Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Trotting through life


What I talk about when I talk about running
Haruki Murakami

Harvill Secker, 2008

In parts memoir, meditation on writing and travelogue, but mostly a reflection on the significance of running. Murakami is a powerful creative mind, and where he gets his power is from the road.

The author of Kafka on the Shore and Norweigian Wood started running aged thirty-three to overcome the unhealthy lifestyle he had fallen into before committing himself to being a full-time novelist. Since then he has run an average of six miles a day, six times a week. He has shuffled his way through marathons (one a year, every year), ultra-marathons and triathlons in settings as diverse as Boston, Tokyo and Hawaii.

His transformation from chain-smoking night-owl into this stubborn roadie is remarkable, as suddenly a slightly disorderly life becomes disciplined and rigorous. Early to bed, five am rise, work, then run. This new lifestyle alienated his friends, who no longer saw him at night as he became increasingly stoical, but that was what he had to do in order to be able to stretch his mind and mine the depths of his imagination. The hardship of the long distances gave Murakami the physical awareness which allowed him to flourish as an artist.

Just as meaningless as it is to put one foot in front of the other day after day, no matter how wet the surface or freezing the air, it is also how life is. That is what it takes to produce anything of value in this world - one set of conquests after another - and that is what running taught him.

What makes this so enjoyable is that this isn't a treatise on how to be healthy or even necessarily Murakami insisting that running is great and everyone should give it a whirl. He says this is what I do and it isn't the thing for everyone. But everyone needs their 'thing' the point is not so much running, but what gives you joy and suffering at the same time. We all need that.

We also need escape. People ask Murakami what he thinks about most when he runs. Nothing, he says, "I run in a void".

I have to admit, (despite Mr. Murakami's insistence that it is ungentlemanly for a man to reveal how he keeps fit), I share his passion for the sport (I, like Murakami, have never been much of a gentleman to start off with anyway). I read this book in a day - fittingly on the day of the London Marathon - a spring afternoon of incredible warmth and beauty. So inspired was I while reading it, that I grabbed my running shoes, packed a bag and hit the asphalt, my book packed without its dust jacket to stop it from scuffing. I ran from park to park, pausing, taking my shirt off, and whipping through chapter after chapter of this marvelous, reflective essay. I would force myself to stop reading, then I would run some more.

The connectedness one feels with the surrounds, the inwardness and solitude that runners crave, Murukami understands these things and puts them onto the page. If ever my legs were crippled in an accident I would return to this book again and again to grieve for the beauty of roadrunning and to celebrate it. This is a most fitting tribute to the madness that is running.


  1. I am waiting for it to come out in paperback before I buy it. I love both running and walking, though I am nowhere near being a '6 mile a day person'. Maybe once I hit 33.

  2. Yeah, six miles a day is a bit wacko. Although he did say that some days he would do nine and others three, so its more of an average. But still shows his commitment.

    Your muscles get lazy otherwise, you need to show them who is boss he says.