If you’re a runner that probably brought a book to your mind. 😉
If there’s something I love as much as running, it’s reading. I mean, I’ve been doing that a whole lot longer.
My mum likes to tell stories about how when I was little, I just suddenly started reading newspapers and then moved on to my dad’s boyhood adventure books and, well, I haven’t stopped reading since.
In the second grade I was obsessed with Jules Verne and James Fenimore Cooper. I declared my favourite book of all time to be Mysterious Island. I read it countless times. In school even. Once when I was around nine, I was rereading it during a lesson. On my lap.
My class teacher got so angry with me that she took it away for a whole term. I remember this as a great tragedy. 😛
For my tenth birthday I asked my parents for my very own vintage copy of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. I wanted it to be from the same series of books as the rest of my dad’s old adventure stories.
I got it. 🙂
I treasured it.
I still do.
Books are important to me.
People often say that running is an introvert’s sport. And reading is an introvert’s pasttime. So the connection shouldn’t be too surprising.
Today, as I was sitting with a friend, eating a late lunch of sushi and plum wine… She quite suddenly leaned back and said:
“So, tell me what you think about when you think about running?”
She was, actually, really asking the question, but the first thing that popped into my head was Murakami.
As a child, I surrounded myself with adventure stories and fantasy, as a teenager it was all about historical novels… As a young adult in my early twenties, I finally discovered contemporary fiction for myself.
My bookshelves (I’ve always preferred to buy my novels) were suddenly bursting with Banks, McEwan, Ellis, J.C. Oates, Bukowski (I did my BA thesis on him!) and Murakami.
I was infatuated, enchanted. Like I’d once had had to own all the books in the series of adventure books, I now set out to own and read everything published by Murakami in English.
I succeeded. In all but one little book. (Can you guess?)
Fast forward to 2009 and I’m on a visit to India. In a somewhat bizarre coincidence, actually visiting the same friend who I was having lunch with today and who asked the question that started this whole rambling entry.
But life’s like that. A series of coincidences and interconnections.
If you’ve ever been to India, and if you love books, you probably know the gigantic used books stores they have. Enormous amounts of books.
Just dig in.
And in 2009, I found the Murakami novel, which completed my collection in a pile of used books on the second storey of a book warehouse of sorts in Bangalore.
The novel, of course, was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
I brought it back home, put it in my bookshelf with my other Murakami novels and promptly forgot about it. Not, because I didn’t still love Murakami, but because my to read pile was gigantic, and a non-fiction book about running…
How absolutely unenchanting. Running. Why would I want to read about something I’ve disliked all my life.
The novel collected dust until 2011, when I was fresh out of a longterm relationship, heartbroken and in full on self-destruct party girl mode.
Something had to give. I was out drinking and dancing 2-3 nights a week, eating a steady diet of midnight burgers and coming home with the first 5am bus in the morning.
One morning (or afternoon, really) I was lying in bed in the clutches of a major hangover. I was looking for something to do. And my eyes happened upon a bookshelf close to me.
I saw the white row of Murakami novels. And the one I hadn’t read.
Two hours later I crawled out of bed with a bottle of water and a finished book.
What I knew in that moment was that I wanted to run. I wanted to see how far and how much I could push myself. (And, quite frankly, I wanted to run marathons. But that’s an idea that took a year before I even dared to voice it to myself.)
Basically, one morning, after a night of excess, I decided I was going to be a runner.
How frightfully cliché!
Especially if you add the I was the most unathletic person you’ve met bit. No, seriously. I walked the track in high school, I got myself excused from a third of the PE lessons each term and it’s a miracle of some sort that I graduated high school with a passing grade in PE. Actually, I’m pretty certain it had more to do with the teacher’s mercy towards a generally good kid than any effort on my part.
The next morning, I got myself to a store and bought the cheapest pair of old fashioned sweat pants I could find. I had my old trainers from high school (not used in nearly a decade) and an old touristy T-shirt.
Out the door I went! I had some sort of bizarre notion of running through sheer force of will and running the ten K like Murakami ran daily.
Oh, the naiveté.
I was red in the face, huffing and puffing like a freight train and stumbling over my feet in less than a minute. I stopped running, walked a bit and then came home.
Well. I guess my PE teacher was right; I was incapable of running.
Two days later, I was feeling my stubborn streak. And this time, I was smarter. I was a product of the Great Internet Age, so I googled.
I found c25k.
I started slow and easy, but even with that, there were days in the very beginning where I really felt like screaming at the universe, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
Two weeks in was the first time I started mentioning to people I was running.
I bought my first pair of actual running shoes.
I remember the first time the program asked me to run 20 minutes straight without any walking pauses and I was so scared I could barely sleep the night before.
I remember that rush after the first time of running for half an hour without stopping. I remember feeling utterly amazed I could do that.
C25k didn’t teach me to love running. That came later. What it taught me was that I was in control of my body. And I could teach it to do anything. As long as I did it smartly and consistently.
It made me want more.
I was determined to not stop, to keep going, to strive for improvement. The next step was 10k.
Unfortunately, the next step also was without my running shoes. Two months of running in neutral shoes (the first pair I bought) as a true beginner without any ideas about technique… While constantly pushing myself to get better…
I ran myself to a stress fracture.
So. Two months after I started running, only a week after I was finally able to run 5k without stopping, I found myself forbidden to run for two months.
Here I can only credit my inborn stubborn streak.
I talked about running to everybody who would listen, I reread my Murakami a couple of times. I started visiting my school gym. Four weeks after my injury, I was lifting weights three times a week with an experienced coach and swimming twice a week.
When the time came I could try running again, I was stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. And I flew through the 10k training program.
These first 40+ minute runs were when I fell for running. Before, it had been stubbornness, now it had my soul.
No turning back.
15k training plan followed. My first races. More injuries. More awareness, more knowledge and a constant strive for improvement.
And now. My marathon plan and my first half marathon only a week away. 🙂
What do I think about when I think about running?
Books. The ones I’ve read and the ones I’m reading.
The ones I want to read.
The blog posts I can write.
And sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I think about nothing at all. The world disappears, the kilometres become a blur and 5 becomes ten without me knowing how it happened. Those are the best runs of all.
Today, I think about the book I’m going to cuddle up with tonight as I go through taper week running withdrawal symptoms –
– and hope it offers some inspiration for next Saturday.
Does this answer the question?
(And thank you, Mr Murakami, for the runs.)