Running and writing are an excellent pairing.
I don’t mean literally writing while you run. I can’t see how that could work particularly well.
What I mean is that if you write and if you run you develop mutually reinforcing habits that can help you improve your writing practice and stay healthy at the same time.
Since I started running longer distances, I have no doubt that my writing workflow has improved considerably.
This post explains why I think running and writing go so well together:
Working Towards Long-Term Goals
Signing up to a long distance running race when you’re out of shape seems pretty daunting. You can’t go from running a 5km to a half-marathon overnight.
When I signed up to my first half-marathon it was clear that I needed a solid plan to get me over the finish line in one piece. I had 9 weeks to prepare but this plan couldn’t be too detailed – or else it would fall apart when I missed a run – or too loose – or else I wouldn’t do enough training.
My running plan, like any good plan, needed to be flexible in order to be effective.
Committing to a large writing project is also a daunting prospect, especially when you’re starting from scratch. You need a plan, but you also need to bake-in flexibility.
My running has taught me to calm down and focus on creating a flexible but useful plan that acknowledges that I’m human and has plenty of room for manoeuvre.
Life WILL get in the way of both running and writing. For some reason, that took me a while to learn. If your writing schedule doesn’t acknowledge this inescapable fact then you are needlessly setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.
And you don’t want that.
Doing a Little Bit Every Day
Good race training is about slowly putting miles on your legs. You need to run enough miles each week to build up your stamina and be ready for the big day.
Daily motivation to build up those miles can be a tricky thing.
Sometimes I’ve planned to run a 5km but it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. I know I can run a 12km, so why bother with a 5km? But the point is to add cumulative miles each week. You need to do the short runs as well as the long runs to get enough miles.
Applied to writing, my lesson from running is that it’s better to do something than nothing. A quick 5km is as good as a 10km just as 150 words is as good as 1500 words.
Consistency is key
Have 15 minutes free? Just make the effort to get some words down; it’s the cumulative effect of putting words on the page that gets writing projects done, not a 3-hour binge session once a week.
No Such Thing As Bad Session
Every so often the prospect of going out for a run is disheartening. I just don’t fancy it.
Maybe I don’t have the energy, or my mind is racing, but I still put on my shoes and go out. These are the days where I trust my training schedule, roll up my sleeves (literally, Irun in a long sleeved top :-) ), and do the work.
When I finished my first half-marathon, my better half asked what the most satisfying part was. My initial thought was ‘crossing the finish line’, but that wasn’t it.
The most satisfying part was thinking back to those days that I really didn’t want to run, had no energy or desire, but clocked a 5km anyway. It was completing those hard runs that got me over the finish line and meant that I could I enjoy race day.
Applied to my writing, I’ve managed to convince myself that banging out even 500 mediocre words sometimes qualifies as a good day’s work. It’s showing up and writing even when I really don’t want to that gets projects finished.
It’s too easy to think ‘I’m not in the mood today, I might as well as start fresh tomorrow’. But in both running and writing, it’s so much better to power through and keep going. I now trust that in the end that it will be persevering during those grim days that will get me through the project.
A Time to Think and a Time to Do
I know that a lot of people hate running because they think it’s boring. For me, running is perfect because of the monotony.
It’s the one part of my day when I’m disconnected, uncontactable, and left to myself. I often run without music or podcasts to just let my mind settle and ponder the flotsam in my head.
The interwebs is awash with articles on meditation and mindfulness these days. For me, running ticks all the boxes for mediation best practice: I focus on my breathing; I acknowledge my thoughts; I focus on the present as I watch the world race by.
Running and writing satisfy completely different – but complementary – parts of my brain. When I write I’m processing, tweaking, focusing on the minutiae of words, sentences, paragraphs. When I’m running there’s no agenda and my mind can settle and think about whatever it likes.
Basically, as well as relax I get loads of ideas when I run. When I’m finished, these ideas get written up in my idea diary.
Then, when the time comes, I write these ideas up, applying the planning, consistency, and perseverance lessons I’ve developed through running.
Writing and running. It’s a beautiful relationship.
Summary – Running and writing are ace
I’m no competitor. I run slowly (plod might be a better descriptor). When I run, it’s for relaxation, getting away from the desk, and sweating a bit. There’s no other goal, but the side effects are amazing:
- Ideas strike me
- I feel energised
- I sleep better.
- Every time I’m in training for a big run I relearn the value of daily work in achieving my long-term goals
You won’t (EVER) see me up on a podium, but I love my running and I think my writing does too :-)
Try these for further reading: