Feb 21 2011

Racing in the Rain

Melissa Crytzer Fry

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.

20 Responses to “Racing in the Rain”

  • Bryan Hughes Says:

    Congrats! I have friends who are daily runners; I just can’t pull it off. I CAN however, hike for many miles without even getting sore, and my creativity soars in interesting directions while doing so. It’s hard for it not to when all of the ‘meaning’ given to the week’s thoughts, in being part of civilization and a community, are completely pulled away.


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Truth be told, hiking is absolutely my preference over running. I agree with you … getting out and ‘away’ from life’s distractions frees the mind to be so much more creative.


  • Tamara Linse Says:

    Oh, good for you! I’m not by any means a fitness fanatic – my husband says that, given my own devices, I’d spend 24 hours a day either reading or writing – but running is my exercise of choice. For a “nonrunner” like you and I, 8K is fabulous! You should be so proud!

    ~ Tamara


    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Tamara. I’m with you – a non-runner, but using ‘running’ to my benefit anyway :-).


  • Hallie Sawyer Says:

    So, so true. I don’t use my mp3 player (yes, only human on Earth without an iPod) so that my mind can wander free. If I do use it, I listen to instrumental movie soundtracks or classical.

    I have had quite a few plot epiphanies while running or walking outside. What a difference it makes to run in nature vs. like a hamster on a wheel. I think the biggest “a-ha” moment for me was when I had a dead end in my story and just didn’t like where things were going. I realized during that run that one of my characters wasn’t working and so I came back and politely erased him.

    So very proud of you for your accomplishment. What a great thing to do for yourself! XO


    Melissa Reply:

    You’re not the only one who doesn’t listen to music when exercising. I have to keep my ears open in case a wild animal chases me :-)! I appreciate your encouragement re: my little race. And I’m glad you’ve also been able to work some plot glitches out during ‘outdoor time.’


  • Roxanne Garcia Says:

    I am really proud of you. look at you running the whole thing!! way to go girl. full marathon next??:)


  • V.V. Denman Says:

    I used to run (jog actually), but I can’t now because of a knee injury. You’re making me miss it terribly! Now I must be content working-out indoors on my gazelle. Not the same. Yet it’s still a time of inspiration when I work through many plot issues. At least I do that when I’m not being interrupted by the kids. (Another problem with exercising at home.)


    Melissa Reply:

    I think any type of exercise can be inspirational; I’ve heard the gazelles are amazing. And if the exercise still inspires, it counts. Besides … running is hard on the joints!


  • Michelle Hoover Says:

    Love this! My usual run is 9 miles, and on tired days I find myself whispering a little mantra: keep going, keep going, keep going. I think the same thing when I’m writing, particularly when I’m trying to finish a book. I think the only writers who really “make it” are those who keep going, through all the revisions and all the years. And they do it again, day after day after day.


  • Julie Johnson Says:

    First, congratulations! I haven’t run a big race like you have, but I have taken up running (which I’ve always hated in the past) and have found it to be therapeutic. I’ve also experienced those moments of going beyond my expectations and ‘mind over matter’ (like when I did a yoga boot camp, for example).

    its interesting the connection you make to exercise and creativity. I had a creativity explosion once I started doing yoga on a regular basis. It’s like my mind just opened up. I wonder if its because the exercise fuels or opens some part of the self, or what. At any rate, the effect was noticeable and remarkable, and hasn’t died down any!

    Great post!
    Julie Johnson


  • Margaret McGriff Says:

    Congratulations on your run!!! That’s awesome!! I didn’t know that running increases the grey matter in your brain so that’s really good to know!
    I find that working out on the cross trainer or elliptical definitely gets my creative juices flowing. I do figure out story issues, create new ideas, and just feel refreshed enough to tackle my writing.


  • Sharon Bially Says:

    Love this Melissa! I totally agree about running — and running outdoors — though I had no idea of the physiological reasons! I’ve been a recreational runner for almost 30 years (gulp), and despite the usual knee issues and hip issues exacerbated by dance, I can’t live without it. Running has always settled me, and yes, I often use it as a time for free-flow thinking about creative work in progress, and often, that’s when many of its problems get resolved.

    Other activities can have a similar effect: swimming, biking, dance. But running (yes, outdoors) really does seem to bring the most bang for the buck.

    And gray matter shows up in Veronica’s Nap later on…


    Melissa Reply:

    Agreed… all physical activity helps rev up the gray matter!


  • Cheryl @ Mommypants Says:

    Congrats!! SO proud of you.

    So. When’s your next race? Maybe a 10K?


    Melissa Reply:

    Oh Cheryl… A runner I truly am not. For now, I’ll stick to 8Ks! Though I was proud to have kicked some younger 30-somethings’ butts :-).


  • Amanda Hoving Says:

    Good for you! I ran track through grade school and high school, and those lessons of endurance and self-motivation most definitely carried over to the writing life. I recently started running again, and though I have to force myself out the door (much like sitting down in the chair to write sometimes) I always feel good afterwards.

    Great post~


  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Melissa..we have another similarity. I used to love basketball in school. I to love running and many A-ha moments occur then. I do yoga, cycle and walk for around 45 minutes,(not all together as that would be too much workout).I vary my exercise routine to maximise the benefits. With each step I take I try to unravel the plot in my mind.


  • Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I decided to run a 5K last winter while it was sleeting. They almost had to scrape me (and my lungs) off the side of the road. That horrible run really spoke to me, though, about how we need to pace ourselves as writers, to train before sprinting toward that Pulitzer finish line. Good for you, Melissa, for striving toward both. My lungs and knees are with you! 😉


  • Suzie Ivy Says:

    You made the 5 miles sound wonderful but I am a soft ground runner and know how bad it hurts my poor body when I run on asphalt. Congrats! It’s not outdoor running season up here yet but I’m seeing signs of spring and will be hitting the trails soon.


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