How it was possible for me to get this far in life without realizing there was a book out there that combined my two loves: running and writing, is beyond me. This book, of course, is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.
This book is only 180 pages. Short and poignant, it is a collection of short essays written by Murakami while training for yet another marathon. He describes his many experiences as a runner, including training, running races, and how all of it can be related to his writing.
To be honest, I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t run enjoying this book. A writer may pick up this memoir to glean some wisdom about writing–which there is some–but I don’t think there is enough to satisfy someone with no interest in physical fitness.
But for me, it was the perfect mix. I have always said I would never run a full marathon, but having just run a half marathon and now, having just read this book, I am starting to think a full marathon might be a reality for me sometime in the future. This book was inspiring in so many ways. As soon as I finished, I laced up and ran the fastest, most enjoyable four miles I’ve run probably ever.
One might consider this book a bit self-indulgent, which is exactly what Murakami said he feared in his introduction. It felt like he was working through his own thoughts, never really drawing helpful conclusions so much as, raising questions about life. At times I found this a bit frustrating, like reading someone’s diary, but at other times, I found it really human, and I appreciated knowing that this amazingly accomplished writer and runner has the same fears and concerns that I have, and works through them with the same uncertainty as I do.
As a runner, I really appreciated the discussion of his training and race experiences. He describes a grueling experience running the original marathon race in Athens, and his seemingly unbearable trial of human strength running an ultra-marathon. The details he gives of the pain he felt, physical and mental, remind me of many of the thoughts and feelings I have experienced as well. (And also solidified my resolve to never run an ultra-marathon because it does not in any way, shape, or form, sound fun.)
Below, I have excerpted some of my favorite passages from the book:
“When I’m training for a race, I have to show my muscles who’s boss. I have to make it clear to them what’s expected.” Page 72.
“Even if there were two of me, I still couldn’t do all that has to be done. No matter what, though, I keep up my running. Running every day is kind of a lifeline to me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.” Page 73.
“What’s needed for a writer of fiction — at least one who hopes to write a novel — is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, two years. You can compare it to breathing. If concentration if the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the art of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you’re storing air in your lungs…Continue to breathe while you hold your breath.” Page 78.
“Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life–and for me, for writing as well.” Page 83.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated it both for the wisdom is imparted, and for inspiration of a shared human experience. It made me feel like I could pour my love into both writing and running, and that I didn’t have to choose one or the other to place my focus. Most of all, it made me feel like things I have been unable to even comprehend attempting are possible and achievable.
I’ll no doubt come back to this book for a pick-me-up every so often. It only took me a few hours to read, and it provided just the push I needed to get myself off the couch, out the door, and back putting one foot in front of the other.