Writers write. Runners run.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle

I’ve been a writer for as far back as I can remember; my fondest memories of elementary school are about the short stories that I wrote and the positive feedback that I got from teachers about them. During my high school years I took myself ***very seriously*** as a poet. I’d convinced myself that poets and other creative types were special because they were all sensitive, depressed, and a bit crazy — and my adolescent self felt a special kinship with anyone who was sensitive, depressed and a bit crazy.

I took a few creative writing and poetry classes in college, which improved my craft as a writer but caused me to question the authenticity of my voice. Did I really have anything new to say as a poet? In all my other classes, I had to learn to write in a scholarly way, objective and unemotional. Eventually, I lost whatever potential I’d ever had as a poet.

Yet I never stopped writing. I have kept a personal journal since I was 12. It has seldom been a daily practice, but I have journaled my way through relationships, job changes, parenthood, buying and selling all those cars with Kurt, packing and moving and unpacking and trying to create places that felt like home and packing and moving again. I journaled my way to the insight that I needed to go back for the long-deferred graduate degree (and then another, and another). I journaled my way to a detailed vision of a career change, and then I made that career change happen. The idea for my dissertation was born in my journal. My dissertation was a three-year writing exercise, which I did both alone and with others, spiraling inward and outward multiple times and going a little deeper each time.

When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I journaled my way through that, and I shared that journal with friends and family. Writing is how I process things. Writing is how I learn.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

Writers write. So many people talk about “that novel I’m going to write someday,” but writers don’t just talk about writing. They write.

When I started to run, I did not dream of calling myself a runner.

For my 53rd birthday I asked Kurt for a treadmill, as I wanted to walk off the ten pounds I’d put on as a PhD student, and I hoped that walking might help relieve the chronic foot pain and weakness I’d suffered from a half-successful bunion surgery followed by a broken foot. The ever-chivalrous Kurt indulged my request, expecting that it would be garage sale fodder soon. I proved him wrong. I did 146 miles on that treadmill, first walking and then cautiously jogging, before I dared to go out in “the real world.” I did another 90 miles before I finally bought my first pair of running shoes (sandals and hiking boots weren’t working so well). That was April 2009. I had registered to run a half marathon in June, but I still wasn’t thinking of myself as a runner.

Not having a clue how to properly train for a half marathon, I injured myself and missed that first race, but I didn’t give up. I was still doing mostly treadmill time, but when we went down to Palm Springs in the fall of 2009 I had to decide if I was serious enough to run on the streets at the crack of dawn. Apparently I was. I ran my first half marathon in Palm Springs in February 2010. I was slow but I finished. When we came back home to Washington I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon in June, beating my PS time by 5 minutes.

Then in July we found out Kurt was sick. Soon afterwards I realized that I genuinely enjoyed running and needed to run. I had to make time for it, but it was time that I got to spend not thinking about him, or us, or what was going to happen to us… time to just put one foot in front of the other. At some point I began to think of myself as a runner — well, let’s qualify that — as a slow happy runner. I’m not fast, I’ll never be fast, but running makes me very happy. Running helped me cope with the stress of nearly 24×7 caregiving, when I needed every scrap of happiness I could find.

With the help of good friends who provided respite care for Kurt, I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon again this June. I didn’t know he was going to die four days later, but I don’t regret the time I spent training for and running that race. I beat my previous year’s time by 10 minutes, and I took every one of those approximately 23,000 steps on sheer will power. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, made best-selling hay out of the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at anything. Want to learn to play a musical instrument? 10,000 hours of practice. Invent the personal computer? 10,000 hours of fiddling with electronic gadgetry.

Since October 2008 I have run 1,206 miles, and spent a mere 260 hours doing it (go ahead and do the math – yes, I’m slow and I’m happy). I am but a mere babe as a runner (a spring chicken, as Kurt would say). But I’m picking up the pace now, consistently doing three times a week, doing more long runs, finding my way step by step.

Runners run. I am a runner.

Writers write. I am a writer.

What do you do? How do you spend your finite measure of hours? Who are you?

Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking…

Antonio Machado

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Posted on August 29, 2011, in Philosophy, Running, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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