Running with Haruki Murakami

I recently finished reading Haruki Murakami’s new memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors. Ever since I got back from Japan in 2002, I’ve been reading his novels – they tend to be full of mysterious, quasi-supernatural surprises, but still grounded in humdrum reality. This was the first memoir that he’s written – it’s about his life as a long distance runner (he’s run 25 marathons), and what he’s learned from running, and how running has helped him improve his writing (and vice versa).

My wife and I recently started running as well, so I felt particularly motivated to read this book.

murakami book image

I must say, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the book as much if I wasn’t already a Haruki Murakami fan. It’s a rather quiet, unobtrusive book – and only 193 pages. I sometimes found myself wishing for him to share more details and delve deeper into the ideas he was discussing. But it was very satisfying for me to learn more about one of my favorite authors and just hang out with him for a few hours while he shared some of the values and dedication and life lessons that he’s gained from running.

One of the points that I liked: Haruki said that as a writer, he feels that his lifestyle is inherently unhealthy – he feels that the act of writing in itself causes a person to build up a kind of spiritual “toxin” in their system. (I can relate to this – sometimes after I’ve spent a day writing, alone with my thoughts, I feel drained, and slightly crazed.) Haruki feels that running is the ideal exercise to squeeze this toxin out of your system – it refreshes your spirit and enables you to rejoin the world.

Ever since my wife and I started running earlier this spring (which was also the time when my freelance writing business started to grow), I’ve noticed that writing and running both require the same kind of mental stamina. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other, breaking down long distances (or long projects) into more manageable pieces, and instilling the right kind of discipline and focus to complete the run (or the writing). When we first started running, we could only do two or three minutes at a time – tonight we ran for seven minutes at a time, for a total of 21 minutes of running (with three 3-minute walks in between). It’s the same kind of mental attitude to write a long assignment or run a long distance – I now feel that I could take on a writing project of almost any length, and soon, I’ll be able to run a lot farther than I thought was possible two months ago.

Haruki Murakami says that when he dies, he wants his tombstone to say, “At least he never walked.” He’s 60 years old now, and I hope he’ll be around (and writing) for many years to come.

Life Changes

I’ve recently made a few changes in my life that have greatly improved my outlook on the world. They include:

  • Started waking up 45 minutes earlier. I’ve never been much of an early bird, but lately I’ve somehow managed to start my day at 7:15 a.m. (or even earlier!) I think the baby is mainly to thank/blame for this change – his sleep schedule pretty much dictates ours. Being up earlier allows me to change the baby’s first diaper of the day, take a more leisurely shower, and eat pancakes at the dining room table instead of scarfing a granola bar at my desk. I hope I can stick with this – I’d like to be more of an early riser.
  • Weekly meal planning. My wife and I have started sitting down on Sunday afternoons with a few cookbooks, and actually planning a whole week’s worth of meals. It saves time and money at the grocery store, and cuts down on those occasions when it’s 6:45 at night, there’s no food in the house, we’re hungry and distracted, and so we finally give in and call for takeout. We’re trying to run our household more like a summer camp – set a schedule, everyone knows what’s for dinner, and there are lots of amusing/annoying songs. (OK, I’m kidding about the songs.)
  • Going jogging every other day. My wife and I recently started a beginner’s running program. We started running 2 minutes at a time (with 4 minutes of rest) and now we’re running 3 minutes and then resting for 3, for a total of five cycles (30 minutes) at a time. Thanks to our awesome jogging stroller, the baby gets to join us. He seems to enjoy riding in his jogging stroller – he usually just sits there and plays with his favorite wooden spoon from the kitchen.
  • Coming home for lunch. I refuse to eat lunch in my cubicle anymore. Instead I drive home. It’s a bit impractical, but it’s forcing me to get outside during the day and get away from my work. If you can manage to do it, I highly recommend it.

That’s all for now. As soon as I discover some other positive life changes, I’ll let you know.