Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What I think about when I run

I finished reading "What I talk about when I talk about running" by Haruki Murakami last night. It's an interesting book, one that muses on writing, running, the weather and a few other things besides. I enjoyed it a lot, although found it never quite decided if it was more focused on running or writing primarily so just as he got started on one track he moved on to another, leaving you wanting a little more of either - perhaps this though is what makes Murakami so popular.

It made me think (it happens) about what I think about when I run. To be honest most of the time I run with my running mate Sarah Palin, I mean Will, and we talk about many things. This week we even played the 'Alphabet Game' (where you take it in turns to list subjects, alphabetically) for footballers / countries / capital cities / things to do with running (example L = Lucozade, Z = zoom), to help us on the four mile hill climb we had to do - it did help.

When I do run on my own though I tend to think about very little. Mostly it's "better step off the pavement here to avoid that dog" or, "right now for a burst of speed...now ease up", but it's rare that you ever have profound, philosophical monologues that lead to a sudden realisation as people might imagine. Zen running is a term I've read but I presume it refers to this notion that you empty your mind of thought, not because you suddenly achieve great wisdom. If you do think about anything concrete and non-running related it's more likely to be, "Oh, I am looking forward to some mashed potato tonight".

However, when I did the Silverstone Half-Marathon, in which I tried my hardest to get to sub 1:45 and maybe even 1:39 (I did 1:42 dead), I spent almost their entire race multiplying eights. "If I run the next four miles in 8 minute miles, then the last mile in 9 minutes, I'll finish in 1:41, so if I run the next three miles in 8 minutes miles that makes 24 minutes, so then I need to..." and so on. Endlessly repeating this every mile or even 1/2 mile where I assumed those to be.

This links nicely back to Murakami. At the very start of the book he says much the same thing. Often he thinks about nothing. Sometimes though he thinks about certain mantras that he repeats to help him run. One he mentions later in the book is "Just think about the next three meters". The other he writes about, right at the start of the book is, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is temporary." I like this one a lot. It's true. If you're going to run 26.2 miles you'd be foolish to expect to come through without some pain. The difference is - do you let the pain control you, or do you take that pain and treat it with contempt and push through and finish and hopefully finish strongly?

I did Ten Tors 45 miles when I was 17: it was very hard. You had to walk 22.5 miles a day, for two days, over Dartmoor (very tough terrain), camp wild overnight, and finish by 5pm on Sunday. The team I was in with schoolmates made it home with an hour to spare and as a complete team - something that is hard to do as often people drop out or get injuries. One of the reasons we did so was because, as we set off surrounded by 2,000 others, we saw a T-shirt with the slogan "Pain is temporary. Pride is Permanent" on the back and remembered it as motivation to keep us going, despite the incessant, bitter rain that fell on us as we stumbled across a bog, about four miles behind schedule, on the first day.

That mantra sums up so much of events like that and marathons. It's perhaps one of the reasons people often agree to run marathons again, only hours after crossing the finishing line and swearing "never again!", as, famously, Steve Redgrave did: "If you see me get in another boat, you have my permission to shoot me!"

So to conclude: What was I talking about? I don't even know - I guess that's what Murakami was saying. When you run your mind jumps about: sometimes snatches of relevant, book worthy thoughts come to you, or mantras repeat in your mind when you need to push through pain barriers, but mostly you look at clouds, watch out for dogs, or think, as I will tonight: "oh I can't wait for that mashed potato."


Leigh said...

I've looked at this booked so many times and always put it back on the store shelf, think I'll get it before the FLM.
I like your use of the alphabet game- I may use this to distract my running partner from his tendancy of needing to wee...every mile.

Dan W said...

It's just come out in paperback too, perfect! The alphabet game got us up some step hills, but it's fun wore thin pretty quick!