Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Along the trail: running and thinking

DuPage 12K at the Danada Forest Preserve
Last month I ran my first trail race on a gravel path through the Danada Forest Preserve.  The race was a long one for me, in more ways than one. 

I'm not certain what it was that got me running again.   The first time I tried, after a decade-long avoidance, I couldn't get over how heavy my body felt.  These stiff, stony limbs weren't what I remembered as a pliant seventeen year old.  There was no bounce to my step, no deer dance to the finish.  It was more of a shuffled waddle and then I'd be doubled over, panting. 

Writers often chronicle how their exercise regiments supplement their writing.  John Cheever swam.  Haruki Murakami runs, and even wrote a whole book on it.  I haven't read it, but am intrigued by the connection that thinky, internal people have to their physicality. 

Writing and running share some essential traits.  Writing is solitary and can be boring, like running. It's also an act of determination.  For me personally, even if I'm writing something short, it's a haul, a long-distance feat.  You have be sure footed about placing words in just the right order, and maintain a high level of endurance to see the thing through.  And then, a sprint to the finish.  Collapse.

Aside from the commonalities, what do writers get from running?  According to Murakami, it's something like meditation for him:   

"I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometime. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing."

I've love to draw from the same creative source Murakami does, but that's not gonna happen.  But I do let my mind go empty, which is rare, and it has benefits.  I don't notice much about the world around me when I run; I focus on where my foot lands, how my shoulders are placed and the the tightness in my hands.  The concentration is a reprieve from my usual set of obsessions, worries, hypothetical disasters, ect.

Maybe it's my finely tuned brand of procrastination that gets me out there. I remember my thesis adviser's good advice to simply stop writing when I didn't feel like doing it.   Visit a museum, buy flowers, or call a friend instead, she said, since the writing will be crap if forced. 

Now when I don't feel like doing it, I run.

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