Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is Murakami’s Ode to Running

Runners will particularly relate to portions in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running where Haruki Murakami describes his experiences during long-distance runs, Sapna Nair reviews

The man must be obstinately passionate about running to write a whole book about it, was my first thought when I held Haruki Murakami’s book in my hand. And I was right on the mark. Having read a few of Murakami’s fiction masterpieces — Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood being my favourites — I was eager to read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is among his few non-fiction works.

Originally published in 2008, this memoir/running journal makes it easy to imagine the award-winning novelist in real life, as he lays bare his eccentricities and vulnerabilities. He is an ordinary person who loves to chow down donuts and draft beer, when he is not busy weaving a world of mystique and fantasy through words.

Sometimes, Murakami’s passion for running comes across as intense. Few in their right minds would run the original marathon course, from Marathon to Athens (over 26 miles), all alone in the blistering Greek summer. Not only was this his first long-distance run, but also the most gruelling ever, he admits.

But several instances in the book will strike a chord with runners, introverts, and philosophy buffs. “I am the kind of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone.” The hour or so that he spends running in the day and the accompanying solitude, he says, “is important to help me keep my mental well-being.”

I had newfound respect for running when I realised the extent to which Murakami attributes his writing prowess to this seemingly simple sport. “Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned from running every day,” he writes. Running has helped him hone his focus and endurance — two critical qualities a novelist must possess. He compares training the muscles to endure long durations of running to training the mind to focus for prolonged periods when writing a novel.

Runners will particularly relate to portions where Murakami describes his experiences during long-distance runs — giving the legs constant pep-talks, the irksome task of retying laces, judging runners who walk during a marathon, picturing eating your favourite meal when it is all over, the pain and joy of pushing your limits, and such.

From running 62 miles in a day at the ultramarathon in Hokkaido to participating in several full marathons and triathlons across the world throughout his 40s and 50s, Murakami set goals for himself, but he did not achieve them every time. He kept running new races in the hope of reaching a state of contentment. After a “frustrating result” at the New York City Marathon in 2005, for which he had been training very hard, the 57-year-old ran the Boston Marathon in 2006 to redeem himself. This was the 25th marathon of his running journey.

It was on one of his runs that he made peace with the fact that he may not be able to improve his race timing. “Just as a river flows to the sea, growing older and slowing down are just part of the natural scenery,” he acknowledges, rather poetically.

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together” is perhaps the most romantic thing anyone has ever said about running. This book will invoke more admiration for both the author and the sport, especially among Murakami fans who are runners themselves. Personally, as someone who likes running and has recently been advised to slow down owing to a knee ailment, this book has been like sunshine on a gloomy day.

Pick up Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

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