I’m a runner and a writer.
As I run, I write.
I wrote this blog, other blogs and scenes for books in my head this morning as I ran along a cold, windy beach, watching the crimson sun bleed through the grey clouds and the foam dance across the sand.
I grew up running and writing and this morning I had that wonderful feeling that I’ve come home. I’m going back to my roots, I thought, as I hummed along to the tune.
I used to run outdoors on wintry days as a child, training and racing for the City of Liverpool’s Cross Country Team, running around muddy parks, my soggy trainers like dead weights on my feet but my body, soul and spirit truly alive.
And I wrote as a young girl too. I can picture my younger self now, sitting on the floor, filling sheets of lined paper with my neat cursive handwriting. I can sense my excitement as I entered imaginary worlds or came up with stories for a makeshift newspaper my friend and I were putting together for the neighbourhood.
I was a journalist for years. I made a career out of news. But I’m a writer at heart.
This was confirmed to me last night as I attended a local writers’ group for the first time – a small gathering of people of different ages and abilities who meet every week to share their words. Yes, some of them are writing to get published and to win competitions and awards, but primarily, I sensed, everyone present was writing for the love of it, for the love of their craft, for the sheer pleasure and challenge of mixing up ideas and words into a delightful, coherent form like some sort of giant jigsaw puzzle.
I get this now. I get the pleasure and challenge of writing, but I didn’t understand it when I first sat down to write a book some five years ago. Back then, I had my sights set on a publishing deal and on fame. I wanted my book in the window of Waterstones, but I didn’t actually want to do the work. I found myself an agent and I expected my writing career to blossom from there. But I wasn’t actually writing. I was waiting – waiting for someone to hold my hand, to tell me my writing was good enough to be published and to pay me an advance. It didn’t happen. Not that time around.
I’m pleased to say my attitude has changed. My self-esteem has grown so my ego isn’t as fragile. I’m not after instant fame and reward. I have found some humility and some willingness to sit down and do the work. I have found the joy in the challenge of the giant jigsaw puzzle. So I am writing, not as often as I’d like, but I’m writing. And I understand that my soul needs to write or part of it will go to sleep and I’ll always feel a little unfulfilled, a little incomplete.
It’s hard, though, isn’t it, to make space for our heart’s desires? It’s so much easier to find excuses and to neglect our dreams.
I’m a writer who doesn’t make time to write, I said as I departed the writers’ group last night. Aren’t we all, someone joked. But that’s not true for the members of that group who are showing up with their pages every week, and it’s not entirely true for me either.
I have written and published a book, How to Fall in Love. I am writing another and I’m committed to finishing the book I started some six years ago, in whatever form it takes. And I have the seed of an idea for a novel – a wonderful main character and a beautiful backdrop. It isn’t much, but it’s a start.
And maybe my path is to write fiction after all. Maybe the journalism career and the non-fiction books are the stepping stones – a way to hone my craft and build my confidence. Or perhaps they’re a massive distraction, a procrastination tool to put off what I’m really meant to be doing. I will endeavour to find out. I will continue to write my non-fiction and I’ll make space to play with a novel.
My relationship with writing is like my relationship with myself. It was broken or faulty for a while. But it has been restored and continues to be restored, one day at a time.
My relationship with running went awry too. In my early years, running brought freedom and a sense of power and strength that compensated for my mushy, unstable insides. Fresh air. Heart pumping. Muddy ground. Jumping over roots. Weaving between trees. Alive. Alive. Alive.
And then my eating disorder kicked in and running became a means to an end – a way to burn off the calories I’d just devoured; to punish myself because of what I’d consumed; and to try and stay thin because thin, in my mind, meant I would be loved. So I ran everywhere. I ran at crazy times and in crazy places. I remember changing out of a dress into my running gear in the middle of an all-day wedding in Spain and pounding the pavements of a tiny town while the rest of the guests milled around, connecting with each other and eating and drinking. I remember running in Mexico City, dodging taco vans, stray dogs and erratic drivers. And I remember running around Calderstones Park in Liverpool in my thirties, training for the London marathon, as my dear dad took his final breath in his nearby home. I was banging the mud off my trainers outside his house when a nurse opened the door and said in a solemn voice, “You’d better come inside.”
I assumed my running days were over after falling down some steps in London about seven years ago. An ankle injury lingered, I got obsessed about it, and then my knees began to ache. This running thing isn’t good for me, I told myself. I’ve wrecked my joints by over-exercising for years. I’ll just have to walk from now on.
But I’m back. Back in the race. Running on the beach, on the soft sand. Strengthening my muscles and joints through Pilates so I can run without pain. And feeling alive and at home again.
I was sharing about running and writing and going back to my roots on the phone with a friend this morning, and, unexpectedly, I started to cry. Why was I crying? I felt so happy and so inspired. I’d made this happen. I could run and write every day if I so desired. She replied with a beautiful line from a poem that describes how happiness and sadness are so often intertwined in our souls.
“Joy and sorrow aren’t two different feelings for it. It attends us only when the two are joined”
The lines are from a poem by Wisława Szymborska called A Few Words on the Soul (you can read it in English here).
I wonder if your soul is calling you back to your roots, inviting you to come home to yourself after wandering in the wilderness for years. Is your spirit longing to do something that you loved doing as a child? Do you want to run, sing, dance, paint, draw, write or do something else that makes you smile?
Listen to it. Listen to that call. That voice inside you is very wise.
Through my work now, I have the joy and privilege of witnessing my coaching clients and retreat participants stumble upon the memory of something they loved to do as a child. Often the idea seems to come from nowhere. They might be feeling sad and stuck and then suddenly, they mention this thing, this idea, and their face lights up and their voice comes to life and I can see the fire burning inside. That’s it, I say. That’s it. You’ve found it. Do that. Do that thing that brings joyful tears to your eyes and sets your world on fire. Allow yourself to reawaken. To come home.
I believe that we have to reawaken. We have to uncover our true selves. This is the only way to stay happy, healthy and sane. Too many of us cover up our true selves with a false exterior. We do what we think others want us to do or what we feel we’re supposed to do. We follow a path that isn’t really ours. We climb a ladder and then realise it was the wrong one. I know. I’ve been there. And I know all too well the dangers of continuing down that road – soul sickness, a deadening of our spirit, depression, anger and resentment. And then we take this resentment out on ourselves, by eating too much, or drinking too much or harming ourselves in other ways. Or we lash out at those around us and hurt the people we love.
So do that thing that brings you alive. And if you don’t know what it is, go back to your roots. You’ll probably find it there.
Relight Your Fire: Find Your Purpose & Passion in 2019. Evening workshop in London. Tuesday, January 15. 7:30 – 9:30 pm. 42 Acres, Shoreditch. £20.
How to Stop Emotional Overeating & Lose Weight for Life. Evening workshop in London. Wednesday, January 16. 7-9 pm. Conway Hall. £20.
How to Fall in Love UK Retreat in Southbourne, Dorset. Feb 15-18. Six places left. Earlybird ends Dec 31.
How to Fall in Love Spain Retreat in Andalucia, May 11-18. Earlybird until 11/2/19.
Turkey Retreat: Love Yourself, Love Your Body, Love Your Life, Find Love – personal development holiday with yoga by the sea in southern Turkey. Oct 7-14.
Thank you x
As a ‘writer’, runner, and ED survivor, I related to much of what you wrote. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. You have given me much to ponder.
Thank you so much for reading and for commenting, Karen. Lovely to hear from you. Wishing you all the best on your journey.