Jen A. Miller is an award-winning freelance journalist who is now the New York Times’ “Well” section running writer. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Guardian, Runner’s World, Running Times, Allure and SELF. She’s also author of the running memoir, “Running: A Love Story“ (Amazon), which came out this year. On October 6th, she’s doing a group run then book reading and signing with Mark Remy at the Portland Running Company. The group run starts at 6, and she should start chatting (with some beers) at 7:30. This event is open to those not running too!
She recently spoke to Run Oregon and we asked her about her new book, her running, and her difficult experiences:
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
When did you become a “runner?”
I tell anyone who runs – no matter how often or how far – that he or she is a runner. But I didn’t feel like a runner myself until I ran my first 10 mile race, the Ocean Drive 10, which starts in Cape May, N.J. and ends on the boardwalk in North Wildwood. I’d done a few 5ks before then, but I didn’t feel like I was really dedicated to the sport until I started running over five miles. Of course I was a runner before then, but when I crossed the finish line of that race, I finally felt it. I ran it for the first time in 2008, and now I’ve run it nine times in a row.
What are your favorite running routes?
I’m a lazy runner in that I want to step out my front door and go. Most routes take me around Knight Park, which is a big park in my hometown of Collingswood, N.J., or around Newton Lake, which is one town over. When I do hillwork, I drive two towns over to Haddonfield to run what I call “Torture Cake.” It’s a stretch of road with three different climbs with flat road in between each climb. It hurts. But it makes me faster.
What are your favorite races?
I don’t know if I would call the Ocean Drive 10 a favorite race because it’s at the end of March, next to the ocean, and usually cold with at least 20mph headwind in your face the whole way. My favorite marathon is the New Jersey Marathon, which I’ve run twice. It’s relatively flat, not too big or too small, and it’s at the Jersey Shore, one of my favorite places in the world.
What distance would you compare your writing style to?
Depends on what I’m writing. Writing a book like doing a trail ultra: you stop and start and run at different speeds through a long slog where eventually you come to the end with a huge accomplishment in hand. Writing news – which I don’t often do – is a 5k. It’s fast and it hurts and it’s exciting almost the whole way. Most of my other writing? A 10 miler. It’s work, but it’s not as long or really not as painful as the marathon or the 5k. It’s a nice in between.
Where do the your ideas come from?
I think of a lot of ideas while running – that’s probably no surprise. When I was writing Running: A Love Story, I didn’t train for any specific race in part because I kept stopping on runs to type out specific scenes on lines into my phone. Running puts me into that twilight state that is like that space right before you fall asleep. Ideas pop out. I sometimes get through races sometimes by thinking about what I’m going to write based on the experience too (and sometimes those ideas do become stories!) I have also been known to run out of the shower to write something out. Sorry floors.
What are your ambitions for your writing and running careers?
In the last year, I’ve been trying different distances. There’s so much focus on the marathon – and for good reason, but I wanted other running challenges, so last year I did my first road mile and this year I ran my first ultra – a 50k trail run. I like trails, and I’ll probably be doing more in the future. I’m in a weird spot right now where I’ve already done my goal race. With writing? I’d like to sell another book. I’m working on the proposal right now so fingers crossed!
How do writing and running compare? Do you see similarities in how you recharge, explore your thoughts, etc?
Both can be wonderful and maddening. Sometimes running’s going really well but writing is not, or vice vera. When both stutter, it’s the pits. Another thing I’ve noticed: sometimes if I don’t want to do either, it’s better to soldier through and work through the problem until it breaks free. Other times, it’s better to take off and let the problem (writer’s block, sore legs) work itself out. But man taking that time off is hard – for both things!
Do you have a toolkit you rely on when/if you sees any of your past self-abusive behavior returning? Do you have any recommendations for others in similar situations?
I think writing about it helps. It helped me. I realize not everyone thinks they can be a writer, or would want to share these things, but a journal works just as well. I keep one – I’m not all that good with keeping up with it, but it’s there when I need it. I went into therapy after writing this book because it drug out so many thing that I had tried to squash down. That and writing about it in book for and in journal form really helped me get past it. I’ve had people show up to my signings in tears – men and women! That surprised me at first, but it doesn’t now. I didn’t realize I was writing about thing and situations that so many people had already been through, and I’m glad that it has helped them out.
Have you read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed? If so, what were your thoughts? Do people compare you to her?
I read it when it came out, and then saw the movie while I was writing my book. the structure of going back and forth in time helped me figure out the structure of my book. Each chapter in mine starts with a portion of me running the 2013 New Jersey Marathon, then jumps back in the story. Wild goes back and forth between the hike and her past, but not in a linear way like mine does. Wild – and Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which I also loved – almost scared me out of writing Running: A Love Story. Their quests were so big and so huge. What’s running a marathon in comparisons to THAT? But then I looked at my running story as a 10-year story, not a one-race story, and it work out from there. I have heard comparisons, and I don’t mind. It’s better than being compared to Carrie Bradshaw, which happened a lot when Sex and the City was still around.
What do you have to say to the internet trolls who comment negative things?
Nothing. Silence is golden. And infuriating to someone trying to provoke me into responding.
Jen has been gracious enough to offer a GIVEAWAY of her new book. You can read a sample here. It was praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a “wickedly funny new memoir of life as a long-distance runner [that] is both a moving personal confession and her hymn to the sport.” Sounds great to us!
Head over to our Rafflecopter giveaway and enter by:
- Liking Jen’s Facebook page
- Following Jen on Twitter
- Comment on this blog post as to why you would like to win a copy.
(Make sure you enter through Rafflecopter before doing these so your entries can be calculated)
Also make sure that you go to Portland Running Company on October 6th and run/speak with Jen in person!
Jen lives in Collingswood, N.J. and just ran her first ultra marathon. She’ll also be running her seventh marathon, the New York City Marathon, this fall.