Every year, the London Marathon serves as a reminder to me why I could never run a marathon. A number of my friends are regular marathon runners, and I am always impressed and amazed by the amount of preparation that goes into properly training to run that kind of distance. As race day approaches, my Facebook feed is filled with status updates like “Just ran for three hours, great start to my Sunday, now it’s time for an ice bath!” which fill me with admiration but also make me feel sick to the stomach.
I enjoy running but I am primarily a fair weather runner. The idea of getting up at 6am and struggling through sleet in order to keep up with my training schedule does not appeal. At the moment however, I am running more often than usual, for two reasons. The first reason is that the weather is perfect for running right now with longer, sunnier days that are neither too cold nor too hot. The second reason is Haruki Murakami. I recently read Murakami’s collection of essays “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and it’s fair to say Murakami is not a fair weather runner. The book is fascinating to read especially if, like me, you’re interested to learn what it is like to run extreme distances without actually having to do it yourself. The section of the book where Murakami recounts running a 100km (62 mile) ultramarathon is extraordinary; the moment halfway through the race where he takes a break to change into larger trainers because his feet have swollen up was awe-inspiring and a little scary.
Although I can’t see myself competing in ultramarathons and triathlons like Murakami-san, his respect for his own body and his focus resonated with me. He aims to run 10km (6 miles) a day, six days a week, and applies the same focus to his writing as his running. (Perhaps if I was as focussed, I would be contributing to this blog far more!) So, I am trying to take what inspiration I can from this and scheduling in more regular runs to focus myself more. Usually I run home from our offices at Putney Bridge to my flat in South London. There are three main benefits to this: first, I avoid the London commute; second, I get home fully exercised and don’t have to trudge out to the gym; and third, I have to run home carrying my work clothes in a backpack.
The reason it’s beneficial to run home with my work clothes in a bag on my back becomes clear on those days when I start and finish my run at home. At the weekends or during holidays I can set out from my flat and, without my shoes, shirt, trousers and whatever other paperwork I need to lug home with me weighing me down, I suddenly feel like an elite athlete! I dress carefully on the days I run home from work, as the backpack I use is intentionally small, but even so, I feel like I am flying along when I’m running without it. Professional runners often train at altitude so that, when they race at sea level, it’s much easier for them. Carrying a backpack gives me a little of that experience without having to trudge up to the mountains.
What’s also wonderful about those weekend runs is London itself. I usually head out from my flat in South London and run up to the Thames, sometimes crossing Lambeth Bridge with its view of the Houses of Parliament, then running towards Parliament Square,dodging tourists the whole way. Sometimes I’ll head over Vauxhall Bridge and past Tate Britain. Or I’ll run towards Battersea Bridge, passing the Power Station and the Dogs & Cats Home, avoiding the urge to go in and adopt a kitten.
Running over London bridges is incredibly energising: so much of what makes London iconic is situated on the river, from Big Ben to the London Eye, the National Theatre to Tates Britain and Modern. The famous views can really spur you on when your thighs are burning or your knees are aching. It’s no wonder the finish line of the London Marathon is on the Mall with Buckingham Palace: that’s a view that could raise the spirits of even the most dejected runner. Who knows, maybe one day I will commit to pounding 42 kilometres of London’s streets just to see Buck House in the distance. Until then, there are plenty of other sights to keep me jogging along.