“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (WITA2R) is a memoir by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The book is divided into four sections, each focusing on a different aspect of Murakami’s running journey. It is a reflective and introspective account of Murakami’s experiences as a runner and the impact running has had on his life and writing. I have discussed some of its aspects in detail in this article.
One of the main themes of the book is the idea of endurance and perseverance. Murakami writes about the physical and mental challenges of long-distance running and how he has learned to push through difficult times and setbacks. He also reflects on the role that running has played in helping him overcome personal struggles and find a sense of balance and purpose in life.
For example, when Murakami reflects on his training for the New York City Marathon, he describes the grueling process of preparing for the race, including the long runs, the intense heat of the summer, and the physical pain that comes with pushing his body to its limits. Despite these challenges, he persists and is able to complete the marathon.
Similarly, when Murakami talks about the mental and emotional endurance required to keep running even when he is in physical pain or when his mind is telling him to quit, he writes about the importance of pushing through these moments and finding the mental strength to keep going. He quips that “Endurance is something you acquire through training. You might not be able to do it at first, but if you keep at it, you’ll be surprised how much endurance you can build up.”
Concept and Flow of Time
A key theme of the book is the concept of time and how it relates to running. Murakami writes about how the repetitive and rhythmic nature of running allows him to clear his mind and focus on the present moment. He also talks about the importance of setting goals and working towards them and how running has helped him develop a sense of discipline and self-control.
Murakami describes the feeling of being “in the zone” while running as an accurate demonstration. He writes that when he is running well, time seems to disappear, and he is able to fully focus on the task at hand. In these moments, Murakami also expresses a sense of timelessness and is able to forget about the past and the future and simply exist in the present. He appropriately sums it up here:
“Running is both the act of moving forward and the act of looking back. It’s a way of living in the present while also being aware of the past and the future.”
Conjuring a brilliant dichotomous relationship, Murakami reflects on the relationship between time and distance during a run. He writes about how time can feel both slow and fast when running a long distance and how the process of running can feel both tedious and exhilarating. He also recounts how the experience of running the marathon itself can feel both endless and fleeting.
Metaphor for Life
One of the most striking aspects of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is how Murakami uses running as a metaphor for life. He writes about the struggles and triumphs of running as if they are analogous to the challenges and joys of living. For example, he talks about how running a marathon is like facing and overcoming obstacles in life and how the sense of accomplishment and personal growth that comes from running can be applied to other areas of life.
He observes, just like running a marathon, that living a meaningful life requires discipline, perseverance, and the ability to push through difficult moments. Similarly, crossing the finish line of a marathon or living a good life requires setting goals, working hard to achieve them, and facing and overcoming challenges.
Murakami also draws our attention to the relationship between running and ageing. He explains that running has helped him understand the process of ageing and how to make the most of the time we have. He writes:
“Running teaches us that time is something to be used, not simply something to be experienced.”
“Running is both a physical and a mental activity. It teaches us about the limits of our bodies and the power of our minds.”
There is a commentary on how running has helped him understand the nature of existence and the human condition.
Up close and personal
Another notable aspect of the book is how Murakami incorporates his personal experiences and reflections into the narrative. He writes candidly about his own struggles with depression and anxiety and how running has helped him to manage these challenges. He also shares stories from his own life, such as his experiences running marathons in different cities around the world and the relationships he has formed with other runners.
Murakami writes that running is a solitary activity that allows him to escape the distractions of the world and focus on his own thoughts and feelings. He finds the experience of training for and running a marathon as a personal journey and mentions completing a marathon as a source of joy and personal accomplishment. He writes that running is a way to test one’s limits and understand one’s own potential and find solace and meaning. He writes:
“Running is a way to get up close and personal with the world around us, to understand our place in it, and to appreciate the beauty of it.”
This powerful and thought-provoking memoir incorporates Murakami’s unique and personal voice through the lens of long-distance running while also offering insightful reflections on the human condition. One of the strengths of WITA2R is that it seamlessly blends self-reflection with practical advice and tips for runners. Murakami provides helpful insights into things like training techniques, nutrition, and injury prevention, making the book useful for both experienced runners and those just starting out.
The writing style is eerily similar to the universal way our inner voice functions with random thoughts – like clouds in the sky that come and go. He switches quickly and effortlessly from a boring detailed explanation of running shoe manufacturing to a lucid and vivid account of his 62-mile original marathon in Greece that transports you alongside him. If you have had the good fortune to listen to your ageing, reminiscing grandparents about their life stories, you would know the pure bliss I am referring to.
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One issue with WITA2R is that it may not be as accessible or relatable for readers who are not runners themselves. While Murakami does a good job of explaining the appeal and benefits of running, some readers, who are not interested in the sport, may find it difficult to connect with the material.
Secondly, Murakami could have been more inclusive in his representation of different types of runners and running experiences. It has been written from the perspective of a middle-aged man primarily focused on marathon running. Including more diverse perspectives on running and experiences from different age groups, genders, and backgrounds, especially more examples and anecdotes from other runners, could have added more depth and nuance.
Finally, the book could have been more structured and organised. The author’s reflections on running and life are presented in a stream-of-consciousness manner, making it hard to follow. A more structured approach could have made the book more cohesive. Additionally, the book tends to be quite repetitive at times, especially with Murakami often returning to the same concepts and tropes throughout the text. This can make it feel monotonous at times and may cause some readers to lose interest.
Comparison with his other works
WITA2R is definitely more introspective and reflective in nature compared to Murakami’s other books, which tend to focus more on plot and character development. They are primarily focused on telling a story, whereas WITA2R is more focused on exploring the personal and philosophical aspects of running.
One aspect consistent with many of Murakami’s other books is the way he uses running and other endurance sports as a metaphor for life. In this book. Murakami equates the challenges and triumphs of running to those of living through his writing. This is a common theme in Murakami’s work and can be seen in books such as “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka on the Shore,” where characters engage in activities such as marathon running and long-distance swimming as a way to explore and understand their own lives.
Overall, WITA2R is a fond memoir that offers insight into the world of running and the role it can play in one’s life. It is well-written, engaging, and provides practical advice and tips for runners. While it may not be as accessible or relatable for non-runners, it is still a valuable and enjoyable read for anyone interested in the personal growth and self-discovery that can come from endurance sports. It contains themes and ideas that are applicable to anyone looking to rise beyond challenges, set and work towards goals, and find a sense of purpose and balance in life. It’s about loving something and dedicating your life to perfecting your craft towards it.
“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is about passion, determination, and consistency. And yes, you should read it.