What I Talk About, When I Talk About Running

By Nick

This is the title of a book I read recently by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. He has been a long time runner starting in his late 30s and still running now in his 60’s. The book is easy to read and nicely draws a picture of his running experiences, thoughts and how running is integral part of what makes him a successful novelist. He clearly tends toward an obsessive personality, but I found there were lots of moments I could identify with, and really enjoyed his writing. 

The book made me think of my own running, and what it means to me. One of my middle aged patients describes his running as a ‘privilege’. I do look at my running this way too.   I am lucky enough to have spare time, good health and a beautiful environment to go running in. I look at my parents and see good people who were interested in being fit but were constrained by poor health. It means a lot to me to be able to step outside and run.I have never been far from running. When I was 6 years old Mum and Dad enrolled me at Manurewa running club. In those days, the senior club was prominent, with Arch Jelly and John Walker starting to make names for themselves. I have fond memories of Tuesday evenings over spring and summer, warm air, grass tracks and kids all barefoot. I was decidedly average at running. It didn’t help that I was born in September and the cut-off date for athletics was October 1 (making me the youngest competitor in my age group). My younger brothers on the other hand were both born in October and were representative athletes – they were good runners too.

I have mostly preferred running without listening to music. The only time I have run with music was in the eighties as kid in South Auckland. I had my Sony Walkman and remember hitting the suburban streets listening to cassette tapes including INXS (The Swing), The Cure (Standing on the Beach) and The Smiths (The Queen is Dead)…..’And if a double decker bus…..’. My observations over my 100 days would indicate that more women than men run with music and often the more athletic a runner the less likely they are to have music. Maybe that’s how I want see myself.

I quite enjoy observing other runners. I notice many variations of technique. One person I see regularly runs with their arms straight down at their side; many women hold their arms tightly across their chests and like a washing machine increase trunk twisting to move forwards; some older stiffer runners are bent over hinged forward at the hips; some have knees that cross over each other like they are not sure which way to go; others kick their feet out to the side; and others still lurch their trunk metronome-like side to side; and some are just beautiful to watch with lovely posture and balance. I like to try to emulate those with good technique and when I see the others I immediately improve my own hinged-washing-machine-metronome technique even if momentarily.

Of course I can’t see myself run but in my imagination I see myself as a beautiful runner.

One of the reasons I like running in the dark is that I always feel like I’m running fast. Sometimes I watch people walking dogs on the other side of the street and realise I am not fast but I reconcile this by trying to work out how fast they are actually walking. They could be just quick walkers.

I pass runners and others pass me. I always feel a slight pang of insecurity when passed and justify to myself that she is probably an elite runner, she must have just started, she’s probably only running to the point or she doesn’t need to run tomorrow to complete 100 runs.

I listen carefully to other runners’ breathing determining if they are stretching themselves or cruising. One of the best things about being fit is managing a run without sounding too dodgy. When I am starting to run following a break I am very aware of my breathing. I look at the distance I have planned to run and I have to convince myself that it is a good idea and I can do it. As I become stronger my mind wanders and I have fewer concerns about breathing and the distance. In fact when I get fit I start to concentrate on how relaxed I can make my breathing by breathing low and into my tummy.

Someday soon I’ll tell you about my favourite runs on this journey and my favourite runs of all time. Running isn’t for everyone but for me it remains a privilege.

‘…..killed the both of us – to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die…’

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