Running and Writing: Better than a Root Beer Float - Dundurn
Sep 02, 2021

Running and Writing: Better than a Root Beer Float

Let’s go on a journey together. Let’s explore the premise that running and writing belong together, like root beer and ice cream. Let's posit that one makes the other sweeter, creamier and more frothy. I’ll be up front with you, I’ve been running today, so you should expect my writing to be extra-frothy. On the other hand, it was a run back from the garage which I was forced to visit as my car’s air conditioning is, of late, as effective as a small dog blowing into a straw from somewhere behind the engine. So, in the midst of this hot summer of 2021, you might expect my writing to be sweaty and irritable and smelling slightly like a dog. You can decide. 

I came upon the combination of running and writing by, what you might call, the conventional path. No — you’re wrong, it wasn’t by watching a Tiktok video that encapsulated all the wisdom contained in Christopher McDougall’s 2009 mega-best-seller Born to Run. No, in fact, it was the year 2010 and I had never read a book about running when I saw a copy of Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich in a bookstore in Boston and bought it on a whim. I started reading it on the plane home and, high above the landscape as turbulence shook the plane, I knew it was all over for me, that there was NO GOING BACK. When he wins that race at the end, I was so taken in after two hundred pages about animal exercise physiology, I realized I’d come up against an immortal god, and Heinrich remains, for me, the progenitor of the runner-writer lineage. 

Who comes next in that noble lineage? Don’t say Christopher MacDougall. Next came Haruki Murakami. Here I confronted a famous writer who bestrides the literary world from Japan to America and who isn’t even wearing a shirt on the cover of my copy of his deliciously titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. If you haven’t read it then spoiler alert, the best thing about the book is the title. After that it falters a little, although I did like the descriptions of his wild youth managing a jazz club in Tokyo. In fact, it was after finishing Murakami’s contribution to the running/writing oeuvre when I decided that I too, a mere thirty-something humble Canadian doctor living in the remote frozen North, could also try my hand at knocking out seventy-five thousand words about running. 

My new-found self-confidence was deflated a bit when I discovered the work of Adharanand Finn. Here’s a guy, I thought to myself, between chapters of his first and breakthrough book Running with the Kenyans, who runs, writes about running, and who’s been to lots of cool places. My self-confidence dipped into the negative region when his follow-up book about his time running in Japan, The Way of the Runner, was published in 2017. The third book, about Ultra Running, was so good that I considered taking up a new hobby entirely, like biting my nails. 

What I needed was more inspiration, so I took a trip through the adrenaline-packed Two Hours by the master wordsmith Ed Caesar. I then tried to science the hell out of running by reading Alex Hutchinson’s Endure, but I didn’t take notes, so I forgot most of what I learned. Next, I read the first-time-I-had-a-Red-Bull exciting Running to the Edge by the unflappable Matthew Futterman. Every time I finished a chapter of that book, I would go on a run and my feet WOULD NOT TOUCH THE GROUND. Or at least that’s what it felt like. And as if I needed more inspiration, I then read Martin Dugard’s transcendent To Be a Runner. It worked, it made me BELIEVE that we all have something valuable to share as runner-writers. Finally, I have to tell you about Out of Thin Air by the anthropologist Michael Crawley. But is it a book about running, you ask? Check out this subtitle: Running Wisdom and Magic From Above the Clouds in Ethiopia. Need I say more? In 2006 I spent the whole summer after my first year of med school living in Ethiopia with my wife, so it’s a special place for us. I also lived in East Africa and travelled lots in Kenya when I was younger. 

In fact, these days it seems like most things I’ve done were when I was younger. Now that I’m done with this book about running, maybe I’ll write my next book about that feeling, about the ephemeral, effervescent, frothy nature of time and memory, of heading off towards a distant goal, running with the pack, always pushing, always striving beneath the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock as boats beat on against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Well, you know what I mean.

Brodie Ramin is the author of The Perfect Medicine and The Age of Fentanyl, and also a primary care and addiction physician. He is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa and a Diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Ramin lives in Ottawa. Read more here.