On Running Again

My Sunday running route for the last few months has changed to one that loops round to Sandown Park and Esher, then up to Hinchley Wood, Long Ditton and back to Thames Ditton. The pleasure of the route lies principally in the fact that it takes in three hills, two of them long enough to provide a healthy dose of challenge to my legs.

The downside, though, is the ostentatious wealth on display around Esher. Strange it is that, so often, the more money people possess, the more they withdraw to the fringes of general society, admiring their gravel drive, their security gates, their apartness, away from the gaze of the hoi polloi. Perhaps that’s why George Harrison, on the retreat from fame, bought a house, ‘Kinfauns’, in Esher, in 1964, and why the Fab Four spent far more time there than at any of the others’ houses, including the first demos of many of the songs that ended up on the White Album.

A few weeks ago, I read perhaps the best book on running I’ve ever read, though that’s not saying much: Footnotes by a University of Kent lecturer in English, Vybarr Cregan-Reid. It’s a tad heavy on the science of running, but it’s a literary and refreshingly personal book in many ways – roping in Hardy, Coleridge, Merleay-Ponty and plenty besides – and inches near to the heart of why running is, or ought to be, part of regular life for those who can manage it. In that respect, it leaves, for example Haruki Murakami’s woefully disappointing What I Talk About When I Talk About Running trailing far behind.

But it’s still not the lyrical, poetic book about running which I yearn to read. Maybe, though, the energy, the exhilaration, the mind–body separation, the sheer existential wonder of running can’t be pinned down in words. I’m hoping that the Poetry Business anthology of poems about running, to be published later this year, will go some way to challenging that supposition. One of the co-editors, Ben Wilkinson, has written some good poems on running (as well as several about football), which feature in his collection Way More Than Luck, including one, ‘Where I Run From’, which takes the title of Murakami’s book as its opening line. It’s an under-explored theme in poetry for sure.

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