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What I talk about when I talk about running

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

So said Haruki Murakami’s mantra for running.

I hate monotonous sport. Running is one. I like my sport to be mind stimulating. I can’t run 200m without giving up because I grew up with a bad lung but I admire people who could run for miles and miles. I, however could walk the entire day and do a 100m sprint to catch my train but I can’t run long distance. I tried to run long distance but the pain was too excruciating.

It’s mind over matters. To endure that physical pain and make your body take one painful stride after another is to me the ultimate challenge. Murakami has one of his rough conversations with his muscles that do not want to operate as instructed by the will and the brain: “I have to show my muscles who’s boss.” Whatever respect I have for Murakami as a brilliant writer, I am at awe with the discovery of him finishing the 60-mile ultramarathon. With every stride came excruciating pain, yet this is what happens to his muscles when he participated in a 62-miles ultramarathon:

“…The 13th miles from the 34-mile rest stop to the 47th mile were excruciating. I felt like a piece of beef being run, slowly, through a meat grinder. I had the will to go ahead, but now my whole body was rebelling. It felt like a car trying to go up a slope with the parking brake on. My body felt like it was falling part and would soon come completely undone. …

As I ran, different parts of my body, one after another, began to hurt. First my right thigh hurt like crazy, then that pain migrated over to my right knee, then to my left thigh, and on and on. All the parts of my body had their chance to take centre stage and scream out their complaints. They screamed, complained, yelled in distress, and warned that they weren’t going to take it anymore. For them, running 60 miles was an unknown experience, and each body part had its own excuse. I understood completely, but all I wanted them to do was to be quiet and keep on running. I tried to talk each body part into showing a little cooperation. Encouraged them, clung to them, flattered them, scolded them, tried to buck them up. It’s just a little farther, guys. You can’t give up on me now.”

The experience of running then became Murakami’s philosophy for life….

Usually when I approach the end of a marathon, all I want to do is get it over with, and finish the race as soon as possible. That’s all I can think of. But as I drew near the end of this ultramarathon, I wasn’t really thinking about this. The end of the races is just a temporary market without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary market, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence. It’s very philosophical.

I see it this way. If I think about how far the goal post is, most likely I will get discouraged before I even arrive to it. By taking one stride at a time though, no matter how painful it is, by forgetting how far the end is, it makes my journey a lot more bearable, a lot more easier. By the time I achieve what I want, instead of savouring of the finality of arriving, I’m looking for the next goalpost. A lot of people told me I’m a competitive person. Actually I’m not. I do benchmark of course but for me, the only meaningful competition is against our own self and it is not all about beating the next person nor winning the race. Murakami is the same. He never win any marathon, yet I felt the winning isn’t the point in his confession.

Haruki Murakami made up his mind to be a writer when he closed his bar business and went into writing. He cited talent, focus and endurance are the three qualities a novelist must have.

If I’m asked what the next most important quality for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus – the ability concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. – page 77

“Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day.”

I am not sure if Murakami will ever write his memoir one day but this is as close as anyone could get to know about the man who gave us heartrending and haunting novels, through his memoir about running. I went into the book with the hope of finding out more about Murakami and running but came out in awe of what this man has achieved. With 25 marathons (1 each year ever since he took up running), 6 triathlons and 11 novels to his record, all he wanted to have on his tombstone is this:

Haruki Murakami
1949 – 20**
Writer (and Runner)
At Least He Never Walked.

And his running and his focus in his writing is his dedication and duty owed to his readers. This he said so himself.


This is my second book for Murakami Challenge 2011 and first for J-lit 5.

Hardback. Publisher: Harvill Secker 2008; Length: 180 pages ; Setting: Victorian Egypt.  Source: Westminster London Library. Finished reading on: 12 June 2011.

Other views:

Wilfrid Wong: A humbly written memoir, this book certainly touches me.

Graham@My Book Year: This is probably not the type of book I would normally read, but I am pleased that I have read it. If you are a runner then you will find it inspirational. However, even as a non-runner you will be impressed by Murakami’s strength of body and will.

My Bread and JamWITAWITAR is the first Murakami book I’ve read, and while it apparently marks a big departure from his usual style, I’m very eager to read more.

Run Blogger: Reading this book is like reading a book written by you favorite running partner, which is a nice change from some of the other running-related books I have read. In its totality, it’s truly a wonderful book.

Reading Through Life: I have to say, I was hoping for a lot more from this book.

Have I missed yours? Let me know and I’ll include it.

What do you think about running? Do you run? Do you win any race? Even if you don’t I would still hold you with regards if you run regularly!

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


26 thoughts on “What I talk about when I talk about running

  1. I’m not a runner either – I’m a walker or cyclist but I have had my eyes on this book for so long now. It may be full of running geek stuff but hey, it’s Murakami! And you still liked it 4 stars so it must be good.

    Posted by Leeswammes | June 26, 2011, 4:40 pm
  2. Thanks for the link.
    This is a total departure from any of Murakami’s fiction, but it is a fascinating memoir. It is amazing that he seems to have an almost limitless capacity for running.

    Posted by Graham | June 26, 2011, 5:17 pm
  3. I don’t like running either, esp as a workout. I get bored easily and then soon I’m thinking of getting off the treadmill and going home. So I joined a zumba class last month which is all dance and workout and so far it has worked. This books sounds like it will resonate with me!

    Posted by Aths | June 26, 2011, 8:49 pm
  4. I hate running too! I mean, I’m not one for sports in general, but I’ve tried various times to take up running and to me it is the most mind-numbing thing to do. I’ve tried listening to music, listening to audiobooks, watching tv, and reading books while on the treadmill and none of them have managed to make running enjoyable.

    I do like Murakami, however, and it sounds like there’s a lot in this book for the non-runners of the bunch to still enjoy!

    Posted by Steph | June 26, 2011, 9:30 pm
    • Steph,
      It is mind numbing isn’t it? Try Dancing classes? Like Aths suggested. Maybe that would work up your appetite for keeping fit! Quite a thin book, about 170-ish pages, you will finish it in no time at all!

      Posted by JoV | June 27, 2011, 8:29 am
  5. Wonderful review, Jo! I didn’t know that Murakami wrote a book like this! It looks quite fascinating! I don’t run much myself – I like walking or cycling occasionally, but mostly I like being a couch potato 🙂 One of my friends is into running bigtime – he runs a set of regular marathons every year. I think he will love this book. I think I will gift this book to him. Have you heard of the marathon runner John Kelley? Does Murakami talk about him in his book?

    Posted by Vishy | June 27, 2011, 5:43 am
  6. I hate running too, but I like Murakami’s words about suffering being optional. I’m pretty sure he wont persuade me to start running, but I have this book on my shelf and so am keen to see if he can change my mind. 🙂

    Posted by farmlanebooks | June 27, 2011, 10:34 am
    • Jackie,
      I look forward to hear what you think about the book! Rather thin one, I think there is no problem getting it through within a day!
      p/s: and I hope he may change your mind too! I feel motivated about running after I read this! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 28, 2011, 9:39 am
  7. Interesting the stuff he wants on his tombstone….!I would eventually read this at a point.

    Posted by Geosi | June 27, 2011, 4:01 pm
  8. I used to enjoy running – when things jiggled a bit less. Now – not a chance.

    I think perhaps that is why I am only interested in his fiction, but I have been known to change my mind…. Thanks for the review – its great to get updates on books you know you will probably not read but are curious about.

    Posted by Shellie | June 27, 2011, 5:51 pm
    • Shellie,
      LOL… I’m the un-jiggly type! but I gather few years from now everything will be pulled down by gravity!

      It’s great to get an update about books that you’ll never read isn’t it? Sometimes if I see more of such reviews, I tend to change my mind in the end!

      Posted by JoV | June 28, 2011, 9:42 am
  9. I like the idea of running, but my body is not made for speed. Never has been, even when I was younger. My body wouldn’t talk to me while running, it would just self-combust and then collapse. Seriously.

    I had no idea this book was about his experiences while running. I thought it was fiction. I am reading my first Murakami now…Kafka on the Shore. I just started it, so I don’t know if I am liking it yet, but hopefully I will.

    Posted by Ti | June 27, 2011, 9:14 pm
    • Ti, my body just shut down when I try to run. Sometimes I feel like my lungs wanted to combust and no amount of willpower will make me take that extra stride, that’s how bad it is. I will never be a runner, that truth I will accept.

      I thought the book was a fiction too! Imagine my surprise when I knew it was a mini-memoir. I don’t like Kafka on the Shore much. But I like you to try Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart and his other novels on love stories.

      Posted by JoV | June 28, 2011, 9:45 am
  10. Yes. I love that running book of his. So inspiring!

    I didn’t know you are not into running heh. I used to love running. I love repetitive stuff. I could run for hours. Unfortunately, after my climb to Mt. Kinabalu, my knees could not recover. So running is out for me.

    Posted by Wilfrid Wong | June 28, 2011, 1:57 pm
  11. I own this book, but haven’t yet read it. I only bought it because Murakami wrote it, since I’ve long abhored exercise. (I like cycling. Canoeing. Perhaps a walk after dinner on Sunday afternoon. But, that’s it.)

    However, I’m most intrigued by this part of the quote you posted: “The end of the races is just a temporary market without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary market, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence. It’s very philosophical.”

    At first, I thought there was a typo “just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning.” I thought it was going to say “doesn’t mean existence doesn’t have meaning.” But, as usual with Murakami, he takes what I assume and throws my assumption on its ass. Where it belongs.

    Of course! One has to find meaning, and not just at the end of some arbitrary mark, or at the end of one’s life. I’ll be thinking about this for awhile, putting it together in my mind. In the meantime, I love how he comapred his writing to his running, how focus is essential, and showing who is boss.

    Posted by Bellezza | July 2, 2011, 5:47 pm
    • Bellezza,
      Thanks for stopping by. It wasn’t a typo and I actually backtracked the same statements again and again to make sure I read it right. I think Murakami or Japanese in general seems to have a very bleak outlook about their lives, which perplex me but that’s really what he said.

      I hope you had a chance to know about the man behind all the books you love. This is the only one that we may get a glimpse of Haruki Murakami the writer as a person! Thanks for stopping by Bellezza. 😉

      Posted by JoV | July 3, 2011, 9:13 am
  12. loved this book & I said in my own post, that it nearly made me want to take up running……..

    Posted by Parrish | July 29, 2011, 8:45 pm


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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