This weekend, I went with my girlfriend to the Oceanfront so she could run her fourth half-marathon, the Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon. That’s 13.1 miles of solo running, just you and your feet and 16,000 other runners on the course.
I don’t really run. I never have. Not in any dedicated way. I will go on workouts, around the neighborhood or on the treadmill, that are a mix of walking and jogging. More walking than jogging, to be honest. I end up getting bored, or sore, or short of breath. I’ve never conditioned to run.
We got a hotel room near the finish line; little did we know it was directly over the finish line. On the morning of the race, Amanda got up and left for her run. I got up, ate some breakfast on the balcony, watched the sun rise, and watched staff get ready for runners. When I got out of the shower, the first finishers of the mini-marathon (the 5K race) were crossing the finish line. And from that point on, things never quieted down on the boardwalk. The announcers hammed and made jokes and cheered the runners along. The people lined up along the finish line clapped and cheered. Music played. And down the boardwalk, there was a sea of heads bobbing as people ran the final stretch.
I found myself a little overcome with emotion at all of it: the runners, the crowd cheering, the determination it takes to stick out a 13.1 mile run. There were a few people who were injured, who limped or hobbled across the finish line, assisted by friends or fellow-runners or even police or medical staff. There were children who did the final stretch with parents. There were couples, holding hands as they crossed the finish line together.
And at one point, I heard one of the announcers say something that meant a lot to me as a writer. He was noticing people were revving up as they approached the finish line, increasing their speed, running more erratically to be done. He warned them to keep their heart rates steady, to keep their pace. “This race,” he said, “isn’t about the time. This race is about survival.”
I’m writing a book. I’ve written short stories, I’ve conditioned myself, I’ve trained, and I’m finally writing a book. That’s a long race. That’s a lot of solo time, just me and my words and the whole world around me, running this same course I’m on, trying to do the things we want to do. And what I want is to finish this book. I want it to be good.
One of my favorite writers, Tayari Jones, has said before that in writing, it’s all about “surviving the first draft.” In the first draft, that’s when you doubt yourself. It’s when you Select All and delete your writing in one fell swoop. It’s when you can talk yourself out of the book. You have to get past that. You have to make it to the second draft, to the point when you may as well see it through.
Out on the race course, the announcer interviewed an Olympic gold medalist from 1976, and he said something similar. The hardest part is the first six miles. Once you make it to the halfway point, you figure you may as well finish it.
In so many ways, writing is a race that’s about survival. It’s about training, and pushing, and enduring. It’s about finding the friends and loved ones who will cheer you on, who will help you hobble across the finish line. It’s not about doing it fast or fancy. This race, this writing, is about survival.