An interview with an unlikely runner…and book author!

DCDana1When my friend from grad school announced July 26 on Facebook, “Big DC Dana news coming…” I knew it would be something big.

How did I know this? Let me paint the picture for you.

Her weeks are spent providing strategic communications counsel to the feds. On weekends, she’s either tending to her duties as a reserve officer in the Navy or participating in endurance (meaning long) running events. Sometimes even mud, barbed wire and electrical currents are involved. She also has a blog, dcdana.com. And, in the midst of all of this, she has an active social life.

While hitting “like” on that Facebook post, I thought to myself:

You know, I’m not surprised.

After all, she DID start this blog to help her with procrastinating on grad-school work.

I mean who does that?

DC Dana does. And she does it well.

She already sounds spectacular, and I haven’t even told you what her big news was! DC Dana published her first book. It’s called Confessions of an Unlikely Runner: A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated and “chronicles her awkward mishaps and adventures in transitioning from childhood bookworm to accidental accomplished athlete.”

I think that a lot of people can identify with that. I know I can. As a child, I wasn’t an aspiring athlete, either, and also developed a love for running late in life. We have a lot in common actually – most of which I knew before reading her book and was reminded of by reading the book. I’m a list person (and Type A like she is), so I made a list of all of those things. Both of us:

  • Are graduates from the same master’s degree program at Johns Hopkins University and have similar professional backgrounds
  • Use behavior-change theories in our daily life
  • Lived in neighboring condo complexes in Arlington, Virginia
  • Multitask by exercising and transporting ourselves places simultaneously
  • Respond well to pressure – I post on social media after I’ve registered for a big race, too, and for the same reason she does!
  • Have seen the same weird things on our runs – like the snake handler (Four Mile Run trail, correct?)

Both of us also value personal development and tend to keep a full schedule, but DC Dana gives new meaning to “never a dull moment.” From her Facebook posts about random strangers asking about and misidentifying her ethnicity (yes, they actually ask or tell her what ethnicity they think she is – inappropriate…see Figure 1.1 below) to watching her accomplish some very significant things since I’ve known her (Figure 1.2), she’s a joy to have as a friend.

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Figure 1.1

DCDana3

Figure 1.2

That’s why I’m so excited to introduce you to her through this Q&A so that you’ll hopefully get to know her even better by reading her e-book!


Q&A with DC Dana

At what point in your blogging did you decide to write a book and why? What or who planted the seed in your mind to do so, and what pushed you to do it?

I loved writing as a kid but then didn’t really think about it as an adult until people on Facebook kept telling me they liked reading my posts and friends started telling me I needed to write about my frequent adventures. So I started my blog in 2011, then later thought about trying to turn some of it into a book.

Randomly, a former coworker invited me to her book launch earlier this year, which introduced me to her publisher, and the rest is history! I tend to think God puts things in our paths sometimes so I usually pray about it and then try to walk through whatever door seems to be opening and go from there! 

What was it like writing your book?

It was kind of like running and training for a race; you have to break it down into pieces. Similar to training for a race, you have to knock out a chunk at a time. My publisher had me start with an outline, which included the main topics I wanted to cover in the book, and those topics became chapters. From there, I built out a schedule within a three-month timeframe, which kept me to writing at least a chapter or two a week, because I was held to a publishing date. The chapters were usually around 3,500 words each.

What was a typical day like while you were writing your book?

I’d get up early and knock some writing out before my regular work day, then also write on the weekends. I’d run when I could after work, around 6 p.m., or on Saturday afternoons. I’m not consistent, and it’s terrible. I know running coaches cringe when I say that. Some weeks I won’t run at all, and some weeks I’ll run three times. It depends on my mood and what I’m training for.

How did you feel when your book hit amazon.com?

It feels really good and kind of crazy. My writing timeline was so tight that I didn’t really stop to tell people I was doing it. I was so focused on getting finished that I didn’t really think about what it was becoming. Then, when it came out, and it was starting to get word of mouth buzz, I was just sort of in shock. I guess I didn’t imagine it would do that wellIf you told me as a kid that I’d write a book one day, I could’ve understood that because I loved to write then. But I would not have believed I’d write a book on running.

In your book, you share a lot of humorous, insightful stories about your experience with running. Which one has left the biggest impression on you and how/why?

I think it’s probably seeing people struggle – like wounded veterans who run races on prosthetic legs, or people who are trying to lose significant amounts of weight and are getting out and walking or jogging to start a new life. That always makes me feel like I have zero excuses to exercise and inspires me to be brave and get out there too.

DCDana4

Figure 1.3

Have you ever considered starting a campaign to combat the littering of floss sticks (figure 1.3)? Sidebar: A couple weeks ago, I saw a student using one of those while sitting with her peers at lunch and immediately thought of you. I’m sorry I didn’t text you.

Ha! I should! Although now, seeing those weird little things makes me smile and feel a connection to all my friends who also see them now!

You refer to your interest in running as a relationship. You wrote, “Running has become a companion to me. It’s always there when I want it, and it helps me become a better version of myself through the lessons I learn by doing it.” When did you start viewing running as such and why?

Probably when I went through a tough breakup a few years ago. I found myself feeling kind of lost and numb and would find relief on my running trail. I’d question God about things, I’d cry, I’d get some needed distraction, etc. It was like free therapy. 

I, too, have trouble viewing myself as a “runner” (even though, by definition, we are – WE RUN) and an “athlete.” Was it the Navy bio that made you realize you’re an athlete? If not, when did that happen?

Honestly, I still wouldn’t call myself an “athlete.” Maybe that’s wrong, but I usually call myself “active” or a “runner” immediately followed with “…a SLOW runner.” But I do always feel a sense of accomplishment after my races, or even after being out on my trail for a few miles. 

You talked about the TNT training group. Do you ever follow free training plans online? If so, which ones do you recommend?

Now, I just apply what I learned through TNT to other races so I typically don’t download plans. I will say, though, that I like Hal Higdon’s site. He has a lot of free plans for different levels that are easy to download. 

When I started racing, I skipped the 5k altogether and started with a 10k. What progression did you follow for increasing mileage? How long did it take you to go from couch to marathon? Feel free to provide a timeline that marks the various milestones in between.

I started with a 5k and then moved fairly quickly to a 10 miler, probably within a year or so. Not long after that, I did my first half but was not considering ever going more than that. Then, for some reason, I decided to do a full marathon about 8-9 years after that first 5k. After that, I got more into the obstacle races, trail runs, and relays. I trained a solid 5 and a half months for my marathon, starting with a 4 mile “long” run and going up from there.

You wrote about the rewards associated with running like free therapy, resilience, discipline, confidence, a chance to prove yourself, raw simplicity, increased mental toughness, patience, knowing how to relax, using failure to your advantage and helping others. What has been the most meaningful reward and memorable cause that you attribute to your sticking with running?

That’s tough! I do love all the rewards I mention. The biggest one that keeps me out there might be a mix of discipline and increased mental toughness. I sometimes think about people I’ve seen who have pushed their bodies to crazy limits – like Navy SEALs, or Olympic athletes, etc. – and I think about how hard they have to train and it kind of shames me into doing my little slow jog at the very least. Yes, some people have more natural athletic ability or natural strength, etc. but at the end of the day, we humans are all made up of similar stuff – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I think most of us are capable of way more than we think. I think about the fact that those people made a decision at some point to be disciplined, so I can do that too.

I also think about the people who have been injured or ill who physically can’t run, and I feel like I should run because I’m lucky enough to be able to.

You wrote about the importance of cross-training. I’m glad you brought this up, because I can’t stress the importance of this enough. What’s your favorite exercise and why?

I think spinning is still my favorite. It works your legs in a different way, it’s fun and high-energy, and I feel like I really got in a great workout by the end. I also really like boot camps, where you get to do different things every few minutes that you normally wouldn’t do (carry sand bags, do burpees, etc.) 

Imagine you’re talking to pre-runner-DC Dana. What would you tell her?

I remember being in college and running around the block far enough to finish what I thought was about a mile and feeling like that was such a huge accomplishment for me. I think it’d be fun to go back to that moment and tell myself I was going to eventually learn to enjoy running and would one day finish a marathon and then write a book about it all. I might not have believed myself, but it’d be fun to see my reaction anyway!  

What does the future hold for you as it relates to running and writing?

I’m training for the Army Ten Miler, followed by the Marine Corps Marathon 10k. Those are the only races I’ve committed to so far. I wish they were flipped! I’m getting pressure to do a Spartan race too. I’ll probably try one of those next year with Team Red White and Blue (the veterans org I mention in the book). 

Now that I’m a Navy reservist, I’ll at least be running twice a year for my physical readiness test! (That’s one of the most extreme things I can think of to keep myself in shape: start a job that has “staying in shape” as a job requirement! Haha) I plan to keep doing races and obstacle courses.

As far as writing, I’d love to write more books on other topics that I write about on my blog. I have a lot of stories about travel adventures that I think would be fun to pull together. And I’m open to contributing to runners’ blogs, etc. as well.


DCDana5About DC Dana:

Dana accidentally became a runner more than 10 years ago and has logged a vast array of average finish times since. Her running accomplishments include completing dozens of races and obstacle courses, a full marathon, a Tough Mudder, and multi-day relay events involving little sleep and smelly vans. Dana has proven it’s possible to be a long-term runner without gaining much speed, losing much weight, or sacrificing a fairly lax approach to exercise. 

Dana started her career as a White House staffer and currently works for a large management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. A mix of serendipity and Murphy’s Law typically accompanies her running, travel, and love-life adventures. This combination has landed her everywhere—from living on a bluegrass band’s tour bus, to supporting disaster response activities, to being electrocuted while naked in a Japanese bath house. She writes about all of it on her humor blog, DC Dana, at DCDana.com.

Dana holds a master’s degree in communication and serves as a Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Navy Reserve. Her writing has appeared in local newspapers, online magazines, and in particularly enthralling government PowerPoint presentations. 

Dana currently resides in Arlington, Virginia. In addition to running, her hobbies include seeking out reasons to wear a tutu and finding floss on her running trail.

charm

One thought on “An interview with an unlikely runner…and book author!

  1. Thanks so much for the interview, Anna! “Confessions” is still holding on to the #1 spot in ‘Extreme Sports’ on Amazon and it’s because of people like you spreading the word! Thank you!!

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