9 Similarities Between Writing and Running
Both start with showing up and end with enhanced self-awareness.
I write and I run, and I can’t help but notice some striking similarities between the two. And, as evidenced by the growing canon on this topic, clearly, I’m not alone. Here are what I feel are the 9 strongest linkages between writing and running:
- Consistency: Perhaps the foremost key to a long running or writing career is showing up every day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt crappy heading into a run or writing session, forced myself to at least start, and ended up walking away satisfied with a productive effort. Not every run or writing session will be wonderful, and when you’re really feeling off, it’s OK to stop short — but first, you’ve at least got to start. Simply showing up is often the hardest part.
- Sleep: Any runner or writer who has felt drained at the end of a hard session knows about the power of a good night’s sleep to bring them back to life. Sleep has a way of getting us un-stuck, whether it’s our bodies or our minds. Both physical recovery (the release of anabolic hormones and muscle-building proteins) and psychological recovery (the processing and consolidation of information and emotions) occur in our sleep. Unfortunately, runners and writers have a tendency to skimp on sleep in favor of doing more work — for runners this usually means waking up extra early; for writers, going to bed extra late. This, of course, is almost always a mistake.
- Creation: A blank page and a blank trail allow both writer and runner to create something that they can trace back entirely to themselves. They start with nothing and end with something and it’s all of their making. This is very satisfying.
- Solitude: Yes, there are group runs and writing workshops. And yes, these events provide great value. But they tend to occur only on Saturdays or Sundays. Most of the work happens alone. I’ve never met a runner or writer who is not OK with solitude.
- Coffee: The best legal performance-enhancing drug there is.
- Feeling Drained: I feel almost exactly the same way at the end of an intense writing day as I do at the end of an intense workout. It’s a feeling of being drained. Empty. Like you’ve left it all out there and have nothing more to give. It’s a wonderful feeling.
- Stop a Little Short: Many of the best writers advise ending a writing session before you’re totally out of gas, at a point when you could still write another paragraph or two. Similarly, many of the best runners advise ending a workout in a similar fashion, at a point when you could still complete a few more intervals. These are wise strategies. They promote inertia and prevent burnout.
- Becoming Consumed: Every writer knows what it’s like to be physically at dinner with friends but mentally working through the fifth sentence in the second paragraph on page 38 of your manuscript. Runners, meanwhile, do a lot of running-related math at the dinner table, in the office, in the car, in the shower, pretty much everywhere: How many miles have I run this week? What would my pace need to be to run a sub-3 marathon? How many calories will I need on my next long run? When the page or the road has got a hold of you, it’s hard to resist its pull.
- Self-Awareness: Few activities facilitate the kind of inner-exploration that writing and running do. It’s amazing how much you can work out on the page or on the trail.
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Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and New York Magazine and author of the forthcoming book PEAK PERFORMANCE.