Friday, July 29, 2011

What Training for a Marathon Taught me about Writing a Novel

Welcome, welcome! Today is another great day to be inspired, and I'm happy to announce that Carrie Mumford will be taking over for another edition of the #lifelistclub! I will be posting tomorrow at Catie Rhodes blog, so be sure to check that out then.

Without further ado, I give you Carrie.

Last year I set a really big goal for myself: run a marathon. Several of the Life List bloggers have set big goals for themselves this year. In fact, many Life Listers, including my gracious host, Jennie, would like to complete a novel. To me, setting out to complete a novel is the marathon of the writing world. Short stories and articles require fewer words, and thereby less time and planning to complete. I think of these as the 10 kilometer races of the writing world. Obviously this rule isn’t steadfast – there are some novels that come easy, and some short stories that take forever to perfect, but overall, it seems that writing a novel is a big, giant, marathon of a commitment.

Here’s a video about marathoning that gets my heart racing:

As you watch, imagine they are talking about writing a novel – the similarities abound!

Here are three lessons I learned while training for a marathon that have helped me as I work on my first novel:

1. Life is going to get in the way – you need to persevere:

Even with a solid plan, unexpected things are going to interrupt your progress towards your goals. When I was training for the marathon, my plans were interrupted by invitations for cottage weekends, work events and visitors from out of town. Despite my best efforts in planning, there were disruptions outside of my control that caused me to miss training runs from time to time.

When you’re writing, it’s easy to be distracted by other life commitments. As I learned during my marathon training, the key to reaching your goal is to persevere in the face of the distractions life throws in the way of your goal. You will not make every training run or planned writing session, but the important part is that you pick up where you left off for the next session.

2. Asking for help is much better than suffering alone:

There came a time during my training that a knee injury forced me to seek medical attention: I knew that if I wasn’t able to fix the pain in my knee, I’d never be able to make it through 42.2 kilometers (or 26 miles) on race day. I was so afraid that the doctor was going to tell me to stop training that I delayed my visit until I could barely walk (for the record, this is a really bad plan of action). When I finally did get help with me knee, it only took a few physiotherapy sessions before I was running again, and I really regretted not having gone to get help sooner.

There are times when writers need help too. In fact, last week Jennie sent out a cry for help when she expressed the frustration she was feeling with her WIP. If you’re struggling with your writing, reach out to the writing community, either on Twitter (the #LifeListClub is a great place to start), or in-person to another writer friend, or even seek help from a professional (perhaps by taking a writing class or visiting a writer-in-residence). The writing community is very supportive and friendly, and it’s a whole lot nicer to reach out for help than to sit at your desk alone, beating your head against the keyboard.

3. You’re about to do battle with your brain – make sure the non-lazy side wins:

Training for a marathon is not only physically challenging, but also a mentally and emotionally challenging. I found one of the toughest parts of getting myself to the race was beating down the lazy side of my brain that was constantly trying to convince me that cleaning out my closet or reading was way more important that heading out for a run.

I’ve had to fight this same battle with my brain when writing. Sometimes it’s really easy to rationalize skipping a writing session because it’s sunny outside, or because your spouse would like to take you for dinner. And sometimes the lazy-side of your brain is right (which is what makes it so tricky). But often, you need to tell that lazy side of your brain to take a hike and just get back to writing.

The journey is worth it:

Training for a marathon and writing a novel are both physically and emotionally taxing, but in the end, it’s worth it. I completed my first marathon last September, and I can confidently say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Despite my training, it hurt. Things went wrong (I lost my pace group and ended up stumbling, watch-less through the second half of the race). I can admit that there were times when I had to fight back tears – I was frustrated, in pain, exhausted. I’ve felt these exact same emotions as I work on my novel. But I finished the marathon, and I don’t regret a second of it. I can only hope that the experience of completing a novel will give me the same feeling of satisfaction.

Have you ever run a marathon? Even better, have you written a novel AND run a marathon? What was your experience like? Do you have any tips for people striving towards a marathon-sized goal?


Carrie Mumford is a writer and editor living in the wild Canadian West. She writes short stories and non-fiction articles, and is working on her first novel. When she’s not writing she can be found chipping away at her certificate in publishing, running, trying to learn CSS or watching knitting videos on YouTube (which is infinitely more entertaining than it sounds!).


Carrie Mumford said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Jennie! I really appreciate the blogging hospitality, and am so excited to be featured on your blog!

I neglected to include a link to my website in my post (a rookie mistake if I've ever seen one;). I blog at

jesswords10 said...

What a cool comparison Carrie. I've never been a runner, I'm more of a wheezer. But the comparison you made is true. It does take endurance and a kind of physical and mental perseverance. Yesterday, I beat out the lazy side of my brain by making plans with friends to go to a zumba class again. It's been months since I've gone and the class kind of kicked of my butt, but I was so glad I had gone and pushed myself through the class. It was just the reminder I needed to make working out a priority again along with my writing. Thank you!

Logan said...

I ran 2 marathons x 2 years ago. They were intense and fun. I learned to love running. Then I got injured and am having to start over. I also just recently finished my first manuscript. I just started the query process. Thanks for the great blog post. The only thing I would add is: There are no shortcuts. You have to put in the time to run and train as well as writing.

Carrie Mumford said...


Congrats on beating down the lazy side of your brain! It's surprisingly hard to do sometimes :) I've heard Zumba classes are really fun, and really tough. I often find when it comes to forcing ourselves to do things we're trying to avoid, we're always glad after we complete them (like you mentioned). Thanks for your comment!

Carrie Mumford said...


Starting over (in running or writing) is always tough. Since you've run before though, it should come back pretty quickly! Which did you find harder: training for a marathon or completing your manuscript? Or were the experiences so different you can't compare them?

I fully agree - there are not shortcuts in writing or running. You can take them, but you always pay for it in the end.

Thanks for your comment!

Pam said...

I've never run a marathon at all, but I am currently trying to finish a novel AND do full workouts to greatly improve my fitness 5 times a week. Those goals on top of a day job often FEEL like a mountain-climbing marathon. My best advice is to take one day at a time, to let inspiration lead you, and to celebrate each small success. I may be a dork for patting myself on the back every 2,000 words or week in the gym, but it keeps me going : )!

Jen Daiker said...

This is incredibly inspiring! I love when you can take real life situations and apply them to writing. Especially one I'm able to relate with. Being a cross country runner I know the feeling of pushing toward the end when you feel like you've got nothing left!

This was moving! I heart Carrie. This post was awesome!

Carrie Mumford said...

@ Pam:

Working out 5 days a week is as big of a commitment as training for a marathon, as far as I'm concerned!

I think patting yourself on the back is a huge part of the process - it's not very motivating if you're not feeling good about the progress you're making. Congrats on continuing along your path to your goal, Pam!

Carrie Mumford said...

@Jen Daiker:

Thanks so much for your kind words Jen! You made my day :)

I'm glad to hear that other runner/writers can relate to my comparison.

J. A. Bennett said...

Carrie - Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Something that's said a lot but still holds true (and applies to both running and writing a novel) is that, if it were easy everyone would do it. Endurance is the key, but support is what turns the knob. Great post!

Sonia G Medeiros said...

Awesome post! I especially resonated with the whole "life will get in the way." I struggle with that one a lot. It's nice to hear it happens to everyone else though. Gives me lots of hope. :D

Carrie Mumford said...

@ Jen:

Thanks so much for having me!

"If it was easy, everyone would do it" is one of my all time favourite sayings. It got me through many long runs (and long writing sessions).

Carrie Mumford said...

@ Sonia:

Life most certainly has a knack for getting in the way! The toughest distractions for me are the really fun ones - invites to cottages or dinners out. It's hard to put your writing first, but sometimes the sacrifice makes the result all the sweeter in the end :)

Mark Noce said...

Greta positive messages! I did a Bay to Breakers Marathon and loved it, good for you to try out a bonafide marathon:)

Carrie Mumford said...

Congrats on completing a marathon Mark! In the video in the post above one speaker said your life will never be the same after you cross the marathon finish line. Even though that sounds a bit dramatic, I'd have to agree, mainly because every hard run I have now doesn't compare to how hard to marathon was ;)

Logan said...

@Carrie M

Running long distances was much harder for me. I have asthma. Writing was much easier because I didn't know what I was doing when I started. It does take talent and perseverance to become good at writing. Running is often an individual thing. Writing starts out individually but you need so many others to add input, edit, and eventually publish. Both are great adventures

Peggy Eddleman said...

Oh my gosh. "You’re about to do battle with your brain – make sure the non-lazy side wins," is my new mantra. LOVE IT!

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

I'm afraid to even want to run a marathon! At the moment I aspire to run 10k every day, in two 5k chunks. I figure if I can get to that point, I'll be well on my way to general fitness :)

I think writing a novel may be the closest I ever get to a marathon. I hope so, anyway :) Respect to you!

Nisa said...

"Make sure the non-lazy side wins." Love this! What a lot of great lessons. I love how we all pull from our life experiences and share what we learn. It's so motivational.

Carrie Mumford said...

@ Peggy Eddleman:

Ha! So glad you liked that Peggy! Thanks for checking out the post!

Carrie Mumford said...

Hi Anne-Mhairi! Thanks for your comment. I'm a firm believer that just about anyone can run a marathon. If you're running 10 km a day, you're not THAT far from building up to a marathon. Never say never! ;)

Carrie Mumford said...

@ Nisa:

I love it when I realize that two seemingly unrelated experiences come together (like running and writing did for me). Thanks for your kind words about the post!

Hektor Karl said...

"you need to tell that lazy side of your brain to take a hike"

True for so many things worth doing.

Great post, Carrie. (Though I still don't plan to run a marathon. :)

Carrie Mumford said...

@ Hektor Karl

Never say never! ;) I'm not sure I will run another marathon, although I do consider it now and then. Hopefully I won't feel the same way once I finish my first novel!

Thanks for your comment!

Christa said...

I don't know that I could ever run a marathon, but I have written three books this past year. So there's that...great life lessons.