I originally wrote this in April and it’s more appropriate than ever with marathon training in full swing. I’m currently in Las Vegas for the Trivia Championships of North America and am squeezing in some treadmill runs because of the 100+ degree heat.
As I slowly and cautuously add miles to my runs over the weeks (which is really fun to visually examine on Strava and MapMyRun), I’m finally getting to the kinds of distances where the psychological benefits of running take hold. I was perusing http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/04/how-neuroscientists-explain-the-mind-clearing-magic-of-running.html a few weeks ago and found myself nodding in agreement.
I purchased Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running in April 2012 when I wasn’t racing and my longest runs ever were a 5K. I was in an objectively not-great place in life, done with grad school and still looking for gainful employment while my student loans accumulated interest. I was unsure if I was going to stay in NYC but desperately wanted to stay and put down roots here. My personal life was a bit messy and confusing but I was hopeful. My runs reflected the rest of my circumstances somewhat; brief uneven jaunts along the East River. I moved from the UES to the LES that May and started a longer-term temp position that temporarily quelled my job anxiety. And I read this book. I had read Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles for a book club in 2009 and quickly followed suit with Norwegian Wood and my personal favorite to this day, Kafka on the Shore (loved 1Q84 as well but that came later). But this was different. It was about running. And Murakami as an author. I’ll be honest; I zipped through it but didn’t really take away much, possibly because my runs weren’t very long. Or because I wasn’t running to find anything. Or to escape anything.
I re-read What I Talk About… last year while training for a half marathon and suddenly, it made sense. Whether it’s age and experience, loss, or just double-digit long runs, I had a much firmer grasp on his feelings this time around and was able to identify some of my own. I had a run at night (on a Monday after barre class because that opens up my hips and activates my glutes) a few weeks ago where I was running in order to escape. It was also a little bit of running to celebrate that I could. After so many months off, it feels amazing to go again. The first mile brought with it the small victory of knowing that my total run would be 3 based on where I turned around. But then came the feelings I was trying to escape. The lump in my throat rose and I tried to swallow it down while choking back tears. I felt like I had run straight into what I was trying to avoid. My emotions subsided after the second mile when I was on a downhill final mile home. I had failed to (literally) run away from my problems, even temporarily. Runs that start and end in a perfectly neutral place are my norm (well, for long runs, not speed training). But maybe sometimes I won’t be able to escape.
“I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.”
It feels weird (a little refreshing too if we’re being honest) to write about feelings and not just times and numbers on here, but I would love to hear everyone else’s takes on running, voids, and/or Murakami.