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

Foreword. A true gentleman should keep quiet about how he stays healthy. This is a book about being healthy. This book will reveal how running has shaped me. People have different mantras when running a marathon: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. I finally decided to write about running. I tried my best to write honestly about myself and my running experience. Some of them are important and valuable life lessons.

No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act. – Haruki Murakami

Who’s Going to Laugh at Mick Jagger? It is Aug 2005 and I am in Hawaii. The summer was sweltering. However, the gentle breeze makes me happy. I run an hour a day, 6 days a week. I’m aiming to increase the distance at the moment. My strategy is to stop the moment I feel I can run more. This enables me to carry on the momentum the next day. Mundane memories have value to me too. We are made up of such memories too. In Massachusetts, I ran 36 miles a week. This is my standard for serious running. When I was busy, sometimes I might stop running. The older I get, the busier I seem to be. Also, my interest in triathlons meant that I needed to swim and cycle once in a while too. I started running in 1982, almost 23 years ago. Long distance running suits my personality. I was never a fan of team sports. Goal setting is very important for me. Rivalry in running doesn’t concern me. For recreational runners, we want to beat a certain timing. One should always aim for personal bests. As a writer, there is no such thing as winning or losing. Running is a metaphor to me. The only opponent you have to beat is yourself. Everyone will hit their peak as they grow older. My peak as a runner was when I was in my late 40s. I could complete a marathon in under 3 hour 40 minutes consistently. I hired a swimming coach to improve on my strokes. However, I couldn’t improve on my running timings. Cambridge is the home of the Boston Marathon and running happens along the Charles River. I usually listen to rock music when I run. I lost a lot of weight via consistent and serious running. I spend close to 6 hours a day without talking to anyone and it doesn’t bother me. When I worked at a jazz bar, I learnt to socialize with others. Private time is important for my mental well-being. Usually, when I run, I don’t think about anything. I run in order to acquire a void. Once in a while, random thoughts will emerge. My thoughts like the clouds in the sky, always fleeting. When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine myself being 50. Everyone grows old and no one can escape it. You simply have to learn to accept it. The world is made up of all kinds of people. Sometimes, pain and criticism are a necessary part of life. In order to be independent, sometimes, we all need to go through some emotional hurt. Sometimes, I have to put my body to the limit to heal the loneliness. When someone criticizes me, I go running for a slightly longer distance that day. I will absorb the bad points and improve myself. There was something significant about running even in my 50s. Sometimes, I need to experience pain before I realize something.

When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable explanation, but you can’t fool yourself. In this sense, writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible. – Haruki Murakami

People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. – Haruki Murakami

Especially for a writer, solitude is, more or less, an inevitable circumstance. Sometimes, however, this sense of isolation, like acid spilling out of a bottle, can unconsciously eat away at a person’s heart and dissolve it. – Haruki Murakami

Even if my time in races doesn’t improve, there’s not much I can do about it. I’ve gotten older, and time has taken its toll. It’s nobody’s fault. Those are the rules of the game…I’ve got to accept it…But what choice do I have, anyway? In my own way, I’ve enjoyed my life so far, even if I can’t say I’ve fully enjoyed it. – Haruki Murakami

Tips on Becoming a Running Novelist. I was in Hanalea, Hawaii. I ran a jazz club for about 3 years. Although I wasn’t an excellent entrepreneur, I made the jazz bar work via hard work and dedication. The work was tiring but I persisted. I was almost 30 back then. This was when I decided to write a novel. It all started when I was watching baseball. I remembered that was a moment when I could write a novel. I had a strong desire to write a novel. It was 1978. My first book was Hear the Wind Sing. My novel won a prize and was well received. I wrote Pinball, 1973 later. Running a service industry business was tough as you had to greet every customer with a smile. Running two jobs was tough and I quit the jazz bar to focus on writing. The next year, I wrote A Wild Sheep Chase. The problem with writing was that I needed to exercise to lose weight. Thankfully, I managed to quit smoking as well. I preferred doing things without being forced. I liked to study at my own pace and to the level I want. I learnt translation on my own, which I was rather proud of. As a writer, I tended to wake up early with the sun. I know that I’m a morning person. I always tried to improve my relationship with my readers. I just had to please the minority of the repeat customers. That would be good enough. When I first started running, I could only do about 20 to 30 minutes. I incorporated running into my daily routine. I was born with a strong and healthy body. I cut back on alcohol and started to eat clean. I realized that I could maintain my ideal body weight. Exercising can slow down the effects of ageing. Even if you lose weight via dieting, your muscles will naturally weaken, so will your bones. I don’t think having a tremendous amount of willpower will allow me to run for 20 years. Running simply suits me better. That is why I do not recommend running to others. You can’t force someone to take part in a marathon. Most of the important things in life can’t be learnt. There are many days when I wake up and I don’t feel like running. Whenever such thoughts emerge, I tell myself how fortunate I am that I can work from home and I will pick up my shoes and run. I started running when I was 33. This was also when I became a novelist.

Running has a lot of advantages. First of all, you don’t need anybody else to do it, and no need for special equipment. You don’t have to go to any special place to do it. As long as you have running shoes and a good road you can run to your heart’s content.’ Haruki Murakami

I’m struck by how 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. – Haruki Murakami

Athens in Midsummer – Running 26.2 Miles for the first time. I ran the New York City Marathon on November 6. I prepared myself for 5 months. I ate good fruits and vegetables. Napping helps to clear and refresh my mind. Gradually increase the amount of exercise your body can take. I focused on quality of exercise now. There was once when I suffered from bad cramps and could only walk. Once you stop running, you start feeling incredibly cold. The issue was that I wasn’t well prepared enough. At my age, you really get only what you pay for. I always tried my best to learn from my mistakes. I was featured in ‘Runner’s World’. I ran a solo marathon in Athens before. The heat was unbearable. Although I had trained for the distance, running in the heat is a different proposition. I started the run at 5:30am. I usually run without a shirt. I encountered a dead dog on the road and a dead cat as well. The commuter road in which I ran on was depressing. However, I faced headwinds, which slowed me down. Now, I’m completely exhausted. At 23 miles, I felt like stopping. Now, I hit the 25 mile mark. It was like a bloody oven and my eyes were stinging. After hitting the finish line, I had no feelings of accomplishment. It was a great sense of relief. I took 3 hour 51 minutes. Later on, I ran the Honolulu marathon. I get the exact same feeling at 22 miles of running, I get upset at everything.

Muscles are hard to get and easy to lose. Fat is easy to get and hard to lose. – Unknown

I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform – or perhaps distort – yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality. – Haruki Murakami

Most of What I know About Writing Fiction I learned by Running Every Day. I ran the NY marathon for 3 times already. My legs start to scream at the end of the race. I do not take 2 days off in a row when running. If you follow proper procedure, they will conform. If you don’t work out for a while, they will lower their limits. When you are training for a race, you must not let them relax for too long. There was a lot of things I have to do but I will just to slot in running. I bumped into professional athletes in my running course in Japan. Writing involves some talent, but the problem is you can’t control its amount of quality. The next element is the ability to concentrate on whatever’s critical at the moment. Being able to focus is very important. When I write, I just write and I don’t think about anything else. Without focus, you can’t accomplish anything. The next skill to have is endurance. For a fiction writer, you need at least 1 year of concentration. Unlike talent, focus and endurance can be honed. Writing novels is manual labour to me. It is not manual labour, but it is dynamic labour going on inside you. Training your focus and endurance is paramount. How do you sustain that? It varies from author to author. A lot of the lessons from running is applicable to writing. For this, I am very grateful to running. Running helps you to push your limits and achieve goals. My muscles take time to warm up. People can adjust their tendencies, but not their essence. Since I started running, my natural pulse is only 50 beats per minute. Those who pant a lot while running are the beginners.

Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger. – Haruki Murakami

Muscles really are like animals, and they want to take it as easy as possible; if pressure isn’t applied to them, they relax and cancel out the memory of all that work. – Haruki Murakami

No matter what, though, I keep up my running. Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. – Haruki Murakami

People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. – Haruki Murakami

You open the fridge and can make a nice meal with the leftovers. All that’s left is an apple, an onion, cheese, and eggs, but you don’t complain. You make do with what you have. As you age you learn even to be happy with what you have. – Haruki Murakami

Even If I Had a Long Ponytail Back Then. I was back in Boston. It was summer. I witnessed the change in the seasons of the weather. We wear gloves, wool caps and face masks while running in winter. Seeing water is important for a human being. The water changes all the time. Runners can detect every change in the shift of the seasons. The Boston Marathon was almost here. Mizunos are my favorite brand for running. I liked that their shoes were not gimmicky. I often get overtaken by younger girls. But I’ve been through more pain in life than they have. The girls were after all young University students. I often see the same people on my running path. I agree that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. We are all aware of the toxins on this earth. There is no one right way to be a novelist. In order to write, I have to keep myself as healthy as I can. They complement each other, the healthy and unhealthy aspects. Literary burnout might happen if you are not careful. To me, writing a novel is like climbing a steep mountain. However, needless to say, one day your body is going to give way. However, I would like to postpone that till as long as I can. I rarely give talks in Japan and only have given a few in English. Often, I have to practice much before giving a speech in English. Sometimes, I will practice a speech in my head while running.

Nobody Pounded the Table Anymore, Nobody Threw Their Cups. I did an ultramarathon once before, covering 62 miles. After running, you understand more about yourself. Your view of life will be transformed. It happened at Lake Saroma in Japan. We run around the shores of Lake Saroma. The cows do not bother about the runners. It is a pleasant event to be participating in. However, if you are too slow, you will be disqualified. This is the first time I ran more than a marathon. The muscles were tightening. I ate some snacks at the mid-point of the race. This was 31 miles in. My legs had tightened so much although my breathing was still regular. Thankfully after about 20 minutes of this, my legs functioned normally again. The will was there, but the body wasn’t. There were still 25 miles to go. Different parts of my body started hurting like crazy. I didn’t want to give up now. Through sheer grit, I covered 13 miles. I imagined myself to be a machine. ‘I’m not a human. I’m a piece of machinery. I don’t need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead.’ This was a mantra to be. My muscles were extremely hard now. I saw a lot of other runners walking, but I came here to run, not to walk. At 47 miles in, I realized that my body passed through a stone wall. At that time, I didn’t have to think anymore. Exhaustion was the status quo. I was on auto-pilot and didn’t think or feel anything. I hardly knew what I was doing. My mind wasn’t so important to me at the end. I completed the race in 11 hours, 42 minutes. There was a sense of relief, pride and happiness inside me. After a few days, my legs recovered. My wrists also started hurting. After the ultramarathon, I lost enthusiasm for the act of running. I make it a point to complete one marathon a year. I suffered from the runner’s blues. Maybe I was just tired of running. Even today, I’m glad I completed an ultra-marathon. Now, I focus more on triathlons and squash. Gradually, I started running daily again. I didn’t understand the cause of my runner’s blues. That’s life.

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. – Haruki Murakami

I’m nothing more or less than a professional writer who knows his limits, who wants to hold on to his abilities and vitality for as long as possible. – Haruki Murakami

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. – Haruki Murakami

Autumn in New York. The rain would not relent and it caused damage. I joined the Boston half marathon. However, I didn’t give it my all in order to save energy for the NY marathon. This race was good training for me to test my pace. My knees have started to hurt recently. My body tends to ache between seasons. Your knees suffer pounding as a long distance runner. You cannot replace your knees. I have been lucky not to get any major injuries. I started to worry about my knee. My public reading at MIT went very well. I was also working on the translation of The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald. It was a week before the marathon and my knee seemed okay. I tried to visualize the race and that made me happy. I placed my things and took a flight from Boston to New York. In November, New York is beautiful.

18 Til I Die. I’m training for a triathlon. Cycling helps to build my thigh muscles. To me, biking was more troublesome than running or swimming. Also, I have to ride through town and I feared hitting someone. Also, you must have the right body posture when navigating a bend. Biking is my weakest link as it requires agility. It was a wonderful bike. ’18 Til I die’ is a Bryan Adam’s song. When you ride competitively, you need to lean forward and keep your face forward. You will need to master this pose for at least an hour each time. If you do not keep your face forward, it can be dangerous and accidents can occur. Cycling training is even tougher than running training because it is very boring. Cycling has got to be the most unpleasant of all sports. I have plenty of records in my house. I was obsessed with record collecting. I thought I could do 3 hr 45 minutes easily. My legs wouldn’t move and I experienced a cramp in my right calf. I completed it in just over 4 hours. In all 24 marathons I participated in, I have managed to complete all of them. It seemed like my training went to waste. The next year, I took part in the Boston Marathon. My timing was also about 4 hours. It is always a beautiful thing to be able to complete a marathon. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the time. Maybe age was simply catching up with me. As long as my body allows, I will still run marathons. I don’t care what others think and say about me. I ran and wrote because I wanted to.

One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run – simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change. – Haruki Murakami

At Least He Never Walked. I realized my body was not perfect. I figured it was better to use my good points and make the most of what I have. I had nothing to prove to anyone. In my previous triathlons, the weather was atrocious. Today, the weather was great. In 2000, I was disqualified because I didn’t swim. I find it easier to swim in the sea than in the pool. In a regular race, you can’t rely on breaststroke as it slower than crawl and your legs will get exhausted. In the waters, we often get kicked because people want to take a shorter route. Also, my technique for crawl was not the best. I hired swimming coaches to improve my form. My wife found me a great coach. She revised each small movement over an extended period of time until I improved my form. Too much rotation and you lose resistance and your speed decreases. A year and a half later, I was able to improve tremendously. The coach also realized that I hyperventilated before races. I achieved my goal of completing a triathlon. I was usually nervous before races. We all share the same bond of training hard and working out together. I had to tell myself not to panic while swimming. Suddenly, my googles fogged up and this bothered me a great deal. As a result, I didn’t swim straight, wasting valuable time. The leg muscles won’t work during the run, especially after biking. It takes time for the muscle groups to adjust. My wife greeted me with a smile at the finish line. I gave it my best. Running long distances might not seem logical, but that was the life I chose. One day, on my tombstone: I would like it to read ‘Haruki Murakami (1949 – 20**) Writer (and Runner) At Least He Never Walked.

Whether training for competitions is good for anything or not, in the final analysis, what’s most important is what you can’t see but can feel in your heart. To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts. But even activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so. – Haruki Murakami

Afterword (On Roads All Round the World). I have published essay collections and travel writings too. After writing this book, I still participate in running activities. Running for 25 years has produced many good memories. The people you see along the way are life’s small pleasures. Many people have helped and encouraged me along the way.

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