Running and writing: top tips from the Write This Run conference

Write This Run, which, funnily enough, unites writing and running in both an online, virtual community and at real life conferences, is one of those annoyingly good ideas that I wish I’d had. Laura Fountain and Liz Goodchild got their first. Incidentally, I know Laura from university a decade ago. Had I suggested she join a group of four of us running the Paris Marathon in 2004, she would have laughed in my face.

I jumped on the Write This Run bandwagon on Saturday, speaking at the group’s November conference about, funnily enough, writing and running. Conference is a dull word, isn’t it? Let’s call it a convivial meeting of running minds.

This is the gist of what I had to say about better blogging and writing.

1. Find the nugget –

As running bloggers we need to decide: do we write about running, or do we write about things that are actually interesting to our fellow human beings? This may not always be about running. Running is tedious. Sometimes there is absolutely nothing to say – by that I mean nothing of interest – and then it is best to shut up. There are some desperately boring blog posts out there. You’ve seen them. You’ve written them. I’ve written them. They go along the lines of: Today I ran the Kidderminster 10k. The alarm woke me at 7. I had a piece of toast for breakfast, with strawberry jam rather than my usual marmalade. The car park was nearly full when I arrived, but I was lucky enough to get the last parking space. On arrival, I met Sandra and Jim who told me that Simon couldn’t race because he had stubbed his toe on a plant pot. And so on.

No imagination. As Einstein said, imagination is more important than intelligence.

I trained as a journalist and one of our lecturers demanded we green student journalists find the nugget. The nugget. Essentially, the most important, exciting, repulsive, evocative, funny, interesting, entertaining detail, the thing you would tell your mates in the pub after saying, you never guess what. And that is where you start. Not when the alarm clock goes off.

2. Give fully of yourself –

A running friend once told me after reading Isles at the Edge of the Sea that I was prone to exaggeration. A reviewer on Amazon wrote of Heights of Madness: ‘Found his constant whinging put me off.’ I also remember Richard Askwith being criticised when he compared his injured, weary plight atop a misty mountain in the wonderful Feet in the Clouds as akin to a soldier at war.

Askwith was giving fully of himself. I was giving fully of myself.

Sometimes, when you are running up that hill or churning through mud or on an eighth three-minute repetition with two to go, life is pure torture. There is simply nothing more diabolical than this thing that you willingly started. This is the moment to capture. Feelings dissipate and disappear very quickly, and you have to remember the purity of those moments. Capture too the contrasting emotions of euphoria, of course. But that’s never as interesting. Besides, I don’t believe evangelical writing about running. You’re clearly not running hard enough if you’ve time for euphoria.

3. Do something different –

The highest number of hits on my blog this year was a race report I wrote on the Box Hill fell race, which went ahead in January in snow. Rather than write a straightforward post, I wrote a satirical report that mocked the news stories of that weekend that spoke about ‘treacherous’ weather when there were just a few inches of snow, and I spoke liberally about health and safety. It was like reading a copy of the Daily Express. Although that’s nothing to be proud of.

You can go even further. If you’re bored of your own voice, change it. Switch the narrator from you to something else. A pair of shoes? A water bottle? Or, be indulgent – write about yourself in the third person. Give your new voice a character, a personality. It is nothing to do with running, but to give a useful non-running example, when asked to write creatively about church and religion (what was I thinking?) one of my less-than-enthusiastic school students proposed the idea of an atheist hymn book. He created a memorable narrative voice: irritable, frustrated and on a mission to convert those who opened him. It was a triumph and all started with a little imagination. Thank you, again, Einstein.

If an 11-year-old boy can make their writing illuminating, you definitely can.

WTR panel

WTR panel


One Comment Add yours

  1. Ben says:

    Completely agree on the nugget comment when it comes to race reviews, people want to know about your experience not a turn by turn breakdown of the course.

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