I have been reading a lot of Murakami novels the past year (Dance Dance Dance, A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) before this one, a collection of essays about his running experiences spanning a quarter of century. Reading this short book (compared to his novels) is a breather for me--this time he talks about the world as he sees it, not a world he made up with surreal incidents.
It's a memoir, Murakami says in his afterword. But more than a recounting of the marathons (most especially New York and Boston Marathon,ultramarathon and triathlons he joined, however, the book tells of his philosophy about writing novels and living a full life. Most of the times, his insights on life come from his reflections on his running, and in some parts he even philosophizes about his being. In one of his discussions, he borrows from Descartes and proclaims, "I run, therefore I am."
It's obvious to say that running plays a big role in his life, but really, it is central to his life. He even said that he hopes he and running can grow old together. "Running everyday is a kind of lifeline for me...." Needless to say, it is also central to his job as a novelist. He compares the training in running and the skills needed when writing a novel and, expectedly, there are similarities, such as focus and endurance needed to run and to finish a novel (for him, talent, focus and endurance are what it takes to be a skillfull novelist).
The only difficulty with reading this memoir is if the reader is not a runner--there are experiences and insights that only a runner reader can only fully grasp, and sometimes Murakami recognizes this by giving signals, such as "marathon runners will understand what I mean," or "only runners would understand this." Fortunately for me, I can relate to what he's saying, having ran a full marathon in March. I find myself nodding very often while reading this book. But some readers may not be able to relate to what he is saying or may lose interest in the middle. But of course, there's nothing that can stop a Murakami avid fan from reading it.
|Murakami in one of his |
Photo downloaded from
As a runner, I got thrilled learning that his first (unofficial) marathon was in--wait for it- -Athens to Marathon in Greece, the actual route of the Greek soldier who ran 42.195km to tell Athens about their victory and died after doing so, but in reverse order. Murakami did it for a writing job, which means that he ran alone, with only the magazine staff as his support system. I envy his personal record time of less than four hours running a full marathon because I'm a slow runner (I finished it close to seven hours), and I felt challenged whenever he says that he came to run and not to walk in marathon races because I use the walk-run technique in doing long distance running. He runs a marathon every year, and I would want to also do that. Reading it from no less than Murakami makes it an achievable dream, a possibility.
This book is helpful for readers who run like me. One can pick up something useful from Murakami's training and techniques, plus he's able to put into beautiful words the 'runner's high,' that special, unexplainable feeling when runners finish a race. He was also able to capture the essence of running (well, at least for some, including me) and relate it to life and writing:
"Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life--and for me, for writing as well."
|Even if he's 50+ years old, Murakami continues to train for marathons and triathlons.|
Photo downloaded from http://trackingwonder.com/jeffreys-blog/2012/01/30/831/ .
Runner readers would also get a handful of pieces of advice from the man himself, things runners already know but need to be reminded of. For instance, when a runner feels he can't run because s/he is busy, Murakami has this to say: "If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I'd never run again." How true.
As for non-runner readers, this book can be helpful, too. One might get encouraged to run after reading it, though Murakami believes one can't force another person to run. He's correct in saying that the decision to run rests solely on the person. But more important, life lessons can be learned from his experiences--how one can overcome fear, defeat, and even the sense of frustration knowing one's physical decline that comes with ageing (Murakami is 50+ years old when he wrote the book).
For readers who write, one can learn a thing or two from the author, especially in terms of his focus and discipline as a writer (he writes four hours a day). More important, I think the reader will be amazed how Murakami manages his time writing a novel, running every day, training for marathon and triathlon races, travelling, and occasionally giving lectures. It takes a really strong will power and sense of self-discipline to be able to accomplish all these.
As it turns out, the book is not solely for runners despite what its title says. All of us can be considered runners in the open route of life--and this book makes a good companion.
Photo from http://www.kirainet.com/english/what-i-talk-about-when-i-talk-about-running/