Three months ago, I made the mistake of picking up a towel. As I reached down, I felt a sharp pang in my leg and, lo and behold, my patella once again partially dislocated. I’m usually engaged in some form of physical activity when my knee feels like taking a trip from home. This time, however, there was no tackle or tumble. There was no fight or fall. The culprit was a towel.
The doctor gave me the bog-standard pills and said I had to attend physio. I asked if I could skip physio and go straight under the knife. No, she said. Am I going to have to run? Yes, she said.
I was an utterly uninspired jogger. I used to put on shoddy tracksuit bottoms, perform a couple of pointless stretches, give up and watch six episodes of Scrubs. Not today, I told myself. The next day, once again dressed in dishevelled running gear, I watched six more episodes of Scrubs. Not today.
I had to get inspired. I had to want to run. I asked successful runners for advice and a couple of friends told me to read a book. It seemed like strange advice, but it was worth a try. The next day I bought Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
I was still unable to run because my knee felt unstable, so I was preparing under the tutelage of Murakami: ‘I went to a sports store and purchased running gear and shoes that suited my purpose. I bought a stopwatch, too, and read a beginners’ guide on running. This is how you become a runner.’ The first thing I did, therefore, was buy the proper gear.
According to Murakami, I was now a runner. This is easy, I thought. The book was captivating – especially for a budding writer – and, ostensibly, all I had to do was buy running gear. I found myself waiting for parcels to arrive, excitedly trying on different outfits. My brother said I looked like an out-of-shape hobo, but I thought I looked good. Looking the part, according to Murakami, is important.
Murakami suggests running with music. I therefore devised a playlist. I copied a couple of Murakami’s suggestions – the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Beck, Gorillaz – and added a few tracks from Murakami’s novels – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. I supplemented the playlist with a couple of my favourites – mainly the Wu-Tang Clan.
My running gear was ready, my playlist was appropriately Murakami-esque with a hint of the Wu and my patella was safely in its reluctant home. I was ready to run. I wanted to run.
My first ran started to the sound of Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). My legs started to hurt after five hundred metres. After a kilometre, I was in agony. I tried to remember my training. Murakami said I was feeling pain, but not suffering. It certainly felt like I was suffering.
My first run was a personal worst: 2km. I took off my running gear, settled on the sofa and watched Scrubs, disheartened.
The next day, I missed a run, but intent on continuing, I re-read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Murakami never missed a run two days in a row. The following day, therefore, I had to run. I threw together my gear, put on C.R.E.A.M – the perfect running song – and hit the streets. 3km. There was less pain and more enthusiasm. No suffering.
A good run, according to Murakami, is contagious. Two days later, I ran 3km again. No suffering. With each run I was advancing. I started to follow some of Murakami’s more enigmatic advice. I practiced speeches while running. I listened to the rhythm of my feet. I even pretended I was surrounded by a crowd, urging me forward. Two weeks later, I was running 4km.
A month has passed since I first read Murakami. I’m running frequently now and the prospect of the run has become less daunting. There are annotations all over my copy of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and little post-it notes on inspirational pages. I turn to the book in times of need – when the ‘running blues’ strikes and Scrubs beckons.
The next step, as per my mentor’s advice, is signing up for a race. I have my eyes set on the Vitality London 10k. It’s hardly Murakami’s 62-mile ultramarathon, but it’s a start. I need to continue this momentum.
Everyone needs a reason to run. Some find it easily – hastened by the pursuit of health or the reduction of stress – while others have to read and reread running tracts by their favourite authors. Murakami gives me a reason. It might seem romantic, but it’s true. I had to run – to help strengthen the muscles around my patella – but I didn’t enjoy running. I do enjoy, however, running with Murakami.