As usual, I hated every minute of it.
I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge the other day. A fifty mile race, up and down Blue Mountain, in 40 degree humidity.
It was a punishing course, on a punishingly hot day. 100 or so runners struggled up 800 feet of elevation gain in the very first kilometer. Stupidly, I forgot to take my salt pills, and by 2 p.m., after 9 hours of running, my mind had turned to oatmeal.
“May I please have a double ocean liner freeway paste?” I asked a volunteer at the aid station.
“I’m sorry?” he replied.
“I said, I want an ecclesiastical marzipan hope merchant on a tugboat—“
Inside my head, my little speech made sense. But for some reason, when it left my mouth, it came out mangled.
Suddenly I yanked in my breath. Someone was chopping away at my back with a pickaxe.
Wait a second – no. It was just cold water. The volunteer had poured a glass of ice-water down my shirt.
“That better?” he said, snapping his finger in front of my eyes.
My eyeballs narrowed into laser beams. Suddenly I was all-powerful and alert. I was the Millenium Falcon! I was a Kendrick Lamar song!
“Thank you very much,” I told the volunteer. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to run.”
I ran 11 more miles after that. The temperature spiked and the sun was unrelenting. Runners dropped all around me, from heat exhaustion, quad muscles torn to shreds, sneakers melted into gluey white puddles.
The entire time I kept asking myself, WHY? WHY do I do this stupid sport? Am I really so fond of the nausea and the knee pain and the medicinal taste you get in your mouth after sucking down 20-odd vanilla-flavoured gels and the sight of yet another 150 metre ski hill you must force your complaining kneecaps to ascend? For what possible purpose do I do this? Vanity? A trim belly? An uppity post on facebook?
Of course, my attitude changed when I got to the finish line. Shawna was there. She told me that she’d finished reading my new novel, and that it had made her cry, and that she loved it, just loved it.
Suddenly the race was forgotten. All the pain, all the nausea, all the self-loathing – GONE.
“Seriously,” she said. “It’s really good.”
It’s a weird feeling, when, after three long years, your book has finally been finished, and goes off to China to be printed. Your editor stops texting you hourly, and your agent moves on to the next in a long line of impatient writers, and you suddenly feel adrift. You can barely remember the anguish you felt, slugging through each of the book’s 240 pages. At times, it felt like the agony would never end.
Writing is a lot like running that way. It’s intensely painful while you’re out there, but once you cross the finish line, you just feel lost.