Journalist and runner Adharanand Finn is leading a three-day retreat here on the Dartington Estate in May. Here he explains why Running and Writing have a special symbiotic relationship.
“There’s something about the rhythm of running, the focus on movement – not laser focus, but a light, soft focus – that lets your thoughts bubble and jumble away, unwatched, only half conscious.
And in that space, occasionally something will pop up like the memory of a dream, an opening line perhaps, or an idea, or just a moment of clarity about something you’d been struggling to untangle.
Suddenly things can make sense after a run.
Things can seem simpler. But quick, write it down, because the mists of confusion can come seeping back in before you know it.
This parting of the mind clouds is just one way in which running can become an aid to your writing. Many runners will tell you: things just seem right after a run. You feel calmer, clearer of thought. It’s a good time to write.
The synergy between writing and running works both ways; writing can also enhance your running. When you start to write about your runs, you begin to notice them more. Like a photographer who learns to see the landscape with a certain eye, the writer, writing about running, begins to pay closer attention. The very act of writing about the run heightens the senses, bringing a new element to the run.
You don’t need to be a celebrated author to experience this. Even by keeping a simple journal, or writing a blog, re-telling the stories of your runs can help open your mind to the experience of running. It’s a feedback loop that can make your running more engaging and make your writing more lucid.
The two activities share many other parallels, things you start to notice more the more you run, and the more you write. They’re both largely solitary pursuits in which you get to spend time with your own thoughts. And they both take effort, perseverance and regular practice.
The author Richard Askwith says they also both take courage. When you publish a piece of writing, it’s a bit like stepping up to the start of a race, he says. You’re putting yourself on the line. You’re taking a chance.
“The thing I love about runners,” he says, “is that they’re always willing to give it a go.”
Go to any race, he says, and you’ll see many people who have no hope of winning. But they won’t let that put them off. They’ll finish red-faced, perhaps, and gasping for breath, but always happy that they gave it a go.
With writing, the reluctance to start can be harder to overcome. What if it’s terrible, you might think. What if I suck? But, says Askwith, writers need to channel their inner runner and simply start putting one foot in front of the other (or, rather, putting one word after another).
Don’t be shy, give it a go. Once you do, you’ll realise that it’s not as bad as you perhaps feared. Just like that first run. In fact, you may start to love it just as much.”