by Francine Puckly
I spent much of my teen and twenty-something years with running shoes strapped on my feet, jogging down lonely stretches of dirt roads in search of the satisfaction and peace that come from solitude and extreme exertion. Most days it only took a mere four or five miles to find that satisfaction, but other days it required eight or ten miles before I was beaten into submission and had chased the demons of doubt from my life. The logical outcome of all this running was competition—putting my running “out there”, so to speak. And while I completed in numerous 10k’s and half-marathons, I never conquered the ever-dreaded marathon…until 2009.
That January I set off on a five-month training program to gear up for the Vermont City Marathon, held in Burlington, VT over Memorial Day weekend. I wanted my training to have minimal impact on my family, so my alarm sounded each morning before dawn. I ate a “sensible” breakfast and set off on foot down the road. I resisted using my iPod as an escape. Instead I slogged through the miles, just me and the road, a few zero-degree mornings, and the occasional rogue bulldog trying to get me to increase my pace and heart rate.
Training isn’t glamorous. No crowds line the streets to cheer you on or hand out orange slices. No music plays at mile-markers. You don’t get to wear a fancy new t-shirt. And nobody wraps you in a blanket when you’re done. It’s just you and your determination to complete the self-imposed task at hand. Day after day after day.
People ask you why? Why are you doing this to yourself? You answer, “Because.” These same well-meaning people suggest more productive ways you could be spending your time. And most importantly, they wonder out loud why you would do something that requires so many hours of your time when you end up right back where you started.
But you persevere despite your own doubt. And then the time comes to put yourself “out there”. To run the race. And of course it’s raining. And of course the conditions are not what you trained for. But you get out there anyway, slogging away the miles, fighting the demons in your head that say you can’t do it and that you’ll never finish. And then something miraculous happens. You DO finish. And the only other people who can share in your emotional and physical exhaustion are fellow runners hobbling over the finish line with you because they were crazy enough to do it, too.
I now spend most of my adult life with a pen stuck in my hand and wide-ruled paper in front of me or with a laptop screen pulsing in my face. I cannot use the internet or e-mail or Facebook to escape the task at hand. I must flesh out characters and settings and plots, oftentimes ending the day in the exact same spot I began it. I head down lonely stretches of days in search of the satisfaction and peace that comes from solitude and extreme exertion.
Writing isn’t glamorous. No crowds line your driveway awaiting future book signings. No heavenly harps play when you finish a chapter. You wear grungy sweatpants and t-shirts that you’d better not sport in public in case you get into an accident, and nobody brews you a cup of tea at the end of the day when your head is spinning with information. It’s just you and your determination to complete the self-imposed task at hand. Day after day after day.
It takes months and sometimes years. And then you have something. You have stamina and resolve, two under-appreciated commodities. And you have a book. And then you must put yourself “out there”. You must run the race you’ve been training for. And of course it’s raining rejection letters. And of course the conditions (public sales pitches) are not what you were training for. But you get out there anyway, slogging away the miles, fighting the demons in your head that say you can’t do it—until you reach the elusive finish line of contracts and negotiations.
With my family the night before the Vermont City Marathon, May 2009
For more blogs, check out Francine's group blog on goal setting and other writing topics at www.24carrotwriting.com.