Reflections on running and writing

A brisk day along the canal.



(This piece appeared in Running Times magazine. These days I really prefer walking, but this is a good time of year to think about getting outside and exercising, no matter what form it takes.)

by David Healey

Because I’m a writer and a runner, I’ve often noticed that setting pen to paper is a lot like setting foot to pavement.  Both take will power and the ability to go the distance.   Writers and runners enjoy a challenge, something to test their limits, like finding a good metaphor or tackling a five-mile run.

Considering that writers turn to the same inner place as runners, it’s surprising that there are no great novels about running.  Whole shelves are filled with novels about baseball and fishing and even football.  There aren’t any writers who are famous for their running.  Maybe running isn’t glamorous enough.   Or maybe it’s not possible to fully capture the intangibles of running?

Walking sticks!

That’s too bad, because running can open up the senses as much as the pores, especially during those runs away from the blacktop.  In my head, I try to compose descriptions of leaves crackling under my running shoes or the squish-squelch of wet grass.  On my laptop computer, however, the words get all tied up in double knots.

For those who have felt it, a good run builds like a good story.   Those first strides as I find my rhythm are like the opening lines of a novel:  It is a crisp autumn evening when I set out on my run, heading for the trails along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. (PROLOGUE.)

Cold wind rubs like sandpaper across my puffing cheeks. (RISING ACTION)

I come to a hill, pumping my arms and leaning into the grade.  Halfway up, a cramp gnaws at my side.  (CONFLICT)

Then I coast down the hill, the cramp gone, the cool air smelling of leaves and so rich my lungs can’t get enough.  (THE DENOUEMENT)

Back at the edge of town, the wild land gives way to yards and gardens.  I sprint the final few hundred feet to the house, energized by that fall air.  The water is blue as a vein and the sky is turning cobalt as I coast to a stop.  (EPILOGUE)

That final sprint felt great.  After all, most runners, like most writers, enjoy a good ending.



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