Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some Running Reading

My most recent issue of The New Yorker includes a piece by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. It is called "The Running Novelist." I saw the title and immediately drew the magazine closer, laying aside my salad fork. Finally, something interesting to read over lunch lettuce. He begins:
A long time has passed since I started running on an everyday basis. Specifically, it was the fall of 1982. I was thirty-three then.
He then goes on at length about his life as a jazz club owner and freshly minted novelist. Finally, he gets back to the running:
Once I had decided to become a professional writer, another problem arose: the question of how to keep physically fit. Running the club had required constant physical labor, but once I was sitting at a desk writing all day I started putting on the pounds. I was also smoking too much--sixty cigarettes a day. My fingers were yellow, and my body reeked of smoke. This couldn't be good for me, I decided. If I wanted to have a long life as a novelist, I needed to find a way to stay in shape.

As a form of exercise, running has a lot of advantages. First of all, you don't need someone to help you with it; nor do you need any special equipment. You don't have to go to any particular place to do it. As long as you have a pair of running shoes and a good road you can run to your heart's content.
I might beg to differ about the "no special equipment, " but he's essentially right, and that simplicity is part of the reason I love running so much. You really do only need a good pair of shoes and some kind of surface on which to put your feet. Obviously you also need clothing as well unless you want to be arrested for public nudity.

And this:
So, like eating, sleeping, housework, and writing, running was incorporated into my daily routine. As it became a natural habit, I felt less embarrassed about it. I went to a sports store and purchased some running gear and some decent shoes. I bought a stopwatch, too, and read a book on running.

Looking back now, I think the most fortunate thing is that I was born with a strong, healthy body. This has made it possible for me to run on a daily basis for more than a quarter century now, competing in a number of races along the way. I've never been injured, never been hurt, and haven't once been sick. I'm not a great runner, but I'm a strong runner. That's one of the very few gifts I can be proud of.
I think that most of us, my fellow runners, can identify with "I'm not a great runner, but I'm a strong runner." I probably will never run a 6:00 mile, break 20:00 in a 5K or 1:30 in a half marathon. I probably won't qualify for the Boston Marathon (though, never say never, I guess). I'm certainly never going to win any major races or most likely any small ones. I'm just your average middle-of-the-packer, and I'm happy with that.

I loved this bit:
No matter how much long-distance running might suit me, of course there are days when I feel lethargic and don't want to do it. On days like that, I try to come up with all kinds of plausible excuses not to run. Once, I interviewed the Olympic runner Toshihiko Seko, just after he had retired from running. I asked him, "Does a runner at your level ever feel like you'd rather not run today?" He stared at me and then, in a voice that made it abundantly clear how stupid he thought the question was, replied, "Of course. All the time!"

Now that I look back on it, I can see what a dumb question it was. I guess that even back then I knew how dumb it was, but I wanted to hear the answer directly from someone of Seko's calibre. I wanted to know whether, although we were worlds apart in terms of strength and motivation, we felt the same way when we laced up our running shoes in the morning. Seko's reply came as a great relief. In the final analysis, we're all the same, I thought.
Somehow, it both comforts and pleases me to know that there might be times when Deena Kastor just wants to sit on the couch in her pajamas and eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream right from the container while watching an "I Love The 80s" marathon on VH1 Classic. Not that I've ever done that. Nope.

He ends with this:
At any rate, this how how I started running. Thirty-three--that's how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that F. Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. It's an age that may be a kind of crossorads in life. It was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.
I was 32 (almost 33) when I began my life as a runner. That was also the start of my weight loss journey. For me it wasn't a "kind of crossroads," it was the crossroad.

Now, if y'all will excuse me, I have to go have my face painted white for my stint on stage as a dead spirit apparition haunting Don Giovanni. Tomorrow is opening night of the opera so this is our final dress rehearsal. Fun times!


P.O.M. said...

Thanks for sharing. That's a great article. My crossroads was at 30 y.o - when I started running too!

Deidre said...

I loved that article too, especially the part about how you are either a long distance runner or you are not. I think that's what non-runners don't understand is that for us even the slow plodders like me, it is fun and fills some basic urge inside our souls to just keep pushing forward mile upon mile.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for Murakami's memoir about his experiences as a long-distance runner. It's called WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING. My friend from the publisher sent me an uncorrected proof and I'm 30 pages in... it's so wonderful, every page makes me want to go out and run.