Tuesday, April 27, 2010

running and writing

A lot has happened since I decided to defer my spot in the ING NYC marathon last year.

I haven't been training for races. And in January and February, I pretty much stopped running entirely. But in many ways, I've been using everything I learned last year in Rome. Though this time it's been off the course.

For starters, I wrote a book. Well, a book manuscript. The idea came to me while I was in training for Rome, actually. I was talking to my good friend Weatherly on the subway coming back from Brooklyn from a friend's dinner one night in late January. She was in her second trimester of pregnancy and I was in the middle of marathon training and we were remarking how similar the feelings were. We laughed about how in pregnancy and in the later stages of training, you're tired, achy, worried and hungry all the time. She told me how much she was looking forward to taking maternity leave in the summer and I told her how I needed my own maternity leave. I won't say much more about the idea now, but looking back, I think something was unlocked during those 15-mile runs because the words just seemed to pour out of me that night once I got back home.

Fast-forward to last October. I finally got my manuscript in a good enough place to send out to agents and publishers and received some good initial early feedback. But, my agent would need me to do another revise before she'd consider taking it on. Working at Seventeen, training for the marathon, then the injury, and having any kind of life outside of work was taking up all my time as it was, let alone get myself into the brain space to finish a manuscript.

Throughout September and October, I battled the feelings inside of me pulling me in multiple directions. What exactly were my priorities? I knew I had to train, and raise money for charity, and do my job, and finish my book, and be a semi-decent friend. Every morning I'd walk the familiar path down Columbus Ave to work trying to figure out how to do it all, but no answers were coming. Instead, deep inside a quiet voice would pop up, but I was afraid to listen to it yet. It was like a tape on repeat. "You know what to do. Just quit. Just quit. Just QUIT!"

Then, my IT band started hurting. I put aside the book revise to attend to my injury, seeing doctors, going to physical therapy, and even acupuncturists. I've mentioned what all that was like in previous posts, but I didn't talk about one thing. One night at the acupuncture place in the W. 60s, the therapist was inserting needles into all the tender points along my knee and up my thigh to my hip. Laying on the table in the dark of the room one Friday night around 9PM I revealed my biggest fear--that I would have to defer.

She thought about what I said. "You know that the IT band is connected to the gallbladder in Eastern medicine," she said. "The gallbladder is the organ related to decision making. What decision are you trying to make?" she asked solemnly. I just gulped. the answer was right there at the tip of my tongue. "I'm considering whether to quit my job even though I don't have a book deal yet." She just smiled. "Well, make the decision and your IT band issue will be resolved."

I took what she said to heart, but didn't do anything besides try to rehab my knee. I kept going to acupuncture through two weeks before the race, but with only one 17-mile run under my belt six weeks prior, and no runs longer than 3 or 4 miles without pain, I knew this decision was going to be made for me. I deferred, disheartened and shaken.

I stayed off my knee throughout November, glad to not have to count on it for anything, and then mid-November, I got some great news. An editor friend happened to love an early version of my book and wanted to submit it for acquisition. Other agents told me to hold out until it was finished to negotiate a better deal. I had assurance my book would sell. And so I made the decision, just before Thanksgiving, that I was going to quit my job. A huge weight lifted, I went for a celebratory run on Thanksgiving Day, my first in a while. Energized, I ran pain-free for five miles.

The following Monday, I came back to work, gave my notice, and then struck a deal with my boss to stay for three months until another editor could come back from maternity leave. I was free! I worked on the book during two vacations, but really was only able to get it finished about a month ago, after I'd left Seventeen, finally having the peace, time and uncluttered brain space to devote each day. And, another perk of not working in an office? Daily runs in Central Park.

But, back to what I was talking about at the start of the post. Like I mentioned, I haven't been training-running, I've been fun-running. Running how much I feel like, when I feel like and where I feel like. I've tried not to "should" myself into running, but just let my body and brain decide when to go. The April weather's been a gift and so I've been out quite a bit, running two to three miles most days, grateful for legs that don't seize up on me like those scary days last October.

But even though I'm not physically training, I've come to find out that the book-selling process is just like race day, really. Finishing the manuscript was like running the course up until mile 16 or 18, giving my blood, sweat and tears, mentally and physically to the story I was crafting. I'd written before, of course, for the past eight years, but writing all 260 or so pages took everything I had in me, just like getting to the those miles in the race.

Then, sending it out to agents felt like it did when I got to mile 20 in the race. I'd only ever run 18 or so miles, and now, I was expected to surpass that milestone. It took stamina to write a book--something before running a marathon I never even realized I'd had--but now, it was going to take more than stamina. It was going to take mental determination and perseverance to deal with rejection. And to cross the finish line, i.e. get a book deal, that part I remember too. Somewhere after mile 23 or 24, I pretty much came out of my body, turned into a machine, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, eyes focused only on the finish line ahead. I think the trick was not thinking too much, or at all, about anything besides the goal. Really, because there was no other choice.

So, basically right now I'm at mile 20, trying to find an agent, and having received rejections (polite, encouraging ones, but still) from three agents, I'm taking the lessons I've learned from running with me. Then, after that, on to find a publisher. And even though I know it won't be easy, just like in Rome, I know I'll cross the finish line.

PS: This was mainly about my book, but I am planning on starting training in July for the NYC Marathon on November 7, 2010. I'm also planning on a few 10Ks and half-marathons beforehand, so I'll be writing about running and writing once again. Thank you as always for all your support!

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