Dan Rook­wood on the joys of run­ning.

GQ (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

THE COLUMNIST

It’s early. I’m just com­ing to. I blindly paw the bed­side ta­ble for the alarm clock, knock my glasses to the floor which star­tles my wife, find the clock, press its light and squint through one heavy-lid­ded, half-open, short-sighted eye. “Time’s it?” muf­fles Sam through a pil­low. “5.50am,” I croak. Got another 10 min­utezzz. And so it be­gins – the in­ter­nal morn-ologue, the co­matose tus­sle be­tween my in­her­ent love of sleep’s soft em­brace and the over­pow­er­ing com­bi­na­tion of guilt, van­ity and self-dis­ci­pline that gnaws away un­til it ul­ti­mately com­pels me to hit the gym rather than the snooze but­ton. I’m not nat­u­rally a ‘morning per­son’, but if I don’t ex­er­cise be­fore break­fast, it ain’t hap­pen­ing at all. And for the last year – since I be­came a fa­ther – it’s hap­pened all too sel­dom. I do my daily push-ups and man­age a long run at the weekend, but aside from that, I’ve had nei­ther the time nor en­ergy to ex­er­cise. Of all the things I’ve missed since be­com­ing a dad – sleep, sex, dis­pos­able in­come – work­ing out is top. (Ac­tu­ally, a liein at the weekend heads the list but ex­er­cise is a close se­cond.) The strug­gle is real against the in­sid­i­ous creep of dad-bod. I orig­i­nally started run­ning in or­der to be able to eat and drink pretty much with im­punity. Ev­ery­thing in my care­fully and ex­pen­sively as­sem­bled wardrobe – in­clud­ing sev­eral be­spoke suits – is for a man with a 32-inch waist. I lit­er­ally can­not af­ford to put on tim­ber. But what I’ve come to re­alise in re­cent weeks, my fit­ness reg­i­men now back on track, is that I need to ex­er­cise as much, if not more, for men­tal well­be­ing as phys­i­cal. Specif­i­cally, run­ning. ‘Run­ner’s high’ – that wave of en­dor­phin- and en­do­cannabi­noid-in­duced eu­pho­ria that crashes over some peo­ple postaer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity – is a pal­pa­ble sen­sa­tion for me. I need it like I need cof­fee. And as with cof­fee, if I go with­out, I suf­fer, as do peo­ple around me. Some­times when I’m ir­ri­ta­ble and ob­jec­tion­able, Sam will ask: “Do you need to go for a run?” I re­turn an hour later with an up­beat spring in my step. A lot of peo­ple say they find dis­tance run­ning too bor­ing, but that for me is a large part of the point. I used to jog to pod­casts and au­dio­books – never a dull mo­ment – but as much as my body needs the ex­er­cise, my mind needs the rest. So now I tune out to the metro­nomic beat of mu­sic. Since I can’t med­i­tate so eas­ily these days – as a new par­ent I’m so sleep-de­prived, if I close my eyes for 20 min­utes of TM, I might never wake – run­ning is the an­swer. We hear so much about mind­ful­ness, of be­ing ‘in the mo­ment’ – and I’m all over that. But in to­day’s al­ways-con­nected, over-stim­u­lated world when dig­i­tal de­vices are re­duc­ing our at­ten­tion spans to that of gold­fish with ADD, we need some mind­less­ness too. To day­dream, to not an­swer emails, to get lost in thought… Sorry, what was I say­ing? Oh yeah, thanks to smart phones and wi-fi, bore­dom has al­most been erad­i­cated. We don’t yet know the long-term ef­fects of this. But we do know that bore­dom is a fer­tile state. We need pe­ri­ods of idle thought. That’s why we of­ten have our light bulb ideas in the shower or when walk­ing the dog or driv­ing home. The lack of en­gag­ing ac­tiv­ity in the brain sparks cre­ativ­ity. With run­ning, the ef­fect is am­pli­fied. There’s a com­pelling body of re­search in neu­ro­science link­ing aer­o­bic ex­er­cise with sub­se­quent cog­ni­tive clar­ity. It jogs mem­ory, boosts fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion, im­proves goal-set­ting, aids de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Weigh­ing up a po­ten­tially life-chang­ing choice? Go for a run. Hit a cre­ative stum­bling block? Go for a run. Feel­ing a bit wound up or down in the dumps? You get the idea. Run­ning helps you zone out. In his sem­i­nal book What I Talk About When I Talk About Run­ning, award-win­ning writer and se­rial marathoner Haruki Mu­rakami writes: “I just run. I run in void. Or maybe I should put it the other way – I run in or­der to ac­quire a void.” He runs six days a week. As I’ve dis­cov­ered this past year, it’s all too easy to get out of the habit. To en­cour­age my­self to stick to it, I’m now en­ter­ing events so that I have tar­gets to train for – 10Ks, half marathons, noth­ing in­jury-in­duc­ing – my frame isn’t built for marathons. I take run­ning shoes on ev­ery trip – there’s no bet­ter cure for jet­lag or bet­ter way to ori­en­tate your­self in a new city. I lay my kit out ready each night be­fore bed. And yet, I still strug­gle to haul my achy car­cass out of bed ev­ery morning. Just 10 more min­utes.

I NEED TO RUN TO STOP MY MIND RUN­NING.

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