Runners and writers

I run.

I’ve been pretty lucky lately in that I have not suffered an injury which has stopped me running in some time. However, I have learned a great deal about running from injury over the years.

One of these things is to vary your gait. Another is that hills are what running is about for me.

When you meet a steep hill, walking up is allowed but it shouldn’t be your first choice*. This is where it is useful to have more than one gait for your running. I have three normal gaits**: a short stride with rapid turnover which is my base, a longer push stride that I use to vary things when I’m on the flat for a long time, and a hill stride where I plant my heel and straighten my leg***.

Where things get interesting is in recognising when you need to switch gaits. I’ve already mentioned that the push stride is something I use when the short stride needs breaking up, but the short stride only works on hills up to a certain incline or when my legs are fresh. The hill stride kicks in if the slope is steep, or if I’m tired (there are a couple of closing hills on regular running routes which need the hill stride when I’ve already done six miles).

Some of the same principles apply to writing.

There are times when the words flow like storm rain, backing up for want of faster fingers. Other times the need is just to set up a steady pace, to make consistent progress over a long period: a regular flow over a weir, something to keep the story running.

And sometimes other things steal away your time, and words won’t come when you set yourself at the keyboard – you turn the tap and all you see is the dark sludge of a dry pipe.

All of these are different times, but the times will change and your writing gait will change to match.

But you keep writing just as you keep running, and the stories will come, watering the fertile ground of the imagination and blossoming into vibrant narratives.

You write.

[*] I have a known some ultra runners over the years, and one of them said that she only ran up a hill if she could see the top of it. Which is fair enough, I reckon, when you’re pacing yourself for a fifty mile run.

[**] the abnormal gaits are when I have an injury of some kind and I decide that running is still a good idea anyway. For example, the soft tissue injury I had at the base of a toe around Shamrock Run time made me run funny and walk unfunny.

[***] I don’t have a throw forward stride any more. That was one of the things that led me to an excellent knee injury in 2003.

2 Replies to “Runners and writers”

  1. I was married to an equestrian, so when you describe the different gaits, my first instinct is to visualize a horse, not a human. 🙂

    The analogy to writing is good, though, including that you have to write differently at different times because of external factors. But the advantage writers have is that you don’t have to take the course in the order that geography dictates. I’m going a bit slow with my current chapter (because it’s mostly rewriting), but I’ve jumped ahead to write parts of the next two chapters.

    1. Dunx says:

      That’s funny about the horse gait. I have a similar reaction when people use the word cadence – I always immediately think of bicycle pedal spin rates and the like.

      What it would be to be able to control geography when you were running, though…

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