I’m not a fast runner. I’ll never win a major race, and I’m not particularly interested in going after a big marathon. I just like to run. Similarly, I’m kind of a lousy reader— slow, prone to mixing up letters and words, easily distracted. Yet, I love to read, and I love to run. I also love to read about running. And I’m in luck: there is lots of great writing on the subject, from technical manuals to memoirs to novels to philosophy. While I love a good geek-out, it’s these latter categories that really grab me. Maybe because running can be so solitary and long miles give us time to think, writing on running is often perceptive and introspective. In fact, much of this writing is really more about living in the world than it is about putting on foot in front of the other.
I certainly haven’t read every book about running (yet). But I find myself coming back to some favorites. The books I return to share a theme of running not just as a sport, but as a conduit for humanity. The first one that pulled me in was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Fans of Murakami’s fiction will recognize his voice: keen observation, simple description, slightly magical air. He writes about the routines of running, the suffering, the odd sense of comfort, and how these mirror the writing life. Reading it was meditative for me. Another classic, Running & Being, from the so-called “philosopher king” of running George Sheehan, delighted me in a different way. The chapters are titled things like “Living”, “Discovering”, “Learning”, “Racing”, and “Meditating”. Sheehan, like Murakami, is preoccupied with the suffering of running. Is this the secret sauce? Suffering? I don’t know, but there’s something about it that compels runners and writers alike.