What I think about when I think about running

Apologies. The above title is a fairly ungainly riff on Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is itself an homage to What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In his book – a collection of essays, really, put together to explain both to himself and his reader the effect and influence running has had on his life – Murakami states that he generally doesn’t think people should talk about the sporting activities they undertake. Instead, they should just do them. I am afraid I do not adhere to this probably admirable stance. I like to discuss the minutiae of any recreational activity I undertake. I think it’s partly to make a challenging process feel more obtainable (I am about the furthest thing possible from a natural athlete) and partly to extend the enjoyment I get out of said process. While I appreciate Murakami’s title is a tribute to a work he admired, and despite the fact I am clearly happy to chat about my mediocre foray into The Sports, it’s not really talking that I associate with running. It’s thinking, and lots of it.

I’m currently training for an upcoming event, which is both pleasant and painful. The painful is probably obvious. Long runs, creaky old limbs, dark mornings, not much time sans brats to juggle the increasing time out, low motivation to actually lace up my runners and go. The pleasures – the reminders I try to give myself when the alarm goes off in the increasingly chilly mornings – are also multiple. Of course, the adrenalin and sense of achievement are fab (you never regret a run, I repeat to myself constantly). But there’s also the time for myself, the meditative state that comes with laboured breathing and throbbing limbs, the reminder that some things are simple. Just one foot in front of the other. There’s also the treat of piecing together the town I live in by foot, mapping the previously haphazard patchwork of neighbouring suburbs like a (bad 1990s) magic eye picture suddenly shifting into focus. Always and forever, there are the views that this beautiful country gives. A lake, a mountain, a chestnut tree, cheering me on. And of course, I think.

I think about muscle memory, usually in the first instance as a criticism. I would run so much faster and easier, if – like Murakami – I ran for six days a week and never had more than one day in a row off. My body would be forced to adjust, to adapt and develop, to stop complaining. Then I remember how once I had a baby, and my betrayed body literally and figuratively screamed in fear and pain. A few years later, I had another. My mind cowered, huddled in a corner dreading the inevitable repetition, doing its best to repress any recollections it still held. But my body was having none of it. Crunch time came, and the message was loud and clear: I remember. I’ve got this. And then I’m not so worried about my burning thighs, my cranky lungs. I’ve got this.

I think about being alone. I breathe huge grateful breaths for my children, and for the temporary absence of them. I remember the fear I had – irrational and unsupported – of leaving my older baby for any amount of time, the guilt that racked me, the experience of being away from her constantly undermined by obsessing about my inevitable return. If I wasn’t working so hard on catching my breath I would laugh, joyfully, my ability to properly escape now a small but life altering success.

I think about our life, our lives, transplanted here. My husband, and the pride and purpose he has in the work he does providing for us. Myself, and the equal frustrations and delights I have in the work I do, providing for us in a different way. Our little ones, and how their childhoods are so different from ours in some ways and so similar in others, their futures so intangible yet so inevitable.

I think about isolation, about the chasm that from time to time looms dark and dreadful in my mind. I don’t know how much is attributable to this small(ish) child phase of life, how much is due to our chosen locale, how much is due to my hausfrau status, or how much is attributable to the general human condition. I’m not lonely, as such: the friendships I have made here, few though they might be, are as meaningful as any I’ve had in my life. I love that our family is close knit, independent, experiencing the world – and the challenges that brings – together. But I miss something that is now intangible, forgotten, a vague memory from the past: who I used to be, or maybe what I used to be. I don’t know what this means, and then my knee starts to hurt, and I am drawn back to the reality of the thud-thud-thudding of my body, the here and now, and this is both a relief and a frustration.

I think about conversations I’ve had. The time a good friend – an impeccable, but not native, English speaker – asked me whether I thought it might be ok, that there might be an English speaking narrative she was unaware of that made it acceptable, for a husband to call his wife a stupid bitch and their son a moron. No, I said. I try to run a bit harder, but no other answers come to me.

I think about my own at times less-than-perfect dialogue.

I think about schemes, about what-ifs. What if I was a florist? How lovely would these wildflowers I’m passing look with hyacinths? But of course they’re not in season together, so that wouldn’t work. What if I studied again? Botany, maybe, based on that ridiculous wildflower-meets-hyacinth call. What if I pulled my thumb out and really, I mean really this time, tried to learn German properly? What if I actually put a German lesson podcast on right now? Actually, maybe not right now, because my earphones are pretty tangled and my pace is pretty good and I’m enjoying not listening to anything other than maybe a spot of Moana later because it’s stuck in my head again, in the way that German lessons never seem to get stuck.

I think ambitiously about runs I might do in the future, since clearly I am nailing this running lark. I think about hailing the next bus I see and catching it home.

I think about how I love the silence, the headspace, the time to myself but also that bloody Moana is really, really stuck in my head and the earphones won’t take too long to sort out and I’m kind of sick of thinking anyway.

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