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.