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.
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.
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?