Write On. Our interview with Susan Lacke
Posted on July 26 2019
Does everyone want to be a writer at some time or another in their life? Several of us at Coeur did. In fact, Kebby even did a stint as a reporter for the Athens Banner Herald many years ago. But the reality is that writing is hard and great writing is very, very hard.
So we, like so many others, moved on to ventures where we had more (or some) talent and now we just follow real writers from afar. At least our love of writing (similar to our love for sports) allows us to appreciate those individuals with real talent.
And just as we're fans of the best athletes, we're also fans of the great writers who bring running, biking, swimming, and triathlon to life for us with their words. In fact, not only do they bring us happiness, we think it's critical to the long term health of the sports we love to have a group of individuals who will take the time to opine on the races, tell your stories, and from time-to-time, speak truth to power. That's why we try to do our best to shine a light on these folks whenever we can.
So, we're incredibly excited to share our conversation with one of the most well-known writers in endurance sports. Her work has appeared in Competitor Magazine, Triathlete, Women's Running, Outside Magazine and she's got a fantastic new book out now. We hope you enjoy our chat with the inimitable Susan Lacke!
Susan, thank you so much for joining us for this written interview. It seems apropos that we're doing this in writing since you're such a well-known author in the endurance sports community. So, first, we'd love to know how you got into running, triathlon and other endurance sports?
Believe it or not, it was a cigarette break. I was smoking outside my office one day when my boss – a 13-time Ironman – sat down next to me and asked for a drag. I was shocked, but I handed it to him and watched as he took it between his fingers and…stubbed it out. It was a bold move that could have backfired spectacularly – but instead, it got my attention. He convinced me to join him for coffee, where he also convinced me to start swimming with him. It all snowballed from there – my boss became my best friend and training buddy, and I eventually swapped smoke breaks for swim, bike, and run. It’s a friendship and transformation I write about in my first book, Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow.
Of equal interest, we're very curious about your path to becoming a writer. Was that the plan from the time you were a small child, or did events conspire to coerce you into becoming a full time writer?
Hardly! If I had known I’d eventually be a writer, I wouldn’t have spent so much time and money getting my doctorate. I’m an academic by trade – by day, I teach human development at the collegiate level. Writing came by accident. Shortly after I started running, a friend of mine asked me to write a race recap for his blog. That led to more recaps, which led to a running magazine offering me a column, which led to more magazine work and books…I pinch myself every day that this is how my life snowballed. I have no idea how I got here or what I’m doing. But I’m having a hell of a good time trying to figure it out.
We're based in Los Angeles which is the (some would say "black") heart of the entertainment industry and people here all know that the writers are the real stars. So, can you take us behind the scenes a bit? What's it like to be a professional writer? Do you get recognized when you're out and about? Any Groupies? Weird fan mail? Cool fan mail?
I wish it was Hollywood glamorous, but the reality is that on most writing days, I don’t wear pants. (If you’re saying to yourself, “That sounds amazing!” You are absolutely right.)
Writers don’t really get recognized, either by photos or byline. I’ve had people tell me about “really interesting articles” they’ve read on a topic, only to realize they’re talking about my articles. Ditto for books – the other day, a new acquaintance told me they had just read a book about weird running adventures, and that I’d probably like it, since I was also a runner. It was my book! I just smiled and said I’d check it out sometime.
Further to that, can you take us through the book writing process? We've got this image in our heads of someone having a lighting flash of inspiration then you run over and roll a crisp 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper into the typewriter and start pecking away. What's a typical day like and what are the steps in the book writing and publishing process?
I love that image, and because you said that, I just spent an hour shopping for typewriters.
Which is pretty typical of the book-writing process – I’m easily distracted and prone to procrastination, so most days, I have to actively decide to shut down all shiny trinkets and rabbit holes, or I’d never get anything done. That’s when I put on some pants and go someplace that doesn’t have wifi.
What I find works best for me is to go to a coffee shop and buy two coffees. I sit down at a table, place one coffee in the seat across from me and sip the other one as I tell the story. Sometimes there’s an actual human sitting across from me, and sometimes it’s an empty chair. I’m realllllll popular at my local coffee shop.
But that’s what I do - storytelling. I try to write everything, whether it’s a book or a how-to article for a magazine, as if I were explaining it to a training buddy.
We know you go on the road to do promotional work when you have a new book. Can you tell us what that's like? Is it private jets, more groupies and cocktail receptions?
Oh, man. I pay out of pocket for my book tour, so I fly coach, hoard those tiny bags of peanuts to eat for dinner in my hotel room, and eschew Uber for a pair of running shoes. But it’s so worth it, because every time I go to a book event, I get to celebrate endurance sports in the best way – with other athletes, telling insane stories about the places we go and people we meet. I could fill up another book with the stories people have shared on tour. It’s been amazing. Keep your private jets and groupies – I have way more fun on a group run with trailhead beers at the finish.
Are writers in the sports world a close-knit group?
For people who rarely put on pants and leave our homes, yes. I e-mail a variety of people for work every single day, and most of them, I’ve never met. In fact, when I was working on my first book, I would exchange e-mails with my editor and publisher almost every single day for an entire year; it wasn’t until the book was about to launch that they learned I was deaf. I didn’t hide it from them – it just never came up! It was a profound realization – you can communicate with someone every day and yet never know anything about them.
Since then, I’ve made it a point to connect with other writers and editors in person whenever possible. If I’m in their town for a book event, I make plans to meet up for coffee; they have a standing invitation to crash in my guest room whenever they’re in Phoenix. I think it’s important – this job can be so isolating, so it’s important to reach out.
Speaking of new books, we're excited to read Running Outside the Comfort Zone. Can you tell us a bit about the book and how readers can purchase a copy?
I’m so excited to share it with you! This book is a celebration of running and runners – so many people think that running is just 5Ks and marathons – Very Serious Racing with so-called “real” runners – but it’s so much more.I spent a year exploring the wild, weird, and wacky side of endurance sports: I ran up the stairs of the Emprire State Building and into the Grand Canyon, chased a wheel of cheese down a hill in England, did a naked 5K in Tampa, smuggled running shoes into Cuba…and along the way, I explored the question of what it means to be a “real” runner. Is Very Serious Racing the only way?
I’d love to hear what Coeur readers have to say about being a “real” runner, and also about the craziest thing they’ve done at a race – you can pick up a copy of Running Outside the Comfort Zone at local bookstores, running shops, and online.
So now that Running Outside the Comfort Zone is published, what is next for you as a writer?
Right now, the focus is on promoting the book! But once the tour is over in November, I’ll start kicking ideas around with my publisher for a new book. In the interim, I’ve got lots of great stories coming up in Triathlete, Women’s Running, and PodiumRunner.
Last question on writing. If we have any aspiring writers out there reading this, what advice would you give to them?
Work hard and be nice to people. This isn’t an easy job – there can be a lot of rejection, and even more criticism. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to take it personally and become jaded: “How dare they say they that?” But be grateful for those experiences. They’re opportunities to learn and grow and improve – but only if you’re willing. People with egos don’t last very long in this job.
Finally, back to sports. We've heard rumors that, in addition to be consistent runner, you've also completed an Ironman. If that is correct, which Ironman and do you have any triathlons on your "to do" list for the future?
I’ve done a few Ironmans! My favorite is Wisconsin – it was my first, and also in my home state. That race is something special. I retired from Ironman racing at the conclusion of my first book, but I’m still on the swim-bike-run circuit. Currently, I’m trying to get my mountain biking skills up to a respectable level – I’d love to enter an XTERRA! I’m also training for an ultramarathon in Antelope Canyon. I’ve recruited a bunch of friends to join in on the insanity – it will be the first ultra for most of them, and I cannot wait to show them how much fun the ultrarunning scene can be.