What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I came across an interesting blog post earlier this week about how endurance athletes tend to be dedicated, hard-working employees–how “who you are outside of your work parallels who you are when you are at work,” and how “the type of determination, discipline and emotional focus that comes with training” translates to the workplace, too.

I read it at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about how my training schedule can not only fit into my fledgling freelance-writing career, but how it can make each work day more productive by improving my endurance and focus. When I first started working from home, with only myself as a boss, I felt guilty every time I pulled myself away from my computer for a midday run. I’m shifting my mindset to not only make it OK to take a midday run break, but to time that run break so that I get a burst of energy and a sharpened focus just when my productivity drops off. In other words, I’m using a late-morning or mid-afternoon run break to stand in for a handful of dark-chocolate Hershey’s kisses for a workday pick-me-up.

It’s an idea espoused by novelist Haruki Murakami (the running, not the chocolate) in his running memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” Murakami writes that he took up running because he found it helped him hone the kind of focus that is essential to long-form writing: “Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day,” he writes. “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?”

Murakami says he considers his daily run a vital part of his work schedule, saying: “Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.”

A forced six-week hiatus from running (and all other cardio) following wrist surgery in February has made me reassess my own reasons for running. Besides physical health, I keep coming back to the idea that I like the person I am when I’m running. I am more focused, patient and disciplined with my training than I am in any other arena of my life, and the more I run, the more I become the person I am during my daily workouts.

When I work out in the morning, I spend the day thinking that if I can run five miles while the rest of the world is asleep, I can tackle anything else the day throws at me. When I run in the middle of the day, I skirt the terrible, sluggish hour between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., gaining a burst of energy and focus from my run rather than losing even more productivity by messing around online for that hour. I sit down at my laptop feeling refreshed. When I run at night, I process the day’s frustrations, and truly *leave* work (not easy when your office is your dining room table!). I return home ready for sleep to refresh my sore muscles.

All of that proved true on Tuesday afternoon, when I attempted my first speedwork since returning to activity post-surgery. I ran three 1-mile repeats ranging from 8-minute-mile pace to 7:30-minute-mile pace–only slightly slower than normal! I got through the last mile by repeating: “Focus. Focus. Focus,” and willed myself to keep my eyes off the clock. I returned to work full of energy—and full of the confidence of feeling like, if I could get through that, sending a round of pitches to new editors would be a piece of cake.

A few other gems from Murakami’s lovely book:

On finishing a distance race: “It was like a tight knot inside me was gradually loosening, a knot I never even realized, until then, was there.”

His opinion on stationary bikes: “Those worthless bicycle machines.” I couldn’t agree more.

How does running make you a better employee—or boss, or parent, or spouse, or friend? How do you plan your runs to best complement your life?

In other news, I’m proud to report that I’ve crossed another major threshhold in recovering from my wrist surgery: I get to ditch the splint while I’m at home, and I can start formal therapy next week! The stiffness and soreness is still pretty monumental, so I’m especially looking forward to the latter.Best of all … I get to start swimming again! Now, I just have to find a pool I can take Metro to–the wrist isn’t quite mobile enough for driving a stick-shift yet.


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4 responses to “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

  1. Gary

    I look at physical activity as a vital part of almost every day that needs to be given as much priority as work, sleep, food, etc. Discipline is about more than working hard, it is knowing when to ease off and realizing that a successful effort will involve integrating lots of different things.

    I remember when I was training for my first marathon. A co-worker couldn’t understand how I would be able to hit my target if I hadn’t run 26.2 miles at that pace yet. I had to explain that there was a speed component and an endurance component and a strength component and that my training was about working on those individual pieces separately and then putting them together on race day.

    Life is like that too. Work is important, but if we put all of our focus into sprinting through the workday, we will have neglected other things that will make for a more successful long-term effort.

    I know that by leaving the office at a regular time each day and making time for my daily run, I will be more valuable to my employer. I will sleep better, be less stressed, be healthier, and be more inclined to not jump ship after only a couple of years when I get too burned out. And I can’t count the number of times I have left the office struggling to solve a particular problem, and the answer has come to me as soon as I laced up my shoes and hit the road.

  2. ultrarunnergirl

    Here’s a quick url list of DC pools. $4 if you aren’t a resident.

  3. I always have a better day when I run first thing in the morning, maybe its the endorphins, adrenaline, etc that makes it that way. I share in your feeling that “if I can run five miles while the rest of the world is asleep, I can tackle anything else the day throws at me.”

    I’ve found that since I started spending much of time training for marathons, I’ve become more dedicated and disciplined at work as well (as i’m sure my boss will tell you)… I attribute it to the fact that the dedication, discipline and desire that develops when you train isn’t something that is only applied to one aspect of your day .. it becomes a part of your life and is applied to everything you do.

    Great post, thanks.

  4. Pingback: Motivation Monday: The ‘person I am on the mountain’ edition « Amy Reinink

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