What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Book Review

[A] person doesn’t become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they’re meant to.

This autobiographical journey seen through the eyes of an avid runner was written by the famous Japanese novelist, Murakami Haruki and was originally published in Japan in 2007 as  「走ることについて語る時に僕の語ること」Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (literally “What I talk about when I talk about running). 

Have you ever felt self-conscious about running? I remember when I first got back into it three years ago, I was always thinking that someone was watching me. Seems I wasn’t alone in this thought. 

When I first started running I couldn’t run long distances. I could only run for about twenty minutes, or thirty. That much left me panting, my heart pounding, my legs shaky. It was to be expected, though, since I hadn’t really exercised for a long time. At first, I was also a little embarrassed to have people in the neighborhood see me running— the same feeling I had upon first seeing the title novelist put in parentheses after my name. But as I continued to run, my body started to accept the fact that it was running, and I could gradually increase the distance.

This book not only inspired me to keep pushing on as a runner, but also as a writer. I had already started writing this blog, but had stalled many times. 

If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog. 

As I just entered my forties last year, Murakami’s talk of his running peak which came in his late forties, and the goals he had at that time strike a chord with me as I am at a similar place in my own running journey, even down to very similar running speeds: I broke 3:30:00 for the first time ever just two months ago in February.

My peak as a runner came in my late forties. Before then I’d aimed at running a full marathon in three and a half hours, a pace of exactly one kilometer in five minutes, or one mile in eight. Sometimes I broke three and a half hours, sometimes not (more often not).

It is through his inspiration that I decided to name my blog “Suffering is Optional”. Murakami recalls a conversation he had with a fellow runner, whose older brother told him that allowing ourselves to suffer is actually a choice. If we choose to focus on that pain, we will increase it and it is all we will think about.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

But like the author says, pain is a necessary part of the journey of growth. Without making the effort, we will never reach the next goal or target to better ourselves. 

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 can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

And while running can be a social activity as many members of running clubs will attest, it is largely a solitary activity where we compete against ourselves. Like Murakami, I have always been energized by my own quiet time. I guess that makes me an introvert rather than an extrovert.

I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else.

Within the pages of this book, I found a true kindred spirit. I strongly recommend this book to all runners, writers and to all who like to push themselves to the next level. 

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