running Richard Owain Roberts

Running as an Art: Richard Owain Roberts

When Richard Owain Roberts’ heard the news that his debut novel Hello Friend We Missed You was shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize this year, he was out running. Here, he reflects on his lockdown runs and writes about his typical running experience, from the clothes he wears to the thoughts he considers.

A recollection of the moments before my run, last Thursday or possibly Wednesday:

I unpeeled an Ocado banana and, having discussed Ben Stiller as Sam and Stan Sweet, asked Gian if he had Dennis’ email yet, and he said he didn’t but I could try Facebook. I saw a message from Robbie, an enquiry from Plant Based News, then sent a message to Adam saying I had rented Tom’s movie on Amazon. I finished eating the banana, drank an espresso, and began listening to the second part of the Tom Cruise deep dive while wondering if Bret had received the books, knowing only that somewhere on North Doheny Drive the concierge had signed for the package the week before last, or possibly the week prior to that. I put some cat biscuits in the bowl for Abs and left the house.

Some of what I wear and some of what I experience when running:

I wear either my white Eco Threads peace of fruit t-shirt or one of two black ETHCS t-shirts, tucked into a pair of black shorts with a horizontal zip pocket above the bum to carry my phone and a key. I don’t have many clothes (for example: I currently don’t own a pair of trousers) and these items are also part of my day to day wardrobe. On my feet, the Merrell Vapor Glove 4’s sole emulates authentic barefoot running to such an extent I find it sometimes indistinguishable from running barefoot.

Richard Owain Roberts (Image credit: Kit)

Most of what happens when I run is that I periodically receive updates on how far I am into the target distance while listening to a podcast. Some of the podcasts I listen to are Armchair Expert, Zero Point Fiction, Other PPL, Disclosure by Ed Winters, Rich Roll, The Review Show. If an episode is less interesting, and sometimes if it is very interesting, I find myself thinking about other things and I either pause the podcast or let it carry on playing the background.

I say hello to people when I am running and will smile and say thank you when they, and I, move to allow space between each other. If another person or people do not make an effort to move, I will still say thank you and smile, harder if anything.

If I think of possible edits while running, I will take my phone out of my pocket and type a note as I run. Alongside work on my next novel, which is called Rumoured Crooble Novel, I have been writing shorter pieces with titles such as The Plagiarism, JON SNOW JON SNOW, Terrence Malick, and Sally for a book called Thank You Anyone; maybe it is possible to be nominated for more prizes or publish some of these pieces in The New Yorker, Tyrant, The Nervous Breakdown, or maybe other places if anyone wants, or maybe none at all. I have typed edit notes while running possibly 4-7 times over 50-65 runs; the benefit of running in relation to my work, I feel, is more likely to be seen in other less direct ways such as improved sleep, greater physical and mental stamina, and increased ability to think clearly.

Typically after I have gone beyond 12 kilometres, and especially if I have been using a breathing style that I will mention soon, I often experience detailed recall to seemingly arbitrary memories from childhood. An example would be remembering my sister’s apartment from over thirty years ago, a place I had previously forgotten existed, and then, accurately I feel, picturing its floor plan as if I was looking at it on Rightmove in the present day.

I often practice a breathing style that involves inhaling and exhaling only through the nose. People have been known to experience varying degrees of panic when attempting this technique at first; I am, I would contend, beginner-proficient in this style and have on several occasions entered into meditative, hypnotic moments that have enabled me to run faster for significantly longer distances.

Where I run in west Cardiff, and then beyond the city limits, I regularly come into contact with a variety of different types of dogs, cats, birds, horses, rats, donkeys and llamas. Other things that make me feel good as I encounter them on a run include ‘Yes Cymru’ stickers on cars and lampposts, large detached or semi-detached houses, and children wandering around together, enjoying the freedom.

A recollection from a run in mid-July, or possibly late-July or the first week of August:

I found myself exposed to thunder, lightning and heavy rain while ascending a long, steep hill, seemingly instantly drenched by the monsoon-style downpour in a way that felt enriching and amusing, not only to me but to people sitting in passing cars and buses. I questioned nothing as I continued to run, feeling like wealth, happy to be moving myself from one place to another, strong beliefs only.


Richard Owain Roberts’ debut novel Hello Friend We Missed You is available to purchase from Parthian.

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Wales Arts Review is pleased to present a new series of literary vignettes, next up is Calling for the Good Old Days by Rhys Owain Williams. These vignettes will be glimpses into the thinking of the writer and their experiences; from the day-to-day to the extraordinary. They might have the intimacy of a diary entry or have the scope of something much larger.