The Story of How An Unfit Man, Allergic to Any Kind of Physical Activity, Fell in Love With Running And Became A Better Writer In The Process

This post is a part of an ongoing series entitled MIP {Man In Progress}. After my 25th Birthday I decided to improve three aspects of my life, one of those aspects was my physical well-being.  My first goal was to run my first 5k on December 11. My philosophy is that a writer’s work and his life are irrevocably intertwined and in order to improve one, we inevitably have to improve the other.

“So, as I move out into the world, I live out my uniqueness, but when I dare look into my core, I come upon a common center where all lives begin. In that center we are one and the same. In this way, we live out the paradox of being both unique and the same. For mysteriously and powerfully, when I look deep enough into you, I find me, and when you dare to hear my fear in the recess of your heart, you recognize it as your secret that you thought no one else knew.”

– Mark Nepo

There is a boy who often appears at the park where I train. As I rush past him, the boy is playing catch with his dad. This brown boy is a rolling bubble of joy. He’s all giggles and high-pitched screeches of absolute delight. What is the boy doing that is making him so happy?

He’s running. Just running. That’s it. He runs while his father, rolling his eyes and tossing his hands in the air in exasperation, follows. Meanwhile, the boy pummels through the grass, kicks at the leaves, rolls through the air, laughs, and smiles. This boy sways his arms around, and looks about him, as if the park, and that moment, is all that exists.

As I run past this boy, I’m sweating and I’m miserable. I’m huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf, except I have no pig house to blow down. My ankles hurt. I have a cramp. I can’t seem to look forward, because I learned that dipping my head forward somehow prevents me from stopping completely. There’s a lot going through my head at the moment. Not much of it is positive. There’s a force that brushes across me, and that force is too big for me to carry, so I stop. Walk for a bit. That boy is still giggling in the background.

I’m jealous of that boy. That jealousy makes me ashamed. How could a grown man be jealous of a boy? Maybe it is because that boy thinks running is fun. But for me, running is a pain. I hate it, and I seriously wonder what that boy knows that I don’t.

I’m a writer, I think, why am I even doing this? To prove a point? What point? That I can do it? I’m just not cut out for this kind of thing. My body isn’t made for it. My body is made to sit at a friggin’ laptop and type! Why am I making my body do more?

As my thoughts keeps tossing themselves around, I hear the boy rushing past me again, now even more happy than before. What has changed? Nothing. What is the boy doing? He. is. just. running.

Ignoring the boy, I scrape my shoes against the ground, launch myself forward, and try again.

On the morning of the race, my friend D is there with me. D signed up for the race at the last-minute, and he’s worried he’s not going to make it because he hasn’t trained for the race. I, on the other hand, am not nervous. I’ve been training for this race for some weeks now and I feel confident, relaxed, and excited.

When the horn sounds, I launch forward. (I’m used to starting strong.) Before I know it, I’ve lost D in the crowd, and all the people around me start falling behind. I easily pass every one of them. The runners are of all shapes and sizes, too. Some old, some middle-aged, some as young as me, some younger, some only children. I pass them. One by one.

I’m on mile 2 now. I’m strategizing. I will need at least one small rest before I finish. But I didn’t plan it for this moment. It doesn’t matter. I’m getting tired. I’m falling behind. Every person I passed before, is now passing me. They are of all shapes and sizes. Old, middle-aged, young as me, younger, and finally a couple of 7-year old boys pass me. Friggin’ a.

The crowd is moving ahead, and I am falling behind. Then there he is. D finally passes me. And now I am even falling behind my friend, the one who didn’t event train for this race!

I walk for a bit. I need the break. I noticed others walk for a bit as well. They need a break, too. I stare at the beach in the distance and wonder how much longer it’s going to be. I hear someone cry out: “Just a half-a-mile left!”

This propels me to action. I must beat D. I think. At the very least, I must beat D! I surge ahead, blast forward, and pull as much of the reserved energy I didn’t know I had from out of the very bottom of my stomach. I was so determined, so eager, so sure I would beat D to the finish line. I was so excited about it, I was having so much fun trying to beat D, my friend, that the little brown boy inside of me laughed and giggled. Deep inside of me, that little boy gave a high-pitched screech of absolute delight.

My arms swayed around, my eyes looked about me, at the beach, at the runners, as if this was all that existed. I felt as if I was part of something bigger than me. I imagined that my fellow runners were all my fellow writers, the ones that comment on my blog–each one of these writers at a different stage in the writing race. Some of them are falling behind, some are surging forward, but all are going to make it in the end. Each at their own pace, focused and determined to reach that finish line.

I sprang forward at last. I saw a blue mat cross below my feet. Before I knew it, I had crossed the finished line. Some man was removing the chip from my tennis shoe while I was frantically looking for the water bottles. Once I got a water bottle and downed its contents, I headed over to the place where my other friends had gathered to cheer us on. I noticed that they were all still staring at the people coming in at the finish line. When I appeared, they turned around and looked surprised.

“We didn’t even see you!” they cried, “We we’re following the race so closely, how did you get past us?”

I had no idea.

D was already there, a slight smile on his face. I playfully scolded him:

“I can’t believe you passed me and you didn’t even train for this!”

We laughed while everyone else still seemed puzzled that they had missed me.

Not a single thought was going through my head at that moment. I felt very peaceful and relaxed. (My friend C had described this phenomenon to me before, and called it a “runner’s high.” I had no idea what she meant, until I felt the “high” for myself. What a wonderful sensation.)

A cool mist came back to the beach side city. A ferris wheel twirled in the distance. As we headed over to grab breakfast, I felt a little happier. I didn’t understand what had happened, until later that day, my sister M pointed out to me that sports and physical activity can be very healing.

That was it. I was healed. Running had healed a wound I didn’t even know I had. I had brought the little boy inside me back to life, and somehow, in the process, I had fallen in love with running.

How Running A 5k Improved My Writing

  • It Gave Me Focus: After I started training for my 5K, my body was no longer restless when I would sit down to type my novel. I would get out all of my excess energy and stress during the times when I was training, and none of that bad energy would be left to get in the way of my writing.
  • My Feelings of Isolation Were Counterbalanced by A Symbolic Team Effort: Many of us feel very lonely as we write. Those feelings of isolation from the world can make us start to feel pretty nasty about ourselves, the world, and our work. But running in a race, and being part of a team, made me feel a part of a whole. I could see very clearly that I was not alone, and how, in actuality, I was part of this huge movement of writers around the world working toward the same goal (a phenomena I described above.) The team aspect of running a 5k boosted my confidence, my self-esteem, and restored my sanity.
  • Shuts Up My Mind: The “runner’s high” I described above really helps to quiet your mind. That means that less of your worries, fears, doubts can get in the way of you sitting down and getting some serious writing done.

If you are a writer thinking of joining a race, I recommend starting small and local. If you never do any physical activity (basically the shape I was in when I began), you’re going to need some tips for getting yourself started. My friend C recommends The Couch to 5K program.

Good luck, and happy running!

much “10k anyone?”

Ollin

What physical activity gets you relaxed and ready to write? What teams have you joined to counterbalance the feelings of loneliness and isolation that often come with writing?

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34 comments on “The Story of How An Unfit Man, Allergic to Any Kind of Physical Activity, Fell in Love With Running And Became A Better Writer In The Process

  1. daniellett says:

    What a great post about the benefits of running! I also see running as a great exercise, not just physically, but mentally. It helps me stay focused, especially when following a training schedule. Training for a race is not something that can happen over night, and so it has helped me stay committed to something and develop myself over time. Thanks for sharing your story about the little boy…another great aspect of running I enjoy is going outside and people watching.🙂

    Congratulations on your first race!

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Danielle!

      Yeah, I had no idea that such a big part of running was mental! I also had no idea that there were all these great, positive emotions attached to it, too. It was wonderful, if it wasn’t for you I never would have thought of even racing. Thanks!

  2. Chantal Rodriguez says:

    Congrats Ollin!!! I LOVED this post. Running really changed my life in a lot of ways. I agree with you about the team effort and being part of a community. At the same time, running is a sacred time for me when I am inaccessible to the world and its just me and the road, especially on long runs! There is no other time when I allow myself 2 full hours disconnected from all my responsibilities.

    Congrats on your first race! I’m so happy I got to be a part of it. Next up, 10K and beyond!

    • Ollin says:

      Yeah, I love that description of it. Thank you for introducing me to all of this! It was so much fun. Yes, let me know when the next 10k is. I’d love to join.🙂

  3. clarbojahn says:

    Because I’m a senior and didn’t start running till too late in life to keep it up, I now walk two or three miles a day. Amazingly I still get a high from it and feel wonderful. Walking also keeps me in great shape and takes all that bad energy away so I can write with a focus. I walk with my wonderful husband and we talk about all manner of things. It is a social time for me, but I am oblivious to those around me. I don’t people watch. I am into myself too much for that. I have often wondered weather to walk in 5ks for causes and may start soon.

    • Ollin says:

      You should do it! There were people of all ages there, some seniors who passed me! Haha. So it doesn’t matter, find a race that is low key and chill, where the people just go to run for a good cause. Mine was for HIV prevention in Africa. It was for christmas so people were dressed up as elves and reindeer and santa clause. It was really fun, you can run at your own pace and take breaks if you want to. It’s no pressure. And it is so fulfilling, especially for someone like me who never saw himself as the athlete type.

  4. Congratulations Ollin! And, thank you for a beautiful inspiring post!
    I’m so very impressed!
    I walk everywhere though I’ve been doing a bit less lately for a variety of reasons I still do at least 4 k most days (my walk to, or from work).
    Usually in the winter I like to get out on the river most evenings and walk forever, but I’m still waiting to make sure that the river is adequately frozen. You have inspired me to at least check it out tonight!
    I haven’t been writing much or well lately, (as I’m sure you’ve noticed! :)) but I’ll bet some long quiet walks would help to balance things.
    Once again, well done!

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you Jenny.

      Sounds like you are more active than I was when I started, hehe. But I definitely recommend doing a 5k, there’s a lot less pressure surrounding it than it seems. It’s fun, and the energy of the people at the race is so uplifting and energetic, it’s contagious. I think you would really enjoy it.

      • Sadly, though I am quite fit, running is no longer an option. I would love to do it but my joints would protest.
        Marathon walks in the snow will have to suffice! LOL. That is my true love, so thanks and WTG! again!

  5. jannatwrites says:

    Congrats on the 5K and the writing benefits you experienced! Good luck on the 10K🙂

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Janna! I just jogged for 31 min without stopping this morning. I’m proud of myself, I guess I’m already training for the next race.🙂

  6. Jessica S says:

    First off, congratulations on the 5K. I, too, relate my running with my work from home business. Both take motivation, dilegence, and the ability to make yourself do it even when you’d rather just curl up and die than take one more step forward. Oddly, I also find that, as with running, I know I’m going my fastest and doing my best when I feel like I’m a half second from tripping. It’s always those days that I increased my distance, lowered my time, and go to bed feeling like I’ve accomplished something.

    Keep running & writing,
    Jessica

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Jessica.

      That’s great that your running helps you with your work! I learned that some of the same concepts apply, that yes, you have to push harder to stretch those limits. Makes you think that you can handle more than you think you can, and that is inspiring!

  7. Amala says:

    Your man in process series is inspiring! I need to start learning from this.

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you, Amala. I hope my journey encourages you to take steps to improve your life and your writing career. Good luck to you!

  8. Congratulations on finishing your 5K, Ollin. You did a terrific job here of describing the experience of running for those of us to whom it does not come naturally. I’ve been a “runner” on and off over the years and spent far more time cursing it than feeling that runner’s high. But when it comes? Pure magic.

    I also appreciate the way you applied your experience training for your 5K to writing. As you said to me yesterday on my blog: Just do it. Slow and steady or in fits and starts. We’ll all get to the finish line if we just keep lacing up our shoes.

    • Ollin says:

      I totally know what you mean Kristen. I would often be cursing at myself, telling myself: “I hate you Ollin for making me do this.

      Yup, I’m glad that point came across. What I was trying to say is that it doesn’t matter where we are all at in life or in our writing careers, or how fast or slow we are going, it just matters that we are in this together and we’re going to get there, eventually.

      I hope you moved passed those thoughts and started writing today.🙂

  9. KrisEKing says:

    This was just the post I needed!
    I’ve found that my best writing comes after my morning walk, or yoga, when the mind is quiet and I can shape, mold, and create without the nagging inner critic who is bouncing around like a rambunctious child needing to exert her energy. I like that your inner boy is spinning and loving the joy of running. When we are children life is simple, easy, and a joy to be a part of. Somehow when we become older we lose that. Why is that?
    I like that you have stated we are all part of the writing race, all at different points. I agree and I hope, that you cross the finish line and run right into the winner’s circle. Best of luck on your leg of the race, I have just started mine. Thank you for this post.
    Peace,
    Kris

    • Ollin says:

      Your absolutely right. I am learning that my inner child knows a lot more than I do about living life to the fullest. I don’t know exactly why we lose that joy, maybe it’s because we belittle children so much because we think they are just foolish and innocent. But I do know that the way to get that joy back is to tap into that inner child, and the best way to do that is to engage in sports or other kinds of joyful physical activity. I never knew starting out with this 5k program that this is what I would find–that emotional healing was a part of running. It was totally unexpected, and it made me realize how much every part of us is so interconnected, and we really need to address ourselves as a whole person in order to thrive and heal.

      Thank you and I am happy that you enjoyed my story.

  10. milkfever says:

    Inspiring post, Ollin, and well done on being so motivated physically and mentally.
    I adore running along the trail near my home. I take my dog with me and after a while of puffing and sweating, I reach this peaceful place where there’s just the sound of my feet and breath and the beauty of nature around me. I haven’t been out there for a while. Your post is just the nudge I need to put my running shoes back on again.
    Thank you.

    • Ollin says:

      That sounds lovely Lisa. Yes, I think we need to keep up the habit of running, and not drop it. It really does affect our writing in ways we might not notice at first.

  11. Good for you, Ollin! Seriously!!

  12. Tara Benwell says:

    Great post! Whenever I feel blocked or lost in my writing life I always remind myself to get my running shoes back on. I blogged about this a while back after reading this quote in Richard Mahler’s book “Stillness”: “Remember that motion keeps the left side of the brain busy while the right side is free to wander uncensored and imaginative” It suddenly made sense to me why writers should be joggers.

    • Ollin says:

      I never heard of that before. That is so interesting. No wonder running and walking helps me when I write. That’s a great idea to add Tara: that running can help us become more creative because it silences the left side of the brain. I’ll have to read that book. Sounds very Zinn, Tolle and Hanh.

  13. Linda says:

    The picture of that little boy is so adorable and really captures the essence of your post. Great work, so proud of you!

  14. Duer says:

    Love the post! It’s interesting how sometimes we don’t realize how hurt we were until something like running comes along and heals it.🙂

    • Ollin says:

      You’re exactly right. It’s crazy that being physical, just moving your body, can heal emotional wounds. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!🙂

  15. […] The Story of How An Unfit Man, Allergic to Any Kind of Physical Activity, Fell In Love With Running … {Running my first 5k was a HUGE step for me, and the experience was surprisingly helpful to my writing.} […]

  16. […] those catchier titles, a smaller title like “Surrender” or a longer title like “The Story of How An Unfit Man, Allergic to Any Kind of Physical Activity, Fell in Love With Running …” actually sticks out, and for this reason may not be […]

  17. I recently did a 10k. Postponing the write-ups, will try to get it through. I loved the little boy story.

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