Friday, September 4, 2009

Writing and Running

I recently read Haruki Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and found it pretty interesting, though I don't know if I'd recommend it to anyone who isn't a writer and a runner or a huge Murakami fan. He doesn't have a lot of insight into either running or writing; mostly he just says, to paraphrase: "I write because I'm good at it and I like doing it. And I run because I'm good at it too. I just started one day, and here I am, twenty years later, and it's been great." Then there's a lot of geeky detail about his writing schedule, his running schedule, his marathons, etc.

The book interested me because I've put a lot of thought into the connections between writing and running--they've always felt connected to me. I started running when I was ten, around the time I started writing. And I go through similar long periods of slackdom with both, often at the same time -- I can probably blame these slack periods for the fact that, considering how long I've been at them, I'm still -- embarassingly -- pretty much a beginner at both. They both require a not so easy-to-maintain combination of mental toughness and faith that the activity is really worthwhile, even though, minute by minute, very little gets accomplished. They're both solitary and don't depend on other people. And they both feel much better when they're over.

Plus, a lot of writers I know also run or, in the case of the wonky-kneed (JRL), walk. Joyce Carol Oates reportedly runs 6 miles every morning -- as prolific in her running as her writing. Just this morning I was reading an article about hydration during running, and there was a quote from a woman I happen to know, and who happens to be a novelist (and who sometimes looks at this blog -- are you there, KL?). I had no idea she runs, but I'm not surprised.

There are obvious, practical reasons writers might run: it's cheap, it counteracts all that sitting, it's outdoors. But I feel like there are deeper, more mystical reasons, maybe something to do its linearity, the way your eye moves past words on a page just like it moves past trees and weeds and telephone poles. Maybe it has to do with sustained attention. Or rhythm.

What do you think -- will doing a lot of one lead to a person doing a lot of the other? I, for one, hope so.

10 comments:

christianbauman said...

I just (yesterday) finished "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. Can't recommend it enough...really, truly amazing book. And I'm not a big runner...moderate at best, with a not always pleasant relationship with the activity (I have asthma). But. Wow, what a book. It has definately changed how I think about it (and hopefully really changed HOW I run). I only bring this up because one of the places where the book goes is the scientific proof/argument that we as humans were actually born to run (not fast, mind you, just long and far). You'll have to read the book to get the full picture, but it makes sense, if you buy the argument that we're a running species, that running and our creative brain activities would be connected.

sjwoo said...

A good friend was kind enough to get me a copy of this Murakami book for Christmas, but I still haven't read it yet. I've been a big fan of Murakami for a while, but I didn't find Kafka on the Shore to be as good as his older stuff. But I expect a lot from him, so I may be being overly harsh.

It's funny you should mention running -- I've been writing for much longer (about 20 years) than running (about 3 years). It's not like I never ran before 2006, but I never ran seriously until that time, when another friend told me he was running a 5K (about 3.1 miles). It's really the perfect distance for the beginner runner -- not too long that you won't finish, but long enough that it's always a challenge. My goal was to average a six-minute mile, and I'm fairly certainl it'll be a goal I take to my grave. I managed to do a sub-7, but that's about it, and it took about three months of running six days a week (accruing about 25 miles a week) for me to achieve even that.

Of course, there are those who'd say, "You're bitching about running a seven-minute mile?" But the fact is, in every race, dozens upon dozens of people finish ahead of me, and I guess they're just blessed with faster muscles and a higher threshold for pain.

And in that way, I do think running and writing are very much linked. There will always be folks like Joyce Carol Oates and Nora Roberts who'll write ten books for every one I write. It's just the hand that I've been dealt, and again, some people would say, "Ummm -- excuse me, but there are those of us who have written nothing, so shut up." But that doesn't meant I won't look up to these better-equipped runners and writers with lots of astonishment and a tinge of jealousy.

Incidentally, I'll be running a 5K this Labor Day. I will be laboring, no doubt.

Sheila said...

As a long-time Murakami fan and runner, I've been waiting two years for this book to come out in paperback. For me, there's a meditative aspect to running, the coordination of stride and breath, that is a rich source of creativity. I've often found myself wishing I had a recording device with me while running.

k. said...

I've always thought there was a connection too. Well, maybe not always, but since about a year and a half ago when I started running more seriously. I agree that a big part of the connection is that running is meditative. The daily discipline is also a huge part of it.

jrlennon said...

Running sets my mind on repeat mode--after a run I feel confused and frustrated. Whereas walking shakes the ideas loose. This is a good thing, because Rhian's right, I have a bad knee that only acts up when I've been running regularly for a couple of weeks.

This may be the only Murakami I never read...

jon said...

I started running the day I quit smoking. It was a replacement. Smoking and writing go together like bagels and cream cheese. I thought without cigarettes my writing would evaporate. With running and writing, I don't know. I love to run because it it clears my head. It is hypnotic and a stress killer. I especially like the beating my lungs take. 19 years later and they still like to feel put upon. Writing and running share one thing certainly: the more you do the better you get, and you build stamina, become more efficient, enjoy it more. I think walking and driving are better for getting a story idea for a book, but there is nothing like running for sheer meditative joy, self-hypnosis, getting right with the world.

alissa said...

did you ever read the one he wrote about the tokyo subway attacks?

rmellis said...

Yeah -- Underground. I love that one. Still haunts me.

coltrane01 said...

Christian: I picked up "Born to Run" in the store several times and put it back down. I wanted to get a review of it first. After reading your post, i'll now purchase a copy. I absolutely love running but in my advanced age (50) I can't run as fast or as far as I used to, but love it no less. There's a revealing Q&A from Chris McDougall I found on Amazon that piqued my interest as well. Thanks again, i'm off for a run!

http://www.amazon.com/Born-Run-Hidden-Superathletes-Greatest/dp/0307266303/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252426104&sr=1-1

Chrissy said...

I just started running about 2 years ago, and I started running seriously maybe 6 months ago. I'm running my first half marathon in just over a month, and I'm nervous as hell. Since I've been running regularly, I've also been writing regularly. I think it has something to do with the time and dedication each activity requires. Also, if I want to skip a run, the only way I can rationalize it is if I spend that time writing instead. Sometimes that gets to me to skip the run, and other times it's the only thing that gets me out the door. :)

So basically, I have nothing new to add to this conversation. I am, however, interested in what other people have to say.