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I just finished the Run for the Zoo 5K! It was a cold, windy morning and I had one of my best runs ever. I ran the whole thing, I stayed positive, and I improved my time by over 2 minutes. Not bad—and against the wind. I feel great!

The thing that kept me going in the race was focusing on being in the present. I started out slow and didn’t think about what other people were doing around me: speeding by, stopping and starting, I just kept going at my pace. I did my mantras: “I can, I will, I am”; “I love the hill, I love the hill; and others that help me stay in the moment and keep the negative thoughts out. I focused on what my hips were doing, that seems to help me open up a bit and feel the road and not focus on the finish line, on lunch, the bathroom, the time, other runners.

While I was running I thought about my writing and how it mirrors running a race. I thought of all the people I was running with as writers: some are racing ahead, some are erratic, some are young, and some are seasoned. It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with me and my writing/race. I just have to stick to my pace. It’s not that I never should slow down; I just need to pay attention to my body and being aware of when I need to alter my pace. The same goes for writing; there will be times when I need to slow down: to replenish my creativity, get ready to take a different tack, to let an idea simmer.

For example, we got hit by a few big gusts of wind out there and there was no point for me to exhaust myself pushing against the wind. So I took it easy for a bit, coasting along, still making progress but not wearing myself out. When we turned a corner and were out of the wind I picked up my pace. The last mile I pushed it, went a little faster, and then near the finish line, really opened up.

The race felt different today. I’m stronger than I thought I was. I have more stamina. I’ve had trouble motivating myself lately: feeling weak, tired, negative…not wanting to push. Consequently, I was surprised that I was able to motivate myself today, that I used strategy. I’m really pleased about my performance.

Back to writing. I’ve been thinking about the process I’m in right now; not writing as much as I’d like to but doing a lot of research on publishers and agents. I’m busy getting work ready for submission. I’m also thinking about joining a writing group (something I’ve avoided since graduate school).  What I need now is stamina in my writing—to keep going, even when I get rejection letters or my queries just disappear into the void. Keep going. Motivate myself. Stay positive. Focus on small things, like writing this cover letter, editing that story, starting on a new idea for a novel. Just showing up at the computer and writing regularly takes stamina. There are small actions I can take that keep me moving forward: research for my new novel idea, read a blog by an agent before submitting, read a novel published by a press that I’m interested in—even when though it takes time and doesn’t feel as sexy as the creative stuff. It’s part of the process.

This is like preparing to run a race. I practice by running 4-5 times a week whether I feel like it or not. I go a little bit further even though I want to stop. I practice by stretching, eating right, reading runner’s magazines, looking at my running log to see what’s working (and what isn’t). When I run I practice self-talk, I focus on where I place my feet, what the ground in front of me looks like, the shadows falling on the path, my breath, by arms, my hips and my feet. By focusing on what is immediate, I get where I want to go.

Tomorrow I’m running in a thanksgiving day race, a Turkey Trot. This one is four miles and I’ve only done 5Ks before (3.1 miles). I’m nervous about it because I’ve never gone four miles. I’m also nervous because it’s going to be cold. It’s kind of silly to be nervous, because I’ve been running in the mornings the last few weeks and I’ve survived. I ran yesterday morning in 29 degrees and was warm enough once I got going. I’ve prepared by buying nice warm gloves and socks. Four miles is just a little longer than one of my long runs. I know I can do it, but still, I’m afraid. I worry about hurting my knees, about irritating that hip thing, and then some irrational fear about not making it—never getting to the end. I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s real.  (What if I’m stuck there on the trail for days? Months? ) My goal is not to win (I’m not delusional) but just to run the whole thing. I’m actually okay with the fact that I might walk some. If I need to walk for a while that will be fine. I mentioned the run to my class yesterday and a few guys were teasing me about it: “Only four miles. What’s that, an 1/8 of a marathon?” It pricked my ego a little bit but I don’t care. Four miles is four miles. A few years ago just walking to the end of the block was a big deal for me. I won’t let them get to me and I’m making a deal with myself right now. I won’t compare myself to anyone else at the race tomorrow. I’m running to motivate myself, to challenge myself, to grow, to be healthy, to have fun. I’m running my own race. Wish me luck!

“Yoga is about the journey.” My yoga instructor said that the other day and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Life is also about the journey, the process. It’s not the destination but the journey—is the common saying, cliché, but accurate. I’m realizing that this idea works in many aspects of my life: my writing, my exercise program, my job hunt. It’s easy to forget and start trying to control every step of the way, worrying about the outcome.

I’ve had a writing breakthrough—I am moving, whether it’s right or wrong, I’m moving in some direction. I am writing. This is the journey. It may work into something. Many things in my life have come about this way. A few years ago, I wrote some community plays and this led to helping a middle school teacher with her class theatre projects. That community service led to teaching a summer youth program drama workshop, and the semester after that, I taught Theatre Appreciation at a community college. Based on that experience, I was asked to teach drama to High School students last summer and direct their play at the end of the term. I don’t have a degree in theatre or dramatic writing (although I do write fiction and have read a ton of plays), but I just started writing plays and performing and directing them (they were understandably amateurish but I got better each time and people think I have a knack for it).

Now, this won’t get me a faculty position  in a university theatre program—although, who knows, stranger things have happened. I’ve been paid to direct theatre now for three semesters without a degree in theatre. All because I just started doing what I loved. If you’d told me this would happen, I would not have believed you. To be completely honest, however, I have a hard time believing that if I follow my bliss with writing something just as great will happen. That doors will open. I’m trying right now to hang on to this. To remember that writing is a journey, not a destination, even though I want to reach a destination, I admit. I believe that destination is some talk show—David Letterman? Oprah? The Today Show? Me being interviewed about my book. That is the destination that I have in mind. The reality is that I will most likely never make it there. I may make it somewhere similar, or for another reason. I can’t think about that, it takes the joy out of creating for me. I need to create. So one day at a time, create. That is the journey. Perhaps I’m thinking about my job hunt/career change all wrong. It’s a journey as well. I’m not going to just land on some shore of employment and think Ahhh, I’ve made it. This is where I’ve been headed all along. Where I am now is part of my journey, not a mistake, and I don’t know where I will arrive next. It’s not about arriving though, that’s what I need to get into my awareness, it’s about being where I am. I saw a magnet on someone’s refrigerator recently that read: “I’d rather be here.” Here is all I have. I might as well make the most of it.

I only ran 22:16 today. It took a long time for my muscles to warm up. The temperature was lower than it has been all summer. It’s the middle of September, right on schedule. I actually meant to stop at 20:00—just a short run today, but I forgot. I hadn’t set my egg-timer (I carry an egg timer that fits nicely in my pocket with huge numbers. I’ll talk moer about this later). It was in my pocket, and I glanced at it, saw I had about three more minutes and I planned to run to the intersection and ran right through it without any thought of stopping. I just ran almost all the way home before I remembered I was going to stop back there. Sometimes, it’s easier to keep running than it is to stop. I noticed that when I was doing my “training (run three minutes, walk one minute, etc.), I got to about five or seven minutes and I didn’t want to stop for my minute walk, it was almost easier just to keep going. But, that wasn’t the point. I stuck to the plan, did it right and eventually got up to where I am now, able to run 35-40 minutes straight.

I could have gone longer today, but my calf was hurting (on the inside, left leg).  My right knee was complaining a bit too. Then my gut was talking to me. Too much coffee this morning, ate that yogurt too close to running—yeah, some days it’s like that—my body just won’t leave me alone. ‘What the hell?” it says as soon as I start out. “What are you doing? This is just wrong!” Okay, that was this morning and I don’t know why, because I did yoga yesterday. I should be flexible; my muscles should be stretched, warm. I ran the day before—35 minutes or so. Maybe I really didn’t stretch enough this morning. I just did a few cursory stretches, calves mostly, and then left—and it was cold. I may need to invest in some running pants.

While running I had a thought, it had to do with the journey—running being about the journey—because each day is a new day. You never reach the end and say, “well, I’ve run enough.” Even someone who runs marathons, who runs those crazy 60-mile things, can never be done. They stop running altogether and after a while, they’ll go back to flab, their muscles will atrophy, they’ll lose what they’ve built up. So yeah, you have to keep doing it. I ran a lot last week does not make me fit this week; I have to run a lot this week also to be fit. I’m not sure this is having the inspirational effect on me that I thought it would. It’s a little depressing…geez. But, here we go—here’s the upside—I keep doing it regularly, and it does build on the work I did before. I keep getting firmer, stronger, my stamina is greater each time. I wonder sometimes if I’m doing the right thing for my body now. Do I need to push more, have another goal? I don’t have a running goal right now. Just keep it up—that’s my current goal. Three times a week, at least. And I’ve added yoga and biking, I think I just want to see how the three work together for a while. Trust the process. (September 14, 2010)

60s cheerleaders

It was hard to get going this morning. I can blame it on too much coffee, not enough sleep, loading up on that super sweet granola when I usually don’t eat before I run. Whatever the reason, I did not feel like running this morning. I dressed, got momentarily excited about trying out my new sports bra, did some stretching, and started out slowly. It was a bit cold for 8:00 am and I found myself sticking to the sunny spots rather than looking for the shade. I was actually crossing the street to avoid shade. I did a little more than I thought I would, which usually happens, even though my legs were kind of tight and mushy (tight and mushy???) throughout the whole run.

I felt like I never quite warmed up today. I made a point of keeping my arms low and slack. I am constantly surprised at how much effort it takes to stay relaxed! My arms want to come up above my waist even though it drains my energy to do so.  A running friend told me that it’s best to keep them down, and relaxed, unless I’m running up a hill. It does relax my shoulder and neck muscles when I run with my hands near my thighs, I’ve found, but they creep back up on their own volition. I think I’m working some new muscles just by trying to keep my arms down. I’ve been observing other runners’ form and I’m surprised that many hold their hands up near their chest, swing their shoulders, or let their wrists flop around. I’m trying to be aware of having the correct form and whether it’s helping or hindering me.

The most interesting thing I saw this morning was a woman walking four dogs and a baby carriage. Everyone was well-behaved. The dogs were just walking along, not pulling or barking, the baby was sleeping; they looked like they had practiced this for some time and had it down. It could have been a chaotic event. When I passed her, I said “Wow!” and she nodded with a tired smile. Good for her. I’m sure there’s some lesson there for me but at the moment I’m not sure what it is.

I told someone about writing this blog on running and she didn’t seem too impressed. Maybe it was because I’ve become excited about so many other projects lately that only lasted a day or two. That’s what she brought up—what about the work you were doing that came from the art gallery? Oh, that. Well, I’ve lost interest. Or maybe I’m still interested in a way, but I’m not really doing it anymore. What it was, was writing to a subject, the way poets do. I remember taking a poetry class and noticing that the real poets wrote from the perspective of a “speaker” and wrote to someone or something. I had never tried this before until I was in an art gallery with a poet pal and did some writing exercises (which I had miserably agreed to do with her) writing about paintings. My friend was actually writing to the subjects in the paintings—never occurred to me to do this but I loved it! So, I’ve been doing that for a month or so, little snippets, “poemettes” where I speak to the tomato plant, to the bird on a wire, to myself from my body’s point of view. It’s been interesting and it’s working some kind of artistic muscle that I’ve never used before. I don’t think I’m done with that, and I don’t know where it will lead, in fact, I think I may be using it now as I write this to an audience, to the reader of my blog—you, the person interested in running and writing and escaping reality as much as possible. You may not be my subject but I’ve never been so aware of an audience before. I suspect that I’ll see more come out of this in the future.

Today, when I was running, I kept thinking about what I would write when I got home. I would write some deep and ponderous things about the woman with the dogs and the baby,  the man watering his tomatoes, the yellow leaves that have cropped up on trees here and there, the golden light of fall that I love so much. I had such a hard time being in the moment, busy “writing” as I ran. Not that those things can’t go together. I have experienced that often as I walk (while working on my dissertation, as well as my last novel). Walking brought clarity, inspiration, even story to my mind. I’m experiencing some of that now with running. I think, however, that this morning I was trying to force it. Thinking ahead to my blog that I would be starting and how this is the way I would become famous, just like the woman in that film about Julia Child. I have questions now about the ethics of profiting from spirituality (inspiration, meditation—whatever you want to call it). Is this a spiritual exercise for me (writing, running, sharing my personal experience) or am I trying to find my niche? Make a buck? Get famous? All of those things, I suppose, and I’m probably not the first writer to be in a quandary over it. Maybe I should just stop thinking about the future and whether I will be on Oprah or on Ellen to talk about my book that came from this blog and just write for today. This book/blog is different from my fiction (as well as my poorly disguised memoir written as fictitious regional/coming of age novel based on my childhood) in that I knew the endings to those, or at least, it was up to me to fabricate an ending. I thought about where the story was going, plotted the course. This book (I can’t help it)—I have no idea. It is truly a work-in-progress and I love that. It is a one day at a time project and I will have to wait and see where it goes. Just like you do (if you’re still there). I’m thinking, write for seven more months, until 9/9/2011 (my one year anniversary of running). I can try that. If I don’t think it’s a good place to stop, I’ll keep going—just trust the process.

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