What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami.
What I talk about when I talk about running, by Haruki Murakami, is a relatively short read with only 175 pages. He breaks away from fiction with this book as it proclaims to be a memoir of sorts. It loosely documents Murakami’s journey as a runner over the past 20 years, serving as a looking glass into the mind of an everyday running enthusiast.
Murakami compares the long-winded nature of writing novels with the preparation of running marathons. Stating that dedication and consistency over a long period are crucial to improving in both pursuits.
This is miles away from being an entry guide for new runners, nor does it profess to be philosophical or even a fitness book. It reads as anecdotal without ever crossing into gratuitous self-glorifying tales handpicked from his personal highlight reel.
A book mainly about running.
Although this book is unmistakably about running, he also (sparingly) delves into the worlds of triathlons (only 1/3 running), and ultra-marathons (still running but different enough to provide a little variation) which would have you believe that he finds growth through suffering.
“Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive”
Any runner or endurance athlete will relate.
His tales lean toward the insecure part of the human psyche — our old friends — failure, self-doubt and anxiety. Its pages are peppered with tidbits that seem like a tip of the cap to my own thoughts experienced during runs. And that is what made me smile as I read this book.
I got to relive personal memories through his words while reading about his body breaking down during an ultra-marathon.
“I’m not a human. I’m a piece of machinery. I don’t need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead.”
It brought me back to that zombie-like state of mind you experience when you are somehow functioning on autopilot. You become numb to the world. Not only do you feel empty, but you feel like there is no you at all, only the mission in front of you; keep going, keep moving forward. Do whatever it takes to keep up your momentum. Delirium takes overs as you march on. You become a husk, void of thought. It’s as if someone has transformed you into a wind-up toy, turned the knob on your back and then let you go. Convincing yourself to plough on becomes your sole thought.
It felt like I was getting to know a fellow runner. I could appreciate the subtleties of the story within the story. I found its pages infused with wisdom.
Theme – You are slowing down, old man.
A theme that emerges is the acceptance of ageing, which forces him to manage personal expectations in light of physical decline. For a self-confessed unlikeable guy, I grew quite fond of him throughout this book. It read as if written by a man that has lived and comes across as measured and thoughtful, always willing to show his vulnerable side.
He identifies as being a mediocre runner at best. However, that is what makes this book so relatable. For the most part, aren’t we all just very average runners trying to improve any way we can?
“I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that is not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday.”
The self-deprecating tone of the book keeps it light-hearted, but sometimes it borders on the mundane. It might come across as a bit tedious at times, but that would appear to reflect Murakami’s character. He often refers to himself as stubborn and questions why anyone would like him as a person. He has to have things in a particular way and comes across as obdurate.
“I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.”
Take it, or leave it.
He understands that his personality and books might not be for everyone, but he is perfectly content with that. That level of self-awareness is perhaps something we could all learn from.
Murakami would have you believe that he is not talented as a writer or a runner. He outlines focus and endurance as the key to his success; stating that talent is great, but it isn’t necessarily required to be good at either.
“Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training.”
This book is understated, and that is what made it stand out. Perhaps this book is not for everyone, but it spoke to me. Specifically, it spoke directly to the runner in me, to the part of my soul that likes to measure itself through suffering.
He fearlessly spoke of fear and the worry of ageing. I guess that could be easier for a man who has achieved so much; still a difficult task nonetheless.
Overall, I found this to be a charming read. Never have I read a book that I so directly related to. I would recommend it to any runners or writers out there, as it superbly captures the essence of running in an informal and digestible way.
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