Muscles, Writing, and Pushing Your Limits

Recently I picked up a book written by Haruki Murakami that changed my life, and no, surprisingly it wasn’t one of his novels. Rather it was a memoir he had written. A collection of essays. All on the famous author’s lifelong obsession of running.

In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami somehow manages to beautifully capture his own inner voice: both during his training in anticipation of an upcoming running event, and during the event itself, as you follow his every thought and mantra, stride after stride. Whilst the latter is utterly fascinating; what struck me was the simplicity with which he was able to articulate the process one has to go through in training. Something I desperately wanted to pluck out and share with the world here:

“The total amount of running I’m doing might be going down, but at least I’m following one of my basic rules for training: I never take two days off in a row. Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course. But as long as you take you time and do it in stages, they won’t complain - aside from the occasional long face - and they’ll very patiently and obediently grow stronger. Through repetition you input into your muscles the message that this is how much work they have to perform. Our muscles are very conscientious. As long as we observe the correct procedure, they won’t complain.”

He continues…

“If, however, the load halts for a few days, the muscles automatically assume they don’t have to work that hard anymore, and they lower their limits. Muscles really are like animals, and they want to take it easy as possible; if pressure isn’t applied to them, they relax and cancel out the memory of all that work. Input this cancelled memory once again, and you have to repeat the whole journey from the very beginning. Naturally it’s important to take a break sometimes, but in a critical time like this, when I’m training for a race, I have to maintain a certain tension by being unsparing, but not to the point where I burn out. These are the tactics that all experienced runners learn over time.”

The beauty of the book really reveals itself when the author also extends these ideas of pushing yourself in order to understand your own limits to writing and work, as well as running. Later in the book, as he talks of the ingredients required in someone for them to become a great writer: focus, endurance, and talent; Murakami recalls a previous passage:

“You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do.”

So whether you’re going to put your track shoes on, or are going to sit at your desk to write that novel you’ve always dreamed of writing: bit by bit, increase your workload. Never take two days off in a row. Build momentum. And send a message to yourself of what you expect from yourself: More.

book, highlighted, hand


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