I am prone to obsessions. I don’t just get into something, I consume everything to do with it. My current one, in case you haven’t picked up on it, is running. Not only am I running a lot and feeling strange when I go a few days without, but it keeps coming up in my writing and am reading things inspired by it. Writing is hard at the moment, a lot harder than running is it seems, and as a result, I keep falling back on writing about running, letting it creep into everything because it’s what’s in my head and keeps the words moving.
And my obsession took me further. From a uni classmate recommending an essay in Believer, The Race That is Not About Winning, and in that finding the mention of a novella, ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ by Alan Sillitoe, I was led on an unexpected trail of new writing that both sated my new craze for running and found resonance in the radical socialist part of me.
The novella, part of a collection of the same title, is about a working-class man put into prison for theft, and as a way of potentially getting his sentence shortened and a bit of freedom, accepts the offer from the governor to train for this distance race between the other prisons. He’s going to be the pride of the prison and win the cup for the suits at the top and gets special privileges to leave the prison early in the mornings and run. But despite the chance of getting out early, the narrator refuses to suck up to the governor and give him the honour so stops just before the end to let someone else win.
Sillitoe, in the narrator’s voice, manages to capture a bunch of feelings of why I like running and at the same time encapsulate the real class divide within English society at the time. It is rife with comments about hating the rich, the police etc. That voice, the angry working-class voice is something I’m interested in writing and kind of reminds me that I’m able to use these obsessions, distractions even, to write in those voices and talk about themes that I’ve always talked about.