No matter how prepared you are, something often goes wrong.
I’ve mentioned my 1998 research trip along the Oregon Trail before. To get there, you take I-64 and head west. That’s exactly the direction I was going when I realized I needed to first go to Cincinnati to pick up my daughter who was traveling with me. To get to Cincinnati from Lexington you take I-75 and head north. If I couldn’t get to the trail's jumping off point, how in the world was I going to make it 2000 miles? Good question. Instead of berating myself for my stupidity, I shrugged it off and found the right road. Part of being prepared is having a contingency plan. My plan, made up on the spot was, “I’ve never done this before. Whatever happens—happens.” The mantra served me well over the next nineteen days, even when I became snowbound in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
These days, whether it’s age or sensibility, my contingency plans are real plans. I have two 5-mile courses mapped out. One’s flat, the other is hilly. Looking at the elevations, it doesn't look like either course is flat. Maybe I should say, one is flatter than the other. I run the hilly course more often because it’s better training and preparation for Run the Bluegrass Half-Marathon. Both courses bring me back to the corner that leads home. (See the green pin.) In the event something should happen during the first five miles, I’m close to home. Yesterday, when I set out on a 10-mile run with my fuel pack loaded with water and energy gels, something happened.
Within the first mile, my stomach started cramping and made running all but impossible. Cramps from the left side are usually digestive issues. Cramps from the right side are usually breathing and posture issues, or so I've been told. Mine were right smack in the middle, maybe due to dehydration. (If anyone knows the cause, please let me know.) Anyway, I circled back to “the corner” and called it quits after 5 miles. If I’d been on a 10-mile loop, I would have had to call for a ride home.
I suppose some would argue that having two separate courses made it easier to quit. There are some runners who would have gone the distance, sick as a dog. I’m not one of them. I’m still on the upside of the learning curve. What’s my body capable of doing, and how long will it take to recover from an injury or illness? I don’t know because I don't have much experience to draw from.
When it comes to writing, I have contingency plans, too. Some are good and some are not so good, but quitting and going home because I don’t feel well, is not one of them. On those kinds of days, I read. I study other writers. Different authors do different things well. Some write descriptions that bring settings to life. Some write snappy dialogue that makes you laugh. Some write great love scenes that give you that “fly on the wall” experience. By studying another writer’s style you can draw on what you learn and apply it to your own writing, which in a way becomes a blend of all you’ve learned as a reader.
There are only two ways to become a better writer: write a lot and read a lot. There’s only one way to become a better runner—run! And always have a contingency plan.
Happy writing and running, Kathy