Monday, January 18, 2021

Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

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I'm not going to lie--What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami has been sitting on my nightstand on my TBR (to-be-read) pile for a few years now. There used to be a book exchange at CrossFit, this book was in the pile there, and since I'd never read this so-called classic running book, I brought it home, and there it sat. I don't know what took me so long to read it. There were mixed reviews, for sure, and more appealing books came my way. Plus, it was published in 2006--was it even still relevant? I decided to find out.

So what does Haruki Murakami talk about when he talks about running? Sometimes, not much. Other times, he says a great deal. And was it worth the read? Bottom line: Yes. Is what Murakami writes about still relevant? Absolutely.


Murakami, a beloved novelist, wrote this book while training for the New York City Marathon. He thought it would be a fun exercise to share his thoughts about running in a collection of essays. As he says: "most of what I know about writing I've learned from running every day". 

He does run every day, not really following much of a training plan as far as I could gather, just accumulating miles, usually 6 miles per day. Murakami sets a few goals for himself: to run a marathon every year, to complete said marathon in under 4 hours, and to never walk. In fact, he wants that on his headstone when he dies: "At least he never walked".

He reflects on slowing down with age. In a nod to his aging body, he takes up triathlons. The recap of the Murakami triathlon and how he overcame his inability to see due to accidentally smearing Vaseline on his goggles during the swim, his struggles with the bike, and the run kept me glued to the page. Talk about perseverance!

Murakami runs NYCM several times; he also runs Boston. When his editor messages him that she is going to run NYCM, he messages her back: have a good time. He states:

"For a marathon to mean anything, it should be fun. Otherwise, why would thousands of people run 26.2 miles?'

Murakami tackled a 62 mile ultramarathon around Lake Saraoma in Japan. Determined never to walk, he didn't, but his struggles and his resolve to complete the race were truly impressive. His longest training run for this race was 26.2 miles. He went into the race somewhat cocky but was humbled midrace when his body wouldn't let him run fast; he was rewarded when it finally did. His wife greets him at the finish line: 'What happened?'. I think this was my favorite essay in the book; it was so descriptive that I felt as if I was running with him. He does a great job of articulating what an ordeal an endurance event truly is, complete with all the feels.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself."

After his ultra, he describes a feeling of being covered by a 'thin film'. Murakami realizes he's got the runner's blues. He says that he lost his enthusiasm for running after that race. He continued to run and train, but without the usual excitement of training for a big event, he approached running with an attitude of doing 'a decent enough job'. I think a lot of us can relate to that empty feeling after completing a big event or a goal race. He devotes a chapter of the book to sorting this out. Eventually, the blah feeling lifts and he finds his love for running again. 

Murakami's experiences aren't any different than what many of us fellow runners have experienced; he just does a better job of articulating those experiences. The book is not a gripping read, rather, it's more contemplative. You can read each chapter as a separate entity and in any order you want. I've never read any other of Murakami's works, so I'm not familiar with his style of writing. I found his narrative to be kind of detached and unemotional. 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is loaded with quotable lines. I kept the book by my side for several days after completing it, referring back to it for a certain passage or quote that struck me. I found myself nodding my head as I read about Murakami's experiences. As a running blogger, I like to write about my experiences. Putting the words on the page helps me sort out my feelings about a race or a run. Even when I'm reviewing books, I try to find a perspective that is relatable to my experience. 

Of course, those of you who follow me know I don't agree with Murakami's philosophy of never stopping to walk. But I am glad he believes long distance running should be fun. With that, I agree 100%!

What do you talk about when you talk about running? My review: @oldrunningmom @harukimurakami #running #runchat #runnning book club
Have you read Murakami's book? What is your favorite quote? What would you say is your running philosophy? Will you continue to run as you age?

I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics and with the Runners' Roundup: DebbieDeborahJenLaura, and Lisa.  

 

36 comments :

  1. Well, I started running when I was in my mid 40s. I think that can help you keep running!

    I have read a little of this book, long ago, but I never finished it (it was a borrowed book). I don't remember why.

    My running is very different - and that's ok. It's a personal pursuit, for most of us, so it should be different from person to person.

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  2. My plan is to run until I can’t anymore. I’m hoping that is for a very long time..

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  3. I plan to run a very long time. Esp since i didn't start until 55.

    I walk. I walk a lot. If it gets through the miles, it's ok. If it keeps me healthy all the better.

    I haven't read his book. Sometimes I want to relax and detach from running so I read mindless books. lol

    I do like inspirational quotes so I should plan to pick it up.

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    1. The quotes aren’t separate-they are within his narrative.

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  4. Thank you for this review, Wendy!
    Murakami's books are in every "sports" section at every bookstore and I always wonder whether I should get one.
    Now I know what to expect so yes, I think I will get the book.
    Btw, I always thought that Murakami was a celebrated elite runner - I had no clue that he's just an average runner like the rest of us!

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    1. It was interesting to see his approach to running! I don’t know of any elite who trains like him, lol!

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  5. I think I started running at 30, which I guess is considered late? My goals for running have changed so much over the years. Right now my ultimate goal is to keep running for as long as I can, even if it's just shorter distances. Like Darlene, I walk a lot so I also hope to keep that up as well.

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    1. I started running at 30 as well! I don’t think it’s late, lol. I’m walking more than ever. It is what it is.

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  6. I've never read his book but I've read several of his quotes about running! My headstone will read something like "She walked and crawled when she had to but she kept moving" LOL! SO like you I don't agree with him on the point about not walking!

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  7. Interesting. I also got started very late, and I firmly believe in walking. so in that regard, he already has me on the defensive. But, I do love people who love and embrace what they do and stick to their principles, so kudos to him. I agree that running should be fun, and I intend to run as long as I can with that in mind. Now I'm curious to see what else he's written.

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  8. This book sounds good! For some reason I had the notion that it would be kind of vague and philosophical, but it sounds like he tells a lot of interesting stories. I'm adding it to my (very long) TBR list.
    My goal is to be one of those people you hear about, "95-year-old woman completes marathon!" I don't want to ever stop!

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    1. I had no idea of what to expect either! It is a quick, worthwhile read.

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  9. I think I have this book on a shelf too and haven't read it yet. Now I will move it up on the list!

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  10. I've heard so much about this, and I actually can't remember if I ever read it! If I did it was a while ago. I hope to be running for as long as possible!

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  11. I read this a long time ago, so long that I don't really remember it. My running philosophy is that the only two reasons to run are because you want to or someone is chasing you. Real runners walk, so thumbs down on that comment. As I age, I imagine that I'll slow down and run less, but I'll be as active as my body wants to be.

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    1. As long as he doesn't criticize any of us who choose to take walk breaks, then he can do what he wants! Funny how that really struck a nerve with so many!

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  12. Too bad he doesn't embrace walking, or at least utilize it for short recovery breaks. I still walk through water stations (when I'm actually in a race LOL) and have never felt less of a runner for doing so.

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    1. To each his own. I've gotten flack for using run/walk intervals. We all get to the finish line and that's what counts.

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  13. Thanks for sharing another great book! I have not heard of it at all. I plan to continue running for as long as I can. I am a big believer of walking on a race or run but I know many people feel differently about it.

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    1. That's what so great about running--it's such a gift that anyone can enjoy, no matter how we do it!

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  14. This sounds like a really fun book! We often joke on our group runs that we should write a book about the crazy conversations we have! maybe we should :)

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    1. I wrote a post once about the thoughts that go through my head when I run. Funny thing tho, when I get home, I can't always remember what i was thinking about!

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  15. I've wanted to read this book for a while! I honestly thought it had been published much longer ago than 2006. I started running at 19 and I hope to go as long as I can!

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    1. Me too! Running has been so many things to me; as I age, it's my fountain of youth!

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  16. This books sounds like a fun read. I do plan to keep running as I age. And while I think I may have done one marathon without walking, that's definitely not happening these days! Thanks for the review!

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  17. I runfess that when I started running I didn't take walk breaks either. It didn't occur to me to do that. Of course that's all changed now. I will run as long as I'm able to.

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  18. I love this book and have read it three times, including the day before my first marathon. I love the quote pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, and have said it to myself a good few times.

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    1. This would be a great book to recommend, pre-big race! Lots of quotable passages.

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