“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

I recently finished the book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami. It is a great read if you are a runner. I have never read Mr. Murakami’s novels but his writing style is very easy to read. It is story-telling as he tells how running has formed who he is a person and how important running is to his success as a novelist.

He speaks repeatedly about training hard but in such a way as not to burn out. This is a skill I have yet to to acquire as I have fallen victim to burnout lately. He calls it “Running blues.”

Here are few points in the book that stood out to me:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Most of the book covers his time training for the 2005 New York Marathon. He says running, especially long distance training and marathons, hurts. It is “an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”

He talks about how he is very competitive but not so much in that he wants to win races or even other people. He wants to beat a time that he set for himself. I smiled when I read this part. That has driven my running since I started six years ago. I have a goal time I want to meet or beat, usually I want to better my PR for the distance. This is what motivates him and what motivates me and my group of running friends. We all talk about what times we want to meet or beat for a race.

“…having the kind of body that easily puts on weight was perhaps a blessing in disguise.” He says those of us who have to work hard to keep the weight off are actually healthier than those who are naturally thin. Our exercise makes us healthy and our bodies will not weaken as we age because of it. I keep seeing more and more studies that back this assertion.

He talks in one section about how it takes him a few miles for his muscles to warm up, gradually loosen and allow him to run normally. He doesn’t run short distance races much because of this, by the time the race is over he is just getting warmed up. I so identify with this. A couple years ago I was asked to run a 5k with a group I worked with at the time. I hestitated because I told them the same thing, it takes me three miles just get warmed up, that’s just how my legs work. They thought I was poo pooing such a short race when I run marathons, no matter how much I said it was not that at all. My weekend group all says this same thing. We all grumble and moan up until mile three of your weekend runs at which point we are loose and warm and can really take off and enjoy our run.

Finally, he talks about the view by others on runners and their life of constant training and how as soon as we are done with one we are thinking about the next. “Pouring water into an old pan that has a hole in the bottom,” pointless, futile and inefficient. “Whether it’s good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what’s more important is what you can’t see but can feel in your heart. But activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so. That’s the feeling I have, as someone who’s felt this, who’s experienced it.” I absolutely understand what he saying and share the sentiment, as do many runners I have talked with. It is hard to explain, and understan, but it is just a part of us and makes us runners.

If you are a runner, you will enjoy this book.

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