This is about running from a writer’s perspective or maybe about writing from a runner’s perspective, but the truth is you don’t need to do either to understand exactly what I mean. I’m really talking about the kinds of activities that you obsess over, but frequently get defeated by. They are the things you love, but also love to hate. And you take perverse pride in the anguish they cause, content in the knowledge that each and every success is hard fought and well earned. No matter how good you get, you never feel like you’re good enough. That’s what motivates you. They are solitary activities that are more enjoyable and meaningful when experienced with others. They make you appreciate the outside world, even as you look inward. They are also incredibly frustrating and can be a literal and figurative pain in your ass. At some point, they will inevitably make you wonder what the hell you are doing and why you keep going. As a runner, a writer, or a kindred spirit, you don’t really have to ask. You know. Here are some reasons we find the torture so sweet, as well as a little advice and encouragement along the way.
1. Always difficult to get started. The first half mile is always the toughest. You’re still so close to home; you could just turn back and go out another day. You’re stiff and sore from your last run. Your time could be more productively spent. You don’t know if you’re up for it. Just. Keep. Going.
Or you have a blog topic in your head you want to write about. Well, sort of. It’s not really a fully formed idea, yet. It just needs a strong opening. Once you get that, the rest will just flow. Ugh. No, that sucks. That’s boring. Could you be more obvious? Edit. Erase. Save; maybe you’ll use that if you don’t think of something that’s actually good. God, you hope it doesn’t come to that. Just. Keep. Going.
2. Can be just as hard to finish. Some runs you just barely stagger to the finish line (or your house or car, if it’s a training run). Some posts are like that, too. You’ve worn out every metaphor and clever turn of phrase you have at your (limited) disposal and you just need something ANYTHING for a conclusion. Anything to make it end.
Conversely, you may not want to stop. Why should you? You feel great! This was supposed to be a 6 mile run, but let’s make it 10, 12, or more. It may mean extra suffering tomorrow, but that’s a long ways away. And, sure, more people will like the article if you keep it under 800 words but you’re on a roll! This could be your masterpiece, who cares if no one actually reads it to the end.
3. Feels great when you find that groove. Some runs just suck start to finish. So does some of the shit I write. I mean “shit YOU write.” (Okay, shit I write.) But other times, you just hit your stride and there is no slowing down. You look at your Garmin watch, Runkeeper app, or the Word Count at the bottom of your screen, and can’t believe you got so far so fast. You remember why you love running, why you love writing. You feel free, your thoughts are focused and your world makes sense. If only in those brief moments.
4. Pain. Even the best runs can end in pain. You breathe that sigh of satisfaction as you slow down to a walk. You feel fantastic. Until you stop moving and every muscle starts tightening up and every joint stiffens. And then you can’t move and stairs become your mortal enemy. Once you hit publish, or have an article published on another site, that sucker is out of your hands. You try to promote it on Facebook and Twitter, but maybe no one will see it. Maybe no one will care. Some bloggers hate “trolls,” the people who nitpick or take outlandish stances against legitimate articles. Personally, I’d rather be attacked than ignored. If what you write has no impact, what was the point? Worrying about the number of likes, shares and comments can gnaw at you. For running, stretching your legs helps. For writing, it’s the same. Just stretch your legs and walk away from the computer. It’ll still hurt, but not as much.
5. You can’t compare yourself to others, only to yourself. Running is all about the Personal Records, or PRs for short. Yes, you’re racing against everyone else, but chances are you’re not aiming to wind up on a podium. You just want to finish with a time you’re proud of. If you train your ass off, you want that hard work reflected at the finish line. But you don’t compare yourself to Meb. You compare yourself to your previous times. Same with blogging. If you compare yourself to How To Be A Dad or some other hugely popular site, you’ll probably throw in the towel. They’re better than you. But that’s okay. They’ve been doing it longer, have skills you don’t, contacts you don’t, put in more hours in a day, and have built a loyal following over time. They’re pros. The question is, are YOUR numbers getting better? Is your writing? If not, maybe you need a new training plan, a new blogging strategy, or just more practice.
6. That last one’s kind of bullshit. You can, and should, compare yourself to others. If you want to run fast, find someone a little faster than you and try to keep up. When you train with other people, you push each other to achieve more. If you don’t compare yourself to others, you become complacent. It’s important, however, to pick the right comparison point. For running, choose someone, or a group, on the outer edge of your ability. For blogging, find a site that has a similar focus and style and learn from that person. It helps to join a group of bloggers or runners, where you can gain valuable insights. Running and writing are not zero-sum games. Everyone can get better at the same time, lift each other up and provide support and guidance.
7. Beer helps. This one may be controversial, but I’m not sure why. You lose carbs when you run; beer has lots of carbs. Do the math. After your long, grueling runs, nothing helps more or tastes better than a frosty beer. You should not, however, drink while running, unless you’re taking on the beer mile (which I really want to try one of these days). When writing a blog post, it’s common to get stuck. It helps to walk around, move seats, do anything to change your perspective. Beer helps. Get a little buzz on and watch the words flow. Don’t worry, you can edit later.
Pick up your medal and grab a beer. Start again.