I just started reading Natalie Goldberg’s excellent book, ‘Writing Down the Bones’. The third chapter deals with running and writing, so I thought it was quite the coincidence, that I had just posted a blog about exercise and writing. Her words made me think of when I ran the marathon, back in 1997, when I was 37. (Stay with me; this does have relevance.)
I always ran, but usually only 3-4 miles. Anything longer, I was bored out of my mind. So when I told my roommate that I was going to run it, she thought I was nuts. (Just one of the many naysayers you continually meet in life.)
My training consisted of nothing more than small daily increments; 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, and finally 15 miles. I figured if I could run 15 miles, what’s another 11 or so? I have to admit, though, that that 15-miler was brutal.
But I was determined.
The day of the marathon arrived, and my roommate drove me to Hopkinton, where the race started. She dropped me off, and she returned to Brookline, to await my arrival in Coolidge Corner. I did not have a number, so I was one of the thousands of runners called ‘bandits’, those who didn’t qualify but could run at the end.
The race began and, twenty minutes later, I crossed the starting line. It took that long for all the numbered runners to start. The first 20 miles were relatively easy, and it certainly helped hearing the crowds cheer you on. Even the frat boys who, instead of handing out water, held out Coors cans to the runners, cheered us onward. I smiled at that, and looked forward to having a beer at the end. Ok, three.
At the aptly named Heartbreak Hill, I thought my heart was going to explode. Cresting one of the slight hills, I slowed down and walked instead. Big mistake. It was extremely difficult to get going after that, and I thought my thighs were the next body parts to erupt.
Cleveland Circle came into view, and I could not believe I still had another 3.5 miles…just to Kenmore Square! And from there it was another mile to the finish line.
I continued along Commonwealth Avenue, turned right onto Hereford, and then left onto Boylston Street. I could see the finish line ahead. My head and heart were pounding, and I forced myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I did not hear the crowd at all. I just concentrated on the act of running.
And there I was, crossing the finish line, near the Boston Public Library. I did it! I ran my first marathon in 3 hours and 40 minutes. I was elated. And what does all this have to do with Ms. Goldberg’s superb book? As she writes in her book, writing is exactly like running. You do not stop. You keep putting the pen to paper. You do not give up.
Just starting in with her chapter called ‘Writing as a Practice’ (page 11) has me excited to follow her poignant words. If I can run—and finish—a marathon, if I possess the spirit and determination to pursue that desire, then surely I can tackle a blank page and churn out a plethora of words on a daily basis.
For all those out there who struggle to compose something every day (I raised my hand, too), that first paragraph of that chapter will help you tremendously. And as she states, so simply yet accurately, ‘You just do it.’