Updated on August 21, 2015
30. ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami
Having spent quite a lot of my life doing pretty much nothing besides reading, writing and sitting on my arse, I eventually decided that I should probably take up some form of exercise. So last year I repressed my ghastly memories of PE in school and took up running. Now, I LOVE it. I never thought I’d say that, of course – I was one of those people who didn’t just not exercise, but was proud of not exercising (ridiculous). Running is fantastic and horrible and euphoric and agonising and the best and the worst thing ever.
Anyway, the book. Ever since I started running I was keen to find out what one of my favourite writers thinks about the sport, so one day I got hold of the audiobook from Audible (everybody must know by now that when you sign up your first book is free), and I spent the next few weeks listening to it as I ran. (My version is read by Ray Porter, and he really nailed the tone.)
Murakami’s What I Talk About is part memoir, part motivational text. He got into running when he quit his job running a jazz bar to become a full-time writer. He found that the sedentary lifestyle was making him fat so he decided to take up running and, Murakami being Murakami, he wasn’t about to half-ass it. Oh no, since he started running over 30 years ago he’s managed to compete in roughly one marathon a year, he often competes in triathlons, and he trains constantly. He runs almost every day and his golden rule is to never take off two days in a row. Oh, and he once ran an ultra-marathon which was 62 freaking miles long.
Listening to this book while running is just an amazing thing to do. You’re jogging along, listening to someone describe their most grim running experiences, but also their best. He talks about muscles and bodies as though they are separate entities that must be controlled, and he really digs into the psychological grit behind running. Listening to someone talk about harnessing sheer discipline is, I think, better for motivation than any thumping music track.
Murakami also talks about the parallels between running and writing. Both require absolute discipline, both are long slogs, both require you to set rules for yourself that you cannot break, and both are about competing with yourself rather than a rival. When you’re writing a novel you’re not doing it to be better than anybody else, but to satisfy that harsh critic you have sitting in your own head. Running is the same, except the critic is a horrible little voice that screams, “OMG STOP” the whole time. I’ve read a lot of Murakami’s work and the meticulousness of it always strikes me. Everything he does, he seems to do carefully and with his full attention. Now that I’ve listened to What I Talk About I understand better the sort of meditative way his mind works, and I can see how running has shaped his career as a novelist.
Really I couldn’t have asked for a book more relevant to me, or for a better way to consume it. Read this if you’re a runner, read this if you’re a writer, read it if you’re neither. And if you can read it whilst running, absolutely do.
“…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 at the point where I feel I can write more.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.