Book 263: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

Murakami, Haruki - What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningIt’s funny how quickly things change. Back in May and June of last year I spent a good amount of time complaining about running and if you asked me then, if I’d ever read a memoir about running I would’ve looked at you like your face just fell off. Needless to say, I’m still not enamored with running, but I can say I’m incredibly glad I read it and it’s made me think differently how I will approach the future (both running and normal).

I stumbled across this book randomly and once I got it from my local library I read it in less than two days. I requested it because Murakami’s fiction writing is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read and I wanted to know how it translated to nonfiction. Not only did it translate amazingly, but this was the exact book I needed to read at the moment. I’ve been struggling to make it to CrossFit and to keep up my training/running.

I know most of my struggle at the moment is the lack of light and it almost being spring, but it’s finally getting to me. And it has definitely made it difficult since I decided that 2014 would be spent working on my mental health and clarity after spending the last nine months of 2013 working hard on my physical health and, honestly, I did not expect this book to fall under that category, but it definitely did.

My rapid identification with Murakami took me by surprise and not only because he wrote a lot about Cambridge and basically where I currently live, but because within the first 25 pages I was struck at how many of his observations about himself, his professional and private lives and his journey becoming a runner paralleled my own. I’d love to think this means at 33 I’m going to sit down and write an award-winning novel, but I’ll take the lesser of the two and hopefully be able to finish my 10k in September and want to do more. And if I’m even 1/10th as active as Murakami was when he wrote this in his late 50s I’d be incredibly satisfied.

I think the best part about going into this book is other than wanting to know if his nonfiction writing was as beautiful as his fiction writing I had no expectations. So when he didn’t scare me in those first few pages when he starts a paragraph with “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I was able to read past this to enjoy his amazing journey of doing a marathon a year for over 26 years including running the original marathon course (in reverse) from Athens to Marathon and even competing in a super-marathon of 62 miles. Not only did his writing stagger me, but the amount of work he put in to both his writing and his running/exercise routine made me feel lazy as hell! I can only hope one day to aspire to running/exercising six days a week with no more than one rest day at a time.

Recommendation: Whether you’re an aspiring writer or an aspiring runner this novel is perfect for either; and if those don’t appeal to you this book is still worth the read. His observations of life and work are universal and the beauty of his language remains flawless.

Opening Line: “There’s a wise saying that goes like this: A real gentleman never discusses women he’s broken up with or how much tax he’s paid.”

Closing Line: “Finally, I dedicate this book to all the runners I’ve encountered on the road—those I’ve passed, and those who’ve passed me. Without all of you, I never would have kept on running.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

Additional Quotes from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
“No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.” (Forward)

“Most ordinary runners are motivated by an individual goal, more than anything: namely, a time they want to beat. As long as he can beat that time, a runner will feel he’s accomplished what he set out to do, and if he can’t, then he’ll feel he hasn’t.” (9)

“So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.” (19)

“I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.” (37)

“The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.” (45)

“Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.” (66)

“For literature, this is something to be thankful for. It’s hard to imagine the history of literature without such figures as Shakespeare, Balzac, and Dickens. But the giants are, in the end, giants—exceptional, legendary figures. The remaining majority of writers who can’t reach such heights (including me, of course) have to supplement what’s missing from their store of talent through whatever means they can.” (81)

“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. 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. I believe many runners would agree.” (82)

“If I go for a time without seeing water, I feel like something’s slowly draining out of me. It’s probably like the feeling a music lover has when, for whatever reason, he’s separated from music for a long time. The fact that I was raised near the sea might have something to do with it.” (91)

“The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence.” (115)

“I don’t care about the time I run. I can try all I want, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to run the way I used to. I’m ready to accept that. It’s not one of your happier realities, but that’s what happens when you get older. Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully, much more accurately, than I ever do. Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it’s been moving ever forward without a moment’s rest. And one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honor of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.” (121)

“At certain points in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news.” (144)

“Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.” (171)


11 thoughts on “Book 263: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami”

  1. I need to read this again. I should probably just go running now. It isn’t raining or hailing at the moment so what’s my excuse (oh I’ve just eaten a twix bar… ) beyond the fact I’m lazy?

    I’ve been feeling really down about running cos since being ill and not being able to run I’ve gone to a standard below what I know I can do and that is so frustrating because I really wanted to do some more races before it becomes too hot for me.

    I really like that quote ”Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I used to think of that quite often when running and it got me through the difficult phases so I should use it again and get back up to my old standard. And work my way back up.

    And this one reminds me of what I should be thinking now. I should have it tattooed on my arm to remind me!

    “Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.”

    I also liked to think of my body being a machine – something else Murakami used to think often. I don’t know how he does his marathons let alone ultra marathons or triathalons. But what he does is make me think that if I wanted to, if I just put in the time, the effort and set myself the task: I can. I could. Maybe I will.

    I think running is a mental and physical task – your body is capable of doing more than your brain thinks so if you can adjust the way your brain thinks you can run further and faster. I also definitely notice that I am happier when running more and that I run more when I am happier.

    Good luck with your 10k in September, Geoff. I always dread races but when I finish I feel so alive because I have done it and I have done my best for that day. It’s a kind of achievement I don’t think you really get elsewhere because it is something you do for yourself. Running is hard and it tests your mental ability to keep going even when feeling tired and everything in you yelling out at you to stop. It’s kind of like something you do so you can prove something to yourself.

    There’s a surprising amount of philosophy that can apply to running as much as it can the rest of your life!


    1. It is that struggle to get back to it. Thankfully I’ve kept up the running, but fallen off CrossFit so hopefully I can get back on that! And I’m with you, the idea of marathons, ultra marathons and triathlons is so foreign to me that I’m so impressed with his doing them so often and for so long!

      You’ll get back into it, you have to!, you’re one of the reasons I gave it a go 😀


  2. These are some great quotes you’ve included! This book intrigues me, even though I am not a runner, and in fact, not being a runner is the main reason I have never read it. On some level I think I am afraid that reading it will make me feel like I should be a runner, but right now I am happy just being a walker. But you might have made me think I should read it anyway – those words of wisdom could translate into anyone’s life. Good luck with your running! But, if you ever decide that running is not for you, there is a lot to be said for walking. 🙂


    1. I know exactly what you mean about walking. I still do a lot of walking (when it’s nice enough to). I found it interesting in that he does these super long races, something I’ve not ever considered, but then his advice could be about anything he put his mind to! You should definitely check it out, his writing is incredibly beautiful.


  3. I read this a few years ago and really enjoyed it–and I’m not even into running. Murakami’s writing is so good and I know I noted a ton of passages just like you did.


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