How Running Is Teaching Me to Be a Better Writer

I Am a Runner!

My secret is out. I am now a runner. That thing that I swore I’d never do, I am now doing regularly.

I used to watch runners going past and wonder why on earth anyone would choose to move faster than a stroll. I’d feel smug knowing I was grabbing extra zzzzs when the foolish runners were hauling their arses out of bed at stupid ‘o clock.

So What Changed?

I decided that I needed to get fitter. Scratch that, any fitness at all would have helped. I could barely get up the stairs without waving a white flag. Having depression and developing lazy habits doesn’t allow for any arsedness when it comes to exercise.

I also know that exercise is good for mental health. Running has been proven to help fight mental illness. The husband was running too. It was time to suck it up and get up off the sofa.

I started doing a Couch to 5K programme. They are great for the newbie runner. I’m getting close to finishing it, barring any major disasters or injuries *puts on her bubble wrap outfit*.

I’ve found it to be amazing at keeping depression at bay. I had a piece published about this recently with The Mighty which I wrote when I began running: The Challenge of Running When You’re Depressed

Surprisingly, I’ve also learnt a lot about myself as a writer from my running experiences.

The Challenge

I am more up for a challenge than I give myself credit for. I have often thought that I’m the kind of woman who would settle for an easy life.

My alternate self would love nothing more than to make a dent in the sofa, bundle up for a box set marathon or book binge, and nibble away at Dairy Milk. Then I remember all the times I’ve taken on many challenges, some seemingly impossible, like writing.

I started writing not sure if I’d be any good at it. I started running not sure if I’d be able to do it. With both I’ve had my ups and downs. I’m learning how to improve in both.

Every time that I go for a run, I’m challenging myself to complete it. I prepare myself in advance with all the right kit and survival methods. I do the run and set myself challenges throughout to keep going.

My runs are teaching me that I am approaching writing with the same gusto. I prepare, I work on different methods for completing it as well as I can, and I challenge myself to complete each piece that I undertake.


Running helping me be a better writer - hanging up running shoesIf you follow this blog you’ll know how much I hate that, ‘You must write every day’ useless and pressurising mantra that’s forced upon writers. Life gets in the way and everyone needs a rest.

I don’t run every day. I have tried to and found that I quickly ran out of juice. I now run every other day. It gives me time to rest and also to cross-train.

I don’t need to run every day to prove myself as a runner. I have formed a habit that works for me. The same goes for my writing.

I am careful about taking breaks so that I don’t get burnt out on my writing. I need to keep some reserves in my writing tank.

When I started writing I went all out. I was like a newbie runner trying to sprint a marathon. I wrote for hours every day with barely a break. I went to bed and my mind was whirring because I was consumed with my writing. I soon found that I’d hit ‘empty’.

None of us can maintain a sprint indefinitely. We have to fuel up. Writers need to do other things to make our lives more varied. How on earth are we going to get new ideas if we never go out in the world to find them?

Breaks are essential. A day off is not going to result in a runner losing their fitness. A day off will not rob a writer of their writing ability. It will make you feel fresh and ready for the next writing plod.

Pushing Through the Pain

Pain is a bitch by its very nature. Running can create a myriad of pains in places you never even knew existed.

I am not advocating the dodgy ‘80s line of ‘pain is gain’. I am saying that when you begin running, you’re exercising muscles that have probably remained dormant for years.

Your previously lazy shins will soon remind you that they exist. You will discover that your bum actually has muscles under those wobbles.

When I began running I had to ice my legs, soak in baths, and convince myself that it was worth the pain. I still have days when I wonder if I’m a masochist for putting myself through it.

Every time I went out at the beginning of the programme I wanted to cut my legs off. Not helpful for running. Somehow I kept going out, knowing that it wouldn’t always feel physically pleasant but it was worth it.

Writers also have to deal with pain. Give me shin splints over revising drafts any day. I’d even take a snapped tendon over doing the twentieth draft.

However, I will do it. I will persevere and push through the pain because I know that it will get me to the place I’m aiming for; the finish line of a completed novel, short story or an article.

Fighting Negative Self-Talk

Running helping me be a better writer - negative self talkI think I scared the Husband the other day when we were out running. We were traversing a less familiar route and I got vocal. Note to fellow runners: if you have headphones in, do not forget that you don’t need to shout.

Poor Husband had to endure shouts of ‘Aargh’, ‘Come on’, ‘I hate this’, and much more fruity language. He’s no fragile flower and could deal with the ranting. The embarrassment of the general public witnessing his wife raging at the running was probably less acceptable.

My negative self-talk is usually kept in my head, more is the pity. I should release it more, albeit more quietly, as if you keep it in, it will fester.

With every run at least one negative thought will creep in. The little gits are determined to make me quit.

When I started running it was hard. With every footfall a thought of what a failure I am and how ridiculous I looked would invade my mind. I was more exhausted at the end of a run by fighting the negative self-talk than I was by the physical exercise.

I am fighting against the negative mill now. I know it’s a weak point for me but awareness gives me strength. I keep going and I fight the thoughts. Writing has taught me that I can do that.

Writers are often self-doubters. We can sabotage our work before it’s even finished by telling ourselves that it’s crap. There’s no room for perfectionism in a first, second or twentieth draft. We have time to learn, train, make mistakes, and improve.

With every run I am getting better too. Each run is a draft I can work on and I keep on revising every time I run.

Negative thoughts are not needed as extra baggage. I’ve got enough to heft around on a run or at my desk already.

A Sense of Achievement

At the end of every run I want to give myself a freaking medal. Running isn’t easy.

I look at other runners gliding on by at the speed of sound and temporarily wonder if I will ever be able to run like that. Then I remember that I don’t have to compare myself to them. I can achieve on my own terms.

In writing I gave up comparing myself to other writers a while ago. It’s fruitless. I will never be them, and frankly, I don’t want to. I want to learn from them how to be a better writer just as I discuss with other runners how to improve my running.

I may be pootling along the pavement whilst the gazelles are flashing past me, but I am still doing it. I love when other runners pass and wave or give me nod. They are telling me that I am one of them. I feel they’re saying that I’m running and that’s great.

The writing community can be like this too. I’ve had many writers bolster and encourage me. I hope that my fellow writers feel I do likewise. I love that we’re all doing our own thing but uniting in a common cause.

Bloody hell, this is starting like some kind of Bob Geldof type charity mission. You get the idea though, hopefully.

Goal Setting

Running helping me be a better writer - finish lineThe Couch to 5K programme has clearly defined goals. Each run you are shown how long you will run that session. As you start you immediately set yourself the goal of completing that run. Each time that you do, you feel amazing and consider your next running day and goal.

Writing is similar. Every time that I write I have a main goal in mind; get it done. That sounds simplistic but it’s what I need to do; start with the main goal and then sort out the little goals around it.

I get it done and then I start thinking about other markers to aim for: working on my writing voice, tweaking, editing, revising, or learning a new skill.

There will always be times when we won’t reach our goals quickly, if at all. I have gone out for a couple of runs and had to ditch them due to severe weather conditions. I have felt defeated but I decided to run elsewhere instead.

The goal is still obtainable but the method has changed. That’s how writing can be. We often think that we know what we’re doing but things can go wrong. I’ve learned so many lessons about myself, my strengths, and limitations, since I began writing, and now through running.

Goals are potential destinations. They can be fluid. ‘Moving the goalposts’ doesn’t have to be as negative as it sounds. They’re being moved, not destroyed, after all.

A Strange Relationship

I have a weird relationship with running. When I’m not doing it, I want to do it. When I’m doing it, I love it and wail at it. I am addicted to it. I need it in order to keep functioning and to feel more like the real me. I wonder if I’m any good at it but I keep at it.

I could have just written that last paragraph about my relationship with writing too.

Now I just need to perfect the writing and running at the same time thing and my life is nigh on perfect. Painful, but practically perfect.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

12 comments on “How Running Is Teaching Me to Be a Better Writer

  1. Nice post Lisa, but I do wonder how old you are … 25 … 35? You see, I would like nothing better than to start running too, but not only am I rather unfit, I am way past 25 or even 35. So at my age, starting a running program might not be the best idea.
    Like you, I love chocolate, cheese(cake), coffee and my cats. Forget the husband, I used to love him but he’s been out of the picture for some time now.
    I do wonder why you say ‘the Husband’ and not ‘my husband’. As a writer, surely you know that husband doesn’t need to be capitalized.

    1. I call him ‘the Husband’ because it’s been a running joke since my blog began that he’s never named. The joke is that his name instead is Husband, with a ‘the’ in front so as to make him sound like an entity in itself. It’s Brit sarcasm.

      I can assure you that as a writer, along with my other qualifications that I’m confident with my use of the English language but not immune to making mistakes.

      As for my age, I’m in my 40s and was very unfit and overweight when I started running. I didn’t think I could do it but I’ve managed it so far. This has surprised me.

      This post isn’t advocating that everyone runs. Rather it’s an article on how I’ve found it to be helpful for my writing processes. We all have other aspects of our lives that can often enhance our writing.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. I did the Couch to 5k a few years back. I was awful at PE at school, and after doing the couch to 5k I had a brainwave… It’s possible to learn to be a runner. Whereas at school, we were never taught to run, just told to get on with it, and you were either good at it or you weren’t.

    I wasn’t writing when I did the running, but it certainly showed me that I can achieve something that at one point, I would have considered unachievable. Which is a good lesson for writing as well 🙂

    1. I can relate to this! I wasn’t sporty and was never acknowledged for my athletic prowess at school. I remember being forced by a sadistic PE teacher to do the 100m at Sports Day. I came last as I knew I would and felt humiliated.

      The onus in running in my school days was also on being a potential winner regarding speed and athleticism. I hated running back then.

      It’s good to hear you did the C25K too. Are you still running? I think it’s great that you defeated the demons of school running to do it on your terms!

      1. Yep sounds all too familiar. I used to dread doing the 1500m… And the teachers only cared about the kids in the sports teams.

        No I don’t run anymore. I got to the stage where I could do 30 mins without stopping which I was pleased with. I was rather slow though 🙂

        But then I found Zumba and now I’m a Zumbaholic 🙂

        1. I hated the 1500m with a fiery passion!

          I’m a slow runner but I’m doing it. I’m pleased you’re enjoying Zumba so much. I find exercise really helps the mind tick over better. Might have a go at Zumba some time!

  3. I enjoy writing much more than running. My self talk in running goes something like, “Really, who thinks this is a good idea?, Just do it!, You can make it 300 more steps”. I start counting and 300 counts later talk myself into 500 or 200. I have not run for awhile, writing instead. I think it is time to start another couch to 5K.

    1. I don’t always like running when I’m doing it! I also have to talk to myself throughout it and convince myself that it’s a good idea. It’s always worth it though once the endorphins kick in and especially when I complete a run I didn’t think I would.

      I hope you get on well with doing C25K again. It works so well! Thanks for commenting Tamara.

  4. Well done on getting into the running! I used to run quite a lot, and found it very meditative (on a good day) – counting the steps and breaths went a long way towards calming my thoughts. My hips and knees weren’t so keen though… These days I alternate HIIT and yoga workouts, and I still find that as long as I move, it takes me out of my head a little, plus the rush of completing a workout is a nice wee high.

    Swimming is still my favourite for stilling the mind, though – even though swimming pools can be a wee bit icky…

    Keep running!

    1. Thank you! Running can be hard on the joints as I’ve learnt! The buzz of exercise really helps my mind. I know you’re a fit and active lady. I thought I’d try to catch up, ha ha!

      1. I can honestly sat that exercise has helped get me and keep me level through an awful lot – so good to hear you’re enjoying it so much!

        And trust me, when it comes to running – you’ll be lapping me in no time, if you’re not already!

        1. I run marginally faster than a snail so probably not! I love the mental challenge of it though. As you say, exercise really helps to deal with life rubbish.

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