What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Haruki Murakami; Knopf, Random House; @ 2007; Translated by Philip Gabriel in 2008; 180 pages.

I recently went on a book binge. I was in the local used bookstore with my credit card and no supervision.

Murakami’s book was one of about seven or eight that called to me from the shelves: Hey, you, over here!

I read Murakami’s After Dark while I was in grad school, and though I loved his style, I didn’t really care for the story. Murakami’s best known work is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I can’t wait to read it.

Before I go on, you should know that I do not run. Never have. Ever since I was a kid and was secondhand inhaling five packs of cigarettes a day, I have not been a runner.

But back to Murakami. I like this guy. He says most people don’t like him because he isn’t willing to compromise. That makes me like him even more. He’s in his late 50s as he writes this memoir. He says he started writing novels in his 30s. His secret? He runs every day, or at least every other day, and he runs a marathon once a year.

Murakami explains that solitude is a necessary part of his profession. That’s why he’s had to constantly keep his body in motion…”in order to heal the loneliness I feel inside and put it in perspective.”

Murakami doesn’t recommend that everyone run. It’s more important that people go at their own pace. If they are meant to run, they will. (If they are meant to write, they will.)

As he describes training for the New York City Marathon, he drops pearls of wisdom about writing. He says the most important qualities of a novelist are talent, focus, and endurance. A novelist has to focus for three or four hours every day for six months to two years. Running helps him maintain his endurance.

“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest….with clear goals and fully alive….”

Murakami says that a lot of people in Japan seem to think that writing novels is an unhealthy activity—”that novelists are somewhat degenerate and have to live hazardous lives in order to write.” He says that it’s a widely held view that by living an unhealthy lifestyle, a writer can remove himself from the profane world and attain a kind of purity that has artistic value.”

Murakami says: “when we set off to write a novel, when we use writing to create a story, like it or not, a kind of toxin that lies deep down in all humanity rises to the surface. All writers have to come face-to-face with this toxin and, aware of the danger involved, discover a way to deal with it….”

I had a hard time understanding exactly what Murakami meant by that, but he goes on to say that it can be related to the fugu fish. The tastiest part is near the poison.

To create, a writer has to deal with the risks of becoming antisocial or decadent. The writer has to get the energy from somewhere to battle this. Murakami gets the energy from keeping his body strong. He says “an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body.”

He says that with older writers it’s harder to maintain the balance between imaginative power and the physical abilities that sustain it. When that happens, some writers commit suicide.

I’m not sure I agree with this entirely. I think that when writers open up their subconscious and remove those protective barriers to lost memories, feelings, etc., that what comes out can be so startling and overwhelming that they can fall into a clinical depression. The actual chemistry of their brains is affected to such an extent that they can’t handle it emotionally. Perhaps running provides a mechanism to cleanse the brain of the chemical toxins generated by introspection. Maybe vigorous exercise is needed to keep the brain healthy. Maybe, or maybe not.

Murakami says that some people think he’s obsessed. Hmm, marathons every year for 25 years and then completing a 62-mile race in one day? Maybe.

But there are worse things to be obsessed about. At least he balances his obsession for running with his obsession for writing. I felt sorry for him, not because he couldn’t reach the time he wanted to obtain, but because he seems to beat himself up about it. I think anyone capable of running a marathon in his late 50s and early 60s has nothing to be ashamed of, even if that little old lady did pass him up.

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2 thoughts on “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

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