Pace, Colorful Accessories, and Community: 26 Writerly Lessons from the Boston Marathon

Because I’m a writer and because apparently writers are incapable of going for a long run without thinking about how it applies to their writing lives, here are 26 things about running that resonated with my writing life.

  1. Runs

    Runs by Steel Wool

    Your pace is the only one that matters
    The first few miles, I was passed by a LOT of people, even though I was going slightly faster than my planned race pace. But I had to remind myself that trying to ‘keep up’ with everyone would majorly hurt me in the long run. Even if everyone else seems to be going faster, it doesn’t matter. Your journey and your work is the only thing that matters to you.

  2. You have to put in the time
    You can’t go to the start line and know you’re going to finish without having trained for weeks (months!) beforehand. And you can’t write a novel without sitting down and writing and rewriting and revising for weeks (months! years!).
  3. Conditions don’t have to be ideal
    When we started seeing weather predictions for the 70s, I got nervous. I feel way better running in the cold than I do in the heat, and I was afraid I’d get sick in the middle of the course. But I adjusted my plans for pace and clothing and fuel, and it all ended up working out. You can’t wait for the weather to be perfect or the muse to strike–you just have to accept the conditions you’re giving and adjust accordingly.
  4. Hydration by Robot Brainz

    Fuel accordingly
    Hydration is keep when you’re running. Coffee is key when you’re writing. Also chocolate. (Okay, water is key when you’re writing, too.)

  5. Recovery is necessary
    In our marathon training plan, we had specific rest days scheduled, and I took those seriously. Sometimes you also need breaks from your writing, like distance yourself from a story to better revise it later or to give your brain a break between projects. This doesn’t mean giving up–it means letting yourself rest so you can be stronger later.
  6. Supporting other people is fun
    Cheering at the marathon is the best, and so is supporting other writers at book events. Plus sometimes book events have cake!
  7. A lot of people work hard to make it happen
    On the DFMC team, we had a staff and lots of volunteers making sure our training could happen, and no one organizes a race like the B.A.A. Even though it’s easy to think that a published book just shows up on shelves, it takes a lot of people–crit partners, editors, agents, marketing teams, supportive friends–to get it there.
  8. Alone time can be nice
    Although I loved having organized group long runs, one of my favorite parts of running is having that time for myself. And while I love having a writing buddy, sometimes it’s nice to feel like it’s just you and your story.
  9. Get out of your comfort zone
    This was my first marathon, and ten years ago I never thought I could run a mile, much less 26. Writing also means pushing yourself out of your comfort zones–your characters need to make hard choices because that’s where the most compelling story is.
  10. Time by Moyan Brenn

    Make the time
    You need to set aside time to run and time to write. Otherwise it’s really easy to say “eh, I’ll do it later” and not give yourself any time.

  11. Having a plan is helpful…
    Our coach made training plans for novice, intermediate, and advanced runners. Having that on my schedule meant that I never had to guess what my weekly workouts should be. Similarly, having an outline (or at least a general idea of what plot points you want to hit) can make the writing process easier.
  12. …but plans can change
    All running plans don’t fit all bodies–sometimes you need to cross train on a day you’re supposed to run, and that’s okay. And as someone who’s never been able to accurately outline a novel, letting yourself explore as you write is okay, too. Do what works best for you and don’t get upset if that doesn’t fit into a plan.
  13. When you run into problems, ask for help
    In late January, I went for a long run and got major knee pain by mile 8. Instead of hoping the problem would go away on its own (like I’ve done in the past), I got advice from our team coach and connected with a physical therapist, who was also a fellow team member. Thanks to her help, I went into the marathon feeling strong and didn’t experience pain for those 26.2 miles. If you’re having a problem, there’s no reason to suffer on your own–reach out to your writing friends, your agent, your editor, your family, whoever can give you the support you need.
  14. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on stuff
    Why yes, I do need those new running leggings! And more books, please! Those things are great, but keep an eye on your budget. And utilize your local library.
  15. New running shoes by quimby

    But colorful accessories can make you feel better
    Hot pink post-its and bright blue running socks can give you that little extra boost that plain white just can’t match.

  16. Music can be a huge boost
    I never thought I’d be someone who had earbuds in on marathon day, but guys–5+ hours is a LONG time, and even if you have it on low so you can listen to cheering around you, sometimes what you really need is a boost from the Hamilton soundtrack. Similarly, I know writing with music on isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of my essentials.
  17. You end up talking to yourself
    Motivational chants on repeat in your head? Characters talking at you? No, you’re not having heat-induced hallucinations–you’re just a runner or a writer?
  18. Support can come from people you don’t even know
    A marathon would suck if there were no spectators. Their cheers make the difference when you’re struggling. And kind words from readers about how much they liked your book means way more than they might realize.
  19. You miss out on other stuff because you’ve got work to do
    Friday night party? Nope, sorry, got a long run in the morning and I need to be in bed early. Netflix binge time? Not until your writing is done.
  20. Self-promotion is hard but necessary
    I hate asking for stuff for myself or talking myself up, but those funds won’t raise themselves. Reaching out to friends/family about fundraising or book promotion feels so awkward, but most of the time people are either happy to support you in whatever way they can, or they’ll ignore it.
  21. Know what keeps you going
    I joined DFMC because I’ve seen cancer affect too many loved ones’ lives. Being part of the team, I heard even more stories about cancer survivors and loved ones gone too soon–and these people are why we run for Dana-Farber. Recently, my agent reminded me to forget all the stress and focus on the heart of my stories–the core that really matters, that truth I want to understand and share. Having that deep down reason makes the difference when things are hard.
  22. People who have done it are the ones who get it
    They know that writing a novel or running a marathon is a huge accomplishment, but those who have been there are the only ones who can really relate. They know all the hard work that goes into it, and that you’re not going to win/quit your day job anytime soon.
  23. Take it step by step
    Thinking about a whole book or a whole marathon can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it all at once–all you need is to go word by word and step by step.
  24. You’re stronger than you think you are
    Looking, running is hard. Writing is hard. It’s easy to look at these activities and think, There’s no way I could run a marathon/write a whole book. But if that’s what’s calling to you, the drive is inside you and you’ll surprise yourself by how far you can go and how creative you can be.
  25. You love it even when it’s hard
    Running a marathon and writing a book looks so impressive and exciting when you have the end result, but there’s a lot that goes into it that most people don’t see. You log lots of miles, you revise over and over, you feel stressed about it and doubt yourself. But at the end of the day, even the hard work is the work you want to do.
  26. The 2016 DFMC team photo

    The 2016 DFMC team photo

    Your community matters
    Running and writing feel like solitary activities, but having a supportive community matters. I never could have gotten to the finish line without the support of so many people. From my family and friends to the Dana-Farber team and staff and volunteers to people cheering for us on the course, it didn’t feel like I was alone in this journey. And I’m just as glad to be part of a supportive writing community that inspires me and encourages me every step of the way.

Lessons you’ve learned from writing and running? Share them in the comments!

Hugs and Hamilton and Unicorns: My 2016 Boston Marathon Recap

13015143_10106432024647863_1428968118740005225_nIf you ask me what my favorite day of the year is, it’s gotta be Marathon Monday. This year, after lots of training and fundraising and obsessively checking the weather forecast, I got to anticipate in Marathon Monday in the best way possible–by running the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team.

I’m still kind of baffled that it all actually happened, and more about how my experience as a runner relates to my life as a runner to come, but for now here’s a look at what the whole weekend was like for a newbie marathoner like me.

Marathon Weekend

I’m used to seeing runners come into town for the marathon, but this was the first time I got to go to the B.A.A. Expo and pick up a number of my very own. (Sightings of Meb Keflezighi and Kathrine Switzer were pretty cool, too.) On my way over to check in with the DFMC team, I stopped by the Barnes & Noble (because how do you pass a bookstore without going inside) and saw the shiny new paperback of Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs, one of my favorite YA authors and a fellow runner. I took this as a good sign for Monday.

On Saturday, I took it easy, painted my nails, tried not to check the weather forecast every 10 minutes.

IMG_3380On Sunday, the DFMC staff organized a pasta dinner for the team and loved ones. Our team raises money for cancer research, and even before I joined the team I knew that was a worth cause. Over the training season, I’d heard so many stories from teammates and volunteers who had lost loved ones–parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, children–far too early. At the pasta party, we heard stories from cancer survivors, from people who had lost loved ones. We heard about how the money we’re raising goes directly to research that will save lives and improve quality of life for patients. It was a great reminder that, no matter how the race went, we had already helped make a difference for someone’s loved ones.

Marathon Monday
: wake up time. I slept better than I expected to the night before, including a dream about being part of a caper with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which I took as another good sign.

Walt, supportive guy that he is, woke up with me and drove me out to Hopkinton so I could catch the runner shuttle to the Athletes’ Village. DFMC rents out a church for team members, so I got to wait there until start time, drinking water and stretching and getting advice from veteran marathoners. The two biggest pieces of advice–go slower than you think you need to when you start, and enjoy the day.

10:45am: time to line up. Most of the DFMC team was in Wave 4, Corral 3, so we shuffled out to the start line, along with a ton of other charity runners. It was already hot out, and I was kind of worried about how I’d do in this weather. (I’m basically a vampire, so sun/heat does not work for me.) But even with that and worrying about all 26.2 miles ahead, I was so excited to be there and ready to run.

IMG_338111:15am: start gun blasts, and we were off!

11:52am: first 5k. I tried to keep the advice of my teammates in mind and keep to my pace, but it was so hard when everyone was passing me and it felt like I was going way slower than I was. Ended up doing about an 11:30 pace, about 30 seconds faster than I planned.

Fortunately, at the 3 mile water station, I got to see my friend and crit partner and Marathon Monday volunteer, Katie Slivensky. Getting a hug and cheering from a good friend made a huge difference at the beginning of the race.

1:20pm: 15k down (about 10 miles) and into Natick, I was looking for my mom 13006709_10102662009588256_6085196724015519346_nand a good family friend, who told me they’d be in front of a big church. I passed one and thought I missed them, but found them a couple of blocks later in front of another big church. I got more hugs, plus some water and gatorade and fuel and sunscreen.

2:00pm: half of the marathon down, and still a long way to go. Things started to cool down, and a headwind picked up, so heat was less of an issue, but I made sure to keep taking Gatorade and water at stops. Going by the Wellesley ‘scream tunnel’ was a big boost to get me into Wellesley Square and onto familiar turf.

3:52pm: 35k (almost 22 miles) done. Around mile 19, Walt and friends Emily and Billy, plus their adorable baby, were cheering for me and waving the best sign ever. They were standing where we’d all been a couple years ago, and it was so cool to be on the runner side of things this year. I got more fuel, hugs, and baby high-fives, and took off for the hardest part of the course–Heartbreak Hill.

Our team did long runs over Heartbreak a few times, so the sight wasn’t new, but running it after 20 miles was. But I’d been refueled and had been pacing myself well and, even though I saw a lot of people walking it, I wanted to run the whole way. I wasn’t much faster than the walkers, but I powered up and over and felt like a total badass.

461459_226329053_Medium4:30pm: 25 miles in, and I’d  passed through my old neighborhood of Brookline (even catching sight of friend and fellow writer Jill of Looks and Books!). The Citco sign was in sight and, even better, DFMC had a cheering section at mile 25. I ran over to get a hug from Sandy, one of our team’s most inspiring and committed volunteers, and felt so pumped to finish strong.

My legs were sore. My arms were chaffing. My feet were tired. But once I saw that sign that told me I only had one more mile, I got a burst of energy. I was doing this–I was going to finish.

I turned left on Hereford, right on Boylston, like I’d always imagined. And guys–nothing beats that turn onto Boylston.

461459_226292699_MediumEven though I was running at the end of the day, there were still so many people cheering. It was a beautiful day and I was in a city I loved on my favorite day of the year. My feet were light and my heart was full and I was going to cross that finish line.

4:44pm: I crossed that finish line.

I finished in 5 hours, 27 minutes, and 47 seconds. Since I was planning for a finish time between 5 and 6 hours, this was exactly what I was shooting for.

I always thought I’d cry after crossing the Boston Marathon finish line–and I only didn’t because I knew that if I started, I’d have trouble breathing and this was not a moment to lose my breath. Instead, I opted for awe and happiness.

I got my official Boston Marathon medal. (All medals should have unicorns on them.) I got a hug from Jan, DFMC organizer extraordinaire and the woman who keeps us all safe and running and inspired. DFMC volunteers guided me to the team recovery area, where I got changed, got food, and got a massage.

12987109_10102662008705026_4458592631801728958_nWalt picked me up, and we went home, where I showered and turned my phone on to see all the supportive texts and tweets and emails and comments from family and friends.

Running seems like something you do alone, but so much of it is about your community–your fellow runners, your supporters, strangers who cheer you on from the side of the road. So here are a few Marathon Monday thank yous of my own:

  • To my DFMC teammates, for sharing advice and running alongside me and inspiring me with their stories.
  • To the DFMC staff, for all their hard work behind the scenes to make this whole training season and marathon weekend a huge success.
  • To the DFMC volunteers, who took such good care of us all season, and who know all too well what it means to fight cancer.
  • To our coach, Jack Fultz, for his professional guidance and keeping us all on track
  • To my amazing PT, Danielle Adler, who got me from running in pain to running strong.
  • To fellow runners and athletes who asked about my training and really wanted to talk about it.
  • To Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton, whose voices powered me through my first marathon.
  • To the Trader Joe’s peanut-butter filled pretzel bites.
  • To Duncan and the OOFOS team for keeping our feet cozy off the road.
  • To Newton Fire Station 2 and the Newton Library, for having strategically placed bathrooms for long runs.
  • To the Newton and Wellesley police departments, who kept runners safe during our longest training run. (Sorry, people who were driving that day!)
  • To the Wellesley scream tunnel and the students outside of Boston College for keeping me pumped.
  • To the spectators waving hilarious signs and blasting fun music.
  • To the girl in Brookline who cheered, “I am so proud of you!”
  • To the fellow runners who caught my hat when it blew off a few times.
  • To the marathon volunteers who woke up early and worked so hard to kept us safe and hydrated.
  • To the marathon volunteer who saw my empty water bottle and offered to fill it for me.
  • To the spectators handing out cups of ice and spraying runners with water.
  • To the safety officials and race organizers who make sure we all have a fun day.
  • To the people who saw my singlet and cheered, “Go Dana-Farber!” with such support that I could tell their lives had been touched by cancer, and they knew what it meant to run for Dana-Farber.
  • To everyone who donated to my fundraising campaign, and who shared stories about battles they’ve fought or stores of loved ones who battled cancer.
  • To everyone who sent encouragement and enthusiasm on Marathon Monday and during my training.
  • To Emily and Billy for the best sign a marathon runner could have and giving me some serious sparkle power.
  • To Aunt Barbara, who was also a writer and reader and runner, and whose earrings carried me forward on the course.
  • To my friends and family, especially my parents, who never doubted that I could run the Boston Marathon, even though the Cardis are totally not sporty people.IMG_3388
  • To Walt for making sure I got where I needed to go, I had what I needed, and for supporting me in so many ways for months on this incredible journey.

I’m sore and tired but so happy. Stay tuned tomorrow for more thoughts on running and writing, but for now, this runner is taking recovery seriously and basking in the glow of 26.2 miles of awesomeness.

Friends, Enemies, Adventures, and More: the Boston Teen Author Festival Is Tomorrow!

The 3rd annual Boston Teen Author Festival is tomorrow! Make sure to come by the Cambridge Public Library tomorrow for lots of writing/reading/YA goodness. I’ll be there along with over twenty other YA authors, talking about writing for teens and lots of different craft points. The general schedule:

Writing Workshop: 9:45-10:30
Doors Open: 10:45
Introduction: 11:15 
Meet the Authors!: 11:30-12:15
Panel Session One: 12:30 -1:15
Lunch Break: 1:15-2:00 (Lunch isn’t provided but you’re in Cambridge which means lots of tasty lunch spots around)
Panel Session Two: 2:00-2:45
Signing: 3:00-4:00

What better way to spend your Saturday than getting to share in a day of YA awesomeness? Hope to see you there!

Marathon Monday, 2013: We Always Come Together

I love the marathon.

Cheering at the 2012 marathon.

Cheering at the 2012 marathon.

I’ve been a Bostonian for the last six-and-a-half years, and nothing (except for fall, maybe) makes me feel like a Bostonian quite like the Boston Marathon. Even if you’re not a runner or an athlete, it’s hard not to get swept up in the joy and enthusiasm of the day. Unlike other sporting events, at the marathon you can cheer for everyone–from the fastest elite runners to the first-time marathoners to the charity teams to the military groups walking in full gear. Last year, I wrote a little about why I love the marathon so much and why it makes me feel so connected to the community.

Usually I’d be out on Beacon Street, cheering for runners in the Brookline area (just around mile 23/24). This year, I was on my way back from visiting family when I heard about the attack. It felt so personal–I used to live directly behind where the second blast occurred and walked around Boylston Street all the time. How could someone attack the marathon, an event that brings so many people together?

Fortunately, in the midst of this tragedy there are so many reports of people helping other people. Of first responders and volunteers rushing in to help the victims. Of runners having finished the race and, after that kind of feat, going to give blood.  Of strangers offering up their homes to people without a place to stay. And this is why I love the marathon–because the people who run and volunteer and cheer are all in it for each other. It’s not about winning or supporting just one person. You’re out there with everyone and for everyone. It’s a relief to remember that in the face of this tragedy.

I’m glad to report that, so far, all I know are safe and sound, but my heart is with people who continue to feel the damages of yesterday. And rereading “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass, a poem that feels so appropriate during times like these.

Hoping all you readers are doing okay.