I’ve been a huge mystery fan since discovering Agatha Christie in university. One day, on one of my weekly forays into Sleuth’s, Marian persuaded me to join her new class: Marathon Dynamics promised they could teach anyone to run. I was fit enough but my cardio was wanting. True be told, I could barely run for the bus. So I signed up and changed my life forever.
Now, nearly twenty years later, I’ve run one marathon, dozens half-marathons and numerous shorter races. Every year I bike in the 200+ kilometer Ride to Conquer Cancer. It was a tough journey which required stretching my limits, weathering disappointments and surfing the joy of victory. Exactly like the journey from mystery fan to published crime fiction author. Though I suspect that the road to publication is even tougher!
Today writing and running are integral parts of my life and both support each other. In an academic sense, there are many parallels between running and writing. You aren’t going to run your first marathon any more than you are going to write your first novel without years of skills under your belt, careful planning and enormous discipline. Most of us work up to a marathon/novel by completing shorter works/races.
Both are solitary activities which thrive with a buddy system: your writing critique group, or running buddies, get you out the door and make your run/write, help you stay on track and celebrate with you.
There’s a ten-minute rule in running. On those days when I’d much rather stay nice and warm inside with that extra cup of coffee, the rule says to go out and run for ten minutes. After that, if I want to stop I can go home. Believe me, it works!
The ten-minute rule applies in writing, too. My friend and teacher, Maureen Jennings, has a great exercise to combat writers block. Take paper and pen and write in longhand whatever comes into your mind for ten minutes. You can even write, “I am blocked”, for ten minutes if you like. And believe me this method works. During one of these exercises, I developed an idea that evolved into my short story, “The Lizard”, which won the 2012 Bony Pete Award at Bloody Words.
My solitary runs and bike rides prove wonderful for peace of mind. I work out plot problems and get inspiration from oddities I encounter: an unusual-looking house or a brilliant piece of graffiti. I’ve witnessed car accidents and human altercations (fortunately none of them fatal) and even rescued a lost dog.
Even the less happy aspects of running, like exhaustion and dehydration, have helped my writing. Early on in running, I did the classic Hamilton (Ontario) road race, 30 K Around the Bay. All our training had happened during the winter with freezing temperatures. The day of the race the weather turned warm and sunny with temperatures over 20 degrees. I had over-dressed: I felt so hot during the race, the shade thrown by the ramps of the Burlington Skyway felt like an oasis. Being relatively inexperienced, I didn’t understand how much water I needed to drink: I was so focused on finishing that I skipped drinking and eating enough at the rest stations. I finished in good time despite walk-running the last three kilometers, but then I paid the price: nausea, dizziness, nearly fainting.
I drew on this experience – and a few others along the way – to give authenticity to my debut novel, Windigo Fire. My protagonist, Danny, is a young native Canadian drifting through life after completing a degree in English literature at college. He is drawn into an illegal bear hunt to play the native scout where he hopes to earn enough money to escape his remote Northern Ontario hometown of Red Dog Lake. The morning after the hunt he wakes up to find all the hunters dead, all but Ricky, an enigmatic American. They are forced to team up and fight through the northern bush to escape the killers.
Dehydration is a real issue if you cannot find running water anywhere. Here’s an excerpt that illustrates Danny’s fatigue:
The bush had turned into a maze of vegetation. He wrestled with low-hanging branches, saplings and weeds. Often he had to stop and cut his way through with Ricky’s knife.
This is taking way too long.
His throat burned, a harsh metallic taste invaded his mouth. Dehydration already, every muscle in his body screamed for rest.
If I sit down now, I won’t get up.
“OK, I rest at tree number eleven,” he said into the air. He fought past the tree trunks counting, one, two three…
The trick Danny uses is a running favorite. Runners count trees and telephone poles to pull themselves up hills or to the finish line.
Running and writing both continue to enrich my life immeasurably. Last October, life came full circle at the launch party for Windigo Fire at Sleuth of Baker Street when I was able to thank Marian for making it one of her Picks for Sleuth’s newsletter. And thus once again, changing my life forever.