What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (review)

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Haruki Murakami doesn’t run because he’s competitive. He runs only to run, improving himself every day, at longer distances.

He recognizes his own age when he runs, slowing down years after his prime. As he pushes on, he passes scenic landscapes in different countries, seeing the steam of his breath in an Autumn park, feeling the flutter of his heartbeat, listening to the slow beat of jazz.

Running helps him to be alone, which is natural for him. Being alone is necessary for his mental and physical well-being.

As he runs, he accepts the clouds of his thoughts. Ideas float by in an endless sky, drifting in and out of awareness. Mostly, he runs in a void, unconscious of any inner chatter.

Murakami deeply absorbs the people and places in his life. Physical exertion allows him, just like in his writing, to process his joy and sorrow.

He never suspected that he would become a famous novelist. At first, he made more money from owning a jazz bar than from writing, but then he chose to sell his business to write fully. After concentrating only on writing, he worked for several hours every day, sacrificing his health.

After he ran for a while, he quit smoking cigarettes and eating junk food. He didn’t like long-distance running at first, but enjoyed the process once he could control how he ran. Running every day helped him to become better at time management, healthy eating, and losing weight. He shed bad habits while gaining more of an appreciation for self-discipline.

Murakami has run for over twenty years, starting at the age of thirty three, and considers the beginning of his running practice to be when he became a real novelist.

Running marathons has humbled him over his career. Whenever he would train too little, or think too highly of his skills, he would suffer his consequences alone.

Running can be scary and nerve wracking. It can be tough in the rain and snow and cold and heat. It can be tiring and long and painful. But then there are mornings of sun and moments of flow and high adrenaline.

Running, as well as writing, depends not only on the people who engage in those activities, but on the dynamic conditions that influence each person.

For Murakami, a novelist needs three main qualities to be successful at their craft: talent, focus, and endurance. He believes that writers are born with a certain amount of talent, which will eventually leave them, as they age and lose their energy. But a writer can compensate for a lot of their weaknesses with supreme focus.

As a writer writes, they become more skilled at concentrating on their task. To write daily is to build up one’s writing muscles, just as a runner develops their muscular endurance through running.

A novelist needs to have enough energy to write, not just for weeks, but for years. For them to be able to write for that long, they need to write often.

People are born with different levels of innate abilities as well. These abilities can be stretched overtime, but some people naturally have more ability than others. Murakami believes that people need to accept their strengths, as well as their limitations, and progress from there.

Through his maturation as a running novelist, he has learned that everyone moves at their own pace and time. He doesn’t write or run (or do anything) to prove himself to others, but rather, participates for the sake of the activity.

Through his artistic work, he inadvertently benefits his running. Through his running, he inadvertently benefits his writing.

He compares writing a novel to climbing a mountain. Eventually, his lungs will shrink, his legs will give out, but he still pushes himself farther up the steepest slopes, until hopefully, reaching the top. Every novel is a mountain.

After running mile after mile, he still steps forward. While he may not be the fastest runner, he will continue his journey, over and over, on and on, silently and alone, until he cannot go anymore.

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