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Literature | The Running Man

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami

By Zehra Cranmer

When one thinks about Murakami, they immediately conjure an image of a polite, shy, humble and self-disciplined man. He’s a writer who respects his body and his mind to the point that when working he wakes up at four and gets to work immediately. Afternoons are dedicated to running (up to 10km) or swimming and is in bed by nine. Such a dedicated routine makes one question what it takes to be so regimented, and the answer is strength; strength of body and strength of mind teamed up entirely. Anybody who has read the works of Murakami will understand how incredible he is at creating such an imaginative reality and how his writing is outstanding and mesmerizing at all times. This work of non-fiction is no exception.

In this short masterpiece, we learn what makes Murakami tick; what drives him to push himself and what makes him appear comfortingly calm, even when pushing himself beyond his own limits in a solo run in the blistering heat from Athens to Marathon (seemingly unheard of). His tenacity and desire appear to be drawn from a bottomless well, as he has found the key to keeping it filled. This piece of work only proves ones suspicions of Murakami. He is humble and uncompetitive, except with himself of course.  His rather epic run in Greece allows the reader to truly surmise physical anguish. One can feel the sickening build up of lactic acid and dehydration as his beads of sweat dissolve before forming and fear takes a back seat as he runs along a dangerous highway noting perished lives; he writes, “the body count for all these poor animals who lost their lives on Marathon Avenue is, on this day, three dogs and eleven cats. I count them all, which is kind of depressing.” But he keeps on running.

One gets a wonderful glimpse into Murakami’s life, he isn’t one for interviews, but through this book, he opens a door for a limited time and invites us in. He discusses endurance and focus as a runner and as a writer; in fact, he approaches both disciplines in the same manner. He writes, “Writing novels…is basically a kind of manual labor…Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high…The whole process- sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one…requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”

On one side of the fence that exists between the author and reader, sits a solitary character, even jogging is a solitary act, yet he recounts the people he notices on his jogs, they’re usually the same joggers; walkers, or sprinters, some he still passes and some who have died. This part of his daily routine is a thing of beauty - a necessity for human contact, reminding one of how a glance, nod or smile from a stranger can linger on and stay with you for as long as memory serves.
What I talk about when I talk about running is an essential read for any Murakami fan, whether you enjoy his fiction, or a runner, it fulfils both criteria’s.  His running is akin to his writing; his finger is forever on the pulse; calculated, determined, focused and always inspiring. We may not be able to physically run along beside him in life, but we can in this book and anything that he has ever written, that is the beauty of the written word. 


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