Often, when I tell folks I’ve written a book, I get asked “So, what’s harder: running an ultra, or writing a book?”
As someone who has yet to master either medium, I’m not sure if I’m the best person to ask. Writing a book is challenging in that there’s no one waiting around all day to hand you Coke and gummy bears telling you that you’re doing a good job and that you should keep going. You have to provide the snacks and stoke yourself.
Similar to an ultra, writing a book requires a lot of intrinsic motivation. For me, that meant writing something that I hadn’t yet seen in the world. A book that simultaneously connected sustaining the self, connecting with the community, and caring for the planet. So much writing in the world of sports and fitness comes from a place of rugged individualism, commanding us all to self-optimize for our benefit and our benefit alone. I wanted to read a book that felt like a challenge, and an invitation to be better. I wanted a book that took my concern for the planet, connection to community, and desire to be a better runner seriously – and showed how those needs and desires are interrelated in complex and important ways.
The Secret Is There Is No Secret
In writing and running, there is no secret to success. And I didn’t want to write a book that proclaimed to have some non-existent secret knowledge. We’re all so tired of the articles, books and podcasts proclaiming to have quick fixes so that we can hack our way to success and happiness (never mind that if any of these quick fixes worked, there wouldn’t be a whole industry premised on selling them to us. As of this writing, butter coffee and cold showers have yet to render me the wildly successful athlete and writer I want to be).
Similar to the “secret” in John L. Parker’s Once a Runner, “The Secret [was the] most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes.” Books are born from a similarly unglamorous alchemy, that Stephen King describes succinctly as “Writing equals ass in chair.”
In writing as in running, the good stuff happens when you’re ready to lean into the friction that makes you better. Slowly removing the rubber from the soles of your shoes. Ass in the chair.
Running, writing, and climate action have a lot in common. You have to be willing to work hard in service of something without knowing exactly what the results will be. You have to look deep inside yourself for the motivation to keep going and also know when it’s time to lean on others so that you can keep going.
Good Enough Is Good Enough
I needed a book that embraced messy imperfection. Sure, I would have loved to write a book called How I Consistently Rock My Training, Writing and Climate Advocacy And Have Never Once Cried From Sheer Exhaustion In Line At The Grocery Store but that book would be a work of fiction. Like many folks, I can let my idea of perfection get in the way of doing things well enough, or even doing them at all (fact: I have already written and rewritten this very piece several times). I’ve let fear of failure and not being “good enough” prevent me from signing up for races and speaking up about climate action. There’s no shame in allowing yourself to start something imperfectly, but it’d be a real shame if you never started at all.
Perfection isn’t and never should be the goal. Because under our current social and economic systems, it’s just not possible. 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the past 20 years came from just 100 companies. Squabbling over the impact of shoes or gel wrappers in the comments section obfuscates the real work that needs to be done. Though yes, you should also definitely recycle your gel wrappers, and here’s how.
Driving to the trailhead, or replacing worn-out shoes doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a normal, flawed person living in a broken system that displaces its own culpability by redirecting guilt toward individuals with less power. If those of us who are trying, really and honestly hard are still fully meshed in a fossil fuel system, that makes clear that what needs to change isn’t so much the individuals, but the system.
This book isn’t perfect because climate action doesn’t need perfection. What it needs is a lot more trail runners willing to commit to imperfect but meaningful action, own their mistakes, and bring others along for the journey. You don’t need to chain yourself to a tree or charter a solar-powered yacht to UTMB (though if you have one, hit me up) to make a difference. You need to start, where you are, as you are.
Hope Demands Action
After a tough run or a bad day of writing, the world can feel like a lot. Right now, my social media feeds are a mosaic of heart-wrenching photographs of the Maui wildfires, heat waves sweeping across Europe and a steady drip of doom and gloom from around the globe, punctuated with hyper-stoked trail runners charging down pristine alpine singletrack. The disconnect is enough to cause emotional whiplash, but this is the world we live in: hot, and burning, and still full of so much beauty worth appreciating and fighting for. There’s still a lot of hope. But, it must be backed up with action.
I desperately needed a book that gave me both permission to hope and pushed me to earn that hope with effort. Action is what makes hope real. It’s the climate equivalent of “ass in the chair” or removing the molecules from the bottoms of your shoes. It’s the belief that your effort, no matter how small, matters, and can be transmuted into something tangible. Maybe that action is engaging your running community in climate conversations. Maybe it’s getting involved in your town’s planning and zoning board, or working with a race director to make their event more sustainable. Whatever it is, it just matters that you do it.
I needed that book, so I wrote it with my good friend Tina Muir. I wrote it because I desperately needed a guide to help me move through challenges in my own life, and learn how to give that challenge meaning by attaching it to something bigger than myself, like community and climate. This book may not be what you need – and that’s okay – but you should write that book, and I can’t wait to read it when you do.
Editor’s Note: We at Freetrail want to give Zoë Rom and her co-author Tina Muir all the possible kudos, I devoured an early digital copy and can not wait to get my hands on the real thing . Their new book (published just this week), Becoming a Sustainable Runner, tackles how to be a sustainable human using running as a vehicle for change and introspection. While I know I’ll be gifting copies to friends and family this year I’d encourage you to get yourself a copy instead of waiting for Santa.