Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Running Lessons: A writing runner, or a running writer?

It was a tough 26km long run today. I'm not sure what the trouble was. The weather was perfect, I was well-fueled, and all my bits and pieces seemed to be working well when I started out - aside from a little tightness in my hips. Unfortunately, as the kilometres ticked by, my hips and lower back continued to tighten to the point that running became downright uncomfortable at times. I had to stretch at various points and began to look forward to the uphill portions of the route because they seemed to relieve the discomfort to some extent.

Despite my body being less than cooperative, I still enjoyed many aspects of the run. The skies were mostly clear, the temperature was balmy and I had the route almost entirely to myself.  The high point was discovering another new section of trail that hugs the water's edge upriver from where I usually run. The picture above was taken at a particularly lovely spot along that section.  The peacefulness of the bend in the river made me yearn for a canoe or kayak in which to explore beyond it.

A leisurely paddle wasn't in the cards, however. Yesterday was for running and for thinking about what it means to be a runner and a writer.

When I started my running adventures at 40, I didn't call myself a runner. I hadn't run since cross-country meets in elementary school so taking up running meant "run 1 minute, walk 1 minute" which eventually progressed to "run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute" - a formula I still use when I'm running distances longer than 10-12 km.  If I'd put a label on myself back then, I'd have said I was a "jogger", I guess.  However, 9 years, 4 marathons, 8 half-marathons later, I no longer hesitate to say I'm a "runner" - a slow runner, but nonetheless a runner. 

And what about a "writer"? That's still not a label I apply to myself - though, when I stop to think about it, I've lots of reasons to think of myself as one. I've been writing consistently since I was a teenager - journals, poetry, short stories, and (most recently) blogs. Writing has always been a big part of my paid work as well.  As an international development worker, community activist, government bureaucrat, conference organizer, lawyer, and policy analyst, I've penned research papers, project reports, press releases, educational materials, newspaper articles, policy proposals, speeches, letters to irate constituents, legal opinions, and court submissions, amongst other things. Given all that writing, why wouldn't I think of myself as "a writer"?

Maybe it's a matter of confidence. I majored in English literature at university, and studied many of Canada's best fiction writers and, as I've noted here before, I know a number of celebrated writers personally. Given my own relatively measly talents, it seems presumptuous to apply to myself the same label I apply to them.

Or maybe it's a matter of intention.  Most of the time, my writing is essentially utilitarian, rather than creative. The form isn't as important to me as the subject I'm writing about, so I tend to suppress any inclination to write artistically (whatever that means) in the interest of writing more clearly and succinctly. 

Confidence and intention aside, if I thought of myself as a writer, what would it change? I suppose I might make more time for writing.  And perhaps I'd write from more varied perspectives and take more poetic license from time to time. I'm not sure - but I'm beginning to think it may be time to give myself permission to follow this blogger's advice and call myself a "running writer" (rather than merely a "writing runner") for awhile - just to see where it takes me.

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