One of the best insights I’ve encountered about running came not from a coach, or a sub-three hour marathon runner, or an athlete interviewed with a new medal.
Instead it came from a (then) 56-year-old man who I’d never met, and who’d made his name writing stories about – among other things – talking cats and alternate realities accessed through wells.
When Haruki Murkami wasn’t dreaming up his postmodern fables, he spent a lot of time running. And a lot of that time was spent running marathons (Murakami’s tackled the Boston Marathon six times).
His experiences led to his 2007 book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir which recounts how the Murakami-the-writer became Murakami-the-writer-and-obsessive-runner.
In his mid-50s at the time, Murakami was familiar with the highs all runners know. Given his age, and the strain marathons place on joints approaching their sixth decade, he knew the lows too, the tough days on the track.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional…The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself,” Murakami writes.
When you’re running well – in my case 75% of the time – such thoughts never cross your mind. But Murakami’s advice has become a critical mantra to get me through the hard sessions, the mornings when my plantar faciitis kicks off, or my shins begin to splint, or I simply find myself slogging through 45 minutes of steady wind and rain.
And pulling through those sessions is, to me, what the spirit of running is all about.