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Exercise and Art

Lots of famous composers claimed that walking helped them clear their minds and was integral to their working schedule. I’ve never doubted that exercise in general makes me feel better, and helps with all the aches and pains that come from sitting too long at a desk or piano. The other day I came across one of my old school reports, which stated ‘Jo always tried hard’ in the PE section next to the grades of D’s and E’s for various types of sport. I’ve always thought that I was spectacularly ungifted in the sports department (lack of coordination, strength, stamina…) although I enjoyed it enough to turn up for lunchtime inter-form football, hockey, and netball matches.

The first time that I realised that (like music) in order to get good at a sport you have to practise (duh!) was when I was living in Japan and started playing football with some sporty friends (I’d never had sporty friends before, but being the only native English speakers in the area brought us together). Unlike my PE teachers at school, my friends actually taught me how to control a ball and improve my endurance, and to my surprise it actually worked! I didn’t turn into Messi or anything, I just managed to not disgrace myself. I then accidently ended up captain of a rowing team for a year and a half and trained regularly for that. We weren’t very good, but we had a distinct advantage in being several feet taller than all the native teams. We won a box of meat each at the district regatta.

When I left Japan, no longer having a football or rowing team meant that the physical activity fell by the wayside a bit, but I think my attitude had changed. A few years ago I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and was fascinated – shortly afterwards I ended up in Leadville, Colorado with a friend and it seemed like fate. Since then I’ve thought I should try running, but somehow never did.

At the beginning of this summer, as my timetable was calming down but I had a lot of work to get through at home, I thought it was a good time to try. So I’m now on week 7 of the NHS couch to 5K programme (it’s taken me more than 7 weeks, but I’m not being hard on myself) and I’m really enjoying it. I also went swimming the other days for the first time in ages thanks to Southwark Council’s amazing new Everyone Active programme. Physically, I’m feeling pretty good.

However, there is a downside. I was expecting (perhaps naively) for this new level of physical activity to result in, or at least aid, creative productivity in some way. I thought that ideas would come to me – while exercising alone, my brain would have space to allow connections to form and inspiration to strike. In reality, I’ve found that ‘whenever I am running I think about running’ (quote from Steve Way). Rather than getting a new burst of energy to expend on creative work, I’ve found myself spending far too much time thinking about training plans and dreaming about potential future aqauthlons or triathlons and researching local 5K routes. And the olympics are on, which is inspiring but doesn’t help my string trio.

Next on my reading list is Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. Hopefully I can learn some hints from a master. In the mean time, I’ll keep fighting the distractions and get on with the string trio (with a break for a run, of course).

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