Last month I ran a half marathon. It was my first.
I’ve come to running a little later than most. Toward the end of last year, at age 41, I started jogging halfway through my walks. My usual three mile jog turned into four miles, and then five.
Eventually, during a particularly good run, an idea crept into my stream of conscious running thoughts.
“I bet I could run 13 miles.” I heard it more like a dare than a wish.
After that run, I began Googling “half marathon flat courses” and “mini marathons for beginner runners.” I scoured over out-of-state race calendars with the idea of turning my first race into a weekend event, and downloaded multiple training schedules trying to find one that didn’t scare the shit out of me. I bought Run Like a Mother by Dimitri McDowell and Sarah Shea, and pulled my copy of Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk about Running (because everything starts with a book for me).
The half-marathon I chose ended up being close to home, a 30-minute drive from my house to the start line, and the picture above is the daily log I kept during my 12-week long training schedule.
The Xes mark each run I completed – crossed off usually within minutes of making it back into my kitchen, sweaty and out of breath. The black boxes are my missed runs. And the “3R” and “4W” notations mark when I did a run or walk on a scheduled off day.
The exclamation marks are because I couldn’t believe I ran as far as I did.
Towards the end of my training, while talking to a friend – who’s also a writer – it occurred to me that my OCD running log, and the race I had committed to finishing, was about more than running.
“I think it’s my way of proving to myself that I can do something I never thought I could do.”
Years ago, I read how Jerry Seinfeld kept his writing practice, marking an X on his calendar for each day he wrote new material. The more days he wrote, the more Xes he collected.
I’ve carried this idea around with me for years – but, until this year never used it. And while the Xes pictured here aren’t marking writing days, they led me to a finish line I never thought I’d be able to cross.
Next week, I’m starting an online writing course (my second so far this year if anyone’s keeping count). It’s a 12-week workshop aimed at helping writers finish book-length projects.
It’s not lost on me that my training schedule for the half-marathon was also a twelve week process, and that I’m starting this course – one focused on writing rather than running – with the very same anxieties: intimidation, fear and doubt.
For now, I’m not going to concern myself with the what I will accomplish by the end of the writing course; instead, I’m only focusing on how many Xes I can string together.