What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Subtitle: Introduction to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Posted on January 3rd, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Often times, we look at the success stories of people who are the best of the best, at the top of their field, and/or overcame great adversity to get to where they are today for insight into how we too can reach such heights in our own ambitions. Rarely do we expect to learn such things from casual runners. However, in What I Talk about When I Talk about Running Haruki Murakami encourages us to do just that. In his memoir, written as a collection of essays, Murakami takes a look at the connections between running and life from a more philosophical perspective than the other books we've read so far. He discusses the relationship between running and writing (he is an author by trade), but also dives deeper into the interconnectedness of running, spirituality and the meaning of life itself.

For the 12th installment of Runners Who Read, I chose this book because I think that it will be highly relatable for most of us and there's a lot that can be learned from reading about a self-described "ordinary runner" who happens to have exceptional writing talent. This book is not written to offer running tips or expert advice, it is rather an examination of the many ways that the act of distance running mirrors daily life and how getting better every day at running can help us improve in other areas of life as well. So, this week, as we prepare to start reading this book, let's take some time on our next run, walk, or jog to unplug the headphones and clear some space in our minds to think about what that activity truly means to us.

Discussion Question:

1. In what ways have you seen running, walking, or jogging regularly help you improve in areas of life outside of physical fitness?

Subtitle: Running and Writing (Mini-blog #1)

Chapters 1-3

Posted on January 10th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Throughout the first three chapters of, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami shares with us a blend of life stories and life lessons. Between his anecdotes about writing novels, running marathons, and owning a bar, Murakami goes off on stream-of-consciousness tangents about things he's learned from those experiences. Some of them are just whimsical thoughts—"I don't know why, but the older you get, the busier you become." (pg#14). Others comment on the very state of life itself—"Life just isn't fair, is how it used to strike me. Some people can work their butts off and never get what they're aiming for, while others can get it without any effort at all." (pg#54) However, some of his most practical points come in his discussion of the many ways running and writing intersect.

When it comes to work ethic, the long, solitary grind of writing for hours at his desk helped build the patience and mental fortitude required of him to train his body to run long distances. Setting goals to compete against himself in marathons strengthened his quiet inner motivation so that he wouldn't be tempted to seek validation in outwardly visible rewards. The ache of distance running allows him to release any negative thoughts and create a blank "void" which can then be filled with ideas for writing. Sometimes when Murakami goes on his tangents, I am unsure whether he is talking about running or writing. In his world, the two complement each other so well. As a blog-writer, I can relate to many of the ways he discusses running and writing making him better at both activities and maybe you can too. Whether or not you're a writer, there are many ways that consistently running, walking, or jogging can complement your line of work. This week, let's spend some time during our exercise leaning into those benefits.

Discussion Questions:

1. In what ways have you seen running, walking, or jogging impact the way you approach your work? How has your work impacted your approach to running?

2. On page 57, Murakami remarks "I've tried my best never to say something like, Running is great. Everybody should try it. If some people have an interest in long-distance running…they'll start running on their own…Likewise, a person doesn't become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they're meant to." Do you agree with this sentiment? Why or why not?

Subtitle: Running and the Self (Mini-blog #2)

Chapters 4-6

Posted on January 17th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Throughout many of the books we've read in this Runners Who Read book club, we've spent a lot of time talking about the lessons from running that we can apply to various aspects of our lives. In Slaying The Dragon by Michael Johnson, we talked about how life can be like a sprint and how employing the goalsetting mindset of a sprinter can apply to our goals in the workplace. In 26 Marathons by Meb Keflezighi, we learned about the adaptability required to run a marathon and discussed how using such adaptability in our lives can make us better parents, friends, partners, etc. But we haven't yet discussed what running teaches us about ourselves. While this is obviously something that varies greatly by person, Murakami's examination of the things he learned about himself by running a 62-mile ultramarathon as described in chapter 6 of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running should give us a thoughtful perspective through which to start this conversation.

While there are many ways to dive into the unknown, running more than twice as far as he had ever run before presented Murakami with the unique opportunity to dive into mentally and physically unfamiliar territory. As an experienced marathoner, the first 26.2 felt routine, but as soon as he crossed that line, he felt like he had wandered into "…the Strait of Gibraltar, beyond which lay an unknown sea." (pg#130). Some of the things he discovered were pleasantly surprising. At one point beyond the 34th mile, he found that he liked the taste of pickled plums, a food he couldn't imagine enjoying before this journey (and may not have under any other circumstances). Other observations cut deeper into his very being—"First there came the action of running, and accompanying it there was this entity known as me. I run; therefore I am." He came to realize just how deeply running was intertwined with his identity. Deeper still, after the race, he discusses how reaching a physical edge and experiencing runner's blues thereafter helped him discover a new "why" for running. "Competing against time isn't important. What's going to be much more meaningful to me now is how much I can enjoy myself, whether I can finish twenty-six miles with a feeling of contentment." (pg#148).

Running can bring to light so many things about ourselves if we will take the time to observe. Whether by physical force—putting oneself in a position such as an ultramarathon that requires great internal focus for a long period of time like Murakami—or by meditation during an easy stroll around the park, the physical acts of running, walking, and jogging present the opportunity to come to know oneself better in a simple, yet unique way. This week, let's all find ways to take advantage of that opportunity.

Discussion Questions:

1. What has running revealed to you about yourself?

2. As Murakami raced along on "autopilot" (as he described), just a few miles from the finish line of the 62-mile ultramarathon he has this thought: "The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance…An endpoint is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence." (pg# 140). Do you agree? What do finish lines in life mean to you?

Subtitle: Running and the Community (Mini-blog #3)

Chapters 7-9 + Afterword

Posted on January 24th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Throughout the course of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, we've come to know Haruki Murakami as a solitary, yet routine runner who relentlessly pursues his personal goals on his own terms. He is a "chop wood, carry water" type of athlete who takes no short cuts and gets out there every day with his MD player to knock out the necessary mileage before applying that same physical and mental endurance to the time he spends writing at his desk for hours on end. Between the occasional public appearances, he leads a mostly quiet and private life. Yet, despite his self-proclaimed tendency to seek out solitude "not get along easily with others" (pg# 196), he can't help but feel a warm bond with the running community no matter where he may be doing his morning run.

In Japan when he ran around the Jingu Gaien (gardens), passing by the elite S&B team runners, they would regularly exchange a smile, wave, and maybe a few words. Regardless of such short interactions, after two of the runners tragically passed away in an accident, he remarked "Still, as a fellow long-distance runner who'd encountered them day after day, I felt like we somehow understood each other," (pg#93). In the afterword of the book, as he looks back fondly on some of his running memories, he writes about the joy in jogging past a fellow female jogger nearly every day for years and exchanging a simple greeting even though they never knew each other's name. It's important to note that these feelings of camaraderie that Murakami describes are unique to this particular community in his life. Despite having spent years as a bar owner and even more time as an author, he designates no such connection with his customers, fellow bar owners, or fellow writers. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly this feeling is but Murakami gives it a try when discussing not just the running but broader triathlon community in saying "But there's something we share, not something as exaggerated as solidarity, perhaps, but at least a sort of warm emotion, like a vague, faintly colored mist over a late-spring peak." (pg#197).

The word that comes to mind for me is simply "togetherness". There is a certain mutual respect and esprit de corps that makes me feel at home in this community wherever I see people running, walking, and jogging. Whether you jog with friends or by yourself, whether you have the fastest segment on your favorite Strava course or are just trying to walk further every day, if you run, walk, or jog, I hope you feel at home in this community as well and know that we're in this together.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you consider yourself more of a solitary runner, walker, or jogger, or do you prefer to exercise with people? How do you find connection within the running, walking, and jogging community?

2. In chapter 9, Murakami says "If pain weren't involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive…" (pg#205) Do you agree with him? Those of you who have completed marathons or triathlons, have you found this to be true?

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