"If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole."~Haruki Murakami
Running and writing; I have spent a great deal of my life practicing these two distinctly different yet similar activities. I began running in the sixth grade at the bidding of my best friend. When I arrived at the first day of cross country practice, I didn’t know that I would spend the better part of an hour running around a mile-long grass loop outside the local high school. I also didn’t know that running would become one of my life’s greatest passions, granting me confidence, physical and mental strength, countless accolades, and ultimately a college scholarship. I also didn’t know that running would exacerbate my already fierce perfectionism, plunging me into the deep, stormy waters of an eating disorder that left me physically ill and mentally broken.
I was also in the sixth grade when I discovered my affinity for writing. My English teacher—a wonderful lady with a zest for life and a passion for leopard print—assigned my class a creative writing assignment each week. Over the course of the year, my stories became longer and more complex. My teacher was delighted, and at the end of the year wrote me a long, heartfelt note that ended with, “I cannot wait to watch you share your gift with the world!”
When people ask what my hobbies are, I say, “I run, and I write.”
Often, this is countered with, “Oh that’s great! What else?”
Of course, I enjoy other things. I like watching movies, going to live shows, traveling, and spending time with friends. I like discovering new coffee shops and having long heart-to-heart conversations over a glass (or two) of pinot noir. But running and writing are integral parts of my life; I run and write nearly every day. I practice them religiously in the hopes that the accumulation of my work culminates in something greater. When I was in sixth grade, I was only beginning to run and to write. I was a novice, and though it has been nearly 14 years, I cannot consider myself an expert in either discipline. The wonderful, frustrating thing is that I may never be an expert, but I’ll certainly be better than when I started.
I began this article by stating that running and writing are, “distinctly different yet similar activities.” They are different in that one trains my body and the other trains my brain. They are similar in that this distinction often overlaps, the lines between physical and mental exertion blurring indisputably in the most natural way. Running clears my mind and frees my conscience to wander any direction it pleases, a mental escape that offers me clarity and purpose. When I return to my page, I cohesively gather the thoughts and insights I have gained through movement. Both forms of regimented exertion yield a sense of completion and joy. Both can instill confidence, and both can rip that confidence away. When running frustrates me, I turn to writing. When writing frustrates me, I go for a run and often, find such incredible clarity that the “problems” I started with all but disappear.
Like many human experiences, the connection between running and writing is not new or unique. Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus, Ernest Hemingway, Haruki Murakami, and countless other writers have found this connection. Former United States Poet Laureate Kay Ryan captures the complicated feelings of both writers and runners succintly: “I like to run. Actually, I don’t really like to run but I’ve done it for a million years.”
Words and language have their own cadence, measured and rhythmic. It is the job of the writer to capture this cadence, distill it beautifully on the page, and do it all over again. Runners have their own cadence too, brilliantly accompanied by the rhythm of breath to be perfectly methodical. I have heard many times some variation of, “Your passion is what you would do every day, even or if you weren’t being paid.” I am not paid to run, and I am only tangentially paid to write. I was not paid to do either of these things in sixth grade, but I have continued, and will continue until I am a very old, weathered woman. Think of the miles I will have run by then, the many mountains and trails and roads to traverse. Think of a lifetime of pages, telling hundreds of stories. What could be more beautiful?