Hit the Wall? 8 Marathon Training Tips for Writing Stamina


marathon runners are like freelance writersBy Cinthia Ritchie

You’re slumped over your desk struggling with the freelance writing assignment you contracted three months ago — and just started today. You cram chocolate in your mouth and send one desperate email after another.

Sound familiar?

For months, I cluttered my freelance business with bouts of procrastination. I flailed and strained, unable to find my rhythm.

Then the answer hit me during an 18-mile run. I wouldn’t race a marathon without a training plan. Why, then, was I struggling to complete writing assignments without a schedule?

Later that night, I created a writing plan.

The end result isn’t a training notation so much as a reminder to grant my writing life the same priorities as my running life — to slow down and make time for the difficult tasks, to build each assignment with slow and deft care.

Here are the steps I take in running — and writing:

  1. Start with a solid base. Begin marathon training without a solid base and you’ll bonk. Attempt a freelance business without a long-term plan, and you’ll hit the wall, hard. Find a schedule that works for you, and stick with it.
  2. Prep for the long run. Skip the long run — the backbone of marathon training — and you’ll suffer lead legs on race day. Overlook research — the backbone of writing — and your copy won’t make it past the starting line.
  3. Run when you don’t feel like running. Dragging yourself out of bed at 5 a.m. for a 12-miler isn’t fun, but it’s a necessary part of marathon training. An empty computer screen can feel equally daunting. Get over it. Writing is hard work, and some days it’s just that: work.
  4. Break out of the pace rut. Want to run faster? Push the sweat with tempo runs. Want to break into new writing markets? Attend conferences, cold call or, scarier yet, query in person.
  5. Fuel your runs. Marathon fueling is tricky. Too much sugar, and you risk Runner’s Belly. Too little, and you run out of steam. Writing requires a similar balance. Do you sprint through photo assignments only to lag on captions and headlines? Find what works and run with it.
  6. Remember that the marathon starts at mile 20. Most marathoners hit the wall around mile 20, when glucose levels plummet. Writers hit the wall when they run out of ideas and good quotes. How to break through? Suck it up, and keep writing.
  7. Finish strong. The last few miles of a marathon are brutal. But if you run a smart race, you’ll finish strong. The last lines of a writing assignment are similarly challenging. Strive to finish with a burst of lyricism. Then raise your arms over your head and celebrate.
  8. Take time to recover. A marathon is a beast, and your body needs time to recover. Some writing assignments extract an equal toll. Space out long projects to allow yourself breathing room. Take a walk, read a book or, better yet, head out for a run.

Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs in Alaska. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, was published by Grand Central Publishing in February 2013. The process of pitching this guest post was detailed in a previous post on Make a Living Writing.


  1. Lindsay Wilson

    Great post, Cinthia! I just finished a project that this sort of thing would have done wonders for. Meaning I spent way longer than I should have on it, stressed way too much, and because I took too long on it, ended up not being productive enough to make much money from it. I love your marathon analogy. A big freelance project is the equivalent for the mind, so why isn’t it common sense to treat it the same?

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, having written 1 1/2 books now and some 3,000-word feature articles, I can agree — you definitely need a serious battle plan for getting through it on time, and with the quality work you want!

    • Cinthia

      Thanks, Lindsay! I experience the same moment of dread before starting a long writing project as I do before heading out on a long run. The funny thing is that I’ve never not completed a writing assignment or a long run, yet they both still scare me. Good luck on your writing.

      • Carol Tice

        Right on — I used to have a therapist I was always freaking out to about my writing deadlines. After a few months of this she said, “But do you ever fail to turn in an article?” I had to admit the answer was no. Sometimes maybe I needed a small time extension, but it always got done in the end.

        That was the day I stopped freaking out about it! Now I trust that I will get it done, if I just get started.

  2. Lori Ferguson

    Fabulous post, Cinthia! Not only did you offer great advice, but you paced it beautifully. 🙂 Felt like I was drafting you as I read along….

    • Cinthia

      Ha, ha, Lori, I’m usually the one drafting during races. Thanks so much for reading. P.S. Loved your email newsletter the other morning about your early freelance struggles. Very inspiring. It’s now hanging over my writing desk.

  3. Shauna L Bowling

    Excellent advice, Cinthia. My stumbling block is lack of a long term plan. I was just discussing this with a fellow writer. I need to implement a business plan, write it down and keep it in front of my face. Once I have a guideline to my goals, I will have better direction in building my freelance writing business. Great post!

    • Carol Tice

      I’m with you…I recently went through this process myself.

      I’d been telling myself I really just wanted to go after book ghosting contracts…but when I looked at my marketing and how I was spending my time and the assignments I was taking, none of that was steering in that direction.

      • Mridu Khullar Relph

        This seems to be such a common problem, even among experienced writers. I just went through it, too. Despite the fact that I told myself I was going to shift focus from journalism to copywriting, all my marketing remains comfortably targeted towards editorial.

        I’m keeping my plan in front of my face now, too.

        • Cinthia

          Thanks so much, Mridu! I have followed you online for years; you are one of my biggest writing models. Your advice has urged on my own writing career in so many, many ways. Love your Notes From my Desk. Cheers and happy writing.

    • Cinthia

      Thanks, Shauna! A writing plan definitely helps alleviate much of the pain. Not all, of course (ha, ha), but a good part, at least in the beginning phases. Cheers and happy writing.

  4. Luana Spinetti

    After I read about your post on Carol’s blog, I was eager to see it coming, Cynthia! 😀 What an injection of energy! Marathons are tough, but sometimes they carry a lot of satisfaction– the sheer delight of seeing things get done!

    One thing I do when a deadline is looming is to keep a big smile on my face and make an effort to look at the brightest side of my assignment. Even when that’s just a good movie afterwards, or the realization I’m doing another step toward a brighter career. Or it might just be the topic itself– anything, but that smile needs to stay up, because positive thinking and endorphines turn work into a game rather than a duty. 🙂

    ~ Luana

    • Luana Spinetti

      Oops! Sorry Cinthia, I mispelled your name o_o

    • Cinthia

      Thanks, Luana! Looking on the bright side of an assignment is great advice. I’m sure most of us could benefit from this, myself included. Cheers and good luck with your writing. And yes, I’ll remember to smile more during the process.

  5. Katherine Swarts

    I love the “analogy” theme. Anyone else learned anything about writing from their favorite extracurricular activities?

    • Cinthia

      Thanks, Katherine. Sometimes I write entire columns or novel scenes as I’m running. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember these. I’ve seriously considered recording on my phone though I’m afraid that that would turn my runs into mini business sessions, lol. What activities bring out the writing bug in you?

      • Carol Tice

        For me it’s as I’m falling asleep, I’ll begin reeling off reams of blog post copy or ideas…need the brain recorder to catch it all!

  6. Jackson Anderson

    Really great advice here, beginner ,intermediate or killing it like a pro, everyone can take something away from this!

    Also was nice to see the post created from the twitter convo!

    I’ve actually just started running after not running for 9 years, its tough.
    Actually a marathon is my goal within 12 months and so is making money from freelancing.
    Funny how this post takes care of both for me in terms of advice,

    • Cinthia

      Thanks, Jackson! Good luck with your writing, and your running. How exciting that you’re training for a marathon. And yes, running (and writing, too) is tough, especially after a long absence. I just started running again after eight weeks off due to an injury and I swear, the first couple of runs were so awful that I almost quit. My legs felt heavy and I couldn’t find my cadence. The second run was better but still clumsy. I finally nailed it the third time. I find my writing follows a similar pattern: The first draft is awful, the second a little bit better and the third flows. Cheers and keep my updated on your marathon, okay? I shall cheer you on from afar.

  7. Kirsty Stuart

    Ooh, this is very timely for me as I take on a large project… and am running my first half marathon in just a few days! I even wrote a post comparing the two myself a few weeks ago! Sound advice for all runners and writers – thanks.

  8. Daryl

    Great advice Cinthia!

    i especially loved the part where you emphasized the fact that running, like writing, is WORK. And you have to do the work, even when you don’t want to!

  9. Gerry

    Procrastination can be the downfall of even experienced writers too. It is essential to become disciplined and focused, and therefore I am an ardent supporter of a writing plan. It becomes not only your guideline, but the definitive blueprint for fututre writing success.


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