Sean Lovelace is the author of many flash fictions and other strangenesses, including the books The Frogs Are Incredibly Loud Here, Fog Gorgeous Stag, and How Some People Like Their Eggs. Besides being a disc golfer, bow hunter, and teacher, he is also a prolific runner, a grit in a sport that consists entirely of many people’s least favorite thing in the world.
I came to Sean as a grasshopper a year after my own first marathon, hoping to be the beneficiary of his wisdom on running, writing, and the tenuous balance between mind and body. The following is the knowledge Sean dropped on me early on a Friday morning, from his man room (complete with treadmill and running gear) in Muncie, Indiana.
DJS: So I wanted to get the official answer: in reading your work over the last few years, I’ve been mystified by this line at the end of your author bios, “He also likes to run, far.” How far are we talking?
SL: Not that far, not like mystical ultra guy. Mostly marathons. I mean I used to be very fast (relatively, of course) at 5k and so on, and then I ran my first marathon and it was a whole different deal, very spiritual and satisfying. So now I run marathons mostly.
DJS: But you mentioned a trail ultra-marathon? Was that your farthest?
SL: Yes, 38 miles. I really enjoyed it. An easy time really. BUT I was out 8 months afterwards with a re-injury. I can’t handle 8 months without running so I’m probably going to lay off ultras. Probably…
I jumped off a roof once and broke my heel. A really self-destructive act. That injury reoccurred after that race.
DJS: Wow. That’s brutal. Then again, some people might say running 38 miles—or 26, or 3—is a self-destructive act.
SL: It is, but that breaking down is very rewarding. You leave yourself out there. And it hurts. I mean I end most marathons thinking, “I’m not doing that again.” But then I get the itch. I’ve had some brutal ones, though I’ve never really bonked. So far, though I’ve come close.
DJS: Just out of curiosity: how many marathons so far?
Not sure actually. There’s a wall behind my shoulder in many, many metals. Maybe 30 or so marathons? I used to race much more often when I was fast and young. Was sponsored in Knoxville but that was 5k and 10k eons ago.
DJS: And, hate to be that guy, but what’s your personal record?
SL: Oh I’m slow. My marathon PR is 2:50.
DJS: Good God.
SL: Well, I’ve been running since age 11 and I don’t mind pain. I sort of like pain. Not suffering, pain.
DJS: Does that have something to do with the spiritual significance you were talking about?
SL: Oh definitely. This is where running and writing merge. I admire self-reliance. I really do. During a marathon, it’s all you out there, especially as you delve deeper into its tentacles. I mean you go deep, if you’re running it right, if you’re respecting the process. It’s very eerie out there in the pain. Almost like you leave for a while, leave the nonsense and enter a realm. Not to be too flaky.
A friend of mine asked if I listen to music. I was like, “What? You can’t dishonor the marathon, man.” Saw some dude do a cartwheel during Boston. I mean come on.
DJS: And how’s that relate to writing then? A similar sense of going deep?
SL: Well, writing is solitary and, like running, you hit surprising zones. They are both mystical. I mean some days the training run just doesn’t click. Then next day I feel like a cheetah, I mean I’m just rolling. That can happen with writing too. Not sure how. Or why.
It’s actually easier for me to let bad runs and bad writing go as I get older. It’s just part of the process. It’s all training.
SL: Like my musician friends spend a lot of time just plucking at their instruments. Nothing formal. So I do more runs and writing like that. Used to be everything was so regimented!
DJS: I’m interested in the disparity in lengths here: your thing in writing is really short stuff, and in running, at least now, it’s really long stuff, about the endurance. What’s the difference/connection there?
SL: Good question. I just got bored writing long. [Laughs.]
I mean, flash lets me change gears and think really hard. The constraint is difficult. I like bow hunting and disc golfing and fishing a river and so on—I like things that are fun because they are difficult. A good flash is very difficult. A good one. Like poetry.
As for running long, you have to give a certain exhaustion to get where I want to get. You have to drain the body. Short wouldn’t do it.
How they connect, don’t know. I could make something up.
DJS: From a practical POV, what’s your understanding of the mind-body connection for you as a writer? Do you write as you run? Does using your body help or hinder in terms of doing weird creative work like you do?
SL: Well, I get thoughts while I run and I even jump off the treadmill and jot them down, but that’s actually rare. I actually edit more while running. I’m a structure freak, so I might have this structural problem, this complexity and I can’t figure it out. Sometimes I figure it out while running.
As for the mind-body connection, the literary history is pretty clear. Many, many authors needed to blend physical activity with writing. I mean Tennessee Williams’ lifestyle was crazy and he was a prolific writer, but he ALWAYS swam first thing every morning. He traveled the world and wouldn’t stay anywhere without a pool. His story is not unusual.
Writing is like chess. If you play enough chess seriously enough, you will lose your mind. UNLESS after the chess, you go saw at a stump out back or do too many pushups or have sex, etc.
DJS: I was wondering about that with relation to some of the other narratives we get about writers—the Hemingway-alcoholic thing, for example.
SL: Oh, well I drink way too much so there might be something there. You know, with Hemingway he did a ton of physical exercise, too. I mean, he was in pretty great physical shape.
He could box very well though he was sort of an ass about that. He could clearly be an ass.
But, you know, he is Hemingway. We all live in his shadow, possibly unfortunately.
DJS: Hey, here’s a weird question. I’d say you are a fairly experimental writer. Are you an experimental runner? Do you dig the minimalist shoe craze?
SL: Oh Jesus.
DJS: Uh oh.
SL: OK, I’ve read it all and argued it all and had friends try to bring me over to the dark side. I train in grass SOMETIMES, barefoot sprints. But here’s my take: I run in whatever keeps me NOT INJURED. If I’m injured, I’m unhappy. I have to run! It’s elemental. It’s me. So whatever keeps me running. Right now, that’s Nike Pegasus 28.
BTW, I buy some minimal shoes because they look sweet with jeans.
And when I was young and fast I wore super minimal. I didn’t want any extra ounces on me. But you can run in thumb tacks when you’re in your 20s, no worries.
DJS: In way of closing: what advice would you have for a young runner/writer type like myself?
SL: Advice…OK, don’t go 3 days without running or writing. Three days is max. You can have some slippage in your fitness, mental and physical, with too large a break. Second, don’t stop. Don’t make running and writing about a certain race or magazine or book. Make it your life. You’re not running or writing. You ARE a runner. You ARE a writer. Forever.
That’s about it, I suppose.
DJS: Woa. Thanks.
Cool. Enjoyed it. Now I have a workout called “Mount Everest” I need to attack.