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

This book is a short, wonderful, gem of a book, by one of my favorite authors, about something I’m really trying to figure out, running. [It isn’t quite out in stores yet — I think it comes out the end of July, but I got to read a galley.]

I hadn’t known that Murakami runs marathons — he’s in his 50s now and started when he was in his 30s. This book is a set of reflections on his running, and his writing, of course, since the disciplines have overlaps. The book really connected with me, even though I haven’t worked my way up to full marathons yet (did a half last year, and will do another this year, but would like to do a full in the next year or 2), and it inspired me on several levels.

So many good pieces of thoughtful writing here, I’m just going to quote a bunch. Like this one:

No matter how much long-distance running might suit me, of course there are days when I feel kind of lethargic and don’t want to run. Actually, it happens a lot. On days like that, I try to think of all kinds of plausible excuses to slough it off. Once, I interviewed the Olympic running Toshihiko Seko, just after he retired from running and became manager of the S&B company team. I asked him, “Does a runner at your level ever feel like you’d rather not run today, like you don’t want to run and would rather just sleep in?” He stared at me and then, in a voice that made it abundantly clear how stupid he thought the question was, replied, “Of course. All the time!”

For the past month or so, I’ve been trying to run each morning before everyone wakes up — I feel like I’ve found a whole extra hour in the day, and it’s been really helpful to me. But I feel, very often, like I don’t want to get up and run. Working on it. Maybe it’s something like this:

…I’m happy I haven’t stopped running all these years. The reason is, I like the novels I’ve written. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of novel I’ll produce next. Since I’m a writer with limits — an imperfect person living an imperfect, limited life — the fact that I can still feel this way is a real accomplishment. Calling it a miracle might be an exaggeration, but I really do feel this way. And if running every day helps me accomplish this, then I’m very grateful to running.

And I do find that I’m learning things about myself by doing it, and developing the discipline:

It doesn’t matter how old I get, but as long as I continue to live I’ll always discover something new about myself. No matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror, you’ll never see reflected what’s inside.

But the real reflection, the real lesson, is here:

My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance — all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson. (It’s got to be concrete, no matter how small it is.) And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it. (Yes, that’s a more appropriate way of putting it.)

And that’s it, the whole essence, really. By doing something deliberate like running, with your own set of goals and successes and setbacks — your own sense of what & who you’re trying to be — that lets you sometimes catch a glimpse of the person you might be content with. It’s a Catch-22, I think: that by the very striving to do something, to be something, that you can see/feel what it might be like to achieve it.

I find that for myself I spend a lot of time working on how to be better at what I do (and probably not enough on how to get my running better, but I’m working on that, too), and am never really content with the way things are — and I think that if I were somehow suddenly content that I wouldn’t quite be me anymore. But I’m starting to notice things that are really meaningful to me lately that are about as good as it gets. In my running, increasingly, and of course in the myriad moments of life with my family (just playing whiffle ball with Kathy & SPL last night was about perfect).

So I’m inspired by the book, and by Murakami himself. Great book, worth reading more than once.


  1. Craig Ward (Mac '89)

    Just read it at your suggestion – like you said pretty good read. I myself began running at 32-33 and decided to train for a marathon. I ran one 5k, then a marathon all with the help of an EXCELLENT trainer:


    Unreal experience, very doable if you follow the schedule. It's purely designed to get you to finish and that's it. I got it done in 4:18:13! If you are considering it, I cannot recommend it enough.

    I never knew how introspective running could be but once your body is tuned up and able, running long distances is like being stuck in solitary confinement for an hour or two, just waiting for the miles to pass until you're done. All you do is think… so he is right when he quotes “There's a philosophy in every shave”… very very true…