What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel
For decades now, Haruki Murakami has been one of my all-time favorite novelists ever; back when my grad-schooled brain was more nimble, I even read a few of his titles in their original Japanese. While this mind has considerably weakened since then, at least the muscles are getting more efficient: now that I’m really, truly, seriously training (!!), Murakami has moved from my bedside to my iPod – and indeed, he makes for a perfect running companion.
Part personal musings, part training log, part peripatetic competition, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – the title borrowed (with permission) from Raymond Carver’s short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – tracks Murakami’s concurrent development as a novelist and as a long-distance runner. Both, according to Murakami, need talent, focus, and endurance.
Written in journal-like entries between August 2005 when he was running under cloudless skies in Kauai, and October 2006 as he was finishing the Murakami City triathlon, the too-short book is perfectly paced with one “did you know that …?’-moment after another. Murakami ran a jazz bar before he literally woke up one day – April 1, 1978 – and thought he could write a novel; three books later (including his phenomenal A Wild Sheep Chase), he decided if he wanted “to have a long life as a novelist,” he’d better quit the 60 cigarettes a day and clean up his act. So he started running.
When he’s out there, he prefers the driving beats of the Lovin’ Spoonful on an MD player, not an iPod. His resting heart rate is just 50 beats per minute, he has to run a good 35 minutes to get it up to 70, and only after he’s run as hard as he can does it approach 100. He trains at about a 6mph rate, and usually runs six days a week. His favorite shoes are Mizuno.
For the past quarter-century-plus, he’s done one marathon a year, although his first-ever was an unofficial on-his-own run from Athens to Marathon (he ran it backwards to avoid the Athens rush hour traffic) in July 1983 while he was writing a magazine article. He’s done one 100K ultramarathon, and he’s never doing another again. His running peaked in his 40s (he was in his late 50s while writing the book), and he’s since added triathlons, although he had to re-learn how to swim (he used to hyperventilate) and biking is his least favorite activity.
“I have no idea whether I can keep this cycle of inefficient activities going forever, ” he muses at book’s end. “But I’ve done it so persistently over such a long time, and without getting terribly sick of it, that I think I’ll try to keep going as long as I can. Long-distance running (more or less, for better or worse) has molded me into the person I am today, and I’m hoping it will remain a part of my life for as long as possible. I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.” If he could pick his gravestone, he’d like the final line to read, “At Least He Never Walked.”
That can definitely be a lofty, long-term aspiration for me, too! As I completed my 6th week of training with Coach Eric Orton (yes, that Coach Eric!) putting one foot in front of the other towards the Leadville 100 (100 miles before I’m 50, or die trying!), I aptly finished Murakami’s book having achieved my own unofficial baby-step goal of 6mph over exactly 60 minutes. Whoo hoooo! I have to gleefully admit, that was some grand inspiration indeed for the many, many miles ahead.
Published: 2008 (United States)