I love Haruki Murakami’s writing, but I did not especially love his book What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. I read the whole thing, and the writing, like always, is meditative and pretty, but I was just left wanting more. So now I am going to do the worst thing possible and write about running, and I’m not even Haruki Murakami. And unfortunately for you, it’s too late to stop reading.
Yesterday, I completed a 20-mile run, the last of the long training runs before my 1st marathon in San Francisco on the 29th of this month. I remember when I was training for my 1st half-marathon last year and I had to do a 10-mile training run, and I could not believe how far that seemed. I ran way out through the city and beyond it, until the houses and people faded away and there were just orange groves and then just dirt. And then I turned around and ran home. It was miserable. Part of the reason I’ve always been drawn to intense physical activity is my competitive nature. (Monkey bar champion in 3rd grade. Arm-wrestling champion in 6th. Impressed?) But it runs deeper than that–my anxiety thrums high and constant, and I have a really nasty temper. Pushing myself to the brink sort of takes the edge off of all of that. I had played basketball for several years in high school, and it is fast-paced, violent, and interactive. You rely on others and others rely on you. I also did mixed martial arts and pole vaulting. Martial arts is intensely social and jarring. While pole vaulting is a solo activity, you are still constantly interacting with your team, and the act of sprinting down the narrow path, jabbing the pole into the box, and flinging yourself over is all accomplished in under 1 minute. Compared to my previous activities, running seemed so tedious and lonely. After I had kids, I ran a little here and there, on the treadmill mostly, and I did it because it was hard and seemed to burn the most calories, not necessarily because it was enjoyable. Even 20 minutes seemed like forever. I almost always had to go to the gym with someone else to stay motivated and to have someone to compete against. Last year, when I decided I wanted to complete a half-marathon just to see if I could do it, I did so as part of a team of parents of kids with autism. I had fun the day of the race, and I was part of a team. But the training was all alone, and though I was disciplined about it, I found it to be a little…boring.
A friend from work told me that once I did a half-marathon, I’d want to do a full one. I assured him that would never happen. 13 miles had felt like an eternity, and I didn’t want to injure myself like he had. But I found myself thinking about it more and more. And then one day, I stepped funny, my ankle made a grotesque snapping sound, and I collapsed pathetically, the groceries I had been carrying splattering all around me. I crawled to my phone to call Ryan for help. In those weeks when I couldn’t run, I wanted to run so badly that I decided once I was healed I would register for a full marathon.
So here I am, three weeks out. My last and longest training run is over and now it just tapers down. Around mile 11 of my 20-mile run yesterday, I thought, “I got this. ” I think I even said it out loud. It was gorgeous outside. I ran up into the hills, and I could see clouds settled against the mountains and I watched the sun rise. For the first hour, I saw no one. During my last mile, I even had the energy to pick up my pace a little. I had been terrified that it would be an awful run, that I would suffer and struggle as I have on several of the runs during these past few months, and that just didn’t happen. It has not been easy getting to this point. I’m not a naturally graceful runner (or person in general). There have been some ugly, discouraging runs. I have no idea how the marathon will go, but it is kind of reassuring to go into it with very few expectations.
Haruki Murakami’s book about running is likely as good as anything could ever be on the subject. The problem with writing about it is that it is such a personal and simple activity. As simple as it is, it has become very important to me, and I’m really grateful for the past several weeks of training. You really get to see where you live and feel how you breathe and your legs get stronger than you thought they could get. You are out in the world but you are completely alone at the same time. You are faster than other people and other people are so much faster than you, and you learn to let all of that go. I’m not doing it to beat anybody anymore. In fact, I’m pretty slow. I just put one foot in front of the other one over and over and I think about very little and this goes on for hours. That’s the most beautiful part about it, at least to me.