Running with Your Muse: Seven Lessons from my Legs



This Sunday, I’ll run my first organized 10k.  As I type this first very rough draft out my race is sitting before me like a growling dog on a porch. I want to reach out and pet her but I am afraid she might bite my hand off. But even if I fall flat on the trail in the predicted ‘soaking rain’ I will count the last 5 weeks of training as a success.

Turning away from that dog for a minute (she looks like a Great Dane I once knew but not as sweet) I can see what I’ve learned connects to my muse in ways that surprised  me. I type out here what I’ve learned hoping you can benefit from the pounding I’ve recently given the pavement in my neighborhood.

Even if you’ve never run and never intend to run but would like to create with words, or teach, or ring bells, or make children’s crafts out of cardboard or whatever else drives you to make beauty in the world, I offer up these thoughts to you.

1. Know Deep in Your Soul You Will Do It

This is easier said than done on the cold, rainy days of January and February but more rewarding at the same time. I set in my mind that I will train at a certain time and move forward. If the weather is too horribly awful, I use the treadmill.

I hear my 3 year old say, “But I don’t want you to run!” feel a stab of guilt and then do it anyway, knowing that keeping myself mentally and physically in shape is not going to scar him for life. (But I will say this is part of why I’m not running marathons. At my pace, I need over an hour after work to run those 6 miles and that’s enough time away from household stuff for me. There are, after all, those cardboard houses to build and fascinating Chuggington videos to watch. And guilt to fight off.)

I once read of a man who said, “You just have to know that you will finish your novel.” This has kept me going more than anything else. It works for running, and it works for every large project I feel is worthwhile.

With running, I surfed around and chose a training plan. Even though I might need decide to change it after this race, I feel ready for tomorrow because I stuck to my plan for the last five weeks. My legs are inspiring me to stick to my other plans in life, too.

2. Necessary Naivety

The last time I helped my sister move, we noticed how much more work it was than we had anticipated. I firmly believe that if we remembered how much sweat and agony moving involved no one would ever move again. 

That would be a shame because we’d all be stuck in our same houses in the same neighborhoods forever more without any new adventures or, in my case, furniture.

My sister’s new house is much cuter than her last and worth the effort it took. Great projects like running and writing books are similar. If I clearly understood exactly how much work I set myself up for, my legs, mind and hands would rebel.

Training for this race reminded me that innocence helps me dream big enough to do those marvelous things anyway.

3. The Joy of the Road

Once I get out there, I have a fabulous time. Okay. After the first half mile I have a fabulous time. This pushes me past the horrid before and beginning stage more than anything else. I long to feel that rush of flying and get my body moving quickly into those running pants, so I don’t have to linger in the doldrums of ‘I’m too tired to do this malarkey any longer than necessary.’

And, once my feet hit that road, I feel invested even during the more difficult parts. I find ways to build myself up (like imagining the trees cheering me on) and refuse to give up until I’ve finished my 4 miles because, damn it, I have already finished three!

Writing is the same or it can be if I remember that the feeling of the keys is infinitely better than surfing Facebook while knowing I should be writing instead. And once I get going, I push forward to completing because if I don’t polish the work and send it out to the world, it sits unseen on my computer or in my closet teetering with notebooks.

4. The Awesome Power of Another Run Down

And once I’ve got that run done, I feel like an Olympic champion. Two weeks ago, I was using Run Keeper to track myself with a little voice over lady telling me my distance and pace every 5 minutes. I wanted to keep that pace under 11 minutes like I wanted to win the gold or something.

When I finished at an average 10:58 minutes per mile, I whooped out loud before I even knew what I was doing. Fortunately, there were no small dogs walking their people to feel frightened by me and my whooping.

Although I’ve never whooped when I get the sentence right (yet), I can feel myself lifting up every time I finish a write or post on the blog. That “I did it” feeling picks me up and carries me far into my day with the rest of its ups and downs.

5. People Power

My mother always said we were not meant to be alone and the older I get, the more I see what she means. My husband and older son keep cheering on this running business. My three year old has even gotten used to it. My cousin Keri gave me the crazy wonderful idea to do this in the first place.

Writing is the same. It’s on my bucket list to find a critique group or partner for those novels like me spiritual writing group for my essays. I know I need them and, in truth, I know I have something to offer them, too.

6. Don’t Be a Jerk – Keep your Promises to Your Legs and Muse

It’s tempting sometimes to run on those days off or to push a half mile further. But I don’t. I stop where I promised myself I would and can feel my legs thanking me in my next run.

The same goes for my other big projects. I take Fridays off. Sometimes I still write, but only on things I enjoy. My muse comes out better for me when I’m not hitting her mentally with a horse whip.

7. The Race that Matters

I’ll end my pre-run comparison here with a quote from Hunter S. Thompson:

“Marathon running, like golf, is a game for players, not winners. That is why Callaway sells golf clubs and Nike sells running shoes. But running is unique in that the world’s best racers are on the same course, at the same time, as amateurs, who have as much chance of winning as your average weekend warrior would scoring a touchdown in the NFL.”

I love the parts of life where I let go of being the best or even very good and am able to dig into the sheer joy of doing better for myself right now. That’s when my legs go the extra mile and that’s when I’m happiest with my writing.

Do wish me luck for my run in the soaking rain on an island that has caught my writing imagination by it’s tail. I am working up my courage to pet that Great Dane and need all the people power you can send.

In return, I will hit that trail sending you all blessings on your own adventures.


The Awful Lovely Difference Between Dreams and Reality



When I was about 12 I longed for a silk jacket like the ones on the movie Grease. In my dreams, it was pink with white stitching on the back and made me look like a Pink Lady.

I remember waiting a long time for my parents to buy it for me, but it probably wasn’t that long. It was probably only a few months until my birthday.

When I got it, I loved it just like I’d imagined. And then I rode my bicycle with the jacket wrapped around my waist, letting it trail down next to the spokes. The jacket I longed for caught in the circling wheels and was never quite the same after that. My vision of the lovely silk now had black grease marks.

Most everything I’ve ever wanted didn’t turn out as I expected. In some ways my dreams turn out worse in reality and, in other ways, better than I ever could have imagined.

For some time now I’ve been dreaming of getting paid for a piece of writing.

My vision of getting the ‘we will pay you’ mail looked like a quiet moment by myself with a neatly arranged kitchen and no family anywhere around. Don’t ask me why. I guess I just wanted the peace to enjoy the moment. In my vision, I would clutch the papers to my chest and the papers would say something like: “Your writing is fabulous. We love you.”

And then I would close my eyes and send a prayer of thanks.

Reality looked something like this:

I picked up the mail before unstrapping my 2 year old from his car seat and helping him into the house while lugging my purse, a bag full of my lunch leftovers, and Quinton’s sleeping blanket.

My husband was already home. In the pile of mail, I saw the manila envelope from the magazine Alive Now, and wondered if it was another rejection. I had sent a short poem titled ‘The Source’ to the publisher several months ago.

Before I could open it, I got in the house and everything was in a state of pandemonium. My 13 year old needed me to sign a form for his school. My 2 year old entered whine mode and was doing laps around my legs for some reason while my husband was chattering on about our plans for the evening. I told my family they needed to give me a second.

“I’m having a moment,” I said.

Which worked for the 13 year old and husband, so then I only had to think around the 2 year old’s noisy lap running. I opened the manila envelope and skimmed the letter to find the congratulations and the dollar amount.

And then it all got better than my lonely clutching the papers to my chest scene. My family gave me hugs and high fives and shared my joy.

Later I struggled with filling out the contract and tax papers that I had never visualized.

But, in spite of scary tax forms and household pandemonium, I like to visualize my dreams. I often get what I have been dreaming of, and I do believe that visualizing helps this happen. Something powerful and magic pulls me toward what I focus on.

This magic does not mean that what I get looks exactly what I’ve envisioned. Most of the time it doesn’t. Most of the time it’s messy and irritating in ways I never imagined and also deeply satisfying in ways that never occurred to me. So while I am careful what I wish for, I keep right on wishing. And not too carefully, either. I’ve learned that unexpected surprises make for good times. Every so often the unexpected looks like a pink jacket in spokes, but most of the time it looks like high fives and hugs.