WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING by Haruki Murakami (Vintage Books, 2009)

3031024When I first read this memoir about five years ago I was a casual jogger.

Picking it up again as I train for my first marathon, I see it now as a valuable mini-manual to get into the right physical and mental state.

You don’t have to be an amateur athlete or an aspiring writer to appreciate Murakami’s down to earth words of wisdom but it helps.

As a celebrated novelist, frequently tipped for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and a prolific marathon finisher, the Japanese writer and runner shares his experiences in a style that goes beyond the standard textbooks on both pursuits.

What I particularly like is his modesty and humility. He gives plenty of great advice but you never get the impression he is lecturing or seeking to establish hard and fast rules to live by.

murakamiHis view is that writing full length novels and running long distances are alike in that they are both disciplines that requires stamina, hard work, strength of mind & body and single-mindedness.

“I’m the kind of person who has to totally commit to whatever I do”, Murakami writes, and openly admits to being stubborn and obsessive. He subscribes to the opinion that, if you want to achieve your goals, you need to work with “persistent repetition” and apply an uncompromising commitment to the task in hand.

As a novelist this means spending long hours in isolation and sacrificing conventional notions of what constitutes a ‘normal’ social life. He admits that this can be a painful experience and may be hurtful to others but justifies his refusal to compromise by saying: “As I’ve gotten older I’ve gradually come to the realization that this kind of pain and hurt is a necessary part of life. [….] Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay to be independent”.

He realizes that this singular philosophy won’t work for everyone but, then again, he isn’t trying to set himself up as a role model. His perspective is simply one of ‘this works for me and it might be useful to you too’.

In so doing, Murakami acknowledges that completing a novel or finishing a race doesn’t represent anything more than one man’s humble attempt to lead a rich and fulfilling life adding soberly and sombrely: “Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning”.