4 Lessons Distance Running Can Teach You About Writing

4 Lessons Distance Running Can Teach You About Writing

Does writing ever feel like running a race you’ll never finish?

As a former distance runner (my glory days, now behind me, were four years of high school cross country competition), I've noticed many correlations to my creative life over the years.

Here are a few characteristics unique to distance runners:

  • Endurance conditioning

  • The ability to anticipate and overcome roadblocks (like changes in weather or injury)

  • Course-correct in the middle of the race to recover or regain distance

  • Mental strength to push through temporary pain

  • Passion, drive, and the ability to push through struggles

If you think of yourself like a distance runner, you’ll find a multitude of similarities. Distance runners condition for long races, anywhere from 3 to 26.2 miles; writers plan for a career that spans most of a lifetime.

If a runner sustains a minor injury, he takes care to properly recover, then sets out again; writers don’t stop writing after one rejection, but continue on the journey.

@@Distance runners and writers both keep going.@@

It's not always easy when rejection, lack of motivation, and fear lurk on the sidelines, but with the right mindset, you can stay focused on the most important part of the race: the middle.

The start of the race (like the opening sentence of your next blog post) or the end (like publishing your first book) are important milestones, but it’s how you sustain yourself during the long stretches of open pavement, where few fans have come to cheer you on, that will determine your outcome.

How to Apply Running Lessons To Your Writing Life

1. Train for all scenarios

Distance runners train in the early morning and the afternoon heat. They run up hills and on flat stretches of highway. They visualize a race before competing, and they teach themselves mental techniques to cope with exhaustion and despair mid-race.

Takeaway for writers:

It might be more comfortable to write fiction if it’s what you started doing years ago, but writers need to have a variety of styles in their arsenal. Take a course in a new genre, write a guest post, and think of ways to push yourself to new limits. This will give you more traction in your career, and by training in more than one style, you’re more likely to sustain yourself over the long-haul.

2. Focus on the middle

Because distance races are measured in miles, the beginning and the end are less important than the middle. If you go quickly, you’ll use too much energy, so there’s tremendous value in easing into a race to conserve for the tough turns ahead.

Even when other runners pass you by when the gun goes off, confident runners know that their surge will come later in the race when everyone else is slowing down.

Takeaway for writers:

When your editor pushes back a publication date, a story gets pushed to the next edition (six months later!), or you decide your novel needs to be restructured, these are the times to dig deep.

It’s ok to be excited when something comes through. Celebrate that your poem was accepted to the journal or that you received more comments this week than your blog has ever seen.

It’s important to acknowledge these moments, but then put your head down and pound the pavement again. When something stalls, it just means you’re in the middle. Distract yourself with another project, outline a new e-book, or brainstorm content ideas for your blog.

Whatever you do, keep an even pace, check in with how you’re feeling, and get ready to push to the finish line.

3. Race against yourself

Professional runners or athletes on cross-country teams race against rivals and records, but they also run against something else: their personal best. This is the fastest time they’ve ever run, and they’re always striving to beat it.

Although it’s not easy to do, runners must strike a balance between focusing on their own race and keeping an eye on the runner next to them.

Takeaway for writers:

Each story, guest post, poem, chapter, and book is a chance to push ourselves harder, turn out better work, and inspire others more than the last time. It’s not a race you can finish in a designated amount of time.

Writer’s who finish a book draft in six months are not better than writers that take two years.

What matters is how much you grow and change during the process. So write your own post, story, and book on your own time, without worrying about the course your fellow writers are on.

4. Push through the pain

If there’s one thing distance runners know how to do, it’s push through pain. Maybe it’s a stitch at the second mile marker, or a blister that forms on your toe during the second half of a marathon. Maybe your legs feel heavy. Instead of quitting, runners access a place in their mind that helps them through a race.

It’s a place of motivation and mantras. It’s a conversation you have with yourself mid-race, reminding you of why you’re pushing so hard. It’s about knowing that the feeling at the other end of the finish line will be worth it.

Takeaway for writers:

Pain for runners can be translated to something else for writers: fear. Over the course of our career we will encounter roadblocks, feel the pangs of rejection, push through the emotional rollercoaster of writing our first book, and more. But if we stopped writing every time a challenge rose to meet us, we’d never move forward.

A change of course doesn’t mean our career is over, or that we shouldn’t put fingers on the keyboard and string sentences together.

We have to remember that writing chose us, and because the urge to write and create is inside of us whether we’re listening for the words or not, it’s always better to keep running, keep writing, and move closer to the finish line we were meant to cross.

Have you ever felt like giving up on a writing project then found the courage to keep at it? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!