Nervous yesterday when lacing up my running shoes. In the first three weeks of 2016, I jogged 12 times. In the first three weeks of 2017, I’d only run four times, and two of them had been failures. Perhaps my body just doesn’t like less regular effort. And this sore chest muscle made me anxious.
Well, I stretched slowly, then headed out along the river on a nigh perfect day. My first three splits were quite fast but I made myself slow down. At the halfway mark, the monkey mind tried to tell me to stop, but I stuck with the slow pace and, to my relief, arrived back home without stopping. A slow pace of 6:31/km but I was so pleased to have not succumbed this time.
Twenty days into the year, six of them away hiking, I’ve already missed one day, sidelined by an annoying inflamed chest muscle that scuppered any of my three fitness activities. I’ve jogged four times and stopped short, for no good reason, twice; 31 kms instead of 40 kms. I’ve cycled five times, not six, and 130 kms is well shy of the 200 kms I should have achieved. The muscle injury was really uncomfortable hiking near Mount Jagungal and will likely take another week to fully fix. Not the kick-off I’d desired, that’s for sure!
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
Zap! Not a lot different to what I’m aspiring to in 2017, albeit with less of his “good amount of mental and physical strength.” When you spot interconnectedness like this, it’s tempting to infer a cosmic sign, but in this case I’m not quite sure how to make use of Murakami’s advice . . .
(1978 Murakami photo from that Paris Review Interview.)
What is fitness? Dictionary definitions don’t help at the individual level, nor does Google (you get millions of vague words by personal trainers pitching for clients). Specifically in my case, I called 2017 a Fitness Big Year simply because I was committing to a haphazard mix of cycling education (with a half decent distance goal), jogging (“keeping my hand in”) and gym (“it’s good for me, right?”). But is that all, am I just focusing on daily discipline? Or do I actually hope to “increase my fitness?” How will I know if my fitness does improve or worsen? If there is some form of goal beyond working my body daily, shouldn’t I be a bit more scientific about my approach? Shouldn’t I mix up some aspects, such as speed workouts and hills? My time is constrained, so I can’t join a club, or get a “fitness assessment,” or sign up for some kind of trainer, or do a course. Every time I run or cycle, these thoughts come back to me, but I’m confused, most confused.
It’s a fitness obsession but why? Last year’s stricture was to jog an hour four times a week and to attend gym three times a week, plus stretch daily. I called that a Jogging Big Year because I wished to instill a habit of strenuous runs. This year, needing to mainline on energetic writing, I’ve shied away from big-time physical goals. Instead I’m mixing up the exercising: three cycles a week, two jogs, two gym trips. What makes it a Big Year is insisting all of it is compulsory, from January 1 to December 31.
In essence, each week I substitute two bicycle trips, of two hours’ duration, for two of 2016’s one-hour jogs, and also switch one gym session to a one-hour cycle. A few people have told me that an hour pounding the streets on jogging shoes is “better for me” than twice as long on wheels. Perhaps that view makes sense? Will I “lose condition” in 2017? What is “fitness?” How does one judge if one is “fitter” or not? Should I be doing anything special to turn my dailies into a “fitness regime?”
Using so many quotation marks tells me I’m messing with rubbery concepts. How do I conceptualise “fitness” and make something “big” out of this Big Year? I’d better ask around . . .
Most important: I wrote and worked well . . . not quite as well as I should have, but I rose early on six days (slept in once but made up for it) and hunkered down. I rode a bike three days, only 76 kms not 100 kms, but enjoyed every moment and consider my launch a fine one. Jogging was, for some reason, horribly tough, and I dropped short on Wednesday, but I forgive myself. I listened to music all 7 days – carving out the time was irksome but I’m already getting used to that – andsuddenly I’m humming stuff in my head! All up, an encouraging start and the tension I imposed upon myself will, I’m sure, ease over the next few weeks as I get used to a very different way of focusing time.
In my mid twenties, a brilliant young actuary I worked with invited me to jog with him. Just after dawn, I ran round to his flat and we did a circuit together. I don’t recall much of that outing but it was immediately clear to both of us that he was fast and I was slow. We ran together two or three times, before I saved him embarrassment by saying I preferred solo jogs. He went on to run many marathons at quite a high level; I kept on plodding.
I did take something away from those jogs. “Going up a rise,” he counselled, “it’s best to surge, to push yourself. That way you build up strength for the flat stretches. Even if you’re tired at a crest, you’ll maintain pace downhill.” Well, Syd, your advice has stuck with me, and over my 2016 Jogging Big Year, I often tried to pump those weary legs up the hills, and I noticed that my best times came when I surged consistently. There were even some magical moments when, gasping at the top of a rise, my breathing came easier and I imagined myself an athlete.
Over 2016, a dozen or so Strava runners followed/monitored my jogs. I now follow them. Scottish S, a fast-pacer at 4:00 mins/km, ran 1,400 kms. British A isn’t so serious (1,100 kms) but is much faster than me at 5:00. Spanish C must be an athlete, he’s so swift. A Strava friend in Belarus has hundreds of followers and over 2,200 kms, much of it amongst snow. B from Auckland did 2,000 kms, quite a bit faster than me, while a Johannesburg pal is more my slow pace but hit over 2,300 kms. Russian Y, who snaps photos of snow drifts, proudly achieved 2,016 kms in 2016 and plans 2,017 miles (a 60% increase!) in 2017. A from Horsham, and P from Romania, both clocked up 2,400 kms or more, and fast. N from The Entrance (NSW) runs at 5:00 and totalled over 2,800 kms, while an Israeli friend with many followers, is more my pace but runs so often that he amassed over 3,000 kms. My nearest Strava peer, in Croydon, is speedy and oh so prolific – he finished 2016 with over 3,400 kms.
When I call them “friends,” “pals,” or “peers,” I’m being overly familiar. I’ve never met any of them, indeed have barely exchanged a word through Strava comments. Yet they feel like a brotherhood. Why we all run, I don’t know, but run we do, and supporting each other on the Strava platform comforts and motivates.