Haruki Murakami has a strange and wonderful book called “What I Talk about When I Talk about Running.” What he talks about when he talks about running is running, yes, but also writing hard, and living hard, and the art of success, and the freedom of discipline.
In a wonderful Japanese reflection on theodicy he says,
“When I think about it, having the kind of body that easily puts on weight is perhaps a blessing in disguise. In other words, if I don’t want to gain weight, I have to work out hard every day, watch what I eat, and cut down on indulgences. Eventually, your metabolism will greatly improve, and you’ll end up much healthier, not mention stronger. You can even slow down the effects of aging.
People who naturally keep the weight off don’t need to exercise or watch their diet. Which is why, in many cases, their physical strength deteriorates as they age. If you don’t exercise, your muscles will weaken, as will your bones. Those of us who have a tendency to gain weight should consider ourselves lucky that the red light is so clearly visible. So this physical nuisance should be viewed as a blessing. Of course, it’s not always easy to see things this way.”
“Now, after years of running, my musculature has changed completely,” Murakami reports. He develops the body of a runner, which is apparently so distinctive that New Yorker writer Mark Singer tracked down a genius marathon cheat, Dr. Kip Litton, because he did not have “the classic lean and loose-limbed runner’s physique.”
(And yes, musculature does change, infinitesimally. I started my most recent running programme in January, and bought a body composition Tanita scale which reports that I am slowly gaining muscle, while losing another three pounds, bringing my cumulative weight loss to 25 pounds! I have much more to lose, yes, but yay for more muscle and a better metabolism which, like compound interest, gives back while you sleep.)
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I have had many stabs at running, and have always loved it…but, ironically, my temperament has tripped me up. The standard training programmes recommend training every other day, but I enjoy it so much that I try to run every day, and then injure my feet, ankles or knees! Or develop colds and coughs. And then stop!
This time, in addition to using a high-quality rebounder, and doing some yoga, so as to get stronger and prevent injury, I am using a Couch to 5K programme with bouncy Christian music, and, far from charging ahead, am actually repeating workouts because I like the songs.
Also–which, oddly, I did not do before–I am recording my distance and speed daily, and trying to beat them, thus harnessing my natural competitiveness–against myself. This ensures I run fast enough to get a runner’s high, and have my brain flooded with the exhilaration of endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
The other thing I am doing is not going too far, just under 3 miles. I think this will help me persevere in the long run. I had built up to 4.25 miles 3 years ago, but it was agony—feet, shins, thighs, every muscle in pain. This time, I am building up slowly, so I stick at it for life. I return from my run, and know I could just about do another half mile, but do not. I am leaving some juice in my body for tomorrow.
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Hemingway recommended a similar pacing in one’s writing life. “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck.”
Stopping when you still have juice, before exhaustion or boredom set in, not wringing out the last drop of blood from yourself or others, I am discovering that this is the key to persistence in all long-term disciplines, whether a lifetime of reading, or writing, or prayer, or Bible study, or running!
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I was inspired by reading of Rev. E. H. W. Nash, called Bash, who led an extraordinarily fruitful life after symbolically handing over to Jesus the keys to every room in the house of his life.
So, over several days, I have been handing over the keys, seeking Jesus’s wisdom on my use of time, on my schedule.
I am a night person: I get going slowly, and do most of my reading and writing in the evenings. But is this genetics and internal unchangeable circadian rhythms–or well over thirty years of bad habits?
After much prayer, and some discussion with my spiritual direction about my schedule, I recently felt led by Jesus to stop writing at 9.30 p.m., a time of the evening when, being a night person, there is still a lot of juice left in me. But if I squeeze it all out, I will be up at 1:30 a.m., and wake late and tired, once again missing the beautiful sunrise God has made!! So I have started stopping writing and blogging at 9.30 p.m., which has become the magic hour when I make the Cinderella-switch from Human Doing to Human Being.
That suddenly opens time for other joyous trivial things that I might not have had time for… reading books, most of all; reading my favourite bloggers; sharing my favourite pictures on Instagram; scanning a few tweets. Tidying up a little. Doing some yoga. Maybe eventually weights. Tasting the joy of life. And I sleep better for the period of decompression.
Scripture describes human life as a race we should run to win, and perhaps a trick of living well is to leave a little juice–for the end of the day, for the end of our decades, and so to finish our days and our lives well.
To still be dancing, aged 106, when the evening comes.