Monday Motivation: Marathon running and the joy of writing
Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya stands on the brink of an athletic breakthrough that many thought could never be achieved. In the Berlin marathon in September, he set a new world record of two hours, one minute and thirty-nine seconds: 2:1:39. Not only did he shatter the previous record by well over a minute – in marathon terms, that’s a lightyear – but after he’d breasted the tape he still had the energy, as The Telegraph reported it, “to leap into his coach’s arms”.
I’m writing this in a small (but as one review put it, “perfectly formed”) coffee shop in Castle Street, Bedford. It took me an hour and three minutes to walk here from our marina. That’s slow by anyone’s standards, but I’m on crutches and I considered it pretty good. It’s a distance of precisely one and a half kilometres.
Eliud Kipchoge would have run that distance in just four minutes and sixteen seconds.
Okay, I might be testing your own endurance now. Sports statistics aren’t to everyone’s taste, I know.
The relevance of Kipchoge to the writer’s life lies in his method, his philosophy.
You might marvel at the very thought of an athlete having anything that could be called a philosophy – but Kipchoge has been called marathon running’s “philosopher king” by the New York Times’ sports reporter, Scott Cacciola.
I’m not going to dwell on the obvious: the almost inhuman routines of a professional runner; the killing training schedule; the rigorous diet; the field and road work… (Although we could all benefit from adding a little rigour to our schedules, I’m sure.)
Kipchoge has distinguished himself as much by his motivational speaking as he has on the road. He says things, says Cacciola, like “Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.”
His athletic success (he’s an Olympic gold medallist; and the Berlin win was his eighth successive marathon victory) has made him a weathy man. But Cacciola notes that “he still scrubs the toilet”.
Good writers pay as much attention to the smallest details of their work as they do to the sweeping themes that inspire it.
Kipchoge says, of success in running, that “It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.”
Kipchoge says, “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.”
Writers might regret all the stories they could have written – but it’s the story that they could start writing today that’ll define and affirm their status as writers.
At the end of Cacciola’s piece, he writes:
“Kipchoge has a habit of smiling whenever pain sets in. Pain, he said, is nothing more than a mindset. So he distracts himself with other thoughts — the joy of running, the finish line ahead. Then the pain fades. In the process, he has proved himself singularly capable of elevating the sport into something that more closely resembles performance art.”
Now the pain that writers experience from time to time is not the pain of a marathoner. It doesn’t spring from a hamstring injury, or a torn muscle, or cramps – it’s the pain of frustration; of comparing what they dreamt they might write with what they have written; of finding themselves in a narrative cul-de-sac with no apparent way out.
At moments like these, we could all take a leaf from Kipchoge’s book, and think of the joy that lies ahead, when the problem’s been solved, and the story’s back on track.
Read Jo-Anne’s latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: It’s not about you, it’s about your character‘
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