Habits of running are contagious
By Marlene Farrell
Running gave me an early Christmas present. I unwrapped it on Nov. 1 and it kept growing and amazing me throughout the month.
The gift had two parts. One was perseverance (or diligence or grit; it has so many wonderful names). I’ve been running daily for years, only missing a half a dozen days each year. This running habit has been critical to making me a healthier human being and has the side benefits of making me a more compassionate mom, wife, daughter and friend, and a more creative writer.
Even if the owner’s manual didn’t say it was recommended, I applied that perseverance to my writing in November. I’ve been jotting down musings with pen or keyboard for awhile, but I haven’t been attentive to the daily practice.
Until now. I went straight to my desk at o’dark thirty each morning. I was working on a new novel, and I picked up the thread right where I left off the day before.
They say it takes two to six months to form a new habit. So perhaps I’m not in the clear yet. But after more than thirty days in a row, writing is now an itch I have to scratch every day. As essential as breathing. Sometimes more essential than eating or sleeping.
As essential as running.
That is a priceless gift! The daily habit led to the second even more unbelievable gift, a recalibration of limits, which also started with running.
As I train for a marathon, my perception of challenge always changes with my routine. A 10-mile run goes from being perceived as a long run to a standard run, par for the day. I learn efficiency with quicker showers, easy post-workout snacks, and running clothes and shoes stashed in the car for a superman-like transformation when a window of time opens up.
November was like peak marathon training, fueled this time on coffee and creative juices. I built my base with an in-depth plot chart in four acts. On Nov. 1, the kick-off for National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) began, and I was out of the gate sprinting. My internal critic was banned from my office. It was like tacking on extra miles, but this time I measured word count. I stretched my typing muscles by getting out almost 2000 words each day.
Staring at a blank page used to be so painful. Maybe it’s like a runner eyeing the untouched running shoes waiting by the door. That’s never been my problem.
Now I see the blank page as an opportunity, not an obstacle. I’ve transferred some of the tricks of efficiency — now my laptop travels with me when I run errands, in case there’s 5 spare minutes to finish a scene. And a couple hundred words can pour forth while waiting for dinner to cook or while sitting with my kids doing their homework.
The consequence of my NANOWRIMO goal-achieving month was a completed first draft of a new novel but also periods of mental exhaustion. Running came through for me yet again. In short stints of running I could stretch muscles compressed by my little wooden chair, and clear my head so ideas could percolate and intermingle.
My running and writing fed each other, so I was always eager for whichever was up next. I didn’t run my fastest during November, but a balance had to be struck. Later it will swing back toward running goals and family goals. A healthy balance is always shifting.
Developing into a stronger, smarter, faster runner depends on years of grit and a challenging of limits. Likewise, I hope my writing will become more meaningful and potent with each word, each page, and each book I write.
Marlene Farrell is a writer, long-distance runner and coach. She lives in Leavenworth.