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

“In most case learning something essential in life requires physical pain.”

Since it’s my Year of Murakami, I’m reading both the man’s fiction and his non-fiction. A decade or so ago, Murakami wrote a book about running. Unbeknownst to me, when not listening to jazz records or drinking whisky or thinking about women just out of reach, the author runs marathons. In fact, he runs one a year or so, and also likes triathlons. This book isn’t really a how-to or a straight memoir so much as a man recording his wandering thoughts. For a fan like me, it’s perfect. As “The Plain Dealer” quote on the cover says, the book really gives you a window into how Murakami’s mind works. 

Novels were never Murakami’s plan until they were. He was sitting in a baseball stadium one afternoon, sipping a beer, and he decided to write. So he did. Running seemed to have come to him the same way. He’s not the fastest, or the most graceful, but he’s a runner, just as he’s a writer. He does it because it suits him.

I had three main lessons gleaned from the book. First, running and writing aren’t easy pursuits. They take tenacity. They’re the kind of work in which you have to exert your own will on yourself. Your body will follow. Second, running teaches endurance and leads to insights you can’t get any other way. Those are key to writing. Third, there are lessons in pain. You can push through to some other place. Murakami often hits that idea in his fiction – cool to see where it’s from.

If you’re into Murakami, pick this one up. If you’re a runner or a writer, I’m not sure if the book would be as interesting to you. Probably would be if you’re both.