What Becoming a Runner Taught Me About Being a Writer

Georgia Heath is a hard-working creative with a flair for engaging content. She can normally be found reading, drawing, or running around Victoria Park.

For a long time, I lived my life firmly believing that I was Not a Runner. “Look at me,” I would joke to friends, gesturing in the vague direction of my legs and torso, “I’m clearly not a runner.” Apart from a few humiliating years of physical education at school, I avoided sports at any cost, sitting by myself on a towel instead of playing volleyball or cricket at the beach, citing the wrong shoes or an aversion to mud to avoid football and running, and once just falling dramatically to the ground to avoid attempting to catch a tennis ball thrown by one of my sporty cousins.

In my first year at University I started going to the gym on campus (by myself, and only to the women-only section), and occasionally rock climbing with my sister, but a few short and sweaty attempts at the treadmill were enough to convince me that I was still—definitely—not a runner. 

Then, about four years ago, I began running. At first I was trying to impress my sporty boyfriend but I quickly began trying to run further and further distances, just to see how far I could actually go. The first time I ran a mile I celebrated like I’d just run a marathon, and I gradually increased my distances until I was comfortably running 10 or 15K around my local park, speeding home from work to put on my running shoes and overtake the other twilight pavement-pounders (who, in their defence, had no idea we were racing). 

In the early days, I spent a long time practicing and thinking and googling and figuring out how to become a runner. I bought an armband for my phone, Bluetooth headphones and special socks, I listened to podcasts and read the forums, I even changed my diet after reading a few persuasive blog posts, but, in truth, I was still terrible at running. Dragging myself slowly around the park every evening and returning bright red and dripping in sweat, I was waiting eagerly for the magical moment that I would be transformed into ‘A Runner’. Then, one day, I discovered the big secret that runners have been keeping this whole time. The unspoken and closely guarded knowledge that slips into your brain somewhere between the 5th and the 50th kilometre.

The secret is this. It doesn’t matter if you’re slow. It doesn’t matter if you’re shit. It doesn’t matter if you’re sweaty and red and out of breath. You don’t even have to enjoy it. As long as you do it. As long as you don’t stop. As long as you are running, you are already a runner. 

As soon as I figured this out, I started training harder than ever before. Released from the pressure to be good, or to be the best, I was finally able to just run. I ran when I wanted, I ran for fun, I ran to release stress and to feel the rain soaking me to the skin, to give myself time to think, and to get out of the eyeline of my ever-growing laundry pile. When my sporty boyfriend broke up with me, I ran all the time to clear my head and to feel my heart beating and to remind myself that even though my life was crumbling around my ears, I was still alive. I wasn’t running with the goal of being the best or the fastest runner, but I did get better, and I did get faster. 

Finishing my first 15K, sweaty, red, but absolutely elated, I practically floated home in the evening light, screenshotting the stats on my running app and texting them to my sister, ‘who would have thought it?!?!?’ It was like a miracle. I was finally doing something that I had always believed I couldn’t do.

Eventually, during one of my ‘time to think’ runs, I realised that I had been waiting a long time to ‘become’ a writer. I had been waiting a long time to be good enough to be published, or interesting and relevant enough to write the important, world-changing work I longed to write. I had been thinking and trying and waiting and wasting my time, and practically the only thing I hadn’t been doing was actually writing. 

I had been writing as much as I could, of course, but hesitating for hours on end deciding whether what you are writing is good or important enough is the same as standing on your doorstep in your running shoes worrying about how fast you are going to be, or how long you can run for. So I began writing. Prolifically. Reminding myself that it doesn’t matter if it’s bad, it doesn’t matter if it’s sloppy, or dull, all you have to do is write. Everything else will follow. 

For the next few months, I focused on writing without hesitating. I didn’t allow myself to deliberate and second-guess, sharpen my pencils, shuffle my notebooks and complete hours of ‘research’ on the internet, I just sat down and wrote what I wanted to write. More importantly, I wrote what I needed to write. Some days I wrote long rambling journal entries and other days I found myself effortlessly producing pages and pages of smooth, polished prose. I wrote some serious articles, some film reviews and a few silly pieces just to make my sister laugh. I ended up writing some things that I’m really proud of, and a lot of things that ended up on the cutting room floor.

When I was at University, the day before the deadline for an essay I hadn’t yet started writing, I would sit cross-legged on my single bed, balance my laptop on my damp windowsill and force myself to type. Every now and then I would throw my hands up and collapse backwards onto the bed (cursing myself, the essay and the ill-advised night out that had landed me in this situation to begin with), but then I would force myself to sit right back up and continue typing. If I typed for long enough, and wrote enough terrible words, eventually the words became less and less terrible, and by midnight I would have an essay to submit. Somewhere along the way I got a double bed, stopped going out on weeknights, and forgot how to be a terrible writer. Allowing myself to write badly again gave me the freedom to experiment, to get my ideas onto paper, and, most importantly, to edit and improve my own work so that my good ideas weren’t lost under self-criticism and self-doubt. I learnt that, just as you have to allow yourself to run slowly so that you can run faster later, you have to allow yourself to create imperfect work so that you can create better work later. 

And there was a lot of imperfect work. But also a lot of great work. I could have spent my whole life researching and reading and planning and thinking, but in the end, all I really had to do was write.

Not long after pitching this piece, I injured the metatarsals in my right foot and I had to stop running for a few weeks while they healed. Complaining down the phone to my Mum one day, she urged me to take up swimming for a while. “I can’t swim,” I moaned. “I’m a runner, I’m not a swimmer.”

But yesterday, I retrieved my swimming costume from the back of a drawer and I went to the Lido, (I bought another swimming costume because I’ve had mine since I was twelve and that thing did not fit me anymore), I steeled myself and stepped out onto the tiles, I climbed down the ladder into the freezing cold pool, hesitated for just a second, and then pushed off from the side. “I’m swimming,” I told myself, “and as long as I am swimming, I am already a swimmer.”

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