There is a belief that fiction is based on an author’s life experience. Ernest Hemingway was an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, which is the story line for Farewell to Arm, and John Steinbeck’s closest friend, Ed Ricketts, was the basis for the character Doc in Cannery Row. This leads me to a fictional running story that appeared recently in Every Day Fiction.
I conjured up I Died Today in the Middle of a Two-hour Run one day last summer while on a two-hour run along a country road that passes a lamb farm. The way in which I describe that run—the rhythm of the body in motion, hypnotic pant of the heart, each breath ever so softly entered my lungs and then whispered out through my mouth, the sanctity of sweat—would have been impossible had I not been a lifelong distance runner. That is not to say that a non-runner can’t imagine such feelings, but experience enables a writer who is also a runner to dig deep and translate those feelings into words.
I’d written many times about the relationship between running and writing—how a soaking sweat loosens up the ideas when stuck in a writer’s block. I take to the trails when I am searching for an odd trait for a character, or an unusual ending to a story, like the mattress made of those little balls inside Guinness cans that will be my final resting place.
I once read that the president of Columbia University devises speeches while on his morning run, and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s, says that he expresses himself with his body by running the same way he expresses himself as a musician by playing the bass. I believe that it is all relative. People who express themselves through all types of physical activity, whether carpentry, painting or organic gardening, find that place, that sweet spot, where they discover creativity.
A two-hour fictional run may not be as good for your cardiovascular system as an actual two-hour run, but I believe it is effective exercise for the mind. And age has taught me that the key to maintaining fitness is to the exercise both the body and the mind. Body-mind, and then add one more ingredient to the formula—spirit. That will be a discussion for another day.