Like many writers, I love running. I don’t go far or fast, but I’ve arranged my life so that, almost every school day, I take my children to school (either by train or hitching a lift with a neighbour) then run home. It’s only 2.5 miles – absolutely nothing compared with what a serious runner would do – but it gets me going for the day, and I arrive home with my head out of domesticity and ready for writing.
I don’t enjoy organised exercise any more than I would enjoy an organised job. I can’t stand in a line and follow the instructions of an expert, even though when I’ve tried it I’ve always ended up having a good (if inept) time. Somehow, in spite of the exercise buzz, I cannot bring myself to go back the following week.
When you run, as when you write, you create your own world. I love my route home from school: it includes both a graveyard and the edge of the Atlantic at Falmouth Bay. I normally forget to take my ipod, so my soundtrack is raucous seagulls and waves, and, more prosaically, passing cars, sometimes with surfboards on the roof.
When you run, it feels as if the world cannot touch you. You’re moving faster than walkers, slower than anything with wheels, and your headspace is entirely your own. You pass into scenes (men in fluorescent jackets in the graveyard, toddlers and dogs at the seafront) and straight out of them. You get to look at things without them really having time to look back. You pass through: the only thing you need to do is to keep moving.
Sometimes I run home noticing everything I pass. Occasionally I get annoyed by having to run out into the road to accommodate a dog on an implausibly long lead that crosses the pavement like a finishing line, or by having to skip over said dog’s poo. If it rains, I just run through it, and if, like today, it seems suddenly to be spring, I notice that far more than I otherwise would. At other times, however, I think about the book I’m writing, work out plot holes and plan ahead. Problems that seem intractable when you’re staring at a screen can be suddenly, effortlessly resolved when you’re out in the world, passing through.
I’m doing the Falmouth half marathon in a couple of weeks. It is very hilly and extremely hard work: I did it a year ago and this year I will solely be trying to get up the very steep hill at the 10 mile mark, in Budock, without walking. If it defeats me, however, who cares? Running, like writing, is an intensely solitary pastime, and I do it, like writing, because it makes life better.