The agony of the middle-aged runner – running, fitness and creativity

There comes a time in a man’s life when he feels the need to take up running. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it a desire to improve your health, call it a need to wear inappropriately tight lycra – it boils down to the same thing. We get a bit flabby around the tummy area and decide that jogging is the remedy to this malady. As Paul Simon so eloquently pointed out in ‘You Can Call Me Al’, ‘Why I am so soft in the middle now and the rest of my life is so hard?’.

For me, there was a dual spur to a renewed interest in running. First off, since slipping off the regular gym wagon there was a dire need to keep my midriff in check. And secondly, I’d read two books which both had a an inspirational amount of running in the content.

The first book was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the Japanese novelist’s account of his own conversion to long-distance running. In the book, Murakami likens the challenge of sitting down to write a novel with the similarly daunting task of running a marathon: both begin with the first step – the first word on the page, or the first footfall on the 42,195km of a full marathon. The trick, if you can call it that, is to focus on putting one word after another, piece by piece, much like you put one foot in front of other to run the race. What you mustn’t do is think about the end – focus on the now, the ‘doing’ and you’ll arrive at the end. But don’t focus on the enormity of the task, of you’ll be overcome by it.

Now, I’m not likening my two laps of the local park to running a marathon. But there’s an ideology in there which is quite inspirational. If you think about the task of completing that run, you’ll never do it. So, by taking that task piece by piece and gradually moving forward, you’ll eventually arrive at your objective. That’s as good a philosophy for running as it is for writing, and one that we could all learn a lesson from.

The second book was Michael Palin’s Halfway to Hollywood, a collection of his diaries from 1980 to 1988 in which the Monty Python star gives an insight into his life, writing, comedy and – crucially for this blog – his love of running. As many writers will know, there are times when the inspiration alludes us; when any little domestic chore or distraction is a good diversion from the blank page in front of you. It’s as these moments that Palin dons his trainers and goes for a run around the local North London park. It’s clear that running not only improves his physical fitness, but also blows away the mental cobwebs as well. In his diary entries, he usually comes back from these constitutional runs with his mind refreshed and writing ideas popping back into his creative consciousness.

Again, I’m not going to liken my writing to Michael Palin’s. He’s a national treasure, an inspiringly frank and honest writer and a man who you feel most of the British public would gladly have round for dinner, afternoon tea or a pint at the pub. But I have found that running clears my mind in much the same way as he describes. The physical exertion, the plodding along the track, the feeling of your lungs bursting out of your mouth as you reach the top of a hill; those are all elements which make your body feel fitter and more alive. However, it’s the little burst of endorphins that really clears your stuffy grey matter and removes the cloudy apathy that can hold back your writing and your creative ideas.

So, I give my thanks to Mr Murakami and Mr Palin for their inspiration. I shall attempt to keep up this weekly jogging regime and we shall see if it helps me to write more clearly and with more creativity.

Keep on running!






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