If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you’ll know I’m a bit of a runner. Have been for a long time. I’ve been running the odd 5Ks here and there, but I wanted to really reach for a goal. A full marathon, I’ve accepted, is just not in the cards for me. I will never have that kind of time to train. Not on a writer’s schedule. But a half-marathon? Yeah, that felt right. Something I could train for.
Here’s the thing about half-marathons, something I learned around Mile Marker 4. You are going to run. A lot. For the same length of time as an average summer blockbuster movie. So with a lot of time and a lot of running ahead of myself, I focused on trying to find a zone where I wouldn’t worry about the mileage…
…and wouldn’t you know it, over the thirteen-point-one miles of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half-Marathon, I came across a few connections between this half and my own writing career.
Don’t Mind Others. This is Your Career. Not theirs.
For the first handful of miles, all of us were running to the left. I wasn’t sure why until I saw just shy of Mile Marker 4 a police car coming in the opposite direction. I heard a runner behind me say, “Here comes the lead.” The pace car passed us, and right behind it was a guy easily keeping an 8-minute mile and he was showing no signs of stopping. Same for the runner only a few hundred yards behind him, and the pair of runners behind him by a quarter-mile or so. I was one of the runners cheering them all on before getting back to my own run, watching some continue to pound the pavement ahead of me while others needed to walk it out. Now those people in the lead? Those are your Neil Gaimans, your Chuck Wendigs, your Elizabeth Bears, and your Delilah S. Dawsons. They are setting the pace for the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean you compare yourself to them. You don’t say “I must suck at writing because I’m not there.” The pace setters never start at the head of the pack. They train for that shit with each book. They hit personal bests on sunny days. They slog through to the end on the worst. They focus on the story in front of them, not the stories and storytellers around them. As Chuck would say, you do you.
Set a pace. Stick with it.
This race would be the first time I would ever be running any distance taking on double digits. Race rules stipulated “You’re committing to finishing the race at a time less than 15-minutes a mile.” I found that maintaining a ten-minute mile was hard. I could easily pick up the pace, sure, but I was only at Mile Marker 5. Eight to go. No, I wanted to end this race strong, not stumbling across the finish line. Any of this sound familiar? Because it should. You want to finish that book in you, but if you try and shit out a metric fuckton of words you might find yourself struggling just to type out “It was a dark and stormy night…” the following day. Same goes for that pledge of “I’m going to hammer out 2000 words tonight…” only to hit those writing blocks where you may score only 500 words at the end of the day, 750 the next. You might start feeling a little disheartened. This is why setting a pace is so important. Maybe “2000 words a day” is good goal to shoot for, but start off with a 500-word count. Keep with that for a month. Get into a constant, consistent zone of productivity. Remember, this is a long game we’re playing. Not a sprint.
Step up that pace when you’re ready.
At Mile Marker 9 I checked my average pace and had slipped a few seconds. I was still feeling good though, considering this is the farthest I had ever run. I knew if I could keep this pace, I would have enough in the tank for finishing at a confident stride. From the writer’s perspective, this is what you work towards—a pace that, once you got it down, can pick up. Roughly a month later of consistently hitting, if not shattering, that 500-word goal, push your count to 1000 words. Then stick with that regimen for a spell. Then, if the consistency is there, raise your regimen by another 250 or 500 words. Pace makes a difference in your progress; but when you have it down, raise the bar and step it up. You will want to finish strong.
Never stop pushing yourself.
When I hit Mile Marker 10, I had hit a serious milestone. If I was lucky, I would finish the race in two hours-fifteen minutes. If I was lucky. At this point, all that was left was three miles. Roughly five kilometers. My feet and legs were wanting a bit of a break, but I only had three miles to go. Fuck it. I’m all in. No different than when you challenge yourself in your writing. Once upon a time, I didn’t do short stories. I couldn’t keep it tight like short stories demand you do. Now, I’m cranking them out every season with Tales from the Archives and editing anthologies. Once upon a time, I was working a novel a year. In 2016 alone, I’ve got two novels, a novella, and a new season of short stories to launch. While you have to set a pace, you should strive to push yourself to be better, to work harder, to write better.
Fucking Finish the Damn Race.
It was an incline. A long, slow incline. At Mile Marker 11. Well, fuck me running. Literally. I made it 11.25 miles and my body finally said, “Walk. Now.” So I walked for roughly a quarter of a mile. Yes, I was frustrated. Yes, I was angry. Yes, I was seriously thinking about just sucking up my pride and walking it out to the end. I watched the distance tick off, did the math in my head, and said to myself “Finish this. Finish this before two hours and thirty minutes. Finish the fucking race.” At 11.5 I started running again. I didn’t feel graceful, I didn’t feel powerful, but goddammit I was running again. Regardless of the 30-degree incline ahead, regardless of the pain, regardless of the lost time, I pushed on. Rounding the corner, I was off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and saw the finish line ahead. My time on crossing—2:22:53. My wife, Pip, had never been so proud of me, not even after we hit Number #1 on three of Amazon’s Steampunk lists only two days prior. That—right there—is so important to your writing career. Your novel, novella, or short story, remains nothing more than an idea and words on paper until you finish it. Finish that story. Finish strong. Finish confident. Fucking finish the story.
The Wilson Half was an amazing experience, but I remember getting home, fired up to write. Honestly, I can’t remember if I did or not. There was a lot of napping and re-hydration after I got home. Still, would I do it again? Yes. Oh hell, yes! Running a half-marathon offered me a lot of perspective on this crazy career as a writer.
Plus, I’ve got to step it up my regimen. Considering what Jim Hines, Chuck, and I have agreed to do for charity, we need to look our best for whatever ridiculous pose people vote for us to recreate.
Lace up, gents. We got some miles to shred.