In preparation for my 100 mile indoor row this coming September, I have been finding it hard to locate really good articles on training for and rowing on the day such long distances. So I’ve been reading a lot about training for ultramarathons, the 50, 100, and more mile on-foot equivalents. It was on one such internet trawl that I came across a piece called 10 Reasons Not to Run an Ultramarathon. I idly clicked through to the website of the piece’s author, Kristyn Bacon. There, I discovered that she had been a prize winner for the 2013 FEM Flash flash fiction contest. Looking a little around that website, I discovered that two of the judges were none other than the wonderful Kirsty Logan (author of the soon to take the world by storm The Rental Heart) and Jane Bradley, brains behind For Books’ Sake, officially the best thing on the web. Being a firm believer in the force of serendipity, this seemed like too good a chance to miss, so I specuilatively wrote to Kristyn to see if she might be prepared to contribute her thoughts as an award-winning flash fictioner and ultra marathon runner and produce a piece for what’s turning into a really rather wonderful series on creativity and extreme sports. To my delight, she said yes.
I thought for days about it and the greatest similarity that I see between creativity and endurance sports is the solidarity. An ultra cannot be run by a team. A crew is undoubtedly a great asset, but your crew isn’t going to finish your race. Your crew isn’t going to chase away the ghosts, or give you extra strength in the last dark miles. You are. It’s the same in the arts; a team of people won’t paint a masterpiece together. A team of people didn’t write War and Peace. It was the artist left alone with their mind that created it. It’s the ultra runner let out onto the trails that made the race.
There’s a forest by my apartment. It’s absolutely beautiful and huge and hilly. The first time I went there, I was amazed at how many trails there were and it immediately became my favorite place to train. Around the fifth time I went there, I saw the boars. I was alone standing at the base of a steep hill when I heard a great noise behind me. I turned just in time to see a herd of wild boars sprinting through the hills about twenty meters away. It was incredible how fast and powerful there were. It was incredible the noise they made. They pushed through the trees, they stamped the dirt below them, they stayed together, and they were gone. I stared after them, completely surprised. I stared on until I couldn’t hear them anymore and doubted that I had even seen them, and then I ran the hill. It was a breathless way to start the run. After that, when I thought about the forest I thought of power, and unity.
A few runs later, I took a friend out to train with me. I was excited to show her the trails and the route I had found. I was excited to show her the hills and the narrow paths, and maybe to show her the boars. The first thing she told me when we stepped onto the trail was, “This must be a really lonely place to run. I’d be afraid to come here alone.” That’s all it took! It became my ghost. Every time I left my house to go to this trail I thought, this is going to be so lonely. I didn’t think about the boars and their power, I thought, this is going to be dark and lonely. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was hesitant in the mornings, putting on my shoes, when I knew that I’d go to this trail. I went there less and less. I couldn’t believe how little it took to change the tone of my run. I couldn’t believe how empty the trails had become. I couldn’t believe how quiet they were.
In the winter it snowed and I met the boars again. I found their tracks in the snow, crossing the trails and continuing on into the low branches in either direction. There were dirty, crowded hoofprints stomped into the ground, running a trail only six inches wide. A line of grey disrupting the snow. I saw the trails they made stretching across flat fields and I saw them tilting down steep passes, and then I saw the boars charging. I saw the power of the group and the power of the run. I stopped to watch and saw that, across the hill, another runner had stopped too. Neither of us had fear, but we had enough respect to stand far out of their way. When they were gone, we kept running our separate ways. I thought about my races, thought of all the runs I had done alone. I thought of the solidarity of the endurance runner and the quiet fight between herself and the trail, and I thought it wasn’t bad. Running alone on empty trails isn’t lonely because I know there are other runners out with me. I know in the middle of the night and in the middle of the race, as long as I keep running I’ll meet another headlamp, or I’ll see them bobbing beneath the dark trees. If not, I’ll meet the boars.
Like running, creativity is something best pursued individually. If you put an artist alone in a room, you’ll get something back. If you put an artist in a group you’ll get something different. Artists perform and create for themselves and they find the inspiration on their own. They each approach the creative process differently and they express themselves individually, as it is with endurance sports. The race means something different to every runner and they perform in their own way. Much like with works of art, when the ultra runners finish, no one else but themselves can fairly judge the race. I love the solidarity of writing, writing with the door closed and writing at night when people are asleep. I love the solidarity of running. More doors are opened, I think. More distances are possible, more mountains are scaled, when no one is there to tell you it’s far or it’s difficult or it’s not modern art. Solidarity. In the race and on the paper, solidarity sustains us.
In regards to Flash Fiction: sometimes it’s nice to sprint.
Also in this series