9 min read

Duathlon and Murakami

Last weekend, I participated in the BSA Hercules Duathlon organized by RFL.

Bangalore Duathlon 2009

I did the 10 km running + 20 km cycling thing.

I was the last-but-one guy to finish and I did take twice the amount of time as the first guy to finish.

But I didn’t care about that. I expected to finish in 3 hours and I completed before that. And I finished strongly, not crawling to the end as I used to. I enjoyed the run, I enjoyed the cycling and I was satisfied.

Photos by Vikram:

It reminded me of the book “What I talk about when I talk about running” by Haruki Murakami that I read recently (borrowed from Varun).

I really liked the book, because Murakami puts into words the things I have felt as a runner but is almost impossible to truly explain it to somebody else.

Just to put things into perspective – Murakami started running in 1982 at the age of 30, running everyday since then for nearly 23 years. He has run at least one marathon every year, i.e., 23 marathons till date [when the book was published], and many more long-distance runs.

Some of my favorite passages from the book are below.

About the rhythm:

As long as I can run a certain distance, that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the ponit where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed – and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.

About why we run:

Most ordinary runners are motivated by an individual goal, more than anything: namely, a time they want to beat. As long as he can beat that time, a runner will feel he’s accomplished what he set out to do, and if he can’t, then he’ll feel he hasn’t. Even if he doesn’t break the time he’d hoped for, as long as he has the sense of satisfaction at having done his very best – and, possibly, having made some significant discovery about himself in the process – then that in itself is an accomplishment, a positive feeling he can carry over to the next race.
… Marathon runners will understand what I mean. We don’t really care whether we beat any other particular runner. World-class runners, of course, want to outdo their closest rivals, but for your average, everyday runner, individual rivalry isn’t a major issue. I’m sure there are garden-variety runners whose desire to beat a particular rival spurs them on to train harder. But what happens if their rival, for whatever reason, drops out of the competition? Their motivation for running would disappear or at least diminish, and it’d be hard for them to remain runners for long.
For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.

About running as an outlet:

When I’m criticized unjustly (from my viewpoint, at least), or when someone I’m sure will understand me doesn’t, I go running for a little longer than usual. By running longer it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent. It also makes me realize again how weak I am, how limited by abilities are. I become aware, physically, of these low points. And one of the results of running a little farther than usual is that I become that much stronger. If I’m angry, I direct that anger towards myself. If I have a frustrating experience, I used that to improve myself. That’s the way I’ve always lived. I quietly absorb the things I’m able to, releasing them later, and in as changed a form as possible, as part of the story line in a novel.

What do we think about when we run:

… The hour or so I spend running, maintaining my own silent, private time, is important to help me keep my mental well-being. When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at the scenery passing by. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.
I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.
On cold days I guess I think a little about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. When I’m sad I think a little about sadness. When I’m happy I think a little about happiness. As I mentioned before, random memories come to me too. And occasionally, hardly ever, really, I get an idea to use in a novel. But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.
I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.
The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. They sky both exists and doesn’t exist. It has substance and at the same time doesn’t. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in.

About the last 20%:

… Rereading the article I wrote at the time of this run in Greece, I’ve discovered that after twenty-some years, and as many marathons later, the feelings I have when I run twenty-six miles are the same as back then. Even now, whenever I run a marathon my mind goes through the same exact process. Up to nineteen miles I’m sure I can run a good time, but past twenty-two miles I run out of fuel and start to get upset at everything. And at the end I feel like a car that’s run out of gas. But after I finish and some time has passed, I forget all the pain and misery and am already planning how I can run an even better time in the next race. The funny thing is, no matter how much experience I have under my belt, no matter how old I get, it’s all just a repeat of what came before.
I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform – or perhaps distort – yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.

About pain:

… Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. 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? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

About the life lessons from running:

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate – and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would have definitely been different.
My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance – all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson. (It’s got to be concrete, no matter how small it is.) And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it. (Yes, that’s a more appropriate way of putting it.)

Murakami explains beautifully on how running and life lessons are so intertwined. I like to think on the same lines too.

For example, if you find the concept of running boring – I can argue the same applies for life – get up, go to work, come back, watch TV for a few hours, repeat 5-6 times, then go out for a movie on the weekend. Most people follow the same routine every week. How boring, isn’t it?

If you find getting started with running difficult – the same applies for getting started with any new activity. Whether it is learning a new subject in school, learning a new technology or process at work, or learning how to become a good husband or wife – getting started is always difficult. But it doesn’t mean you give up, right?

If you think running is too much effort for nothing, the same applies for life – you struggle so hard to survive and keep moving forward in life… for what?

Running requires a certain rhythm to be achieved, only then you can truly enjoy it. Same applies for life. If you’re going fully strong, only then will there be a stride in your walk.

The last 20% is the really difficult part of any long-distance run. Same for any long-term project. Really taking things to completion will give you a high like nothing else will.

Running is about competing with yourself, not with others. Same applies for life. If all you care about is being in the top ten, then you’re not truly enjoying the run itself, your focus is on the finish. But every wise man has already said that it is about the journey, not the destination.

Running is most fun when you cross the finish line strongly and knowing that you could’ve done more. Same applies for life. It is depressing to have given up in life and just waiting for the end, it is much more invigorating and worthwhile to be moving strongly.

“I do not run to add days to my life — I run to add life to my days.”
— Ronald Rook