Running in Literature, Roger Robinson

“Runners know tiredness in all its many shades and effects. Among life’s significant memories, we carry those runs or races when tiredness was our stepping-stone to high achievement, and those when its deadweight sank us; days when it crept into our legs like a wasting disease, or suddenly leapt upon us like a cougar from a rock; times when we grappled with it, and overcame, and times when we were overcome.” (loc 68)

I’ve been flipping through this book since I got it at Christmas, and I have to say, it’s not my favorite on the subject. It’s not that it isn’t excellent at what it sets out to do – creating context and exploring the history of running in literature from ancient texts to poetry to modern juvenile fiction to resource books and beyond – it just doesn’t sit well with me during this off period of my own running.

I’d like to blame these bad months on giving up meat for Lent, but I only started that a few weeks ago, and this funk has been with me since the beginning of the summer. It would be so easy to call it a dietary imbalance and write it off, but I know it goes much deeper than that, and reading Robinson’s books was like salt in the wound. So much of what he captures in the excerpts he picks and in the stories he has pieced together reflect on running from what I would call “the expert’s perspective.”

I have solid runs, and I have miles that have felt amazing, but I will never have an under thirty minute 10k time, as the author has; my body simply isn’t built for that. Robinson comes from a place of knowledge about the sport that I cannot hope to imagine, and his writing draws from that innate, superior, bodily understanding. Even when he’s discussing literature that so epically captures the hardships of running, he doesn’t manage to capture my hardships so much as the struggles of those whose worst days are far better than my very best.

It’s not his fault. I came to running much later in life than I would like, and I suspect I will always relate more closely to writers like John Bingham or Peter Sagal than I will men like Robinson, who, in tone and nature, may be more inclined toward seriousness in sport than I am. For the history buff though, this book is a lovely exploration of running throughout the ages, and for runners who are not in a pout, as I am, his writing certainly captures the elegance of the sport with ease.

For those like me, however, who have been plodding along trying to reignite that light-hearted, joyful spark on the trails, this may serve as a reminder that there exist paintings on ceramic vases portraying more life-like, fleet-footed running than I manage to do most days…

For more on Roger Robinson, head over here.

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