My Couch-to-Half-Marathon Story

Three years ago it dawned on me that I was really out of shape. I was approaching my fortieth birthday and I had not participated in regular physical activity since my college volleyball days. I wasn’t fat, but I certainly wasn’t fit, either. I was lethargic and decided it was time for a change.

Since my work usually keeps me seated at a desk inside my home, I decided to take up running to get me outdoors. But since I don’t particularly enjoy running (track in high school was my least favorite sport), I knew I had to set a goal for something that would force me to get out there and run regardless. It had to be something big, to equate to my looming milestone birthday. I settled on a half marathon.

The lessons I learned leading up to and during that event apply equally well to writing a book.

First, you need a plan.

I didn’t simply show up at the race expecting to run 13.1 miles without any preparation. No, I endured a four-day-per-week running schedule for seventeen weeks. And the half-marathon featured a deadline that was set in stone; the race date wasn’t going to change, no matter how ill-prepared I felt the morning of the race.

The same is true with writing, whether you’re blogging, composing your memoir, or writing a fictional novel. You need to develop a writing schedule and establish a realistic deadline. Write the deadline in ink on your calendar so you can’t erase it.

Second, you need to implement the plan.

A plan won’t do you any good if you don’t actually implement it. If all I had done was write down my training schedule and tell my friends that I was training for a race, I never would have crossed the finish line.

Why not? Because I would have neglected the most important aspect: hitting the pavement and actually running. Believe me, there were many days that it was raining, or it was windy, or I simply didn’t feel like running. But I did it anyway. I had a goal, and I kept my eyes on the end result.

I have found that to be true with my writing as well. When I have writer’s block or I’m unusually busy, I tend to find excuses why I shouldn’t write as planned. However, I have learned through experience that it’s ultimately more rewarding, and the process goes much more smoothly when I write regularly (preferably daily).

Third, work incrementally but steadily.

When I began my running schedule, I was only going two miles at a stretch. Every two weeks, I gradually increased the mileage until I was finally able to run the full 13.1 miles on race day.

Similarly, don’t expect to write your entire book in one day. If you feel overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start, just write something — anything. Simply write down whatever first pops into your head; it will inevitably lead to additional ideas.

You might also find that you’re only able to write in small blocks of time, and that’s okay. If your schedule allows, try to plan nonessential activities after your writing time. This gives you the freedom to continue writing past your designated time allotment on days when your creative juices are overflowing.

Fourth, and finally, finish what you start.

On race day, I was so nervous that I was tempted not to go. By mile ten, I was exhausted and wondering what had possessed me to attempt something so grueling (13.1 miles on paper doesn’t look nearly as bad as when you’re actually running it).

And throughout the last mile, as I woefully huffed and puffed my way to the finish line, I had to will myself to keep moving rather than give in to the temptation to join the growing ranks of people who simply gave up at the end.

This can be applied to writing as well. We worry about what others will think of our writing ability or the subject matter itself and so we talk ourselves out of writing. When we’ve finally worked up the courage to proceed, we get tired — even bored — at points in the writing process.

And then, after we have labored over our work for weeks, months, or years, we hesitate to submit it because we don’t consider it to be “good enough” for various reasons. In essence, we give up right before we cross the finish line.

If this describes you, I encourage you to continue to submit and share your work. Yes, rejection and criticism sting, but it’s also an opportunity to learn how to write better and get your message out to the world. Ultimately, isn’t that worth the effort?

Take it from me:

If you’re courageous enough to start and committed enough to finish, you will be rewarded. I got a nice, shiny medal for crossing the finish line, but the satisfaction of seeing my goal through to completion was much more valuable to me.

How about you? What big goals have you set for yourself this year? Share in the comments!

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