I started running this year, much to my own surprise.
I’ve never been fond of running really, and in my teenage years, only ran once a year during my physical exam. In fact, running was the sort of activity that I’d look upon in disdain, and I remember wondering how others could enjoy it so much as to participate in eternally long periods of running, such as in a marathon. Running and I were not precisely friends; and for the last decade since I left junior college and entered university, I never ran.
This year has been full of interesting surprises though, and one of them was a sudden desire to begin running. In fact, when I signed up for a yearly membership at the gym seven blocks away from my apartment, the first thing I did was get on the treadmill and press the start button.
The first time I ran, I got stitches within a couple of minutes and had to stop after five, panting like crazy. Bent over at that point, I remembered why I never liked running in the first place – those stitches were terribly uncomfortable and painful.
This time though, I was determined to get into the habit of running, stitches or not. My stamina was in terrible shape, my breaths much too shallow and I ran out of air quicker than I preferred. At thirty years old, that shouldn’t be the case. And I decided that I’d better train myself to improve my stamina.
Later, I learnt that breathing properly while running could prevent stitches, and so I forced myself to draw deep breaths and exhale as profoundly as I could while pounding the treadmill. Amazingly, those dreadful stitches went away, and running became less of a painful experience.
Once I got the stitch problem out of the way, I decided that I wanted to run for as long as my lungs and body were able. I started off with five minutes, then with each subsequent session I’d challenge myself to hang in there a little more. You know, just two minutes more. Then five minutes more. Then ten minutes more. Today, I can run for about 25 to 30 minutes at a time, and while it may not seem like a lot, I’m proud of it.
The thing about running – whether it’s for 30 minutes or 3 hours, is this: the hardest part is always the middle. Starting is easy, because you’re pumped and energetic and have a goal in mind, but when you’re in the middle of the journey, already gone a long way but still a while from finishing, it’s easy to want to give up.
At least for me, it feels that way. At the 15-minute mark, I’m already glancing impatiently at my watch, and the seconds that tick by start to feel like eternity. A long time ago, I would probably just push the stop button and call it a day, telling myself that at least I’d made it halfway.
But today, I approach running in a different way. I try to focus on the long term goal – be it developing better stamina, stronger mental power or improved health.
Halfway through, when it feels like ages before I’ll reach the end of the run, I tell myself to go at it one minute at a time, one step at a time. I find that breaking down the journey into piecemeal steps makes it seem easier, and I keep pushing on, putting one foot in front of the other, until I’ve reached the end.
The Olympic Games just ended a few days ago, but during the short two weeks where the world’s best sportsmen competed against each other, I noticed one thing. These incredible men and women have not only trained hard physically; they are also mental walls of strength. I was particularly drawn towards the runners: during each race, they kept their eyes focused on the finish line, never wavering or being distracted by the one next to them.
While running is a physical activity that may not seem to be related to writing or other creative activities, there are actually quite a few things that creatives can learn from it.
My writer friend Nicole Gulotta wrote a piece on the 4 lessons distance running can teach you about writing, and the lesson number 2: focus on the middle resonated with me the most.
In Nicole’s words, “Because distance races are measured in miles, the beginning and the end are less important than the middle. If you go quickly, you’ll use too much energy, so there’s tremendous value in easing into a race to conserve for the tough turns ahead. Even when other runners pass you by when the gun goes off, confident runners know that their surge will come later in the race when everyone else is slowing down…Whatever you do, keep an even pace, check in with how you’re feeling, and get ready to push to the finish line.”
Reading her words the other day, I thought back on my writing, and how it’s become a practice that has some 20 years in the making. From the time I discovered my love for writing at the mere age of ten till today, I’m still learning about writing, practicing it, and working to become a better writer.
You see, I’ve accepted that writing is a lifetime activity; it’s not something you pursue for a couple of years and move on. All writers understand this, and we write simply because we love to write. Nothing more, nothing less.
Yet a lifetime can sometimes feel very long and often lonely, and it can get tiring too.
That’s why it’s important to approach writing as a journey that unfolds one step at a time, moving at a sustainable pace that can get you all the way to the finish line, without collapsing mid-way.
I started the “Write Where You Are” writing e-course created by Nicole earlier this month, and in the last three weeks I’ve already learnt so much from it.
I’m now more determined than ever to focus on my writing and professionalize my practice, starting with reading these 16 best books about writing suggested by those in the Wild Words Collective Facebook community.
I want to start journaling in notebooks again, where I can let my thoughts flow freely without fear of criticism or judgment. I aim to start pitching to magazines and publishing articles that are worth reading. I yearn to use my words to touch other people’s hearts and lives.
And throughout, I plan to keep on writing on this blog, one post at a time.
I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m determined to focus on the middle and push through to the finish line. For now, let’s fuel up on some gluten-free lemon shortbread cookies.
These crispy shortbread cookies are filled with the juice and zest of the lemons I’d brought home from our friends’ countryside ranch in the province of Buenos Aires. Not only can these cookies be made from scratch in just 40 minutes, they are also gluten-free and vegan. How amazing is that?
To make these, start off by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) and lining a large cooking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Next, prepare a rolling area with two additional sheets of parchment paper.
Whip some softened coconut oil in a large bowl until it turns creamy, then add in maple syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt, mixing to combine. In another bowl, combine the rice flour, tapioca starch, corn starch, xantham gum and lemon zest.
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon until you get a homogeneous dough. (The dough should not be too sticky, but should press together when pinched. If the dough is too dry, add a little bit more maple syrup, and if it is too wet, add a little more rice flour.)
Once the dough reaches the right texture, transfer it to the working area and knead it very well. Roll the dough out to 1-inch thickness between the two sheets of parchment paper and then cut it into small rectangles.
Place the rectangles of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and poke three lines of holes in each rectangle with a fork. Bake the dough for 12 to 14 minutes, until the shortbread cookies are golden brown.
These cookies will harden as they cool, so allow them 10 minutes to cool down before biting into them! Enjoy!
- ½ cup coconut oil, softened
- ¼ cup maple syrup (or agave nectar or liquid sweetener of choice)
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1½ cups rice flour
- ½ cup tapioca starch
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 1 teaspoon xantham gum
- Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. Fahrenheit (180 deg. Celsius) and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
- Prepare a rolling area with a two additional sheets of parchment paper or silpat
- Place softened coconut oil in a large bowl and whip it until it becomes creamy. Add in maple syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt, and then mix to combine.
- In another bowl, combine the rice flour, tapioca starch, corn starch, xantham gum and lemon zest. Mix well.
- Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until you get a homogeneous dough. The dough should not be too sticky, but should press together when pinched. If dough is too dry, add a little bit more of liquid sweetener; if dough is too wet, add a bit more of rice flour, until you get the right texture.
- Transfer the dough onto the working area and knead it very well. Roll the dough out to 1-inch thickness between the two sheets of parchment paper, then cut into small rectangles. Place rectangles of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and use a fork to poke three lines of holes in each rectangle.
- Bake 12 t0 14 minutes, until cookies are slightly golden. Cookies will harden as they cool. Allow cookies to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.