What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


This book
is a memoir by the Japanese novelist Hideki Murakami
about the place long-distance running has in his life.

I’ve enjoyed a couple of his novels (
Kafka
on the Shore
and Norwegian
Wood
) quite a bit, and I enjoyed this memoir too.

He took up running when he stopped running a
bar/restaurant/jazz club so that he could write full time.
Running the bar had been fairly active work, but sitting at the
desk and writing wasn’t. So he needed to do something and he
decided on running. He runs at least one marathon a year, and
has experimented with triathlons and ultra-marathons.

He often discusses the
relationship between running and writing novels:

Right now I’m aiming at increasing the distance I run, so speed is
less of an issue. As long as I can run a certain distance,
that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like
it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I
run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end
of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of
tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day
right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and
the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest
Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to
keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term
projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The
problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed — and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.

He also says things that resonate with me about the importance
of daily practice:

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running
every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I
push myself? How much rest is appropriate — and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would have definitely been different.

This is a bit how I feel about practicing musical instruments
every day.

There’s also a fair amount of discussion about how aging is
affecting his ability to run, and really good descriptions of
what the last couple of miles of a marathon feel like.

I have friends who run as an important part of their life, and
the way they discuss their times and their injuries isn’t
anything like as interesting as this book.

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