What I Talk about when Haruki Murakami Talks about Running

Lurching along on the elliptical machine at the gym yesterday (don’t worry–I don’t plan to share many more exploits in the world of physical fitness. It’s just that moving around seems so novel at the moment) I was forced to confront my total lack of stamina. Thirty minutes and I was bored, but not dying. At forty-five minutes, though, I was getting a bit green around the gills. At sixty minutes, I was shaking, ready to collapse in a heap.

In my sorry state, I was reminded of one of my favorite novelists, Haruki Murakami, who runs somewhere around 38 miles (60 kilometers) every week. And that’s when he’s just having a stretch of the legs, not when he’s training for a marathon. I hear he’s even taken up the triathlon lately.

I’ve not read Murakami’s nonfiction book What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, mostly because I think I’d be depressed that not only can he write something as deeply imaginative and exquisite as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but also that he, quite possibly the greatest mind of contemporary literature, can go trucking along in the Boston Marathon, listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival (no, really–this is his running music of choice according to Runner’s World), not huffing or puffing a bit. Limitless talent and athleticism? Most of us are lucky if we can be merely competent and mobile.

But, of course, my thinking this way does an injustice to Murakami. He didn’t become the writer he is by dashing a few lines off here and there. And no one runs a marathon without a rigorous training schedule. No, he’s not just lucky. He has incredible self-discipline that many other writers–myself included–would do well to develop. The kind of mental stamina required to run the way Murakami does can only be beneficial to the act of writing. If one can push though one last mile when the body is screaming to give up, certainly another hour or two of revising a troublesome manuscript can’t look so bad at all.

I certainly had to gain some mental fortitude in writing Jacob Wrestling over a short period of time, but I’d like to have more. I’d like to be able to write for eight hours at a stretch; to revise for just as long; to read over full working drafts without the words blurring together; to run, if not a literal marathon, a literary one.

I guess it’s time to load some CCR onto the iPod.

4 Replies to “What I Talk about when Haruki Murakami Talks about Running”

  1. thank you for this funny, lovely piece. i love windup bird also, and yes, it’s true, it’s easy to think murakami just dashes off the words, but i think it’s an intense practice for him. check out UNDERGROUND, if you haven’t…. it changed my mind about nonfiction.

  2. Here’s my dirty secret: I listen to hip-hop when I’m at the gym. It’s really good for working out. Let me know if you want me to hook you up with a mix. 😉

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