My temporary enforced break from running is the longest period in a few years that I have spent not being out on some road or other. And it brought me to a simple realisation – I’m going to have to choose. This year was to be about a new marathon personal best and getting my novel finished. After two weeks of not running (the good news there is that I’m planning on going out tomorrow and seeing how it goes, I haven’t had a twinge in about a week now so think it’s good to go) I found myself with both more time and more energy because I was no longer doing runs that really tired me out and meant I needed to sleep for a while afterwards. Like the 16 mile ones that start off nice and slow and then build up with a few miles at fast pace towards the end and sprinting as fast as I can at the end. After one of them, you can pretty much forget about me for the rest of the day. Of course you get a lot faster over time doing runs like that once in a while, and they are great marathon preparation, but even with a proper programme with enough recovery time built in, at the level of training required to run marathons in under 3 hours, you are pushing your body a lot over a period of months and I find it does limit what else you can achieve.
The other extreme of that level of training, of course, is a lot worse. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s the mental and emotional benefits which physical exercise also bring with it. And anyway, I couldn’t imagine not running now.
But my plan for the year has changed.
I used the extra time and energy I had in the last couple of weeks to write (and read) more, but mainly write more. And I think the better balance is entirely beneficial for my writing. Thoughts are coming to me which I can immediately jot down, threads of the narrative start to emerge, and I am happy to tweak the story as I go along, knowing that I can go back later and sort out the earlier part which now needs to change. The biggest sign of something having changed is that I will get to the evening and realise I haven’t eaten anything since the morning, and hadn’t noticed.
Last night, I decided to go to bed earlier in preparation for a more normal work schedule and was reading a Hemingway short story. That lasted for all of about five minutes before I thought of how I should write a scene I had been struggling with. I think it helps that Hemingway manages to write in one page what it takes me ten to say, and when you read the way he does it, you know he’s right. I tried jotting down the idea and put it to the side again, but I realised I wasn’t paying any attention to what I was reading, so I gave up, got out my pen and pencil and wrote it down (adopting the Hemingway trick of leaving a sentence mid-way through so you can go right back into it again the next day.) So much for the earlier night though.
So my new plan is not to run any races this year (OK, maybe a half marathon or something for fun, but not for a fast time) and to be (very) happy with running for the fun of it, enough so I get all the benefits, including thinking time, but not so much that it distracts from writing. And we will see how that goes.