What I talk about when I talk about running

ImagesHaruki Murakami is best known as the author of “Norwegian Wood”, and the “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” – and many other books. If you haven’t read his books I highly recommend you check them out. But recently I discovered that he is a long-distance runner as well and has written about his running.

I have just finished “What I talk about when I talk about running”, and It is excellent. As a runner I related completely to his journey, his challenges and successes, his apprehension and self-doubt before races, and the acceptance of the unpredictability of marathon-length races.

The philosophy he bring to running – that you need to be as healthy as possible to be effective at what you do, and how maintaining health (in his case by running and doing triathlons), needs to be balanced with what you do. To be mentally sharp and focused requires a healthy body.

He says:

To deal with something unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible. That’s my motto. In other words, an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body. This might sound paradoxical, but it’s something I’ve felt very keenly ever since I became a professional writer. The healthy and the unhealthy are not necessarily at opposite ends of the spectrum. They don’t stand in opposition to each other, but rather complement each other, and in some cases even band together. Sure, many people who are on a healthy track in life think only of good health, while those who are getting unhealthy think only of that. But if you follow this sort of one-sided view, your life won’t be fruitful.
Almost everything he had to share could have been written by me, or for me. Although I am convinced that any long-distance runner would feel exactly the same.

It is a short and easy read, but a book to be dipped into, reread and digested over time. To get full enjoyment from the book you probably have to enjoy running, but there is plenty to learn regardless of what get you up in the morning.

Lessons from David Grier

David footer

A few days ago, I listened to David Grier giving a speech. David does crazy runs that make my marathons look like a walk around the block. He ran across the entire Great Wall of China (4200km), across Cuba (1800km), and a bunch of other crazy runs.

He is one of the authors of the Real Meal Revolution!

He is a wonderful man with some great advise. Here are some lessons that I learned from him:

  • You need the self-belief to dig deep
  • No man achieves anything on his own
  • I’m the one that has to change
  • The sun will set in the evening, and rise the next morning, regardless of what you do
  • Its usually not the big things that get you down – it’s an accumulation of little things
  • Nearly everything is not impossible…if you want it enough dig deep enough
  • It’s when you say that you can’t that you can
  • You learn the most when you are struggling
  • Have honesty and appreciation, understanding and acceptance
  • Nobody is going to run your life for you
  • If you can find reason for why you are suffering, you are no longer suffering
  • Where do you fit into your dream?
  • Nobody will effect change for you
  • We need to be the change we want to see
  • We cannot change on our own
  • The ability to change on the way is key to finish a journey.

And finally for race fuel, he recommended Cabanossi sausages from Pick n Pay,, and squashed pork belly (put the fat runoff in a ziplock to suck on, and slice the port to eat)!

Hope that helps – it certainly gives me some perspective!

(photo from David’s website)

On goal setting and running

Gun Run 2014Here is a thought about running and goal setting. It is very seldom that I don’t have a big race coming up in the future, hence a lot of my runs are training runs for that race.

There are broadly two ways in which I often run: either just going out and enjoying the run, or by watching my watch all the time – checking my pace, heart rate etc.

But while I am almost always working towards a goal, I still want to enjoy the experience of the actual run, and to just be in the running moment. And I often find that when I am not really focusing on pace, heart rate etc and just enjoying the run (this happens mostly when I am having a slow cool-down run) I get a personal best (PB) on a segment of a route.

This week when I was running back home from St James I got a PB on the St James – Muizenberg segment, but it was meant to be a chilled and slow run after a hard race on Saturday. I have run that segment (quite literally) hundreds of times, but the time when I was just being present and not worrying about pace or goals is when I ran fastest. And at the time I genuinely thought that I was running slowly.

On Wednesday I went for an evening run up the mountain. But it was extremely hot (over 30 deg C). The uphill run was tough. I was sweating, out of breath and taking strain up the steep sections. But I was not particularly concerned because I knew the heat would play a big role in my performance. But when I analysed my data afterwards I realised that I had missed a PB on the green-belt climb by 2 seconds. Now 2 seconds is easy to catch up. In the hottest weather I have ever done that route, when I was not expecting to have a particularly good and was not paying much attention I almost had my best time ever!

This happens a lot on races when I don’t have a particular target time in mind and I just go to see how the run goes. I have got a few PB’s from there. In particular the Gun Run 21k (1h53) and Hohenort 15km (1h17) come to mind.

What is the lesson here? I think that if you purely focus on your goals, and you only work towards achieving them you won’t enjoy the journey, and it may even slow you down. If you train, work hard and most importantly enjoy the experience you don’t need to worry about the goals; they will just happen.