Thursday, January 27, 2011

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

Some years ago I was watching Roger Ebert’s television show, “At the Movies,” where he and Gene Siskel reviewed movies. It was a special show on Woody Allen. Ebert said something to the effect of, some filmmakers are born, and others are made, Woody Allen made himself into a filmmaker. I feel the same way about being a runner. I was most certainly not a born runner; I had to make myself into a runner.

Haruki Murakami, the world famous Japanese novelist, is a runner. He is 62 years old and runs an average of six miles a day, six days a week. He does miss a few days here and there, but sets as his goal to run 156 miles a month. He runs one marathon a year, does triathlons, and completed one staggering “ultramarathon” of 62 miles, which took him nearly 12 hours. This slim and wonderful book is his memoir of running.

I am not a runner like Murakami. First, I have always had a love-hate relationship with running. And second, throughout my fifteen years of running, I have had periods of ebb and flow, trying to run about three times per week, anywhere from three to ten miles per run. This year, when I turned fifty, I ran my tenth half marathon, knowing it would be my last. It was time to listen to my body – just like Murakami writes about his own body – and accept my limitations. My body was telling me (and in particular my knees) that those longer runs would have to stop. This book came along at just the right time. I turned fifty and I needed to rethink my running, and Murakami has given me much to think about.

But not just about running. The book, written with much humility, takes many detours from his running. In fact, the book, whose title comes from one of Murakami’s favorite Raymond Carver short stories, is about so much more than running or exercising. Running for Murakami is a metaphor for his life. It gives him discipline and a sense of order and purpose in his life. It literally gives him the stamina he needs to be a writer. Murakami writes, “Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. 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 all humanity rises to the surface.” The central way Murakami deals with his toxins is by running. He writes, “You have to find the energy somewhere, and where else to find it but in our own basic physical being?”

Perhaps I connected to this book because I run and because I write. I’m not a famous novelist, but I do a lot of education writing. And just like running, I have (like many writers) a love-hate relationship with confronting that blank page. Writing does require a special kind of stamina, both physical and psychological. I just never saw my running – and perhaps more specifically the discipline of regularly running -- as a way to fuel my writing, as well as other aspects of my life, such as how I spend my time.

So, here is, I think, a main point of this little book: we all must have something in our lives that we are passionate about, that gives us a sense of accomplishment and discipline and continued growth. Ideally, this would be something other than what we do for a living, because even if we love our work, we know we are primarily doing that to earn money. It’s like when someone turns their hobby into a job; it’s just not as enjoyable anymore. So this thing – whatever it is – can be a metaphor for our lives, feeding our entire being, extending outward to other parts of our lives, like ripples in a pond, giving us purpose and pleasure and strength.


Neil Richard said...

Nicely done. I've heard of the book but haven't picked it up yet. Certainly creeping up there on my "next" list.

Colleen said...

I really liked this book a lot - good review, Steven!