Moving the Baseline: How to Write More and Run Faster

I went for a run this morning.


Ronald or Pennywise?

On Saturday, I’d run in my ninth 5k of the year and had my fastest time yet. 26:12. Any serious runners out there are probably snickering. But by some stroke of luck, the serious runners were in the other age groups instead of mine this time, and I placed first in my age group (younger than dirt, old enough to know better). But I tweaked my knee a little bit, probably by not following my usual routine of stretching afterward, and decided to take it easy today.

Easy was two 9:30 miles. That’s my new baseline. Six months ago, it was slightly under eleven minutes per mile. I was struck this morning by how clearly I could remember those eleven minute miles feeling like my limit. At the time, I thought that was as fast as I could run without pushing myself.

Someday, maybe, I’ll get my head game straightened out, and I’ll be able to push myself to faster times on race days. That’s what I thought then. Well, let me tell you, I am still all up in my head pretty much constantly. The little demon, the little blerch, still sits on my shoulder most of the time I’m running, and he tells me that I could quit at any time, nobody is making me run, it hurts and it’s not fun and you could just walk.

But I didn’t stop. Most of the time. Sometimes I have to pry my ass out of bed with a crowbar to hit the pavement. Sometimes I stop running and walk because I feel like I need to, and sometimes that’s the truth and sometimes that’s the demon winning. But more often than not, I fight through the resistance and I put one foot in front of another at least a few days a week.

And now I can run 9:30 miles without really trying (except for ignoring the demon whispers).

I don’t know when it happened. I’m not a natural athlete, so I thought maybe I was immune. I hate sports, so I thought maybe the sports god wouldn’t bless me out of spite. But apparently bodies have their own internal mechanisms that work based on the inputs we give them. Mostly physical inputs. No matter how much I think I won’t improve, if I keep running, I keep getting faster. Just like I can’t make my car start by thinking it should, I have to turn the key (although I hear Google is working on that).

A couple of months ago, my baseline went from 11 minute miles to 9 minute miles. And it was sudden, at least to my awareness. After one run, I looked at Runkeeper, and thought, Holy shit!

About a month ago, I also looked at my writing output for the year and thought the same thing, Holy shit! But for the opposite reason. I’m too ashamed to even tally up how many words I’ve managed. And I have no excuse. Time management is one of my biggest issues. Facebook is my greatest nemesis.

But there will always be a nemesis. Ten years ago, it was late night infomercials. And it’s really neither of those. It’s the blerch, the writing demon, who says the same kind of shit that the running demon does, You’ll never be good enough. No one will like what you write. You’re going to offend people. You’ll be ashamed or embarrassed. You will fail.

So why don’t you watch this advert for Insanity for the tenth time? Or hit the refresh button on Facebook for the tenth time?

It’s not all gloom with my writing this year. I’ve submitted more work than ever before. And every time I hit send, the demon tells me that it’s pointless. And every time I get a rejection, he says, see? But I keep prying myself off the couch with the crowbar, and I keep hitting send.

About two weeks ago, I ran across Chuck Wendig’s no bullshit writing plan for a novel in a year. 350 words a day, five days a week. In my head, it sounded an awful lot like my plan to run three to four times a week for 20-ish minutes with occasional hour long runs.

The last two weeks, I’ve kept to the plan. I’m sure I will fuck up and miss some days or weeks. I did with running, too. But all I have to do is keep fighting through the resistance, again and again and again and again, and eventually I will be writing more often and more easily.The baseline will move.

And it will feel like it happened magically, out of nowhere.

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