February 23, 2017. Reflections on the Long Run, by Debbie Clarke Moderow24 Feb 2017, by Uncategorized in
Photos by Eva Capozzola, who joined us on a recent training run. www.evazolaphoto.com
One year ago, in February 2016, my memoir Fast Into the Night went out into the world. At a celebration in Anchorage, when I stood at a podium and read aloud from my book for the first time, I realized the story I’d worked on for ten years was no longer mine alone. Looking out at my First Friday audience felt awkward and intimidating—but also momentous. After all, what was my book without readers?
Today, recalling that night, I’m reminded of turning around a dog team in the middle of an “out and back” training run. When your huskies charge into a loop carved in deep snow by a snowmachine, you never know exactly what might happen. Standing on the runners in a narrow soft trench, you are off balance—yet you must resist stepping on the drag. To do so will only pull the sled into the center of the circle, where you can tip over and get stuck in bottomless snow. It’s important to let the team charge ahead, to ride out the 180 degree turn, and lean into upcoming miles.
After decades of mushing, I’m well aware that those miles during the second half of a long training run are the most important. The goal is to finish the distance stronger than we began. It’s my job to temper the pace and offer snacks in regular intervals. Most critical, is to watch for new information relayed from dogs—like young Chowder who perks up his ears in enthusiasm, or elder Tiger who glances back, asking for a slower tempo. My spirits soar when Ritz prances with confidence at mile forty. These interactions that come after the turn-around define the quality of our run.
Like the turning-around point on a dog run, my book launch last February signified a pivotal moment—when I knew my project had come a long way but that the next miles were most important. As I stood in front of that audience as a newly published author, I understood that the following weeks would deliver feedback about my book. Of course I hoped for success—in sales numbers, reviews, and ratings on Amazon. To quell my rising angst I vowed to give all I had to the upcoming cross-country book tour, the 30+ radio interviews, and the speaking engagements I’d agreed to perform. During this first year of my book, I wanted to “finish strong.”
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that my anticipation that night distracted me from a key lesson I’d already learned on Iditarod: that vulnerability comes in the course of any long journey and that real success is not “black and white.” My ultimate satisfaction on Iditarod came in my ongoing relationship with my huskies. It follows logically, that my experience as an author has been all about connecting with readers.
The months following my book launch did not disappoint. Positive reviews and enthusiastic audiences eased my nerves. It was an invigorating time, but nothing gave me more satisfaction than an email I received from a dear family friend, who after reading Fast Into the Night, told me about the last time he went trout fishing with my father. Early sales numbers for my memoir were heartening, but they were inconsequential compared to the two European women in the Denali Park bookstore, who extended their trip for a day in order to shake my hand and thank me for my story. A father in Anchorage went out of his way to tell me he would read every word to his teen daughters who needed encouragement to follow their dreams. One day in Vermont, I snuck into a room at my brother’s nursing home, in time to listen to a volunteer read my memoir to the audience of residents—smiling.
I suppose the truth here is both simple and obvious: one-on-one connections—with my dogs on the trail or with readers of my memoir—matter more than anything else. In this era of digital feedback and social messaging, nothing compares to the wag of a tail or the insistent yowl from my young leader Bowtie, telling me he’s ready to go. Similarly, my joy as a new author has come in handshakes and conversations, and in heartfelt messages written to me from my readers.
I’ll never forget what it felt like to launch Fast Into the Night one year ago. On countless occasions during this year as a newly published author, I’ve been reminded of the long dog sledding trail. It’s been a wonderful run.