I don’t remember the process of becoming a runner. All I remember is absolutely not at all being a runner - that was around the time I was in middle school slogging through a one mile run around the track in gym class - then all of a sudden I’m a sophomore clocking 8 minute miles 6, 8, 10 times in a row. I didn’t join x-country or track, [ OK, that’s a lie; I joined but quit after the first day. I’m definitely not a team player ] I just started running. For fitness, I guess. Plus I realized I wanted nice abs or something. What I never expected was that 13, 14 years later I’d still be running, and better than ever. Now, a half-marathon distance is a breeze. Nor would I have expected that running would so thoroughly define my life.
Running, fitness, daily physical activity is who I am, nothing less. I am not me without it. I am an endurance athlete. I run long distances. And I love it. I cannot imagine my life being otherwise. Similarly, I am also a writer. I write to channel my dark, innermost river of thought through the conduit of writing. And just like I wake up every day to run first, before anything else, I always have something I want to say in writing – whether it’s to tell a story, communicate with a friend or family member, or contribute to this blog – I’m constantly inundated with ideas I need to put into words.
For these two reasons, Haruki Murakami’s little work of nonfiction was practically orgasmic. As a Murakami nut [ my first review was on his best – in my opinion – book, 1Q84 ] a book on running from a novelist’s point of view was so relatable for me I could’ve written it myself, minus the fact he’s run ultras and I haven’t come anywhere near to completing that sort of distance competitively. Or ever. As a distance runner – like me – Murakami seamlessly relates running to the process of writing a novel. Both are lonely endeavors that require one to commit to a long, lonely road. There are no shortcuts to becoming a distance runner. You have to put in the time and the miles. Similarly, there are no shortcuts to writing a novel. You have to put down each and every word, one after the other. Neither task is for the faint of heart. Frankly, the journey of the long distance runner may have more in common with that of the novelist than any other hobbyist. Few tasks require the same linearly directed dedication that it takes to get from start to finish.
Murakami believes that “most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day.” Meaning both require focus and stamina, resolution and, to some extent, talent. Me? I’m built for distance running. I’m naturally very lean with narrow hips and I’ve put in the time to develop a biomechanically correct gait [ which in itself took a good deal of time an patience all thanks to the crap that is modern footwear, but I digress ] . Therefore, I have the talent – or ability – to be a good long distance runner. By running every day, I’ve built up my endurance to the point that running for a few hours nonstop barely causes me to break a sweat. That sort of dedication to a goal builds focus. Running, for me, came first. Now, I’m working on becoming a novelist. I’ve written 3.5 books, so I guess I’m technically a novelist – just an unpublished one. But that’s where the endurance comes in. I’m prepared to write however many more it takes to become an author. Just like waking up every day to run, I’ve building running into the core of who I am and now running and fitness defines a huge part of my life, I know that writing every day in some form is also part of who I am. I write for my job, science for publication, and I write for fun running this blog. But the most enjoyable form of writing, for me, is the long-distance sort of writing that comes with writing novels.
I’ve been running 6-7 days a week for nearly 15 years now and there have only been a handful of days where I haven’t wanted to run. Maybe that’s because I don’t try to push myself, I run at a gentle 6mph pace and I don’t train for competition. Similarly, I never have days where I blank out with nothing I can think to write. Again, maybe it’s in my pacing – between my work and the blog the time I get to spend on my novels is sacred and cherished – but I always have more to say. I guess I’m just built for it, for the long haul, the cross-country distances.
Murakami’s book may be rich to me but the true test of a work of nonfiction is whether it’s interesting to a reader irrespective of their interest in the topic. And let’s be honest, this isn’t the best work of prose by a long shot. It’s not even Murakami’s best book. The work is part memoire, part training diary [ he runs an average of 6 miles a day, 6 days a week ] with recounts of past races and running feats, like completing the original Marathon course in Greece one sizzling morning. But even if you don’t buy into this sort of lifestyle, I think it’s almost inherently interesting to learn about what it takes to be disciplined enough to complete these heavy goals. Besides, in a culture where we see and praise rising stars as overnight successes, it’s a comfort knowing that behind the glitz there are other people, successful in their own way, who speak [ or write ] openly about their struggles and about the effort it takes just to compete in the race, let alone to finish one.