvements."
While I do not (yet) experience the strong visualisation that Oates describes, I always carry my writing on runs. And walks, too.
This week, recovering from a second sub-3:10 marathon in as many weeks, I am taking a break from running and walk twice a day with our dog Luka and my sister's Jack Russell, Punky, who is staying with us for three weeks.
Those walks, at the moment in a beautiful sunny Indian summer, are invariably time to mull over my writing.
While writing is my profession, and running a hobby, they are passions without which I would not be the person I am. One influences the other, and vice versa.
I am proud of the six books I have written so far, but I know I have so much more to learn.
Like in running, it's important to keep pushing myself out of the comfort zone in writing.
It's the reason I took part in National Novel Writing Month a year ago, resulting in my latest book and a first novel, From my Mother. This week I have been contacting reviewers, both exhilarating and scary.
NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit writing challenge that encourages kids and adults to produce the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in one month. I'll be participating again this year and asked the Squamish Public Library to host a couple of so-called write-ins where local NaNoWriMos can sweat over their daily word count together. The library agreed enthusiastically and is offering a superb space on November 6 and November 13 from 10am until 1pm.
The key to NaNoWriMo is quantity. It's all about word count and the NaNoWriMo website offers great tools to keep track of the number of words written.
For runners as for writers, a focus on quantity is neither the ultimate goal nor a guarantee for success.
However, striving for a measurable and tangible daily amount does provide extra motivation to practice, the key to improving skills in any field.
Practice is what results in progress, eventually. You need to run consistently. You must write consistently. Practice does not guarantee results; in running, racing is another learning curve just as publishing and marketing are for an author, especially an independent one.
Achieving success takes time, patience and determination.
When a friend emailed his congratulations after the Victoria Marathon, he mentioned a buddy had just broken 3 hours for the first time in a marathon: it has taken him 24 marathons.
I am at marathon No. 15, so I guess there are a few more to go.
There are physiological laws and limits, and I am very aware of them. As a relative latecomer to running (and endurance sports), I believe I have yet to train at the level I am capable of. Perhaps I am right, perhaps I am wrong. The key lies in making the effort to find out.
Running has plenty of natural limiters: among them the need to build your body over a period of years (not a few months) so that it can cope with the level of training required to get the best out of yourself. You cannot rush it.
The fact that I was able to push my weekly training volume about 25 per cent above anything I'd ever done before without getting injured in the past four months is not something that happened overnight. It's because of the consistent training I've done.
While my ultimate goal is that 2:xx marathon, it's not a failure if I don't achieve it after giving it my all in trying.
As a friend remarked on my Victoria Marathon race report this week, "You're one fierce competitor who won't die wondering."
That's exactly my goal, avoiding the What ifs and If onlys, as I inch closer to the elusive goal. I firmly believe I haven't reached my potential yet.
On Sunday I improved my personal best, by 1 minute and 4 seconds, for the first time in three years. That was incredibly satisfying, a confirmation of that inner belief I can go faster.
To others it might seem a painstakingly slow process, perhaps even a lost cause.
Another runner emailed me after the race, saying: "I am glad you are happy with the season. If you take a couple of seasons to shave off a minute it will take some time to get to sub-3 ;-)."
That's not how I look at it: I am stoked to run a personal record only two weeks after another high performance (to put it into perspective, the 3:09:40 I ran two weeks before Victoria is among the top 50 times for women in Canada in the first 9 months of 2011, according to Marathon Canada rankings).
A strong headwind in the Bellingham Bay Marathon slowed me down, perhaps even prevented me from going as hard as I could have, though I don't dwell on the conditions as doing so won't change the outcome. I can only assure you I have felt very different this week after Victoria than after Bellingham two weeks earlier.
This week's deep overall tiredness, both mentally and physically, is the key reason I am holding off my registration for the Whistler 50 ultra (50 miles or 80km) on November 5. While very keen to run it, I don't want to push my luck and want to make sure my recovery is on track first. I will run the ultra if I feel I can recover in time to begin preparations for the 2012 Vancouver Marathon at the end of December.
I have already mapped out my training; I will boost it another level, to about 130km per week in daily runs. And I finally plan to work on core strength, as I believe that will help my marathon performance too.
In running I know I am approaching the top level I can achieve after 15 years of consistent training. In writing, however, I believe I have much more growth ahead of me.
I have honed my skills as a writer for 15 years, too, spending far more hours than on running. With six books—4 non-fiction, 1 fiction and 1 volume of poetry—I have only scratched the surface as an author.
The physiological clock for a writer follows a different schedule than that for a runner—if I am given a long life, I hope to use all of it for working on the craft of writing.
Still, in writing too, I feel the pressure of time: one never knows what's ahead. The author, like the runner, needs to live each day as if it's her last in terms of effort, yet be patient with expectations of results and progress.
There is no time for fear of failure—a worry both the writer and the runner face every day.
As 77-year-old Gloria Steinem recently told Interview magazine's Maria Shriver: "The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is."