Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

09May09

This is a short hundred and eighty page book, which has Murakami talk about his life, and the importance of running in it. It’s a quick-paced interesting read for everyone – be it a marathon runner, or a marathon reader. You can call it an autobiography, a memoir, a travel journal, or a training diary – the book easily fits all of the above descriptions. 

Murakami started running at the age of thirty-three, the age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. And in his words, it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist. 

 What initially seemed like a way to stay in shape, while writing his novels, Murakami came to find a deeper spiritual bond with running, and throughout the book, he draws out the parallels between writing a novel and running. 

Fortunately, these two disciplines – focus and endurance – are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down everyday at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to writ every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly, you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. 

However, while this book talks of the importance of running in Murakami’s life, it is, by no means, preachy. It doesn’t insist that the reader start running. In fact, he openly says that long distance-running is not for everyone, and if this book convinces someone to run, well and good, but if someone doesn’t enjoy running, they’ll never be able to continue with it, patiently. 

As the book progresses, Murakami’s focus shifts from marathons (including one that lasted over 60 miles!), to triathlons, and his thoughts during the event. It talks of his training, and the competition with himself to beat a certain time. It talks of the horrors of training for the cycling part of the triathlon and the challenges he’s faced with the swimming. As someone who tries to run at least one marathon a year (and always complete it, running – not walking), and has rarely been sidetracked due to injury or illness, Murakami’s book is a revelation of sorts. It mentions the typical marathon runner’s dilemma : the toughest part of the marathon comes after twenty-two miles are done. It discusses the solitary nature of running, as well how this sometimes brings great pleasure: be it due to the beautiful girl whose name he has never known, or due to running with John Irving, or to simply enjoy the music. 

With the London Marathon being the hot topic on everyone’s lips for the last couple of weeks, this book immediately made it to the bestsellers list at most bookstores. Ironically enough, Murakami never mentions running a London marathon, although he has talks of his experiences running the New York marathon multiple times, as well as the marathons at Greece, Honolulu, Boston and Japan. 

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book. I’ve read just the one book by Murakami (Norwegian Wood), and I am not a long distance runner. I do, however, enjoy swimming and its solitary nature, so yes – I can relate to a fair few emotions and philosophies the author discusses. But… I digress. I don’t even know why I picked up this book. However, I did enjoy reading it, and while I don’t have what it takes to be a long-distance runner, I honestly admire Murakami’s commitment to the sport. 

Overall, I’d say a 6 on 10 – maybe if I’d read more of Murakami (I do have a couple of his books on my reading list), or if I was a long-distance runner, I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. If you’re a bigger Murakami fan than I am, or if you have an interest in long-distance running, pick up this book… 

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