It’s been five years, but just thinking about it twists my stomach into knots and makes my heart pound.
I’m down on one knee, trying to stop my brain from thinking while I fidget into my stance. The spring sun is beating down and the smell of hot rubber, dirt and skin is overwhelming. Adrenaline courses through me.
The murmurs and incoherent hubbub of the crowd fades. My mouth is dry. This must have been how the gladiators of old felt when they stepped onto the Coliseum sand. In my pulsating mind, it seems just as barbaric.
“Runners, take your marks.”
A quiver runs through me. My stomach coils and my throat tightens. I stop breathing.
I rise up into my stance. Too late now.
Capow. For such a tortuous thing, the crack of the blank round in the gun is minute, anticlimactic in comparison. I leap from the blocks, driving my arms and legs.
I blast around the first bend, leaning into the curve. Cheers from teammates and parents spur me on like a riding crop to a racehorse.
When 150 meters rolls in, the world changes. It goes quiet. The cheers thin out. My vision wobbles and bounces with each stride. My universe narrows to the next step in front of me.
200 meters. By now, I’ve hit my stride. I tell myself I’m halfway done — the easy half. My coach likes to camp out here and scream. I’m starting to hurt, but whatever he says makes me dig for another gear.
250 meters. They call it the piano bend. If you don’t know what to expect, the staggered lanes can throw you off — someone you thought was ahead of you has more ground to cover on the curve and a guy you thought you were beating can pull ahead.
From here on out, what’s going on in my head matters just as much as whatever my flagging body is doing. My legs and arms are numb. I focus on the fundamentals. Long strides, hands go from cheek to cheek. Everything hurts. Everything burns. I don’t feel like an Arabian anymore, I feel like a Clydesdale. Giddyup.
300 meters. The roar of the crowd rises again as I hit the home stretch. At this point, I’m not getting enough oxygen to my brain. My salvation lies ahead. Don’t die now. Don’t die now. Swing those arms.
390 meters. Sweet mercy. I’m in pain. I’m gritting my teeth and moving for all my dead legs are worth. My pumping arms are moving this train, my legs are just trying to keep up.
400 meters. Fin. I stumble across the line, eyes squeezed shut, gasping for air. I’ve got my hands on my knees. Hopefully I placed well. Either way, it’s over.
The 400 meter is one of the most grueling races in Track and an event I competed in all four years of high school. At the height of the insanity (Region meets my junior and senior year), I ran four of those cursed things within the space of a couple of hours. (That’s a mile of sprinting, friends.) By the last one, you’re pretty much dead to the world before the race even starts.
The 400 meter dash is a mad man’s race. It’s an entire lap around the track. One hellish quarter of a mile. You can’t pace yourself but you can’t floor it either. You just gotta go. It’s a sprint, of course, so speed matters. But guts are just as important. It helps if you’re a glutton for punishment.
Fortunately, I’ve moved on to other hobbies, but sometimes I wonder if they’re any less tortuous. Being an indie author is one I’m not so sure about.
We write and write, then revise, redraft, edit and publish. If we’re equal parts smart and stupid, we do it again, because one book won’t cut it, bub.
Sometimes it sucks. At the very least, it’s not pleasant. It’s an emotional 400 meter sprint. But the bad part is, that last 100 meters, the “piano bend” as it’s called, hits you all the time as an indie author. It’s not like a race, when you know where and when it’s coming and oftentimes, it comes more than once. There is no definitive finish line. For indie authors, for all creatives, that cursed piano bend can hit you without mercy or reprieve, day after day.
The thing is, just like good 400 meter sprinters, indie authors have to be a little but stupid to attempt this endeavor. We’ve got to be gluttons for punishment. We’ve got to keep swinging our arms and run our guts out when things get hard. When the piano bend strikes is when we’ve got to work the hardest.
Unfortunately, unlike a 400 meter sprint, it’s not quick and you don’t get results (good or bad) right away. It’s a long old haul.
When you do cross that finish line (your first published book, your 100th review, your 1,000th sale) you might feel like you’re going to die, but you’ll also feel invincible. If you survive once, you’ll survive again. It will never hurt less, will never get easier, but you’ll get faster, you’ll get better.
Keep on publishing, friends.
How have you overcome piano bends in your author career? Share in the comments below!
Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.