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The start of the Equinox Marathon.

I think life is composed of many marathons whether you are walking, running, writing, raising children, caring for elderly relatives, teaching, whatever the important things are in your life that you are continually working on and growing from.

For me, the Equinox Marathon, which I ran on Saturday for the 8th time, is a metaphor for life. It’s a pilgrimage up steep, tree-lined roads and trails to the top of a dome (think small mountain) and then back down a different way.

The high-point of the course, Ester Dome, is the most distant spot in the photo.

At times during the race I’m giving other runners a wave or a nod or a word of encouragement and receiving them as well, and acknowledging many of the fine folks lining the accessible parts of the course. But mostly, I try to approach the run as a form of meditation, where I’m relaxing my body, a small smile on my face, while I put one foot in front of the other.

And this is true with writing, teaching, driving, doing the dishes, having a conversation, whatever. When I focus solely on the task at hand, I both enjoy it more and do a better job as I’m swept into that elusive world of just living in the present.

Just like everyone else, I worry about things I have no control over, get nervous before giving a presentation, space out and burn food on the stove, stick eggs in the freezer—the list goes on.

During the race I worried about running too fast and burning out. I worried about my stomach cramping up from too much Gatorade. I worried about reinjuring my knee. I worried about tripping and doing a face plant. But these worries were interspersed with moments of smiling and being totally aware of what I was doing, which was making this amazing pilgrimage with 800 other people. Some walked and some ran. Some people finished in under three hours, some in over eight, but we all did it together.

A lone runner coming down Ester Dome.

It is kind of like being in a community of writers. No one is going to write your book for you, but hopefully you’re getting a lot of encouragement and comfort knowing that even though you are responsible for each step you take you are not on this journey alone.

What draws you away from being in the present moment? And what brings you back? And, have you ever stuck anything in the freezer that didn’t belong there?

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About a year ago I had a little knee surgery to smooth out a slightly torn meniscus. Last weekend I ran sixteen miles, my longest run since before the surgery. My knee isn’t back to normal, and that three-hour marathon goal I was closing in on a few years ago is looking pretty distant; but I’ll keep on running if I can because I love it. With age, injury, and wear and tear, it’s inevitable that the human body slows down, breaks down.

One thing I love about writing is that barring any major physical or mental impairments, you can keep improving forever.

My recipe for improvement has one simple ingredient: Persistence.

For me, persistence means:

  1. Not wasting whatever amount of time I’ve created in my life to write.
  2. Studying well written novels and craft books and attempting to apply what I’ve learned.
  3. And, to paraphrase Laurie Halse Anderson: asking how I can make what I’ve written better instead of looking at it and saying this is pretty good.

I’ve heard a couple successful writers say that if you don’t have what it takes to write, i.e. talent, you never will. Quit wasting your time. James Scott Bell, in his book, Plot and Structure, referred to this as the Big Lie. He spent several years of his life believing the Big Lie before he realized that he could learn how to write fiction. Now, as you probably know, he’s published over twenty books.

What does persistence look like for you?

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