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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.