Comparisons between writing books and running races are legion. Most of them are either boring, wrong, or blogged to death. So I propose something different: I love running because it’s actually nothing to do with writing. At all.
I go running because I like racing a clock. Being fit feels great. I work a physically challenging day job and the fitness helps. I also run on the estate where I work, which means I spot stuff that needs doing.
I like running with other people. Ever heard of Parkrun? If you go on their UK website or try a little bit of Google-fu, you can find out where I usually am most Saturday mornings. Feeling stalkerish? You’ll have to catch me first. I’m currently riding on a PB of 19:36 for 5K. I’m not Mo Farrah, but for an amateur, I’m really not bad. I still feel like there’s more to come. I want sub-19 before the end of the year. It’s Friday night. Tomorrow, maybe?
At no point during training, or a race, am I thinking about my books. I honestly, seriously don’t. A lot of my characters do sports, but when I’m doing it for real, in my own zone, not only are they not in it, but they’re not welcome either. Because writing books with the kind of depth and complexity mine often have is a curse. It can infect your thinking when you really don’t want it to. Me vs the clock, or another person of similar ability, is a memory-wipe akin to the sort you get in sci-fi. Except there’s no impossible technology, machines, or mind powers required. I look forward to Saturday’s natural mind-wipe every week.
We indie authors are always told to promote our books any way we can. Confession #2: no-one I’ve ever shared coffee with after Parkrun has heard about my books. At least, not from me. If they find me on the results list and google my name wondering what else I might get up to, sure, they can find them then. But rule number one is that Saturday morning is for running, not self-promotion. I’ve never had anyone say to me ‘I found your books’ after one of those runs. I’m so, so glad. Not that I’d walk away with no reply if someone did, but I’d probably just politely say ‘Hope you like them then’ and try leaving it at that. Or just suggest a Twitter follow and we can talk later when I’m a few drinks down and full of that ‘I’m an author’ vibe. Because on Saturday, I wake up without it.
Confession #3: a ‘personal best’ (PB) at a particular distance or course does not make me go home and hammer words into a keyboard like my brain’s still running but my fingers are doing what my legs no longer can. Loads of writers talk about how they do that. It’s never been my way. It’s true that the endorphine-dopamine-unobtanium release I get does sometimes give me a ‘now might be a good time to write’ feeling, but whenever I’ve followed it, the writing has never been any better or quicker than what I can do when that feeling comes to me naturally. If I write on the same day as running, it’s because I planned to. Not because I need the latter to enhance the former.
If you live in the UK, it might not be too late to come and join me for the Killerton Half Marathon on 24th September. Be warned: it’s a beast. If your best achievement is to run 13 miles on concrete on the flat, then really, that’s great. I haven’t actually done that yet myself. I’ve entered my first half-m on a course that’s mostly grass, mud and hills. I’ve trained on the same route to the point where I could barely walk the next day. Here’s the thing: I’m also a bit of a masochist. I love showing off about how I can inflict that kind of pain on myself and still turn up for work. Three weeks ahead of the race, and I’m easily fit enough for it. And I live in fear that on the wrong day I could still crash and burn. Because it’s almost as if that course was designed to make it happen.
It’s just like that book you can’t write, right? Alright, I give in. There is some common ground. But here’s a better way of looking at it: running is about using up all the pent up energy I have to contain every time I force myself to sit my arse on a chair because I’ve been putting off that chapter for too long. I don’t even get that release from writing a scene where words come fast as bullets as characters like Screft Galbraith and Tagren Lockyer ring up the corpse-count like a rock star rings up a bar bill. It’s writing that makes me want to run. It’s hardly ever the other way around.
And here’s a last confession: I’m probably a better runner than I am a writer. At times when I can’t get anywhere with a work in progress, I can go out for a decent 10k and think ‘At least I’m good at this.’