What I saw this weekend was much different than what I see most days … I ran my first race – a measly 8K (5 miles) – but a fairly big event for someone who does not consider herself a runner and who always hated running for the sake of running (I was much happier running up and down the basketball court in high school and during college intramurals. And I pretty much hated running middle-distance during my track-and-field days).
I did discover, however, in 2010, that I tend to enjoy (yes, I said, enjoy) running. But only when it’s in the outdoors. I mean really outdoors – through the desert, through sandy washes, on soft dirt, with rustling animals moving among the mesquite trees as I pass by. I still abhor running on pavement or asphalt, or treadmills.
The gals of the Lost Dutchman Marathon: Here we are, pictured with our "bling" (medals): l to r: me, Laurie (half marathon), Barbara (8K). By the way ... loads of rain meant the 8K trail run (through desert dirt) was rerouted - you guessed it - on to asphalt. Had to make the best of it. Will try the preferred trail run next year. Click to enlarge.
I’ve learned that outdoor running provides a wonderful creative boost for me – that, somehow, ideas spring from my head, plot problems work their way out, freelance article leads fall into place … all while I’m running. And of course, there’s the scientifically proven production of additional endorphins, resulting in that “alive,” “energized” feeling.
But, anyway, back to the race… An important lesson was reiterated to me during this race … something I experienced years ago when hiking in the Adirondacks with a 30-pound pack strapped to my back as I clawed (literally) at saplings and bushes to pull myself up a steep mountain … all the while beginning a lovely hyperventilation episode. If you’re wondering: I was terrified since I’m not a huge fan of heights.
The interesting thing that happened then was that I was able to “talk myself out” of that situation. You’re okay. You’re okay. Breathe. Relax. You can do it. You need to calm down. It was a valuable lesson, as it taught me about the incredible power of the mind.
And during my race, it happened again. In my ‘training’ for the 8K, I had run five miles plenty of times. But it was always run-walk, run-walk. I didn’t think I had it in me to run the full five miles, so I didn’t really push myself.
You can guess where this is headed: I did run the five miles without stopping on race day. And, again, it was all mind over matter. This time, I “talked myself into” achieving the goal while running the race. What a great lesson for me to recollect during times when the going gets tough … that I can stick it out and persevere. We all can. We can dig in and push just a little bit more. That reminder, actually, was a greater gift than the awesome medal I won (below).
The medal for 8K runners in the Lost Dutchman Marathon in Apache Junction, AZ. Click to enlarge.
For Writers – For Everyone: I’ve got two words for you (whether you’re a runner-junkie, hate running, run-to-stay-in-shape, do it for the outdoor exposure, or find running to be your muse): grey matter.
Recent studies have proven that you can grow more grey matter – more brains – by running! (See Guardian article.)
In the studies, just a few days of running showed the gain of hundreds of thousands of new brain cells. Who doesn’t need that? With more brain cells comes better memory recollection, greater mental abilities, greater creativity! How? With purposeful movement, more portions of the brain – the creative “association cortex” – are stimulated.
The implication here is that any kind of aerobic, cardiovascular activity (or even yoga exercises), can have the same impact on your creative genes. Some of the literary world’s greatest have already figured it out, as they engage their bodies to boost creativity (see Psychology Today article):
- Novelist Joyce Carol Oates runs almost every day.
- Novelist Tom Robbins is a fan of yoga and meditation.
- I’ve met dozens of authors through social media networks – Allison Scotch Winn, Rebecca Rasmussen, Michelle Hoover, Therese Walsh, to name a few – who find the same to be true.
What about you? Will you give it a whirl? If you do run or exercise routinely, please share your personal experience. How does it help your writing or other creative endeavors? Can you think of a specific “ah-ha” creative moment during a run, on the bicycle, at the gym, or while playing soccer? Please share.