Advice from author Susan Puckett
My Mantra for Running and Writing...
For every uphill there’s a downhill.
For. Every. Uphill. There’s. A. Down. Hill.
My thighs are on fire and lungs feel on the verge of collapse. I am tempted to walk the rest of the way to the top. But I chose this dauntingly hilly course for a reason. I’m on a writing deadline, but the words aren’t coming. Panic is setting in. I need more than a leisurely stroll today. I need to feel the burn.
I take a deep breath: For every uphill…
And then slowly exhale: there’s a downhill.
Repeat. Again and again, until at last I reach the top.
That wasn’t so bad! With head up and shoulders back, I lengthen my stride as the road flattens, and then dips, allowing me to coast effortlessly, reveling in the breeze and the satisfaction of this minor achievement.
The next hill presents itself. This time, though, I face it with less trepidation. I begin my ascent to the beat of my mantra once again. And when I get to the top, I feel a little more empowered and in control than I did five minutes ago.
When I return home, I am fully energized, with a rough sketch in my head of where my story needs to go.
A powerful writing weapon. For most of my writing life, I have been a runner. I took it up more than three decades ago, while working as a rookie reporter at my first newspaper job. I hoped it would help me lose weight and quit smoking. I accomplished both, and discovered another benefit: the more I ran, the better I wrote. While running did not cure my procrastinating tendencies – which still dog me to this day – it became a powerful weapon to fight back the fears, doubts and insecurities that egg them on. It helped me build confidence and discipline, inspiring me to take risks and see possibilities I couldn’t within the confines of a newsroom. Running, in fact, sparked my interest in food and nutrition, and ultimately put me on the food-writing path that continues 35 years later.
My running habit has not been totally consistent. For a couple of years, while struggling with personal issues that led to a period of depression, I hardly exercised at all. I fell out of shape and my work suffered, too.
About a decade ago, I decided to give it another try. I started very slowly, counting laps on a rubberized track in a gym. I found a supportive group of slow runners who helped me rebuild my mileage on the streets. One of them inspired me to enroll in running guru Jeff Galloway’s marathon training program, which advocates interspersing walk breaks into long runs so even a slowpoke like me has a shot at finishing 26.2 miles.
The magic of mantras. Get one. Galloway, like many athletes and sports psychologists, also speaks often of the motivational powers of a personal mantra: a strong word or phrase that can be repeated over and over to replace negative, debilitating thoughts with empowering ones.
Mantras don’t have to be poetic or profound – only energizing and affirming. Here is a litany of others: http://www.runinamerica.com/p/running-motivation.html
Writers have mantras, too, often posted on sticky notes on their computers for a pick-me-up. Blogger/author Rachel Held Evans posted about them, listing a bunch of good ones – short (“Simplify, simplify” – Henry David Thoreau) and not-so-short (“…Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath)
Where I first heard the mantra that would serve both purposes in my life, I cannot say. I know I didn’t make it up.
Somewhere in the midst of an especially grueling training run, those words entered my head and stuck: With every uphill, there is a downhill.
Running is hard. Writing is hard. But the harder I push through the challenge of either, the greater the exhilaration once I reach the finish line – be it a marathon or a book.
Sometimes, if I am on deadline and can’t break away for a jog, I will compromise with a meditation break. I will step away from my computer, shut my eyes, and visualize myself at the base of a steep hill. Taking deep, controlled breaths, I repeat my little chant to myself until I get to the top, and then try to imagine the runner’s high as I coast down the other side, perhaps with an audience at the end, cheering me as I cross the marathon finish line.
Then I open my computer and get to work.
Susan Puckett is a writer specializing in food-related topics living in Atlanta, Georgia. She has written a number of cookbooks, including her culinary travelogue, "Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South" (University of Georgia Press, 2013.) She most recently collaborated with Daron “Farmer D” Joffe on "Citizen Farmers: The Biodynamic Way to Grow Healthy Food, Build Thriving Communities, and Give Back To the Earth" to be released in March 2014 by Stewart, Tabori and Chang. She was previously the food editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a position she held for almost 19 years before taking the freelance plunge in 2008. For more about Susan, go to www.susanpuckett.com
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