On Running


Andy finally did what he’s been threatening to do since Phoebe joined the cross-country team last year. While we were on vacation, he bought her the book you’re looking at above: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. (Who is, incidentally, the author one of my all-time favorite novels.) What I Talk About is a quick read, only about 175 pages, so when Phoebe polished it off on the train from Amsterdam to Paris, I decided to give it a go myself. The only way I can describe what happened next is to say that it was as though a switch in my brain was flipped. When we arrived in Paris that afternoon, I ran five miles around Luxembourg Gardens. I can’t remember the last time I ran five miles. Seriously. I’m a two- or three-mile girl. Always have been. Thought I always would be. The next day I did five again, then six, then five, then six. I wrote it off as Vacation Fever — you know, that phenomenon when you seem to have mental energy in spades for these kinds of normally ridiculous-sounding undertakings — but here I am, back home for two weeks and still at it. When I woke up this past Sunday at 7:00 AM to put on my running gear, Andy rolled over in bed and asked “Who are you?”

I’m not so sure, to tell you the truth, but I don’t want to ask too many questions because I like this person and I’d like her to stick around a bit longer.

I’ve been a runner since high school, when one winter, my best friend and I decided to get in shape for spring lacrosse season together. We donned oversize sweatshirts and boxers over shiny Hind spandex (hashtag 80s!) and headed out after school, the sun going down fast at that harsh winter angle, so that by the time we were finished with our two or three miles, it was frigid. I dreaded our running ritual right from the beginning, but I’ll never forget the feeling of walking into my house when it was over: All tingly and invigorated. And there was something else I couldn’t put my finger on. More than any other sport I played — and I played a lot of them when I was a kid — there was something psychological going on, too. I felt clear-headed and accomplished. The day felt productive no matter what else transpired. (I’m guessing it’s similar to what happens with yoga and meditation, two things I’ve never attempted with any kind of seriousness.) To this day, the pattern is the same with me: I dread the run, DREAD it — unlike Murakami, I don’t even really enjoy it while it’s happening — but then as soon as its over, I remember why I still do it. Why I know I’ll do it again and again: The tingles, the exhaustion, the exhilaration. Murakami wrote this book in 2008, when he was in his late 50s, because he wanted to do something I didn’t realize I needed to do, too: Figure out why running has played such an important role in my life. Why it’s not just about fitting into my favorite jeans or enjoying the Stromboli without any guilt.

Murakami writes:

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live lives to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life– and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.

I love this quote, too, about how he manages to run every day in spite of a packed schedule. The older I get, the more I realize I need to keep my own few reasons “nicely polished:”

No matter what, though, I keep up my running. Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.


{That’s why this little reminder has been on my kitchen bulletin board for a few years now.}

The book is written in real time as he’s training for a marathon, but it’s also a memoir of his life as a novelist, and fans of his fiction will recognize his spiritual, surrealistic tendencies — like this story about how he decided to write his first novel:

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first thought I could write a novel. It was around one-thirty in the afternoon of April 1, 1978. I was at Jingu Stadium that day, alone in the outfield drinking beer and watching the [baseball] game…[Dave] Hilton, a young American new to the team, got a hit down the left field line…The crack of the bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium. And it was at that moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I can still remember the wide open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and whatever it was, I accepted it.

There’s also this, Murakami’s governing mantra about running (which is now mine and Phoebe’s, too):

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself.

I know I’ve mentioned running here and there on the blog, but I wanted to share my weird little awakening with you in case you are in the market for some inspiration. In my case, I didn’t even know I was in the market for inspiration — at least as it related to running.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how long I can keep it up, but the meantime, who wants to train for a half marathon with me?

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23 Comments

Kathy

What a phenomenal post. I love it! I pretty much hate everything about running except three things — how badass I feel after a run, the fun of participating in races and the great people in my local running club. As for the actual running itself, yuck, but everything else makes it worthwhile.

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Lisa

YES to all of this! Just started running last year. Now I am three half marathons in and training for the fourth.

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Suzi

Jenny, I do! I ran the Rock N Roll Half in VA Beach in 2003, which was incredibly exciting and fun. Training helped me through a bad break up. My knees are not excited to run, but I do miss that feeling. Go get it, girl!

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tara

i do! how about the brooklyn half in the spring?!
i’m turning 30 this month and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 15 years ago, so i’d like to do something to “show” diabetes that even though it’s gaining on me year-wise, it’s not getting the best of me!

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Sara @ Cake Over Steak

This is awesome. I also love running. I’ve noticed a pattern where if I haven’t run in a while (like a week or two), I start to have dreams about running, and I experience this amazing feeling of weightlessness in the dreams while I’m running … it’s weird. That feeling after a run is the best. I say that sometimes I go for a run just so the shower afterwards feels that much better. :-)

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Bea

THANK YOU! I needed this today. You have no idea how much. My running has been lagging this summer (too hot, bronchitis, the bed on vacation wasn’t comfortable so I didn’t get any sleep, a rash on my legs so I can’t wear shorts, yadda, yadda, yadda) and honestly I have no REAL excuses. Thank you for the book recommendation and the motivation to run tomorrow morning to regain the wonderfully familiar feelings you describe above that are sorely missing from my life right now. As for a half marathon, I highly recommend the MORE/FITNESS Half Marathon in the spring in Central Park. It’s two loops around the park, women only. The park is gorgeous when the flowers have just started blooming, though winter training can be a bit trying. I’ve run it four times. The feeling of accomplishment is awesome. Good Luck Jenny! So excited for you. You can do this, especially if you already have a solid base of 5-6 miles. Please keep your readers posted on your progress!

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Reynaul

I am in!!! I love the feeling that running gives me! I have 4 1/2 marathons down and signed up for more, and while I dread thinking about the training and getting up at the crack of dawn to get 6-7 miles in before work, I LOVE LOVE the feeling afterwards. If I miss a day, I just don’t feel right and I feel like my day doesn’t go right! You go!!!

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Kate

Hi Jenny, I just started running this spring on my 43rd birthday – I thought I’d try running a 5K for the first time. Well, I’m hooked. I signed up for the 10K portion of the Rock & Roll Marathon here in Vegas in November and I’m training now. I don’t run everyday – I alternate days and just started doing strength training too – but on the mornings I run, I do feel so accomplished (perfect word). I will definitely pick up Murakami’s book. And for those that need motivation, there’s also a great book called Run Like A Mother that is so funny and inspiring (written by two moms – duh!). They also wrote Train Like A Mother and Tales From Another Mother Runner. I loved all 3 books and highly recommend.

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Frances

I needed this! I went for a run this morning, after a long break away. All of those feelings are fresh in my mind and body. It’s so great to hear some inspiration about running. Thanks for sharing.

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Anna

I’m not a runner these days but I do love Murakami and everything I’ve read that he has written. Thanks for sharing your inspiration!

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katie

I’m in!!! While I don’t run every single day, I can usually get out 1 or two times every week or so….I’m trying to find the right frequency and miles to work with my body/life.

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Ann

How did you and Andy manage running (and exercise in general) when your girls were very little? Our 2 boys are 3 years and 6 months, we both work full-time in demanding jobs, and we just cannot seem to figure out how to fit exercise into our “survival mode” existence. Does it get better as the kids get older? Or are we just inept?

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Awads

When my son was smaller and in daycare, my husband and i swapped off who got to run after work, while the other manned the homefront. We both sacrificed some mileage, but it was for a short time. Once he got into school, we shifted our schedules. I’m the early morning runner (wake up at 4:45) and he’s the evening runner (around 5:00ish). This has worked for the past 5 years. Good luck to you!

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Sarah

It does get easier, but a jogging stroller is fantastic with little ones. I have three kids, now aged 9, 7 and 4. When the two boys were babies, I stuffed them in the jog stroller and my daughter rode her bike. Or my husband watched one kid and I took two in the jog stroller. My husband and I trade off child care for runs.

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Amelia

Thank you for this post! I am a fairly new runner and feel almost exactly the same way you do.

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Gillian

Go, Jenny! Your words hit home with me. I should read this book! I’m a runner and have been for as long as I can remember. I’m a 3-5 miler, 3-4 days/week. A few years ago I went out of the comfort zone and started running a 10K for LLS every June in Central Park. It’s one of the highlights of my year, every year! I find that when there’s music blaring in my ears, my feel just propel themselves forward.

There’s a 5 miler in Central Park on October 25 and a 4 miler on November 22… want to do it together? I don’t think I’m able to run a half marathon.

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Kathryn @ The Scratch Artist

You have no idea how important this post was to me (of course you don’t how could you? That was a rather silly intro sentence). I have just reintroduced running into my life. Which is actually not so much a reintroduction as much as a first meeting. I have been wrestling with what my motivation is for running and what I am looking to produce. I threw all of these thoughts into a post that I published last weekend. Basically, I have just started my journey to discover if running is right for me and if I can do it just for the sake of doing it and not as a means to an end (being fit, losing weight, etc…). Your words were encouraging and really helpful in battling my “I don’t want to run today” daily mantra. I am definitely going to pick up a copy of Murakami’s book. Thank you for sharing this today. I will try and remember some of the wisdom you shared here as I run today.

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Sue

I love this post so much! As I am waiting for my second child to be born (COME ON OUT!) I have been dreaming of getting back to running. And my goal for the next year is to run a half marathon. I know that it will require patience and a lot of good food, but after watching my husband train for the NYC marathon and do multiple halves, I want in. Also, I love Murakami!
And as an aside, about a week ago or so, I made 4 recipes of yours in one week. It was wonderful!

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Awads

Congratulations!! I’ve been a regular runner for about 25 years. I run about 30 miles per week now, but ran about twice that amount before I had my son (8 years ago!). I don’t race much anymore, but I get out there most days of the week just to feel alive and to have something that is just for me. I always say: The best part of my run is when i turn off my watch and it’s over!

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jenny

These comments are so amazing. I’m glad the post resonated/motivated/inspired. Your comments did the same for me. I was sort of half kidding about the half marathon, but here’s an idea: why don’t one of you start a half marathon training blog where you can share your experience and progress — and we can all try to join in. In the meantime, wish me luck: I’m off to do six.
xo
Jenny

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Kendra

This is one of my top 10 books of all time! I read it once a year. It’s so excellent and simple and perfect. Find a Spring half marathon close by and I’ll train for it with you. It’ll be the perfect goal to get me back into shape post-baby!

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