For three months straight this summer, every time I laced up my shoes and hit the trail, I felt like I was running through wet cement. When I finally managed to drag myself heaving and sweaty into my house four miles later, my husband always asked how my run went, and my answer was always the same: “Horrible. Again.”
I bought new running shoes. I tried drinking more water. I tried drinking less water. I tried stretching more. I tried stretching less. No matter what I did, the result was always the same: a demoralizing, abysmal run.
I wondered if perhaps my running days were over. Maybe I was simply getting too old. Maybe my body was wearing out. Maybe it was time for a gentler form of exercise.
Despite my frustration, I kept at it, mostly because I am both stubborn and lazy. I didn’t want to take up swimming or spinning or Zumba. I’ve been running since I was 16 years old. I like the rituals around running – the stretching, the cool-down, lying on my sunroom floor as the cool breeze from the ceiling fan wafts over me – as well as the structure and rhythm of beginning my day on the trail. I also like the endorphins, which I don’t get when I walk or bike.
I’m heading down the home stretch of book-writing, one eye on my January deadline, the other on my word count. But I admit, I’ve been discouraged lately. While the early chapters seemed to unfurl straight from my fingertips, these later chapters have been a grind. I spend a lot of time staring out the sunroom window behind my desk, my hands in my lap (or my fingernails between my teeth), rather than on the keyboard. I delete more than I type.
There’s something wrong, I think to myself. It shouldn’t be this hard.
I find myself wondering if my writing days are coming to an end. Maybe I’m burned out, I think. Maybe it’s time for a different kind of creativity. Or maybe, a small voice deep inside wonders, maybe God doesn’t want me to write books anymore.
One day a few weeks ago, when Brad asked me how my morning run had gone, I realized it had been a tiny bit better. I might not have noticed if he hadn’t asked, but when I thought back to my four miles, I realized they hadn’t been quite as horrendous. For the first time in months, I hadn’t felt like I was about to keel over and die on the trail.
Since then, my morning jogs have continued to improve bit by bit. I got my wind back. My feet stopped hurting. My legs feel steadier. I am energized when I finish, rather than spent. I haven’t done anything differently. Over time I just simply began to feel better.
This morning as I ran through the November mist, I felt strong, carefree, and light on my feet. Everything felt right in the world during those four miles on the trail. Later, after I’d showered and was seated at my desk, steeling myself for another grueling day of writing/not writing, I remembered my summer of bad running – the days and weeks when what had once come easily felt like a burden and a punishment.
I also remembered that my season of hard running, frustrating and demoralizing as it was, eventually came to an end. The difficult season passed unexpectedly, slipping out the back door as quietly and mysteriously as it had arrived.
There is a lesson here about seasons, particularly those that arrive unexpectedly and are not altogether welcome. Sometimes we find ourselves in an uncomfortable, discouraging, frustrating season – a season in which the next right step is, literally or figuratively, to simply take another step, and then another and another.
I still don’t know why I struggled so much in my running this past summer. Likewise, I don’t know why writing is so hard right now. But if my season of hard running taught me anything, it’s that this too shall eventually pass.
In the meantime, I’ll keep putting down one word after another, my eyes fixed on the finish line, until this hard season slips quietly away like a November mist, until I begin to write like I run, strong and carefree again.