ad astra per alia porci

what I write about when I read about running


People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits, that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life

I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two everyday running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reaing books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve gradually come to the realization that this kind of pain and hurt is a necessary part of life. If you think about it, it’s precisely because people are different from others that they’re able to create their own independent selves…. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.

In other words, let’s face it: Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek out a kind of fairness. OF course, that might take time and effort. And maybe it won’t seem to be worth all that. It’s up to each individual to decide whether or not it is.

I never thought that Haruki Murakami was a very good author and I must say that my impression of him as a writer is poor. I evaluate literature on the basis of thematic content and artistry; I favour books with themes that resonate with me and/or clever writing style that complements the subject matter. Murakami’s themes are marked by the lack of it, and his writing style is too terse and normal for me.

However his memoir on his running hobby (or should I say, obsession?), What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, had as a subject matter smoething I can clearly relate to: running. I am just an average runner but I believe I have some degree of insight into the psyche of a runner. I believe that running attracts people of a certain type. I am interested to see what Murakami thought about running, and how he thinks it extrapolates to or is a reflection of his philosophy of life, and his worldview, and compare his thoughts to mine.

I have always thought that running is really much more about life than it seems to be, and I hoped that I can learn something from Murakami’s thoughts. It is surprising and heartening to find that I share many of Murakami’s views. At least I know that even though I might be an oddball, there is at least one more oddball like me out there.

Why do runners run? I believe that it all can be boiled down to one word: truth. Truth based on a real conception of the self, and an acceptance of pain. I find this attitude highly beneficial when applied to other aspects of life.

I believe that runners are masochists, albeit in varying extents. As Murakami puts it, “if pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy?”. The pain drives us because we want to know and show that we can beat it. To run is to accept the reality of pain, and to deal with it in an appropriate manner. Some days I just don’t want to run because I feel too tired. But I push on because pain means much less now to me than before, now that I have acknowledge that it is part and parcel of life.

The same can be said of the emotional pain we experience in life. What applies to physical pain is also salient for emotional pain. Much emotional pain in life stems from disagreement and friction between people bearing conflicting views from oneself.

Murakami opined that “emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent”. And being independent means the world to me, as it should to anyone else. Because growing up and living in fruitful life requires a person to carve out his own unique identity in this world. To live a life of mimicking others and following the crowd unthinkingly is to not really live at all. Carving out an identity cannot be done without one being different in some respects from others. And difference leads to conflict and disagreement, both of which are nasty necessities.

What we can do is to accept this reality, to see this as a natural and necessary “price” to pay in life. Admiting the validity of the pain reduces the resentment and disappointment, and we can take it as a challenge not to be too perturbed by this reality.

Running, being a generally solitary activity, naturally attracts solitary creatures. People who look inside instead of outside for motivation and value. Running is solitary because of its relation to pain, introspection and independence.

Pain, be it physical or emotional, is experienced only by the individual. Outsiders cannot understand or feel the same way, unlike watching a movie or listening to the music played on the radio. There is nothing communal about it, and it is strictly solitary. As the saying goes, when you laugh the world laughs with you. When you cry, you cry alone.

Similarly running is about purity of thought, and having a clear and truthful idea of oneself. It is intensely about the individual. No individual is alike, and the decision to start or stop running is purely personal. The person who best understands one’s body is oneself. No one else.

The road tolerates no lies and self-deception, because the road will tell you the truth regardless of whether you like it or not. If you are not fit enough, you will not be able to fulfill the overly ambitious target you set yourself. The laws of physics and physiology are immutable, and inescapable. I believe that running is an exercise in brutal self-awareness, and an escape from much of the dross and fake social showboating in much of human interaction.

Talking about truths. Proper training and target-setting require a clear understanding of the self. What about myself? I have a rough idea of what I am. To start off, I don’t have a runner’s physiology. My thighs are too large, and my body too muscular for my legs to effectively propel my body efficiently and quickly enough. My feet actually thump the ground while I run, instead of lightly skipping of the surface.

Hence my running regime is targeted at working hard at improving my weaknesses, as opposed to honing an innate genius or talent. Isn’t life about knowing and dealing with weaknesses? To coup with whatever the random genetic permutations that are made up at the point of fertilisation give us?

Maybe I differ from Murakami in this respect. He said that it is important to know one’s weaknesses and strengths, and one should develop and exploit one’s strengths instead of banging one’s head against the wall and trying to improve the weaknesses. I do both: I try to hone my strengths and alleviate my weaknesses. I believe this is a more truthful and moral route; I don’t like to hide from my weaknesses and do nothing about it. Ignorance kills. Look what happened to Achilles. Maybe it is just me: I like the feel of the wall slamming into my cranium. 2 points to me for masochism. Still, I stand firm in this respect.

This attitude is easily transplanted to the larger concern of living itself. Hard work is the core of a good life for us mere mortals, who owns not even a sliver of the genius that people like Mozart, Dostoevsky or Wittgenstein have. I am merely one in the ranks of mortals.

Murakami candidly stated that he is not a great writer, and much of what he has achieved is through sheer hard work, and not through riding on reserves of natural genius that he did not think he had. I respect him greatly for being so frank and having such a clear picture of himself. I mean this without a hint of sarcasm. People often don’t like to see themselves as they really are, probably because the real images of themselves are often ugly, and people like to avoid the ugly truth.

Hard work is the antidote to shortcomings. In some sense, success through natural genius smacks of cheating and immorality. A bit like being born rich. The right path to take is often the hardest and toughest path too; it takes character and courage to go down that path. Running is also about taking the right path, and not compromising even when things are tough.

Hard work is also my comfort blanket. I know I am limited in my abilities, and that I will not succeed at everything I do. To stave off regrets, I do my best, so that if I fail I have no regrets because I know I have done my best.

Like Murakami, much of my life has been spent on chipping away slowly at the disadvantages I have. I work hard to make up for the fact that my brain does not work half as well as most of my peers. I am a bit pigheaded and stubborn at times. I guess such traits are hazardous side effects of having some degree of work ethic.

Everything I have written earlier describes what I think are the motivations that drive us runners, our general personality, and how running is reflective of life and a way of life.

This belief in similarity and perhaps camaraderie makes me feel happy whenever I pass another runner when I run. I don’t smile at them or greet them (I am too shy), but I get a spurt of motivation whenever I see someone run by in the opposite direction. I feel like I have met a comrade suffering the same pain as me.

Sometimes I venture to give a slight approving nod, but I always continue on my way, aching feet plodding on with a heart that tells me not to stop and legs that scream for mercy. The run, like life, will be finished regardless of how you do it. You can choose to just stop the run, there and then. You can choose to kill yourself and end your life. I much prefer to run than to walk. The same applies for life.


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