One of my writing teachers—OK, a few of them—told me I should write more about running and “being an athlete” and “that kind of stuff.” And I don’t mean in a reporter ‘here’s how to train for your first half-marathon’ kind of way. I mean that they thought I should write more characters who are athletes, more personal essays about “Why I Run,” more about what it all means, etc. Write what you know, right? Or something.
The thing is that when I have, no one believes me about what it’s really like.
Once, after reading a story I had written in which there was a part where the main character was running, I was informed that I had “gotten it wrong” and it just “wasn’t believable.” That’s not how running works, girl in writing workshop told me. You’re not supposed to get angrier when you run. Aren’t there endorphins and stuff, right? Like you’re supposed to feel better after running.
Sure, sometimes. And sometimes you just want to lie down on the ground for a little while and cry. And sometimes you’re so jacked up you’re ready to rip somebody’s head off. Like maybe somebody in a writing workshop who’s telling you that you’re wrong about what running is like. Not to be specific.
The main reason writing what you know doesn’t work is that what you know is that people are wrong about how they think things are.
I have been training a lot lately, probably not a full-Hillary Biscay load yet, but a lot still and it’s been pretty intense. And there’s not a ton to actually say about that. I ran on the treadmill for 11.6 miles the other day. You know what I did during that time? Mostly thought about running on the treadmill. (Also I semi-watched a close-captioned version of the terrible TV show Botched.) Here’s some writing what I know for you: I’m tired a lot, but then I bounced back and stopped being as tired, but I’m still pretty tired. Tantalizing, right? And there’s just really not a super exciting way to say, “And then I almost started crying in the middle of intervals on my bike, but I didn’t and instead I finished the intervals.”
There is a reason most professional athletes’ twitters and blogs and instagrams are all motivational photos and sayings and stories about how they’re working hard and overcoming and they believe. (Oh, and then every now and then they’ll throw in a vague post about “keeping it real” and how they’ve been struggling, but that’s just part of the journey and now they’re moving forward again and don’t worry, they’re going to overcome this because they believe.) Partially, that’s what people want to hear. It’s easier to sell a brand that’s aspirational.
But partially that’s what the athletes want to hear too. It’s what they need to hear.
The line between crying on your bike and not crying is very thin and if you look at it too hard it’ll disappear. Why did I almost start crying the other day, but then I didn’t? I don’t know. Because I decided not to? Writing, though, does not lend itself to a lack of introspection. Training does not lend itself to too much. I don’t think all those athletes are lying to everyone else with their motivational photos and stories that always have them coming out on top. I think they’re lying to themselves, but it’s lies that they have to tell.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve stopped writing as much online here about my training at the same time that I’m doing more training than ever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when my mentality slightly shifted in races, my race reports got sort of boring. When you stop thinking about the funny story you’re going to tell or the excuse you’re going to have or how this is all going to sound later, then all you have left to think about is just doing the thing you’re doing. And there’s really not much to write about that.