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.”