How Writing = Running (Part 17)

Number of seconds left until spring: 3,884,927.

Oops, make that 3,884,925. I mean 3,884,923.  

Of course, anybody who’s ever spent any time outside knows that there’s no such thing as four seasons. There are actually 365 of the things, each one a tiny bit different.

That said – oh my geesh! – winter is NEVER going to end! There’s four feet of snow outside my house. The concession looks like a white tunnel, with 12 foot windrows on either side.

The skiing is pretty good mind you —

Glenelg Forest

Photo credit: Shawna Watson

As for the running, I’m still logging my miles. Not as many as I’d like though.

A couple of months ago I made the painful decision to scale back my running so that I could finish writing my second novel. I’m still managing to squeeze in 60 kilometers a week, but it isn’t enough to keep me sane and balanced. Usually  I’m running closer to 100k. The shorfall is making me pretty, er, spazzy.

On the bright side, I’m nearly finished the book. I’m hoping to finish it by Valentines Day.

I should actually be working on it at this very moment. Instead, I’m writing on this blog. I’m procrastinating. You’d think that writing would get easier with experience, but it never does. There’s always that moment, each and every morning when I drag myself to the computer with that fresh cup of coffee, when I have to kick my own butt, and say: “It’s game time…you can do this! Now sit down and WRITE!

Those first few minutes are always painful – just like stepping outside for that morning run. Your muscles complain and your bones feel like they’re made of glass. You want to turn around and slide back into bed. But after a few minutes of jogging, your muscles loosen up, and you find a comfortable pace, and you remember why you love this crazy hobby.

It’s the same thing with writing. It usually takes me ten minutes to find my groove. After that, I stretch out with the words, roll around in the syllables, and luxuriate in the paragraphs.

I really regret that run

Writing and running aren’t the easiest of hobbies. But once you get going, there’s no stopping you!

What a Year You’ve Had!

College and Bathurst, at night

You woke up so early, no one else in the world had been born. You ran so fast they put up new speed limit signs in your honour. You climbed so high, you were blinded by the bald spot on God’s head. You loved so well, France grew ashamed and fell into the sea.

Suddenly, it grew dark – so dark, the stars got lost. You cried so bitterly that your furniture floated away. You slept so deeply, owlings nestled close to you for warmth. When you awoke, you were so beautiful, you were asked to play Beyonce in a movie.

You ran some more. So fast, Einstein’s theories came into question. So fast, the large Hadron collider was deemed obsolete. You worked so hard, Mr. Barack Obama wrote you a doctor’s note and insisted you to take the next day off. You wrote so well, Alice Munro asked for your advice on a new short story.

Morning at the lake

Out-of-Body Experience

A friend says to me, “hey Dave, want to know the fast track to aging?

What’s that?” I say.

Running!” he says.

Sadly, there’s some truth in the joke.  For every mile you run, you burn 100 calories.  Once you’ve trimmed the fat off the usual places, it starts coming off your face and upper body.  Makes you look a little, er, grizzled.  

I don’t care, I’m addicted.  I’ve got a 100-miler coming up next month, so I’m cramming in as many long runs as possible. Twenty, thirty, forty miles at a time.

I love the long runs.  After a couple of hours of plodding down a trail, I generally slip into a trance.  The breath goes in, the breath goes out.  My feet smack the pavement 180 times a minute.  Running becomes a meditation.  I do not smile or wave at the people I pass.  Instead, I focus on keeping my body tilted slightly forward, and snapping my feet right back into the air the moment they hit the pavement.  (That’s the trick to being fast, by the way – let your feet touch the ground for as short a time as possible.)

I’ve got pictures of me running, and it always astonishes me to look at them. Usually, both of my feet are in midair.  Given that I’ve been running every day for the last 17 years, I have to wonder: how much of my life have I spent completely disconnected from the earth?
road-running-631x421

Once, during a marathon, I had an out-of-body experience.  I was running up a nasty hill.  I’d covered 22 miles, and I was getting tired.  “Blinding wall of pain” is a little strong, but I was getting into that territory.

Suddenly, all pain vanished. I couldn’t feel my legs. It seemed to me that I was sitting inside my ribcage, peeking out between my bones at the scenery floating by. I wasn’t doing the running anymore. Someone else was. I was just sitting comfortably in that ribcage, like a kid in a grocery cart.

Then suddenly, I was looking down on myself from above. I saw a short-haired dude in Mizuno sneakers and Drifit shorts, struggling up a ten degree hill. I didn’t see this person as a runner though – I saw him as an extension of the earth. I thought to myself: what silly perseverance! What pointless ambition! And then I stared to laugh.

Of course, the moment I laughed, the vision disappeared. My normal consciousness – and the pain – returned.

Peterborough Half marathon finish - Dave

I finished that marathon in 3:04:25.  Did pretty well in my age category too. My age category, by the way, is 35-49. Of course, I don’t look a day over 60.

A Puppy Off its Leash

This spring is giving me whiplash.

Three days ago I went running in a blizzard.  But one weekend before that, the hillsides were ablaze with blossoms.

Hogg's Falls

I took the opportunity to go hiking on the Bruce Trail with friends.  White and wine-coloured Trilliums opened as we walked.

trilliums

These flowers would perish of frostbite exactly one week later, but they looked very beautiful at the time.

My friends were in an easy-as-a-Sunday-mornin’ mood, and took lots of time to admire the scenery.

snake!

Look out, I’m a snake, you cultured peoples!

The trail wove up and down the scarp face.  Every so often, we’d come upon a delicious downhill section.  I’d leave my friends behind, and slalom down the trail, my legs twirling like pinwheels.  When I got to the bottom of the ravine I’d turn around and jog back up to meet my friends again.  I felt sheepish, like a puppy who’s escaped its leash but still wants to be loved by its masters.  My friends barely even noticed I’d gone.

After a couple of hours we came to a gurgling stream.  It meandered through the grassy meadow like lazy cursive, swooping around apple trees and ancient slabs of limestone.  The water glinted like diamonds in the sunlight, and when you looked down into it, you could see fat black tadpoles shooting back and forth.

It was an idyllic place, surrounded by hills on all sides.  It reminded me of an illustration from one of my all-time favourite children’s books, Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Bears Picnic.

It’s the book where Ma and Pa Bear set off with their son in search of the perfect picnic spot.  They pass through forests, over mountains, and through cozy glades in pursuit of the perfect picnic spot.  They endure bugs and monsoons and nearly get killed by a train and almost fall off a mountain.

Come to think of it, their adventure is eerily similar to my novel, Ultra.  Except, like, the main characters are cartoon bears.

When we got home after the hike we ate our own picnic of scones and salted pecans and Brie cheese and Oolong tea which raised our spirits nicely.  Six hours had passed since we’d set out on the trail.  It felt like ten minutes.  The best days always do.

Note – you can find that gorgeous creek and meadow at kilometer 58.8 of the Beaver Valley section of the Bruce Trail.  It’s on map 26 of the Trail guide; just a few clicks southeast of Eugenia Falls.

Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can have almost the same experience just by reading this book:

bearspicnicchatkay11

Trading Diamonds for Stones

A few years ago, when I was stuck in an office job I didn’t like, I found myself staring out the window.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I felt like a panther inside a cage.

A colleague came up beside me. “Today is a diamond,” he said.  “Workdays are stones.  You and me, we’re trading diamonds for stones.”

It was a depressing thought, and I determined to get out of that job and change my life for the better.  The trouble was, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

A friend of mine came up with a good idea.  He sat me down with a piece of paper and a pen, and told me to write down the best experiences of my life.

ideas

In no particular order, here’s what I wrote:

  • Sailing with my brother on Lake Kennisis in the summer of 1986, when a hurricane blew in and we nearly shipwrecked.
  • Tobogganing in Edmonton, with my nieces and nephews, IN MINUS 50 DEGREE WEATHER!
  • Running my first 100 mile race.
  • Sitting on the dock with my mom one summer night, while the Northern Lights tarted up the skies.
  • Skiing down Whistler Mountain with my visually-impaired friend.
  • Hiking through a forest with Shawna and running into that big-ass BEAR.
  • Canoe tripping with my dad, in lakes so clean you could drink straight out of them.
  • Getting the phone call from my agent that my novel had sold.

HPIM3895

I handed the list to my friend.  His face lit up instantly.  “Good job,” he said.  “Now what do all of those things share in common?”

It took me a while to figure it out.  But eventually I saw the common thread.  All of those events, with the exception of that last one, took place OUT OF DOORS.  It sounds obvious, but it was an incredible revelation to me at the time.  If I really wanted to be happy in the future, I needed to find a way of getting outside more often.  And ideally, I’d do it with the people I love.

Years have passed since then, and while I still have a job that keeps me chained to a desk a lot of the time, it’s extremely creative, and I’m surrounded by zillions of smart, spunky people.

More importantly, I know what I need to do to keep myself sane.  A week spent behind a computer screen can gut me like a fish, but an hour on the running trail puts me right.

So if  you feel as though you’re trading diamonds for stones, don’t worry.  Most of us have to spend some time in the mine-shaft before we achieve the career we want and deserve.  The trick is to figure out how to get more sunlight into our lives in the meantime.  Figure that out, and the bars of your cage may well evaporate.

Why Do I Run? Why Do I Write?

010-funny-animal-gifs-running-duck

Why do I run?

Because running is my church.

Because running helps me figure out what I think about the world.

Because I love buying running shoes.

Because I like being alone sometimes.

Because running helps me sleep well.

Because I run past interesting things.  Bears, beaver dams, hidden valleys.

What to do, what to do... (1)

Why do I write?

Because writing is my church.

Because writing helps me figure out what I think about the world.

Because I love buying new journals.

Because I like being alone sometimes.

Because writing helps me sleep well.

Because I get to write about interesting things.  Talking bears, floating islands, secret valleys where time stands still.

Coffee

BONUS REASON I like to run:  I don’t need to worry about eating second helpings of dessert!

HAT TIP: above two photos taken by my talented brother, Andy.