What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

When one takes up a hobby, it is hard to not want to be the absolute best in a short amount of time. The frustration at realising that we cannot get there fast, or possibly ever, is sometimes enough to abandon the cause altogether. Yet, what is it about a person that makes them keep going and simply rule out the option of giving up? 

This short, sweet treatise will be relatable in its frank descriptions of the dedication and discomfort of pursuing a passion but also reveals an attitude that one aspires to – an internal compass that always points towards commitment and determination.

Murakami was thirty-three when he began running and it was also his “belated, but real, starting point as a novelist”. This book is part-memoir, part-journal and part-contemplation of the act of running and where it fits in his approach to life as a writer.

He describes how he started out, managing only twenty or thirty minutes, feeling self-conscious all the way, and then slowly improved by simply by showing up over and over again. His body adapts and changes, and running becomes a part of his daily routine, like “three meals a day – along with sleeping, housework and work.” This is recognisable to anyone who has a hobby they are committed to, especially a sport but, really, anything that gets you into a state of flow and helps you show up more in other avenues of your life. 

His wife can eat anything and never gain weight, but, he says, “having the kind of body that easily puts on weight was perhaps a blessing in disguise.” If he didn’t easily gain weight, he may live a different, more indulgent lifestyle. A nice change of perspective that many of us could adopt! 

He describes the physical discomfort, the welling-up of irritation and crankiness at a certain mark far enough along the way. “Up to nineteen miles, I’m sure I can run a good time but past twenty two miles I run out of fuel and start to get upset at everything. And at the end I feel like a car that’s run out of gas. But after I finish and some time has passed, I forget all the pain and misery and am already planning how I can run an even better time in the next race.” It’s oh-so-relatable. Don’t we feel like this every time we write a new script or get on the next set or are at the three-quarters mark of an exhausting game? So it is with anything that is worth doing. We love it and hate it and find the love once again. 

These surmises on running lead to meditations on being a novelist. What is the most important thing needed? Talent, he says. And the next is focus. Life lessons come to him via running. “Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. 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, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits.” 

As the years go by, he is first able to increase his marathon time, then it stabilises, and then begins to drop as decades carry on. This is a part of ageing. He accepts it but it is no reason to stop doing what he loves, within his current limits. I come across more and more stories of individuals taking on new interests, challenges, hobbies and pursuits in each decade of their life and it is very…. enabling may be the right word here… to be reassured that life opens up as you get older instead of closing down.

Later on, he decides to try triathlons and takes up swimming, recognising his weaknesses and getting a coach for it. The idea isn’t to win the races but to complete them, best your own time, or just get through it. He understands the need to practice, the monotony of the small investments that then adds up incrementally until suddenly the whole of it looks and feels greater than the sum of its parts. It’s playing the long game, because that’s what life is. 

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