Intern Blog: When Leo Tolstoy Goes for a Run

Saturday 12 August 2017

By Andreas Å Andersson

I haven’t always seen myself as a reader and a writer, but I have – for a very long time – seen myself as a runner. That was until I in my early 20s realised I wasn’t running much anymore. In just a matter of months I had transitioned from a wannabe athlete with gold medal aspirations to a black-clad, poor man’s imitation of Dylan Thomas, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Bruno K. Öijer. My awakened writing aspirations can be pinpointed to that time we were driving to a race in Gothenburg; my fellow team members heating up, getting ready for the competition, while I was sitting in the back of the car reading Franz Kafka’s angst filled short story The Burrow. Now this was something that spoke to me. From that point on, I came to see physical and mental activities as opposites. If I truly enjoyed reading and writing, I had to forget the sweaty sportsman I once was, I argued. Mayakovsky would never lace up his sneakers to go for a run, now would he?

It wasn’t until years later that I found a way back to the running lifestyle I had always identified myself with, without having to give up the pleasure of literature. A book that helped me to understand the balance between writing and running was Haruki Murakami’s autobiographical What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. It turned out there are many authors who use running as a form of meditation, to clear their minds of the chaotic impressions of the day: Don DeLillo and Joyce Carol Oates to mention a few. Even Jonathan Swift, back in the early 18th century, was said to every morning before breakfast run up and down the hill next to his home town in eastern Ireland.

For me, running is not about physical exhaustion, but rather about escape, of peace, of harmony – much like reading and writing is. It’s an analogy that might be a case of post-rationalisation, but it can be extended. When do you like to read and write? First thing in the morning or late at night when everything finally has quieted down? (I’m thinking: find a time of the day that suits you to go for a run.) Do you prefer minimalist poetry or historical novels? (I’m thinking: choose your distance.) Do you feel you get more from a book if experiencing it through a reading group? (I’m thinking: you don’t have to do it alone – join a running club and turn running into a communal activity.)

Today, running and literature go hand in hand for me. I couldn’t indulge in one without the other. In 2016, I finally finished my first marathon. In 2016, I finally ploughed through the 900 pages of Anna Karenina. I find it easy to compare the long sections set on Levin’s country estate (anyone out there sharing Tolstoy’s burning interest for agricultural reforms?) to the never-ending 30 to 38 kilometre stretch of a marathon. Awful and painful, but without them, how could we arrive at that final, heart-breaking railway scene?

Okay, maybe the analogy doesn’t hold up the whole way. I take it all back. Maybe, after all, I’m more of an Ezra Pound kind of runner.

What type of runner are you?

Andreas Å Andersson is one of MWF’s 2017 Programming interns. Born in the dark, spruce forests of Småland, Sweden, Andreas is a writer of fiction and poetry who emigrated to Melbourne in 2014. When he is not writing short stories or re-reading Kafka, he can be seen doing laps in Princes Park.

Image credit: Jason Wesley Upton

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Intern Blog

24 August –
2 September 2018