It’s an epiphany that invariably occurs in the bathroom. You are alone and naked. You look in the mirror. You are pale, fat and overweight. And you decide you need to do something about it. In the foreword to his excellent book,What I Am Talking About When I’m Talking About Running, (Witawitar) Haruki Murakami says, “A gentleman shouldn’t go on and on about what he does to stay fit.” Then, of course, he goes ahead and clarifies that since everybody knows he’s not a gentleman, he shouldn’t be worrying about this.
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Never having considered myself a gentleman either, I have little qualms about going on and on about running or exercise or what I think about when I think about fitness.
Everybody knows about the simple equation that governs how heavy (or, if you’re lucky, how light) you are. How many calories do you consume? And how much of those do you burn? Strike the right balance—burn more than you eat—and voila! You’re a lighter person. But in reality, as everybody who’s tried to strike that balance knows, it’s not as simple.
The toughest is usually the second part of that formula—how many calories you really are able to burn and how you do it. Running like Murakami who, when he wrote Witawitar, ran 6 miles a day, six days a week, is probably the best way to burn calories, shed fat and be lean and light. And even if you run a little less than what his relentless schedule (in addition to the six-day grind, it included at least one marathon a year) demands, it can make a difference.
I first began dabbling with keeping fit in my late 30s after the shocking encounter with my reflection in the mirror that I mentioned. And the start had little connection with running. It began with walking. And then, it slowly progressed till I mustered up the courage to join a gym, which itself was an intimidating place where every single person I saw seemed to be much, much fitter than I, besides being overtly aggressive.
Somewhere along the way, someone pointed me to another book (this long before Murakami wrote his) which couldn’t have been more different than Witawitar.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
If Murakami’s book is a runner’s memoir that is literary, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is literal.
Murakami talks about listening to Beck and Red Hot Chili Peppers while running and about the existentialism of the marathoner. He finds a parallel between writing novels and long-distance running. Schwarzenegger writes about the right exercises for “Outer Back Development”, and “Lat Width” and the proper way of doing “Dumbbell Flys” and “Barbell Rows”.
“It is the Bible of bodybuilding,” said the trainer at my first gym. He himself seemed to be chiselled out of a block of granite.
It was some time before I realized what my fitness mojo was going to be. It would have to be a cocktail that combined Murakami and Schwarzenegger. One part would have to be about running and another part, about lifting and pulling heavy things. I wanted to be lithe, light and sinewy but not skinny. And very, very different from that reflection I saw some 10 years ago of myself in the mirror.
The author is editor-in-chief, Hindustan Times.