Thursday, March 5, 2009

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

The title of today's blog - and also of a fabulous book by Japan's foremost author Haruki Murakami. I bought this book as a small-time fan of Murakami but mainly because he's a runner and I am too.

`When I Am Running' is all about Murakami's development as a writer and a runner. He started both at the same time, the comparatively late age of 32. He believes that what makes a good runner also makes a good novelist. Yes, talent, but also focus, endurance and an ability to get through pain. His writing in `When I am Running' is simple, simplistic almost and, if you didn't know this was the writer of `Norwegian Wood', you'd almost believe it was produced by a lesser writer.

What I have enjoyed most so far in this book is the extent of my own identification with Murakami. He is a grafter. He has talent (far more than I) but is also aware that things dont' come easily to him. He has to really try often where things come easily to others.

Murakami also has a straightforwardness to him I can relate to. He sees life in terms of choices. No pain, no gain. Nothing good happens without insane levels of commitment, unless you're just freakishly talented or fortunate. This is a man for whom writing isn't just an intellectual outpouring, but a long, hard marathon, something for which he has to constantly push himself towards, a titanic effort requiring a backbone of steel.

Running has been a feature of my own life since I was about 18. I began using it to manage stress when I was going through a rough patch mentally. I never stopped. I have been running at least twice a week now for 20 years. My performance as a runner peaked in my early 20s, quite early for a runner when I completed the Great North Run in 1hr 24 minutes. Then I got injured and couldn't run hard for several years. I never quite got back to that level and now half-marathon in about 1hr 45 mins.

Running feels as much part of my identify as it does Murakami's. What do I think about when I am running? Not a lot. He is right, it is semi-meditative. Fragments come and go. Things do get worked out but not on a logical level, particularly. For me, like him, that happens, if it ever does, on the page.

Today's run was in the splendid frost of an early morning. I did an hour, out through our gate, past the village sign and into the fallow Suffolk pasture that surround our house. The sky is big here, the fields mostly unbroken by hedgerows, huge, subtlely undulating tablecloths with distant, splinter-fences.

Sometimes when I run I feel I am filled with water. At such times, I barely get beyond walking pace. Today though I was strong and even managed to sprint for a half-mile. I am accompanied, as always, by my terrier-dog, Stanley, who could probably run all day and then some. His natural athletic talent runs far in excess of my own.

I arrive home, pleased with myself, at 8.30am, following a fine hour to hear both children in a state. They have been ill with tummy bugs and I was up several times in the night. The volume doesn't phase me though. I am beyond stress. That is what running means to me.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about your athletic exploits - i also used to run in my earlier years and i would do now if i hadnt injured my ankle 10 years ago - you may have read Ron Hills 'The Long Hard Road' (2 volumes), as he comes from your neck of the woods and has legendary status in the world of athletics and long distance running. He also set up a business whilst competing at world level and his books are an excellent read (a non-runner wouldnt get it though!).
Rob Harris
Advocacy Experience

Mark Griffiths 'ideally speaking...' said...

Great post, Craig. Murakami's books do ramble on. They should really be for ramblers, not runners. It's his writing technique that leads him to occasionally stumble and come to a grinding halt. He writes spontaneously, just sees where it goes. It's the same with all his books - I've read them all. Having written books myself, I understand the mental marathon involved. This is, of course, the only kind of marathon I am prepared to run - as, when it comes to physical exercise, I am a non-believer. This book is an odd one (maybe, Rob Harris, as a non-runner, I just don't get it!!) - the running seems to run his life. It's a daily obsession which seems to knock writing (or anything else - life, living, enjoyment?? - into second place). I read the book because I like Murakami and the way he writes. The subject matter left me somewhat bemused.

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