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:
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.
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 Jam: WITAWITAR 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!