In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami claims that most of what he knows about writing fiction he learned from running every day.  Murakami is both a renowned novelist – he’s been called one of the world’s greatest living writers – and an accomplished distance runner.  Murakami runs nearly forty miles a week.  He never takes more than one day off from exercise. He ran his first marathon, in Athens – in July.  And Murakami insists that pushing his body to its physical limits is essential to his creative ability. Without running – long and hard – Murakami couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, write.

I am a slow runner.  But I am steady and my dog pulls me up the hills.  For me running has become like brushing my teeth – an essential habit that isn’t always fun but at its best becomes a mindless, preventative activity.  I wake early most mornings, force myself into sneakers and an orange traffic vest while my old, brown dog bounces in circles at my feet.  The first two miles of my morning shlog are painful.  The dog pulls at his lead and I jerk back reflexively.  I tug my ski beanie down and pull my neck gaiter tight, leaving just enough room to see the icy trail under my feet. I curse the darkness and the wind.  I hate myself for getting up and the dog for his enthusiasm.

Haruki Murakami argues that the creation of stories forces writers to confront the “toxin that lies deep down in all humanity.”  In many cases this altogether human danger lies adjacent to our most creative ideas.  We must dig and fight and struggle in order to create our best stories.  Murakami reminds writers that we need our strength.  This is difficult and “unhealthy” work. And so he runs upwards of 2000 miles a year – to build his strength.

There is great energy to be found by pushing yourself physically.  My runs teach me about endurance and dedication.  I find hidden energy and purpose on the backside of gravel coulees and along windswept game trails.  I’ve learned how to close my mind to all but the essential sounds of life: breathing, moving, pumping.  And this in turn teaches me about telling stories.  Writers must find dedication and endurance.  We must close our minds to all but the essential sounds of a story.  We must dig and fight and struggle to tell the truth. Murakami points to a basic and primary connection between the physical and the creative.

By mile three, I’m writing.  I sift through memories and brainstorm beginnings.  I plan careful prose on downhills and compose workaday correspondence on gradual inclines.  Big hills are quiet space.  I suck air and think only of my footfalls and a shortening, scrappy stride. But at the top of my favorite hills, I feel good – sort of hyperaware and supercharged. Words and images flood my tired body.  I have new ideas.   My runs give me the energy and strength to confront Murakami’s human “toxins.”

– S

11 thoughts on “Run

  1. S,
    That was a lovely post, and I look forward to hearing more of the story behind the transition from running with music to running in silence.

    Personally, I also find pounding out some sand helps focus my writing. I run to the top of a rather steep hill, which gives me a far bit of bang for a little less buckling, pounding road miles. It is a remote spot, overlooking a steep, sage gully and has a grand view over thirty-ish miles of Nevada basin and range country.

    I run up with a pencil and a dozen notecards clutched in my hand, and when I get to the top (wheezing and wondering again and again what possessed me), I stretch, and then I collect my often wildly scattered writing ideas and pencil them down.

    Notecards force me to distill my thoughts into their essentials, but it is the running the sparks the ideas.

    Why? I don’t know – but I’m glad to hear that running for writing is a shared condition.

    And my dogs agree with yours. Running shoes are worth bouncing around the house in anticipation for =)

  2. Brilliant writing, Sarah! I am reminded or running cross country in high school. I enjoyed running through the forest, the feel of the cushioned pine needles beneath my feet. But I remember the pain, too–something I could never get used to. In college, swimming brought that kind of peace and self-reflection. After the third lap, my body fits into the rhythm of my strokes, and my mind wanders. I miss swimming just like I miss writing…it’s like missing a part of myself.

  3. I can relate to this a lot, Sarah. On my long walks between school and home, I always find myself contemplating prose I want to write. I often get people who honk, wave and call after me to no avail because I’m so lost in grand epic scenes of the latest book I want to write.

  4. S,
    I’m so glad that you became a runner! For each day that I can run I am extremely grateful. Now, I just wish I could write.
    Instead, I’ll jog to the library for a new book.

  5. Just one disagreement here: I’ve run with you before and you are NOT a slow runner 🙂
    My favorite line: “But at the top of my favorite hills, I feel good – sort of hyperaware and supercharged. Words and images flood my tired body.” – Great imagery! This may be one of my favorite feelings in the world!

    • They can seem silly, but when doing research, it’s important to use a variety of material, so not all of the sources will be from the Internet. Additionally, valid research can be reproduced. If a source cannot be found, how can the research be reproduced? It is also important to remember that sources on the Internet change all the time. One URL might work one day, but not the next. There is a reason behind citations; besides, learning how to look up the information helps with the learning process and critical thinking.

  6. When I “run” (and it has been a while) I use that time to stop the “churning” in my mind. Interesting that it spurs creativity for you and others. After a run, though I am more productive – I think it is because I have given my brain a rest.

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