The Hardest Part is the Middle – Running and Writing

I’ve taken up running again during this quarantine.

I used to do it regularly. I played sports my whole young life, so the actual mechanics and the act of it were second nature to me. Even after I gave up sports, I used to lace up my shoes twice or three times a week and run down a little cycle track close to my house.

As time went by, I kind of shied away from the running. Weight training and stationary bikes became a more attractive prospect to me. I told myself that I wasn’t looking for cardio in that form any more, but the reality may in fact have been that I didn’t like the increasing muscle pains in my legs both during and after the runs, and the way that it highlighted just how unfit I’d become.

So I left running by the wayside, and told myself I’d pick back up the cardio when I was older. You know, when you need your heart to be healthy and can’t get away with abusing your body in the way that youth affords.

I knew deep down that this wasn’t true, and my lack of awareness of an issue in this area of my life was much more likely due to the fact that I wasn’t looking at it, rather than it not actually being there.

But eyes closed or eyes averted, I kept my eyes from this little titbit of knowledge that I knew to be true deep down. And when I heard athletes or runners on podcasts, I listened intently with that conspiratorial sense that comes when you feel you know exactly what this person is talking about.

I’m a runner, I thought to myself.

And when my friends posted their 5k times in Whatsapp groups, or I’d glimpse them pounding the pavement as I drove past, I’d scoff.

I can do that, I thought. I’m just not training for it right now.

And I’d go about my day, and my little gym routines devoid of any cardio.

Until the pandemic hit.

Pandemic Running

With the gyms closed, I faced a choice. There were 3 options on the table:

The first option was to stop exercising and treat the time as a well earned break (Never an option)

The second was to stick solely to home workouts with what little equipment I had. Push-ups, pressing weights from the floor, air squats, crunches.

A scatter shot approach. And I tried it for a while. The workouts were decent. But it meant that between working from home (WFH), and working out from home (WOFH), most of my time was going to be spent in my little apartment. Not good.

As much as anything, the gym for me was a reset at the end of a day of work. It was a place that I’d go, put my headphones on, and move for an hour. Then when I was home, my mind was relaxed, my body had released the pent up energy of the day at the desk, and I could attend to whatever the evening had in store for me – writing, family time, reading, whatever.

And the fact that it was separate from my day, location wise, made it easy to separate the two things in my mind.

But in a pandemic that leaves you housebound, all location based activities are gone. Eroded. All things blend together, one hazy kaleidoscopic mess of hand sanitiser and working at the kitchen table.

I had to get out.

The third option was to start incorporating running into my routine again. My mind rebelled at the thought of it, my knees ached in solidarity with my lungs that felt out of breath as soon as the inkling entered my mind, but as the neighbourhood filled with newly baptised joggers (and some over-enthusiastic sprinters- the less said about them the better), I knew I had no more excuses.

I took my running shoes from the back of the shelf, dusted them off (proverbially, the wardrobe is actually quite clean), and got back to it.

And loved it.

Running Is Like Writing

I’m lucky in location, in that there were no actual restrictions put in place on going out and about where I live (Vancouver, BC). I know of areas where there is a strict measure enforced that allows you to go no more than 2km from your house. Thankfully, the cases in BC have been quite low throughout, so the parks and waterways are still open to runners and walkers.

As a result, I found myself either dodging people or being overtaken by them constantly when I went out in an attempt to channel my inner Mo Farrah.

My times are best left unwritten and uncommitted to paper, but the endorphin rush and the remembered joy of taking this activity up again have been worth it.

And I’ve realised that running a 5k is a bit like writing a novel.

It’s All About the Middle

Is it that it leaves you sweaty and breathless?

Does it lead to pulled muscles and sore knees?

Do you have to do it in shorts?

No. It’s that the middle part is the hardest.

I went out for a run last weekend. I bounded down the steps of my apartment building and set off in the direction of the 5k loop around the water that I normally do. The sun was shining, my legs felt great, I had a smile on my face. Damn, it was good to be out running again.

This feeling continued for about 500 metres, maybe a kilometre at best.

Then the struggle set in.

My pace slowed. My legs burned. I was panting hard. The smile was wiped from my face.

This is really tough, I thought to myself. Then I thought about stopping.

I didn’t, and continued around the loop and doubled back. And a funny thing happened.

When I came to the straight road back to my apartment, and knew I had about 1 kilometre left, my pace picked up. My legs drove forward. I ignored the pain in my thighs.

I knew that I was coming to the end, and I wanted it to be the best it could be, and maybe I could improve my overall time in this last stretch (I didn’t).

As I sat on my steps, panting and struggling for breath, it occurred to me that there were parallels with the writing process here.

In that the hardest part of a piece is the middle.

In the beginning, you’re raring to go, to explode from the blocks and tare off down the track. You’re eager to explore the characters you’re working with, the plot devices you have planned for them, to see the challenges that they will face over the upcoming pages. You want to find out more about them, and the words can flow like water.

The passion and enthusiasm that comes with a fresh start is like getting prodded with a 10 volt battery.

And near the end, the destination is in sight. The climax is coming, or is already here, the final battle rages, the revelation arrives, the story is resolved. The thought of passing the finish line is inspiring, energising, buoying.

But the middle is where the drudgery can set in. You might get tired of the characters, the plot holes that have appeared might sap your energy and seem insurmountable, the plot might seem uninteresting. Who would ever want to read this, anyway?

You might think about stopping. Or you might crawl through it.

But if you really want to improve your story, or you running time, this is the place to focus. This is where the real difference can be made.

If you can retain that drive and passion in the middle, that’s where the war will be won, the diamonds will be forged, the treasure uncovered.

It’s a psychological trick in either area. You know you can run at a decent pace – you can do it when the end is in sight, why not in the middle?

You know you can write- you have written a damn good beginning, enough to inspire you to keep going, and that twist you have planned at the end is the reason you thought this was a good story idea in the first place.

So apply that thinking in the middle. It will be tough, and take practice and perseverance. It might leave you breathless, in writing or running.

But it will be worth it.

And you can do it in shorts, if you want to.

Message from the Author:

Thanks for reading! I’m always looking to connect with like minded writers and creatives. In today’s world, I think it’s really important to find people who are like minded and doing good creative work, and help raise each other up. If you like what I’m doing here, have some pieces of your own you think I’d enjoy, or just want to connect, reach out to me here or on Twitter at @WriteOfPassage3.

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