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Running, Thinking, and Writing

Kathrine Switzer Paris 1984

In a New York Times essay last March, Maine-based writer Caitlin Shetterly described her joy in gritty, cold winter runs and the way these runs often spark creative thoughts. “On a run, ideas will bubble up,” she wrote. “Like little ice floes in warming waters, they’ll drift unencumbered until I can see them gleaming in the sun.”

Just one problem: Shetterly often forgets her ideas as fast as they appear.To retain them, she must memorize lists of related words while still running, and write them down quickly once she’s back at home.

In the essay’s “Comments” section, veteran running writer, book author and fellow Maine resident Scott Douglas explained how he deals with the same situation. When a good idea strikes Douglas mid-run, he moves his wedding ring to his right hand, and repeats the creative thought several times. At home, he notes the misplaced ring and recalls the brainstorm.

Running and creativity have been linked before. In a 1999 “Writers On Writing” essay for the New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates noted: “Running! If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think what it might be. In running the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms.”

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