I’m a Writer, I’m a Runner (and how they are the same damn thing)

I am not a natural runner, never have been, never will be. This is a fact that used to make me rage internally. I wanted to be that girl; there's a version of myself that I envision in some alternate reality in a galaxy far, far away. She's fit, lean, and ready to jog a marathon on a whim with a smile on her face and a light glistening of sweat that makes her look slightly magical as opposed to gross and smelly. The reality is far less appealing. I huff, I puff, I scrunch my brows into pained concentration. My hair jettisons out into a frizzy halo and the color of my face could rival the ripest tomato. I don't have any real form to speak of and could probably be confused with Phoebe from Friends as she's rushing to Central Perk. I am not a pretty runner. I don't say that to be modest or cheeky, it's true. When I was younger I even stopped for a while after being made fun of for it- my brittle self-esteem at that awkward age could not quite take it, so I avoided partaking in the activity for years- at least not when other people might see me.

phoebe-running-style-o

And so everyone who knew me was quite shocked when I agreed to take part in a multi-day, two-hundred (ish) mile relay race. I was dreading it, if I'm being honest, but I had a team of eleven other people who were depending on me- peer pressure can be a truly motivating force.

A few things happened that I never expected while I was out there on those roads, pushing through mental roadblocks and physical limitations, taking a pounding from the relentless sun and basking in the beauty of a star filled sky. I fell in love with this difficult challenge that forced me to find a sense of grit we lose in this world of modern convenience.

I didn't think I could do it- I went into the challenge simply hoping to survive long enough to cross that finish line. But there's something refreshingly human in the desire to prove yourself wrong; when you dig deep and find that resilient spirit you tucked away so many years ago. There's something empowering when you stand there staring at your own expectations of what you are capable of, holding your weaknesses in your hands and smashing them to the ground with a war cry of your own invention. There is something invigorating when you find a shard of strength you didn't know you had embedded deep your soul; that moment when you realize you actually did the one thing you always thought would be impossible. You become a fighter, you become more than you were yesterday.

There is something that we always seem to forget about grit and strength; contrary to what Instagram would have us believe- it is not always pretty, it does not always look empowering, and things do not suddenly become easy simply because you have changed your frame of mind. You don't suddenly morph into Mulan and start kicking ass without an ounce of trouble. I did more than I thought possible- but I still looked like a burnt puffer fish running down those roads. I was still in pain, my muscles screamed, my lungs went into panic mode. I still had to fight for ever inch of ground I gained, and I had to keep up a constant dialog with my own brain to convince it that my body could keep pushing. Success does not come easily, it does not always look like those inspirational pictures with the cliche captions on Pinterest. Life is messy, it is hard, and you will have to fight for all of it.

When you are out there pounding the pavement with no other distractions to steal your precious attention; your mind starts to wander into places you don't often visit. You find yourself searching for inspiration, for a reason to keep on moving forward. As I was out there on the road I thought a lot about life and what I wanted from it (apart from surviving to the finish). I thought about this past year and all of the steps that I have and have not taken towards my dreams. I thought about school, about work, about my writing. And I realized how similar my running and my writing actually were; it made each step a tiny bit easier when I realized that I already knew how to do this. I find my grit when I'm writing, I push myself, I battle with my inner critic who wants me to quit- I silence that voice. I knew how to run because I knew how to write. Knowing the patterns of the struggle reminded me that I know how to overcome them.

They say that running just entails putting one foot in front of the other, and writing is merely stringing words in a row. And yet to those who love them, they are so much more than that. These two completely different hobbies require the same frame of mind. You have to want it, you have to push, you have to fight for every advantage. And the enemy you are going up against isn't some scary monster- all too often it is that little voice in your own head saying 'you can't do this, you aren't good enough, why bother? Just stop.' You have to fight that voice with everything inside of you even when you don't believe your own inspiring words, even when you start to fall for those lies that little voice tells.

I'm a master of excuses. I can come up with ten thousand three hundred and thirty two reasons not to do something- each one more creative than the last. I do this on days I should be writing, and I especially do this on days when I'm supposed to hit that pavement. And yet with both the real struggle is simply beginning. Once you start- the world is fine, and you might as well keep on going. You have to fight the urge to be comfortable, you have to be willing to push yourself when you don't want to. You have to want it more than you want the bubble you hide in.

You have to be willing to put in the work if you want it to look effortless. I wrote a lot of horrible pieces when I started- and sometimes I still do (a lot of times). I had to keep practicing, putting words to paper as a foundation. I knew that I could sculpt it later, but I needed something tangible to work with. I had to start if I wanted to get better. It's easy to read a book and say 'I will never be that good, I am not that talented.' It's easy to forget that you are witnessing merely the tip of the ice burg that author has carved. There were months of awful work behind that. There were first drafts that were painful and difficult. There was editing and redrafting and polishing- all to create this little collection of pages that look so effortlessly beautiful.

Running is no different; it does not come easy to most people. When you see them on the road cruising along like they're floating on air- that's because they worked for it. You didn't see all of those months when they were gasping for air and pushing to reach the next telephone pole. You didn't see the struggle, you are witnessing the outcome of their hard work. They had days where the road kicked their ass, they had a time when the idea of running an entire mile without stopping seemed impossible. They had weeks where they didn't feel like they were improving at all. They would push just a little bit farther every day. They had to fight to make it look so easy, and truthfully, inside they are probably still waging that war as you watch them. These big rewards were not meant to be easy, these dreams are not ones you will accomplish unless you truly and deeply want it.

You will have to work hard, even when every piece of you is resisting. Writing when the muse is with you; that is the most beautiful time for any author- when the words flow freely like a raging river and the characters transform into living being right before your eyes. Writing is easy when the stars align just for you. But the truth is, this won't happen often. Most of your time will be spent pushing through the mental roadblock, and that fickle little muse will be off indulging some other wayward fancy. You will have to carry the story on your own. You will have to find something inside of you that pushes you forward, something that will keep you sitting there stringing one word behind another. Out on that road you will find the same thing. There is a period where the steps are easy and the pace is fast; you could go in for miles- so it seems. You feel great and your mind is keenly in tune with your body. Perhaps you have someone near you to keep you motivated; I do my best running at the beginning of a race when you are surrounded in a pack of likeminded individuals embarking on the same adventure- I beat personal records right in that sweet spot. But it doesn't always feel like that. In fact, a lot running (for me) consists of an inner dialog that I cannot turn off. It's my voice yelling to reach that next marker, to push it just a little bit farther. Most of it- for me- is hard work. A lot of really hard work.

When I did that relay- about eighty percent of the time I was not pleased with being there. It hurt- my muscles ached, there was a stitch in my side that would not go away, the sun left me parched, my face was so red police officers were actually concerned for my safety, and I was breathing like an elephant in need of an inhaler. It was not glamorous, it was not this magical moment that the fitness vloggers out there would lead you to believe. Pixie dust might sprinkle itself on them when they hit the road with their running shoes on, but not this Princess. But I was still out there. I was still fighting for every step, every inch, every mile with every fiber of my body. I didn't quit. Just like I don't quite writing when it's hard and the muse is gone.

The thing that I love about these two very different adventures; they both make me feel alive. They both push me to do things I would never typically attempt. They force me to see things from new eyes and to turn that gaze back on myself, to see me for who I truly am when my shell had been broken open and I am just a girl losing her way through life.

I am a writer; I spend my time telling stories, weaving together inspiring tales of flawed people. But this time- just this once- I got to be the character in my own story. I got to be the one to push myself, believing I was crazy the entire time. I got to have an adventure. I ate at a place called Bob's Burgers (if you've seen the animated show, then this might make you smile- they were delicious and the waitress was amazing). I also got locked in the restaurant after closing on accident. I stood in the Puget Sound as freezing cold water lapped at my knees watching the sunset with five amazing people. I walked to the dock in the middle of the night and sat on the stairs that lead to nowhere, drinking in the sights of the lights glinting from the opposite shore. I danced in a phone booth wearing a sloth costume. I ran to the Canadian border and set foot in another country (albeit fleetingly). I slept on the floor of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I crossed Deception Pass at two in the morning (albeit in a van- running it was not my challenge to face this year). I listened to my shoes hit the pavement as I ran through fields in the middle of night with nothing but my thoughts to keep my company. I found peace in a crazy world during one of the most exciting challenges I've been privy to in a long time. I cheered for strangers and had those who've never met me shout out words of encouragement (and the cowbells, oh how could I forget the cowbells). I crossed that finish line. And when I was done I stood on the back of the ferry and watched the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen- I immersed myself in it so much that I didn't even stop to get a picture (sorry friends, but I suspect it's something that just wouldn't have come out quite the same when you weren't in person). I celebrated with wine from a can, like a classy lady.

I fell in love with something that scared me. Just like with my writing, I was reminded how important real adventures are in this short time we have on earth. I was forced to truly look into myself and ask if I was the person I wanted to be- and how could I reach out to that girl? My stories taught me how to be inspired and brave; but it took a real adventure to show me what I was capable of. These two things are not so different. When used together, they can help one another thrive. My stories helped my running, and my running is helping me live more stories. I have more grit than I realized. I am stronger than I thought. Writing an adventure can be a beautiful thing, but do not forget to live them as well.

It’s about the hurt, not the happy (why the journey matters)

We all have an image inside of us, a shiny self portrait of who we want to be and how we want to live. We use it to motivate us, and occasionally to shame us into activity. It is human nature to always strive for something bigger and better. We stare at the next ridge, pointing at it and proclaiming "there- that plateau right there is where I will put my roots. That is where I want to be." And when we reach it, we realize that instead of a beautiful view of everything we have overcome- we are staring at yet another mountain with another ridge that we desperately wish to climb to. We forget what's important along the way; it's like hiking through the woods with your head down- sure, you'll see the waterfall or the grand view at the end- but what did you miss on the trail up?

We all know the usual life questions, and I suspect we all have similar answers. We all strive for happiness, for success, for health, for fulfillment. We all have these end goals in mind. And yet we forget that the end is only an infinitesimal fraction of that journey. It is the steps and the struggles along the way that will define us, not the final reward.

To see things clearly sometimes you have to flip them on their head. Instead of staring at the shiny picture of the end goal with all of its glory and proclaiming 'I want that,' stop to look at the road that will lead you to the outcome. Stare long and hard at the daily grind, the drudgery, the pain- is that what you truly want? Every dream has a price, and we all have a limited amount of currency to spend in this world; are you willing to endure? Can you find joy on the difficult road ahead? If you can stare into the face of those struggles and still nod your head in agreement and say 'yes please,' then perhaps you have found your calling, my friend.

In our modern world we glorify everything; we put these goals up on pedestals and forget all of the hard work that goes into it. You see the girl with the high paying job as she struts around in her high heels- and you want that, you want to own that persona with every fiber of your being. And yet you didn't see her working until she fell asleep at her computer, going to the bathroom to cry after having to play tough love with an employee, feeling like a failure in other aspects of her life so that she could nurture this dream. You didn't see the sacrifice, the daily fight, the doubt, the frustration; you just saw the shiny picture at the end.

The journey is what will make you, not the destination- success is just a side effect of sweat and perseverance. It is a convergence of good luck and hard work. These things do not always come naturally; there are struggles that will leave you gasping and unsure. It's easy to want the medal at the end of the race- you can see yourself sprinting across the finish line and raising your arms in victory- but can you also picture the 4am runs before work, the blisters on the back of your heels, pushing your body until your lungs feel like they want to explode, putting one foot in front of the other when your brain is screaming at you to stop. Can you accept the daily reality of going out there and putting shoes to pavement in the scorching heat of the day and the drowning rain, foregoing that last happy hour because your long run is in the morning. If you can see that image and you still want it- all of it; then you have found your path.

It's up to you to decide what pain you are willing to endure. If you want to be a writer, then you have to be willing to sit down and work on a scene that isn't inspiring you while all of your friends are out doing something fun. You have to accept rejection letter after rejection letter, wear them like badges of honor. You have to be willing to do what it takes. You have to stare down at the hours of your day and be willing to throw every spare second at the dream in your head. The work will tear you down; it will make you feel weak before it helps guide you to your strength. Every step will be a struggle, every inch will be fought for with blood, sweat and tears.

So what you must ask yourself is this: is the pain worth it? Ignore that shiny picture at the end of the road- would you follow this path even without that beacon glowing down from its lofty perch? How much are you willing to endure? Because at the end of the day, it isn't accomplishing the final goal that will make you happy- it will be looking back at every hard fought step which brought you there.

I just finished my very first relay race. I have a medal sitting on my desk waiting for its place on my wall. When I look at it, the first thing that comes to my mind is not that moment I crossed the finish line. It isn't the second I got that reward put on neck. I see the first steps, the first sprint. I see the horrible sunburn I got because I was so nervous I forgot to put sunscreen on before my first leg. I feel the jitters as I waited for my turn. I see my team nodding off in the back of the van mid-conversation as we waited for our runners because there is just no time to sleep. I remember being on the verge of defeat wondering whether I could actually push myself enough to make it to that finish line. I remember the tears- some for frustration, others from excitement. I remember my lungs burning, my muscles aching, my throat parched- and turning up the volume on my music instead of stopping. I remember freezing at the exchange point, waking up in the hallway of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I remember running through the middle of the night and staring up at the stars. I remember the internal battle I waged when my brain told my body that I couldn't do it- and my spirit picked up the fight to push harder. I remember the struggle that gives my little medal meaning. It wasn't the destination that mattered in the end- it was how I got there. It's just like with my writing; my success will not be measured by a book deal- it's in every night I put pen to paper, every time I power up my laptop when I would much rather be watching Game of Thrones.

The success is such an infinitesimal fraction of the event; you must choose what you want based off of the journey, not the destination. The truth is that when all is said and done- you don't know if you'll make it to that finish line. You don't know if you will ever be the shiny perfect person in the picture you have in your head. So at the very least, pick a road you can enjoy being on. I may never be a published author, it's very possible my name will not be remembered with the greats. But at the end of the day it won't matter. Because I love every moment of what I'm doing. I love the daily grind, I would do it no matter what the outcome was. I would write even if I was the only one to ever read those words. That is my path; that is the pain I adore, that is the frustration I am will to endure. That's what it's all about- do what you love, don't suffer for a means to an end. Because if you hate every minute of it- even if you succeed, it will be tainted and bitter. The journey is what matters, not the destination.

Waiting in the Wings (for the ones who pushed me to greatness)

In life we are constantly in search for our own accomplishments. We strive. We hustle, we push; we fail and we succeed. And yet so often we forget about all of the hands who were there to help us along the way; how many people stood in the background while we thundered through our moment of glory, basking in our own personal spotlight. Today I was so quickly reminded what a simple kind word or thoughtful gift could mean to someone in the midst of the struggle.

Nothing will bring you back to reality like bonking at a physical fitness challenge. I am currently participating in Ragnar Relay- as I mentioned yesterday; two vans, twelve people, two hundred (ish) miles in two days and one night. I didn’t train like I should have, and thus- it has been a challenge, to put it mildly. 

I was terrified when my teammate showed up to our exchange full of energy and good vibes, slapped that bracelet on my wrist and sent me on my way to run my very first leg. You see, even though you sign up with large teams and spend your days in the company of five other people- the actual act of running is pretty solitary. It’s you and the road, two feet stomping pavement as you follow the signs (and other runners) to that ellusive exchange zone. You get to take your magic slap bracelet and tap someone else to begin their own portion of the journey. 

My leg was at 11:00, the day was hot, the wind was scarce and the sun was set to extra strength. In the first part of my run one of the officers patrolling the course actually stopped to ask me if I was okay. After explaining that yes, I was, and my face just always gets that red when I’m running, I trundled on my merry way. But the problem was- my body wasn’t ready for this sudden jolt of activity. I was not physically prepared for the challenge I signed up for.

So I struggled, and I walked (a lot!). I pushed myself as hard as I could go as person after person passed me by (which is actually saying a lot because my speed walking if nothing to sneeze at). Every person who passed by called out words of encouragement; which made a big difference to me. They recognized my struggle (which can be embarrassing), but also acknowledged and appreciated the fact that I was still out there in pain, exhausted, sweating- and still putting one foot in front of the other at whatever pace I could muster.

There is a difference in the type of support that people offer you; the officer, who meant well, approached me as if he didn’t think I could do it, concerned for my safety he wanted to make sure I was okay. This is something I deeply appreciate, but his lack of confidence in my abilities forced me to question what I was doing there that much more. It took the winds out of my ebbing sails. And yet the other runners out there never once questioned my ability to be ranked amongst their numbers; they saw the exact same stuggle as that officer, but they approached me as if me finishing that leg was a guarantee. They had faith that I could do it because I wanted to do it. They had no hesitation when they offered me their simple unwavering support. 

And then there was the van of amazing women who completely changed the tone of my first leg. They had a runner on the road who was consistently near me, so they would pass me and see me as they waited for her. Instead of only caring for their own person, they paid attention to me as well. Even going so far as to pull over to ask me if I needed a little bit of water. This may not sound like much, but it was exactly what I needed at the perfect time. I was hitting a wall and wondering why the hell I had even signed up- and their words of encouragement a small gift of water completely changed my perspective. It reinvigorated my body and soul for the road that was still winding ahead of me. 

There are moments in our lives when we are the runner, and there are times when we are the cheerleaders. Both are vitally important. Just a small act of kindness, a tiny nod of encouragement can morph a struggle into a beautiful experience. Without the people on that road pushing me forward, the mental struggle I was waging could have easily changed my entire experience.

When you are standing on the sidelines in someone else’s story, never forget how important the supporting characters can be. Always offer a kind word; you never know if that will be the tipping point that will propel them to greatness. And when you are standing in the spotlight, carrying the show- don’t forget all of those people standing behind you who have helped you on your path. Don’t let them forget that they are a big part of the reason you are standing where you are.

So to everyone who yells out words of encouragement to friends and strangers alike; to all of you out there who rang your cowbells and cheered me on as I pushed past my own endurance- thank you. To the man with the rainbow shorts, long beard and no shirt- you made my day with your encouraging words and contagious enthusiasm. And to the ladies of the black and pink van who stopped to help a runner in need of both physical and emotional replenishment- thank you, I would not have had the same experience without you. You are truly inspiring, thank you for welcoming me to this amazing adventure.

Excited amazement that I actually survived my first leg- in the van on the way to support our next runner as he hit the road (and killed, by the way- shout out to Cody)

Running Towards Adventure (literally)

Sometimes the best adventures are the ones you are least prepared for. It’s easy to plan every step of your life; plot the trail from A to B, color in the lines and keep moving. And yet there comes a day when the whispering voice of adventure reaches your ears and tickles at the nape of your neck. Some days you simply have to throw caution to the wind and jump, even if you feel completely unprepared and terrified.

I spent my evening packing up my bags and charging my headphones. This morning I helped decorate a van, hopped in the car with five other people and we started driving. At the moment we are still on the road; listening to music, eating way too many snacks and soaking gummy bears in pineapple rum (it’s a bit of an experiment- I’ll let you know how it goes).

Tomorrow morning we will be standing at a starting line before the sun has even said hello to the earth. We will be in a crowd, full of nervous energy waiting for the signal to literally run into the arms of adventure. We will all take turns, one after the other passing the baton all through the day, pushing through the night with only the stars to keep us company, and slamming through one more entire day and crossing the finish line that evening. Two vans, twelve people, two hundred miles along the gorgeous Puget Sound.

What the hell did I get myself into? I’m not entirely sure. I didn’t train nearly enough for the 14.4 miles I will be running (although, to be fair, they are split into 3 different legs). But alas; I am owning my lack of preparation and jumping in anyways. Because that’s what you do when you are ready for an adventure. And my team isn’t even remotely competitive; we are owning the ‘just for fun’ mentality. On Saturday night I will be sure to let you know exactly how fun it was.

Mentality is going to be key here; instead of beating ourselves up for not being as fast as others, we are going to make fun of it. Our team name is Worst Pace Scenario. Our mascot: the sloth (and yes, before you ask- we do have sloth onesies for our entire van). The motto on our team shirts: “fine, I’ll run- but I’ll complain the entire time.”

Yea, my friends, sometimes you just have to live, do something crazy and reckless that you are completely unprepared for. If I die trying to run this- at least I will pass in a beautiful place! I’ll keep you updated on the progress. Wish us luck, my friends- I think we will need it!