My daughter just ran ten miles for the first time with her friend Kristi.

Having my propensity toward rosy cheeks, she got beet red:

Kristi and Kate after Kate's first ten-mile run

Kristi and Kate after Kate's first ten-mile run

She did not, however, inherit the capacity for long-distance running from me or from her father.

She earned every mile from her own effort. Having worked hard to run in two 5K races in the past, I am proud that she will run a half-marathon soon.

If you have read Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, you may remember that I pounded out a very fast 50-yard dash, impressing my gym teacher, who went on to nickname me “Rosy Cheeks.”

So I guess you could call me a sprinter. In fact, when I look back on my career, I’d use that term metaphorically also. I moved from challenge to challenge, pouring my energies into quick bursts. The longest I ever persisted in the same job was the eight years I spent as the president of Goshen College.

Before that and after that, I moved from one academic or administrative task to another, usually when someone else asked me to do something.

I’ve sometimes felt envious of the marathoner, who puts “slow twitch” muscle fibers to such good use, continuing past all obstacles to draw upon deep reservoirs of inner strength.

However, what comes more naturally to me, what I seem to be built for, is the dash, an explosive burst of energy. One dash leads to another and then to another.

It would be easy to say I am only a sprinter. And to try to justify sprinting v. long distance runs, or careers.

Dividing the world into two classes can be fun. But fruitless.

How many times have you heard a statement that begins by dividing the world into two classes?

The famous humorist Robert Benchley pricked that bubble with these words:

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.

-Robert Benchley

Robert Benchley, image from Wikipedia

Robert Benchley, image from Wikipedia

I’ve decided, after pondering the two classes of sprinter and marathoner, that I aspire to neither. As a Mennonite, I like to look for a “third way” when presented with two alternatives.

In this case, the third way I choose is to be a marathon sprinter. Each of the bursts of energy in my life has led me to the next over all sixty-five of my years. When woven together, like a braided rug, each individual sprint, like an old t-shirt, contributes to a marathon whole, like a large rug.

Writing a book and then touring with it has been a major sprint. I’m still waiting to feel the familiar nudge that calls the next sprint out of me. Perhaps you will be the person whose story inspires my next step.

At my age, it may look more like a jog or a walk, but that’s fine with me. It’s all part of the journey home.

Are you a sprinter or a marathoner? A marathon sprinter or a sprint marathoner? I’d love to hear stories about running, metaphors, dualisms, whatever came to mind as you read this story.

Next week? Stay tuned for the big Writing Dualism: Pantser v. Plotter

Shirley Showalter


  1. janet givens on April 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks Shirley. I smiled at Benchley’s dichotomy. My once-upon-a-time favorite was motor boat lovers vs. sailboat lovers, and thought never the twain would meet. These days I much prefer that the various “twains” meet. Alas, it does seem to be harder and harder; our various camps getting more and more strident and intransigent. My career has also been as a sprinter, my longest run just five years. Writing this first memoir, at 7 years, has been my longest run. Just where/when does a sprint turn into a marathon anyway?

  2. shirleyhs on April 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks, Janet, for starting the conversation. I’m not sure the motor boat lovers and sailboaters will ever meet. The song from Oklahoma comes to mind, “The farmer and the cowman should be friends!”

    As far as your question, I think you have been building from multiple sprints to a true marathon. Your book comes at the very apex of your career! Congratulations! Keep coming back to keep us updated on your progress.

  3. Tina Fariss Barbour on April 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    A thought-provoking question, Shirley. As a writer, it varies. I am more of a sprinter with my newspaper work. The copy needs to be done when it needs to be done. Deadlines push me into sprinting. That has carried over into my “own” writing in that I can turn out blog posts pretty quickly. But with the long-term projects, I am more of a shuffling marathoner. 🙂 I seem to make less progress. I need to marry my newspaper writing skills to my other writing–and organization–skills.

  4. shirleyhs on April 23, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Good point, Tina. Some of us selected professions which dictate our styles. Journalists have to sprint!

    I agree that the demands of the long form are altogether different, and they were harder for me to meet also.

    You will be interested in the Pantser v. Planner post I’m doing next week!

  5. Laurie Buchanan on April 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Shirley – Normally I would say that “the turtle wins the race,” but after just moving lock-stock-and-barrel across the country, then hopping on a plane to San Diego (that’s where I am right now) for my niece’s wedding, I’m definitely not in turtle mode.

    In the big scheme of things, I’m a marathon runner — intentionally conserving energy for prolonged, high-intensity, endurance.

    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Laurie, you know yourself very well. You have just described the opposite of my amalgamated type of marathon sprinter — you, now, are a sprint marathoner. Your true identity is described perfectly here: “marathon runner — intentionally conserving energy for prolonged, high-intensity, endurance.”

      But what a burst of energy you have had in the last weeks and months as you researched, leased, and moved across the country. The turtle as temporary jack rabbit! Continued blessings as you carefully continue the race.

  6. Saloma Furlong on April 24, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Shirley, as you and I discussed, I am also a sprinter. I don’t think my sprints equal a marathon, though. I need time for pauses, like commas in writing, to reflect and to restore my energy.

    Looking for the third way is a wonderful legacy of the culture of your birth and of your choosing. The Mennonite Church itself has found a third way.

    There are, however, some choices we make in life that exclude others. Even with all the choices available to us, we still cannot have it all. Sacrifices are a necessary part of life, in my way of thinking.

    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Saloma, I love the idea of pauses, like commas, and I think they are the only way the sprinter can run a marathon. In fact, the latest craze in the exercise world is interval training –short burst of intense energy, rest, then another short burst. Thanks for inserting the comma.

      And, yes, some choices do close doors, and life exacts its sacrifices. We will continue to dialog about dichotomies and which ones are absolute and which ones are not. Our different perspectives make life interesting!

  7. Lois J de Vries on April 24, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Hi Shirley,

    Dichotomies leave so little room for the colorful tapestry that our lives can become, but I’m happy to play along. Like you, I’ve had serial careers. The thread that runs through them all, however is writing. Each ended when I mastered the skills required and work that had once seemed intriguing became humdrum. It kept life interesting 🙂 .

    My karate teacher used to say, “Strike when the opportunity presents itself,” and that’s how I see writing.
    You have to pace yourself and practice your craft daily so that you’re ready to supply that burst of intensity when the window of opportunity opens.


    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Lois, Welcome to this blog!

      I love that writing was the thread that connected all your careers. I think I can say the same thing, although I discovered that writing a long-form book is a lot different from the kinds of scholarly and institutional writing I did in the past. That’s what made it another challenge! Are you finding the same to be true for you?

      You will resonate with many of the other people commenting here, and I know they will love the idea of cultivating the inner garden, your passion these days.

  8. Sharon Lippincott on April 24, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Fun post Shirley. I fit into your third way, and I see it in terms of another metaphor, the Tortoise and the Hare. We third way people are hares. While it’s true that the tortoise ran the race, I’ve always thought the hare had more fun, smelled more roses along the way, had a richer life. The hare did stay on track and finish the course without giving up. If you take winning the race out of the equation and focus on the process rather than the destination, being a hare has a lot to be said for it.

    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Your sense of humor always shines through your words, Sharon. I love that about your comments. You are taking a classic tale with a moralistic ending and helping us to see it in new ways. I never thought about this way of framing the story. Thanks for sharing.

      And, because Jane Friedman pointed me to this wonderful TED talk, I share it with you and other readers here. It totally turns around what appears to be a dire situationof decline and helps us all fall in love with classical music. Shining eyes!

    • Sharon Lippincott on April 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Duh, I meant the tortoise WON the race!

  9. shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I sprinted right past that typo to your meaning. 🙂

  10. Lois J de Vries on April 24, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Shirley, I don’t really feel that long form writing is so different from my blogging or magazine writing, but that may be because I structured many of my 250-word posts to be strung together or enlarged upon from the beginning. One publisher asked me to “show him more” on each of the two sample chapters and write another chapter. I’m a slow writer and edit/proof as I go, so it took me six weeks to come up with another 9,000 words. He didn’t buy, but that’s OK, because I have a better proposal now and less work to do when the right editor finally comes along 🙂 .

    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      That sounds like a smart way to proceed, Lois. All the best with your search for just the right publisher.

  11. Elfrieda Schroeder on April 24, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Shirley, I just now read your blog because we’re “sprinting” to Ontario from Manitoba to visit our daughter and her family (half of our grandkids, which makes 4). Actually I think it’s more of a marathon because we are taking two days and two nights, and it’s a LOT of driving. My husband is the hare (he’s driving) and I’m the tortoise This is a very bad analogy. I’m just TIRED of the ride and want to get there already!

    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      Elfrieda, you made me chuckle, although I also know how serious you are, and how long those marathon car rides can feel. We can get very stiff from sitting in a car for hours these days. . .

      Thanks for entering the conversation.

      We speed you on your way!

  12. Sharon Lippincott on April 24, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Shirley, thanks for that link to the Benjamin Zander TED talk. I was thunderstruck with his final insight: “I realized that my job is to awaken possibilities in other people.”

    WOW! Isn’t that what we are trying to do as writers — awaken possibilities in other people? YES!

    I’m doing a happy dance around that thought. I knew that, and he brought it out into the light. Woo hoo.

    • shirleyhs on April 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      I so agree, Sharon. That’s a talk worth watching many times. I think today was the third time for me. Shiny eyes. Awaken others. One impulse when we play. Let our words also be our potential last words. Lots of great inspiration.

  13. Jane Pinel on April 26, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Dear Shirley, I loved your comparison, sprinting and marathon together like a braided rug. Each day I walk on a beautiful braided rug that my mother made years ago with pieces of all the families pants, coats, wool shirts, etc. Each braid brings memories.
    I guess I am a determined walker, taking my time but not giving up in telling her story. Spring has finally come to New Hamposhire, dragging its feet.

    • shirleyhs on April 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm


      I’m so glad you have that rug. What a wonderful set of memories such a collection of clothing must bring back.

      Your devotion to your mother Dolly is deep and palpable. My mother saw your book on my stack and asked to take it with her back to Pennsylvania. So now she will have a new set of stories to braid into her own. Thank you from both of us.

      When spring comes after a hard winter, it’s doubly glorious. May yours be filled with flowers, fragrance, and bird song!

  14. Jane Pinel on April 27, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Dear Shirley, I am happy that your mother wanted to read “Dolly” but sad that you won’t be reading it.

    I hope she enjoys it and hope she will connect with me after she reads it. I loved her picture, such a joyful expression on her face.

  15. shirleyhs on April 27, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I’ll pass along this wish, Jane, and the book will be coming back to me when she’s finished. Mother is suffering some occasional intense back pain that we are dealing with right now. Mother enjoys writing letters, so I hope she will feel good enough to read and write to you.

  16. Elaine Mansfield on April 28, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Congratulations to Kate.

    My husband called me a “mudder.” I don’t think he’d ever been to a horse race, but mudders win on a slow wet track when other horses give up. I’m tenacious. I’m learning about sprinting as I begin to promote my book, but I still pace myself. I like to get things in well before deadlines. Steady at it. A baby step each day. I’m lousy at pausing or resting. I like to keep going once I’m on the track.

    Thanks for an interesting post, a great quote from Benchley, and asking me to tell a story. Your site is beautiful. I look forward to more exploring.
    Best to you,

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on April 29, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks for this lovely comment, Elaine. I admire your persistence and hope that you will continue to make steady progress toward your goals. Sometimes an explosive event will propel you in the midst of a race, and sometimes your attention to detail will accumulate into amazing growth at the end. Whatever pattern your race, I wish you well in it.

      I’m heading over to see what you are up to.

      Thanks for this visit.


  17. […] confessed to being a  sprinter rather than a marathon runner in last week’s post, you might have already guessed where I come out between these two […]

  18. Richard Gilbert on April 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Since I sprinted to my desk without much of a plan when I started my book, I’d say I have sprinter tendencies. But then I settled into a seemingly endless marathon of rewrites and new versions. I got kind of discouraged for a while in the middle, from fear I’d not cross the line again. But I did. And before it was through I had a very detailed outline that helped me hold my book in my mind and move things around.

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