Ode To The Trail

In the spirit of this monumental week (bookending the days with a mountain writing retreat and probably the death of me by trail marathon on Saturday) I give you a short and sweet look at what trail running will do for a soul and what we can learn from a steady state of being present. Enjoy.

Nothing about trail running is easy.  I mean, sure for some skinny running-all-his-life-young-mountain-goat type it’s probably a walk in the park.   But for me, aging-used-to-flat streets-and-shady-neighborhoods, its one of the most challenging things I’ve done.  I like running.  I like hiking.  I hate combining the two.  Not just because it is difficult but it takes the worst parts of both and combines them. 

Running down a sidewalk in the cool and quiet morning is a practice in meditation for me.  My mind can wander; it can go over plot lines or character traits, dialogues and settings.  It can breeze over life’s complicated spider webs of responsibilities and desires.  Hiking up a rocky and single-tract trail, in the middle of the beautiful and chaotic dance of nature, stopping to smell the sun soaked dirt and hear the clicking of bugs as they dodge past your ear is good for the primal soul within.

But when you combine the two, your mind cannot wander.  It must remain focused, because the speed of your journey is encumbered and dangerous, riddled with rocks and snakes and jagged-reaching branches.  You cannot look around beyond the future path of your feet because you will surely falter. Your feet are twisted and tripped and if you aren’t living solely in that specific moment of forward motion, you could end up rolling down a yucca spiked hill and planting face-first in the delicate sharp tear-drops of cactus.

Trail running is hard, not just because of the altitude, or the climbing, or the sheer terror of descending down rocky terrain at a speed that threatens my control.  It’s hard because it forces me to live in a specific moment.  I can only look ahead briefly, I cannot plan the next mile, only the next footfall.  It is hard.  But it’s also a brilliant lesson in staying focused in the moment you are in. 

Very often I get ahead of myself, even more so, I falter back into the past.  It’s comforting to go back in my mind to the places I’ve been and the people I knew.  Its exciting to imagine where I will go in the future, and easy to build it into much bigger dream than attainable.  But to live in the now, with what I have to work with and what lies directly on my path makes me get out of my head and truly live.  And that, my friends, is hard.

Cross-Writing

Today was my official first run on an abbreviated 10-week marathon training plan. Okay, that’s a little fictitious. I’ve been running. I trained for and completed a 200-mile relay race last weekend, surpassing my hopes to not die by not only surviving but actually enjoying the whole thing. But this morning I dusted off the old chart and began to slowly start building the mileage I’d need to not die again in October for the Blue Sky Trail Marathon.

runnerIt got me to thinking about different types of runners. Some would have started training much sooner than this. Some are going to show up on race day with minimal miles and legs full of ego. Some have calculated calories to the numbers, selected precise nutrients per ingestion, and are weighing their shoe laces. Some are probably going to drink the night before and show up with four-year old sneakers and a day-old bagel with green chili cream cheese for fuel. The rest of us will fall along the spectrum between.

We’re all in the race, we’ve all got different reasons why, and different motivations to pursue that finish line.

In the same way, there are many types of writers in the world.

Those that dabble only when the muse traipses through their line of sight. Those that succumb completely to the words, to the exclusion of all else in their lives. The researching non-fiction gurus and the world-building sci-fi pros. The haiku aficionados and epic scribblers. The plotters and pantsers. The pious and the pornographic.

We cover all the bases.

penThe one thing we shouldn’t be as writers, no matter if we’re outlining or winging it, is stagnant. Yes, we need periods of repose  where we can recoup our mental losses and rest the neurons. Just like runners need a resting season, writers should take breaks as needed. This doesn’t mean we sit still. We are always, in some way, in training. And sometimes, the best way to train is to diversify the hours we spend at our art.

My suggestion for today’s post is to make a plan with your writing.

HEY! Come back! Hear me out…sheesh…pantsers!

When I say plan, I’m not suggesting you go investing your hours in spreadsheets and calendars. I’m saying expand your repertoire. It’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer.

If all a runner does are long, slow-paced runs, they will only develop a certain set of muscles. If all a runner trains at, are speed drills around a track, the same thing occurs. Unless you’re an olympian in a specific event this is a waste of your potential and a recipe for injury.

Balance, writer. That’s what I’m talking about.

If you are a novelist, take a break and work on a short story (you can even make it about a side character or your main character thrown into an alternate universe). If you’re a flash fiction genius, take a couple minutes to start plot building a novella or research a topic for a non-fiction essay.

If you spend your writing hours researching and plugging away at your non-fiction novel about the long line of Fredricks ruling the Kingdom of Prussia in the eighteenth century, try giving your brain a break and write a noir short story set in 1920’s Chicago. Or, *gasp*, try your hand at a little poetry.

writingStretching your brain is just as important as stretching your training plan to incorporate different activities.

Just like miles for runners, words for writers are not a waste. It doesn’t matter if they’re on paved or dirt roads, up hellacious hills, or on even city streets…the miles are the work and the work makes you stronger for the bigger tests ahead. Your words, your writing, grows stronger and better with every method you use to stretch it.

So get to it.

Go out and do ten fartleks of sonnets and a long-day of article submissions to Knitter’s Weekly.

Get uncomfortable.

Get better.