Long Distance

Aja Gabel

Dec 20, 2010

I did something kind of crazy last month. I ran a marathon, my first. I know most runners like to say how incredible it feels to run a marathon, to push your body beyond your known limits, to test your mental capacity, to complete a goal often worked toward for years and years. And yes, all that is true. But what's also true, what most marathoners don't talk about, is the fact that it's really really hard. My arches felt collapsed at mile 13, my thighs locked up at mile 19, my hip flexors went numb at mile 21, and when a spectator offered me a beer at mile 25 to make the last mile a "beer mile," I nearly threw up. But I did have a lot of time to think. For most of it, I thought about how I'm never going to run a marathon again. For a few miles, I tried to repeat the mantra Haruki Murakami uses to begin his book on running and writing, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running": "Here it is: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you're running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can't take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand up any more is up to the runner himself." I'll admit that reciting Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional to myself over and over again when it began to rain once more at mile 17 didn't really help. But then again, Murakami is one of the most prolific and disciplined contemporary writers in the world. Pushing through the pain--whether it's 26.2 miles of pavement or days, months, and years of novel-writing--is Murakami's modus operandi. I haven't completed a novel. I imagine, along with childbirth, it will be the next hardest thing I'll have to endure. However, there wasn't an epidural for the marathon, and there probably isn't one for novel-writing. Here, as best I can imagine, are lessons I can learn from the marathon that might carry over to writing. (But if you want advice from someone who's completed both marathons and novels, read "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.") Half the battle was convincing myself I could do it. Professional athletes believe visualization is one way to manifest physical success. So here I am, at my desk, visualizing the novel on this blank document. It looks so pretty! Bring supplies for the journey. Everyone--everyone--said I should carry water and food in a belt with little pockets. I thought it would look nerdy. And then I was starving and thirsty for 26 miles. Note to self: stock up on whiskey and printer paper. Also, drink plenty of water and running Gu. Training runs aren't always fun. It was hard to learn that each training run wouldn't be better and more euphoric than the last, that my muscles weren't as predictable as machines. This gives me hope as I complete writing exercises that crash and burn into cliché. Writing muscles are muscles, too. Chafing. It's ugly. I won't say more, except that maybe we should learn from this to sit in a proper chair, wearing proper clothes, in the proper writing environment. With the proper brassiere. And some Gentle Glide. Do it like a motherf**ker. The Dear Sugar column at The Rumpus said it best. Don't be grandiose and don't be too nervous. Anything worth doing--whether it's writing 300 pages or running 26 miles--is worth doing like a motherf**ker. I hope.