Lessons in training for a marathon—or, learning to write as art.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
We’ve all heard the cliché describing the undertaking of anything that seems overwhelming.
So it is with signing up for a writing course when you’ve never written anything for publication. Except, not quite. Does fear of vulnerability, exposure, or failure exist at the prospect of eating an elephant?
Much like deciding to write for actual readers, I set a goal four years ago to run a half marathon. I began training for it a full year in advance. When I began training, I couldn’t run a complete mile without stopping. I hired a coach to help me make a plan and reach my goal. My plan began with completing one mile by running for thirty seconds and walking for two minutes in intervals until I reached the set distance. I thought I would die.
At around the same time in my life, friends who’d read short excerpts of things I randomly posted on Facebook encouraged me to write for a career. I decided to learn how to do so, and researched ways to make it financially viable as a retirement career. I didn’t really do anything in terms of a plan for reaching that goal. But I thought a lot about it.
Lesson learned: Setting a goal for something that seems impossible creates hope that the dream could come true. It’s never too late to do it.
Three months into training for my half marathon, I had developed a routine for my weekly training miles. I would awaken at 4:30 a.m. on the days marked for running, and I would quickly dress and head out the door to get an hour logged.
I had progressed to three mile sessions with running intervals of one minute runs and 1:30 minute walks. I joined a couple of running groups locally, and I signed up for local races. During the races, I learned that my average pace of 14 minutes per mile was dismally slow compared to others in my group. I felt discouraged and worked hard to improve. Most days sucked and it wasn’t easy.
My writing goal was still lying on the ground with no wings or plans to grow any.
Lesson learned: Making a commitment requires daily work. Following through is most important when the suck factor is overwhelming.
Six months into half marathon training, I learned that my consistency in following my routine was paying off.
My pace had improved to 13 minutes per mile, and I discovered that I loved running in the rain. It felt exhilarating! But I was petrified of trying to run a longer distance than three miles. So, my training plan began to include a long run on the weekend of varying distances of more than three miles. Most days sucked, and it wasn’t easy. Occasionally, I had a great run, and I was encouraged. And I will never forget the feeling I had when I finished my first 10K! I was on top of the world, and I felt like I could do anything!
Oh, hello, writing dream. I’ll catch you later. I’ll pen a few poems here and some random thoughts there and call it a day.
Lesson learned: Hard work delivers a payoff. Naming a dream is not the same thing as working for a dream.
The night before the half marathon, I was petrified. I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought I would die, or fail, and everyone would see that I’m a fraud. I’m not a real runner—I was still running intervals!
That race was hard. Parts of it sucked and I felt discouraged. I questioned myself and my reasons for doing it.
However, I finished my first half marathon in three hours and 15 minutes. I was most assuredly a real runner, and I had the heavy metal to prove it! I was invincible!
Writing? What writing? I’ll just wait for more inspiration.
Lesson learned: If I make a decision, I can make a plan. If I make a plan, I can be accountable. When I am accountable, the dream happens.
I set a goal to run a full marathon by the time I turned 50 years old. I signed up for the actual race almost a full year before the race date. Because I was petrified, I hired my coach to help me make a plan and get there. I will be 51 years old one month before the race. I am training now. Most days suck, and my pace is actually slower than ever. Occasionally, I have a great run, and I’m encouraged. I know what to do.
And finally, I set a goal to begin writing for actual readers. I applied to Elephant Academy to learn techniques and make a plan. I know what to do. I have to devote time consistently to learning and practicing. I have to endure the suck to get to the great parts, and I am encouraged. I have to make a plan, and I have to be consistent.
Lesson learned: To reach any dream in life requires knowledge of elephant-eating.
Follow instructions. Be consistent. Practice. Endure the suck. Appreciate the great. One bite at a time.
How big is your elephant?