“It’s like childbirth,” Allison said, “you forget how painful it is.”
I was hoping to convince Allison to be a driver for my Cascade Lakes Relay Team. Every August we run a relay race through central Oregon, where runners endure heat, cold, mosquitoes, altitude sickness, and sleep deprived delirium for 216.6 miles. Allison drove for us last year, but apparently once was enough.
Her comment wasn’t too far from the truth, either. This year after I had finished the race – and after drinking a few recovery beers and crawling into the hot tub – all I could think was, “I can’t wait to do this again next year.”
How fleeting the memory of running 15 miles on 2 hours of sleep, how easily I little I notice that my quads are so sore I can’t bend my knees.
Besides the fantastic scenery and team camaraderie, I keep going back, because this race tests my grit. And grit is something that all writers need.
Writing is about as pleasurable as training for a race. There’s a bit of sunshiney inspiration and a lot of really, really hard work, a lot of sweat and tears on an excruciating long run where you wonder why you aren’t home in bed with a bag of potato chips.
Running alone on a dirt road in the Deschutes National Forest is not unlike sitting alone at my desk. On these remote highways and dirt roads all I can see for miles are deep forests, high desert plains, or distant mountain ranges. Occasionally my support van stops and my team cheers me on, or a few runners pass me on the road.
But for most of those four, five, or six mile legs, I’m alone in a colossal wilderness. It’s very different than racing in Portland, where the streets are familiar and aid stations feed me gummy bears and sometimes beer.
In the Cascade Lakes Relay, you have only yourself to pull through the race. You have to dig deep, really deep.
My first year in this race, I panicked on my second leg. It was a night leg on a country road, and it was pitch black. I had just passed through a blink-and-you-miss-it town. The only lights I could see were tail lights way up ahead and the blanket of stars in the sky.
I have often felt this same panic at my writing desk, and I think to myself, Who in the world do I think I am? Writing feels I’ve been swallowed by an infinite darkness, and reaching the end the end feels like a Sisyphean effort.
After my experience on that night leg, I thought to myself, “I’m not done with this.” I returned to the race this year, determined to encounter that fear once again. It didn’t consume me as it had last year. I felt myself a part of the environment and the splendor all around me.
That’s where grit comes from. It comes from those moments of encountering your fear. If you have a rough day and you feel like that infinite darkness will swallow you whole, say to yourself, “I’m not done with this.” Keep writing.