Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Runner's High by Ellen Jensen Abbott

I love to run. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve finished 6 miles. I love feeling my body recover after a particularly long or steep hill. I love the sweat, the tiredness, the toe-callouses, the achiness—all of which tell me I’ve done something. I love the extra cookie I can have because I’ve burned 700 calories. 

And yes, there’s an app for that! I often run with my phone strapped to my arm and the mechanical voice of the RunKeeper lady announcing my achievement every five minutes. “Time: thirty-five minutes. Distance: three point four seven miles. Pace: Ten minutes. Thirteen seconds. Per Mile.” I use her voice to push myself harder when my pace slows, to decide which turn I should take in order to get more mileage, to push myself through the last few tenths so that I actually run all 5 or 6 miles, rather than stopping at 4.7 or 5.5. The RunKeeper gives me a ribbon if I run particularly far or fast or long. I can even post my results on Facebook, though I never do.

But lately, I’ve been leaving my phone at home and heading out the door with just me and my sneakers. I lose myself in the pounding of my feet and the rasp of my breath. My mind wanders and floats without the jarring interruption of that mechanical voice. I know roughly when I pass the 2, 3, 4 mile mark and I know how my pace feels without actually having a number to assign to it. I don’t worry that my pace is getting messed up when I jog in place, waiting for a light to change. I finish with a sense of accomplishment even if I don’t know exactly how far I’ve gone. (Was it 6.1 or 6.2?) 

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I can’t help but see an analogy here for my writing life. There are times when I am all about the data. How many being verbs can I cut per page? Am I using at least three senses in each scene? Did I push myself through that difficult chapter? And that ubiquitous question: How many words/pages did I write in a given day? (Lots of folks post that on Facebook!) 

But right now, I’m trying to ignore the data. The truth is that if I were to judge my writing life by the data—time spent, words written, chapters constructed—I’d be a very depressed writer! But I also know that like running, it will only be harder if I don’t get out there and do it. This summer, I’ve been heading into writing each day with just my pen. I write a few pages long hand, letting my mind wander and float, worrying less about if there is a story buried in my words. I allow myself to feel good that I wrote at all, rather than if I met my word count. I’m keeping the writing muscle flexed so that when inspiration or insight strikes, I’m in shape for the long haul of a story or a book. 

Two pages long hand gives me enough of that writer’s high to trust that I'll be logging longer miles again. When it does, I want to be in shape.


  1. This is so lovely and inspiring!

  2. Ellen--I run too!!! Often to think and dream and definitely to eat more cookies LOL! I haven't been getting to it as much as I like, but kids home for summer and all *sigh* I also may be the only nerd who runs to audiobooks some of the time LOL!

    1. Running to audio books sounds like bliss to me, Kimberly!