To put it kindly, most writers tend to be of the pasty and pudgy variety, if not distinctly overweight, then at least soft to the touch. We spend a lot of time in front of a screen and are fueled by a combination of caffeine and a short list of specific “nutrients” that we probably buy in bulk and eat with 9-hour stretches of no-eating in between. To an outsider, it’s a quiet work. If you have the energy to lift a cup of coffee, then you can write a novel.
But we all know that even if your body is not hopping around doing jumping jacks, there’s a grueling, demanding labor going on inside you. Writers use their entire being to think. To quote Haruki Murakami: “The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”
In short, my brain is an Olympic Warrior. On the inside, I’m a raging warrior goddess who bows to no one.
But on the outside . . .
Last spring I traveled to the UK and hiked my way from Scotland to London over two months. I loved it, and except for one strenuous adventure on Scafell Pike, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Walking, I loved—and also scenic English countryside. Then I got home, and suddenly my world was consumed by school and work.
Work means: writing (of many varieties), editing (also of many varieties), ghost-writing, reading so many manuscripts. School means: reading and writing. Free-time: reading and watching all five seasons of Parks and Rec so my brain can decompress. If reading burned calories, I’d look like Heidi Klum.
I’m not saying I spend every minute in front of a computer. I do stuff (I do!). But the ratio of computer-sitting to movement is significantly disproportionate. I started doing yoga because I was worried that after ten years of sitting hunched over a laptop, I was going to look like this:
And I enjoy it immensely; it makes me feel better, even though I’m possibly the most inflexible person alive. But basically—how I do it—it’s an hour of glorified stretching. Me and my back need the stretching—and the inversions and deep breathing. But there’s no cardio. It’s good for you, but does not require a lot of physical exertion. My body was starting to take on what the Oatmeal calls “computer shape”:
What to do?
I decided recently on running, for a number of good reasons.
1) You can do it for free. We all know what would really happen if I forked out $50 a month for a gym membership. That would be two very expensive sauna trips per month.
2) It’s outside. So . . . sun (ew), and fresh air.
3) Alone. ‘Nuff said.
4) Remember my Olympic-sized brain? Being alone with my thoughts for an hour is not only not boring and not difficult, it’s also probably necessary so my head doesn’t explode. I do this anyway, when I walk, but now I will just . . . go faster.
5) I can eat more carbs.
Once I decided to do this, I spent more time reading memoirs about running than actually running. I thought about running a lot. And then finally, eventually, there was nothing to do but go. People run all the time around Provo, they’re basically part of the scenery, so I wasn’t self-conscious. I figured I’d go for roughly half an hour. That was a good beginner’s start right? Besides, I’m not a completely non-athletic person. I hiked the UK. I played basketball and tennis in high school. I ride my bike and walk most places I need to go. I’m not a total newbie to exercise.
After half a mile, half a mile, my face was flushed into my ears and as I slowed to an unsteady walk, I thought seriously that I might pass out on the side of the road. I’ll just walk for a minute, I thought. Five minutes later, I tried again, with same results, only it happened faster, less than a quarter mile this time. The running app on my iPod asked, “Do you want to post your time to Facebook?” Um, no. Actually, I thought I should probably turn around soon so that I wouldn’t need an EMT stretcher to take me home.
On one of my multiple breath-catching moments, this shirtless guy passed me (going uphill!!), and he didn’t even look like he was breaking a sweat, mouth closed and serene. Maybe slight dampness at the temples. I thought: You are an alien or you are lying.
In fact, everyone who says they love running is a liar.
This is the only explanation.
Because it suuuuucks. When I finally got home, I was thinking, is this what running is going to feel like every time? Is each run going to mean confronting this pain, shame, and rage? Why do people do this?
I mean, to be fair, I know this was the first time. I will probably give running a few more chances before kicking it to the curb. Actually, even if it sucks indefinitely, I will most likely still do it because computer shape is worse than the agonizing torment of jogging (maybe).
But do any of my readers run? Is there a way to make it less torturous? ANY TIPS? Or is this going to be a necessary evil in my life no matter what I do?