I hit the road with a sickening thud.
"Are you okay?"
"I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.
On cold days I guess I think about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. When I’m sad I think a little about sadness. When I’m happy I think a little about happiness. As I mentioned before, random memories come to me too. And occasionally, hardly ever, really, I get an idea to use in a novel. But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.
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.
The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. The sky both exists and doesn’t exist. It has substance and at the same time doesn’t. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in."
What I talk about when I talk about running – Haruki MurakamiI like to run when I am in Berwick. Just running around the main town takes you along by the sea, past the lighthouse, along coastal paths, through the centre and across two bridges over the river Tweed finishing along the walled battlements. Or one can to an out and back to Spittal and run along the Victorian promenade.
Last week, on my third run of the holiday, I was approaching the historic bridge back into Berwick when I scuffed my foot on the ground, and fell to the floor hard. I just managed to get my arms up to protect my face but I still hit the floor and was left bloodied with a cut chin and split lip. I was lucky, I could have lost teeth or worse. Dented pride was preferable. "Are you alright?"the concerned lady had said. I raised my chin. "Does it look bad?"she said I was cut but not too badly. I walked home.
Murakami writes in his memoir about running, ageing and the art of writing novels -
"I’m in my late fifties now. When I was young, I never imagined the twenty-first century would actually come and that, all joking aside, I’d turn fifty. In theory, of course, it was self-evident that someday, if nothing else happened, the twenty-first century would roll around and I’d turn fifty. When i was young, being asked to imagine myself at fifty was as difficult as being asked to imagine, concretely, the world after death. Mick Jagger once boasted that “I’d rather be dead than still singing ‘satisfaction’ when I’m forty-five.” Some people might find this funny, but not me. When he was young, Mick Jagger couldn’t imagine himself at forty-five. When I was young, I was the same. Can I laugh at Mick Jagger? No way. I just happen not to be a young rock singer. Nobody remembers what stupid things I might have said back then, so they’re not about to quote them back at me. That’s the only difference."
I recently turned 54. About six years ago I joined a jogging club. Approaching fifties I had put on a little weight and thought I needed to take better care of myself. I was starting to be aware of my own mortality. I suppose I could have bought a red sports car and started chasing young blondes, except I am happily married and without wealth or a driving licence... so I started baking my own sourdough bread and go out running three nights a week. As a mid-life crisis its very restrained.
I used to run regularly… especially in my mid-twenties. I was living on the south coast and joined the Southampton Road Runners who at the time, met on a mid-week evening in a city centre pub (The Anchor?). I even entered a few road races, a 10km event, a few 10 mile races and two half marathons finishing with a pb, well down the field, in 1hr 39mins. And then I stopped. And I can no longer remember why. No injuries spring to mind…, no falling out with the club… my memory fails me. Maybe I just fell out of love with running.
Sporadically, over the years since, I’ve flirted with starting to run again… it lasts a couple of wheezing weeks and then falls by the wayside. My waistline has expanded. The thoughts of ever running a sub 1hr 30 half marathon have evaporated.
Joining the running club and then getting involved with parkrun has helped. I have done 120 parkruns to date and volunteered on 25 occasions. I'm slow, but that no longer matters. Running gives me some time out, a time for some reflection, some days just a chance to be mindful of the lovely countryside around me or the urban bustle of the streets. Its also a time to reflect on growing older.
The fall left me conscious of my own frailty, the busted lip a constant reminder. It has not stopped us enjoying the holiday.
"now here I am living in this unimaginable world. It feels really strange, and I can’t tell whether I am fortunate or not. May be it doesn’t matter. For me – and for everyone else, probably – this is my first experience of growing old, and the emotions I am having, too, are all first-time feelings. If it were something that I had experienced before, then I’d be able to understand it more clearly, but this is the first time, so I can’t. For now all I can do is put off making any detailed judgements and accept things as they are. Just like I accept the sky, the clouds and the river. And there’s also something kind of comical about it all, something you don’t want to discard completely."
What I talk about when I talk about running – Haruki Murakami