Shinsplints: A Love Story

Last week, for the first time since winter began, I wrapped myself in layers, laced up my running shoes, and took to the streets in the darkness. When it's 13 degrees out and I can barely see through the scarf of my own breath, I tend to prefer the security of a treadmill. But the gym is packed these days, as it always is in the first few weeks of the new year, and I didn't relish the idea of running in a hot room under harsh fluorescent lights, on a machine coated in other people's sweat. Not that night, anyway.

Something drew me outdoors. Maybe it was the promise of near-perfect quiet, when houses are alight with people having dinner and the roads are empty.

Maybe it was the sky, an unusual watercolor swirl of black and navy that kept the stars a secret.

Or maybe it was frustration about my writing, and the constant fear that I will never be good enough, which had intensified last week.

I knew that I was being irrational, putting so much store by something that might not mean anything in the end. But I couldn't stop feeling upset, no matter how I scolded myself, and so I fixed it the only way I knew how.

I ran. Hard.

I ignored the burning in my lungs and tugged my headband tighter around my stinging ears, telling myself that the cold would be good for me. I've always preferred frosty winter evenings over the thick, sweltering nights of summer, and so I closed my eyes against the bitter wind and forced myself up the first hill.

So far, so good. I had been keeping up with my training throughout the winter, so I was barely out of breath at the top. I had learned, from foolishly running too hard and injuring myself last year, to stretch and to warm up properly, and my body thanked me for it as I turned down a dark street several blocks from home.

I thought about how a year ago, that hill might have seemed impossible, as did running in the dark on a cold winter night. Why can't writing be like that? Why can't you write relentlessly, every single day, and risk your health and your sanity and see something solid for your efforts? Who wouldn't be discouraged by training faithfully and getting absolutely nothing back?

I don't know how many times I've thought about giving up. I don't talk about it a lot, this constant struggle to keep going while blow after blow is delivered, carrot after carrot is offered and then snatched away. I've kept it close, this thought that maybe I should just write because I love it, and then put those books away on a high shelf, to save for my children one day.

It seemed so appropriate, I thought, to ponder these things while running again, after such a long period of waiting and healing. After all, I run because I love it, not because I would ever want to do a marathon. Maybe that's the secret. Maybe by wanting something too much, you lose sight of why you're even doing it in the first place.

So that's my goal for this year. To remember why I'm writing, even if it's taking me to one hill I can't seem to climb right now.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wanting it too much means you forget why you were doing it in the first place. I think you hit upon a great truth there.
Don't give up. Remember the fun.
And glad you finally ran the hill.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Great post, Julie. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of running…and writing. :)

Tiana Smith said...

I have my own treadmill at home, but I guess that just makes it so I can't have experiences like this :)

Connie Keller said...

I wish I could give you a big hug!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Julie, This is a brilliant, honest post.

Nobody your age wants to hear this from somebody my age ... but I was over 40 before I got published.

Granted, there were years and years where I never submitted my work anywhere. Plus, in the pre-blogging world there was not as much support from fellow writers and opportunity to interact with people who were farther along in the process that you ...

But my point is, it takes time and persistence and it doesn't usually happen when you're expecting it to happen.

But you CAN'T give up.

ayjay said...

Congrats on making it up that hill! I write and run, so understand the frustrations and joys of both. I'm sure the uphill part of writing seems neverending, but don't forget about the amazing endorphine rush when you make it to the top!

We'll all be here cheering for you along the way :)

Nicole said...

I want to hug this post! Yes-this exactly! Exercising helps me work off frustration too and it's so important to remember WHY we love this, ESPECIALLY on those hard days when it seems like we'll never get up the hill. Plus, my first sold story was called Running in the Dark, so I'm a fan of anything that mentions actually doing that. ;)

workofheart09 said...

Oh, Julie. First off, I am sending you a huge ((hug)). I've been in this place so many times and know exactly how you feel. Everyone says writing is like a marathon, not a sprint, but when you're running that course, sometimes you can't help but be tired, you know? Sometimes the idea of taking a detour feels like a relief. I can never quite make myself do it, though, no matter how discouraging the current journey seems, and I guess that's telling. You're so right - we have to write for the love of it, for the joy of it. That will always be most important. <3

Hang in there, and believe in the beauty of your words!

DL Hammons said...

Though your faith may falter from time to time, by belief in you remains constant. Regardless of the number of rejections or whatever negative feedback you receive...I remain ever vigil. This is not me being a supportive CP, or a die-hard friend, but a FAN of your writing! It will see the light of day (publishing-wise) someday!!

Take it to the bank! :)

Laura Marcella said...

"Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway." ~Earl Nightingale.

You're a wonderful writer, Julie. And you're young. You've got years ahead of you to achieve your dreams. It may not be coming as quickly as you want (I get it. It's not for me either...) but remember that Earl Nightingale quote above. Never ever give up because time is going to go by no matter what. You might as well keep plugging along because you don't want to miss your time when it gets here.

I hate running in the cold. It hurts! So I definitely admire your tenacity for cold-weather running. Especially in the frigid weather we north easterners have been getting! Brrrrr.

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

Julie Dao said...

Alex: I agree! I think it's time to back off a little bit and just write because I love it.

Madeline: Of course! Thanks for understanding my plight ;) <3

Tiana: I wish I had a treadmill at home! It'd be nice not to have to use the ones at the gym!

Connie: Thank you :) A thought hug is just as lovely.

Dianne: I do want to hear it! Thank you for your advice and perspective. I talked to many people that week, and they all said the same thing - that I am young and still learning, and to forget this stupid obsession with being published by age 30. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't... and that doesn't mean it never will. It might just take more time for me, and it'll mean so much more for all the waiting. Thanks for your encouragement <3

Ayjay: Frustrations and joys... there is no better way to put it! I will try to remember the endorphin rush. Thanks for your kind words <3

Nicole: That is a GREAT title! It makes me want to read the story immediately :)

Shari: And I'm sending all of those sentiments back to you! I've been ignoring setbacks and trying not to think about them, but obviously it backfired on me. I think I should acknowledge them, take a deep breath, and move on, instead of letting them build up to the point where I actually seriously contemplate quitting. I know neither you or I will ever (or should ever) give up. Thanks for your support, girl! <3

Don: Can't thank you enough for continually talking me off ledges over our long years of CP-friendship. But THANK YOU, sir. I needed to hear that, and I'll remember and value your faith in me.

Laura: I had this crazy aspiration that I would be published by 30. And now the gap is closing, but you are absolutely right. It's not happening fast enough for us, but it doesn't mean it never will. Might as well keep writing in the meantime, while we wait and wait and wait! And I hate running in the cold, too... I just needed to do it that night.

Margo Berendsen said...

I prefer exercising outside than in a sweaty gym too - even when it's icy cold. Something about moving outside in whatever weather is very... what's the word? bracing? inspiring?

This is so true: "Maybe that's the secret. Maybe by wanting something too much, you lose sight of why you're even doing it in the first place."

I try to look at is as "holding on loosely to what I love" - yet you have to be passionate and feverent about it too. It's a crazy balance.

1000th.monkey said...

Haha, thank you for writing this post. With the ongoing physio on my arm, and everything else, writing has fallen to the side, and I fear that, like attempting to run uphill after not running for several months, the task is a little too daunting at this point...

btw, did you actually get shinsplints? 'cause then you need some shoes with lower heels so the muscles in the front of your legs aren't being over-taxed... the Merrell Road Gloves are my favourite, but other good companies make low-profile shoes, New Balance, etc.

Julie Dao said...

Margo: Makes perfect sense to me! It's that balance of passion and objectivity that is difficult to maintain. But we keep trying!

Monkey: Man, I hope you're feeling better! I did have shinsplints for a while, but corrected it with proper shoes (I had my gait tested and the shoes I was wearing didn't do me any favors), lots of calf stretching (especially afterwards), and more gradual training.

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