What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

(Psst…thank you and WELCOME to all my new readers! I was incredibly nervous to share this site with family and friends, but I am so glad I did. Hope y’all enjoy!)

 

Confession: I have a love/hate relationship with running.

This tumultuous affair began in elementary school, where all dramas begin: P.E. class.  I was never what someone would call the “athletic” type; I much preferred fulfilling my Oldest Child stereotype of bossing my classmates around and forcing them to play House or Baby-sitter’s Club or some other imaginary scenario. I usually kind of ignored whatever my elementary school coach told us to do and did my own thing, much to her chagrin.

However, there were two P.E. activities I was always pumped for: dodgeball and the Runner of the Week mile. My obsession with the first game would probably be be attributed to some sort of repressed aggression or anger issues by a psychologist, but really I think I just loved to throw things. However, my love of Runner of the Week is even more mysterious, because I usually didn’t even win.

The Runners of the Week were the top few kids in my class (I think it was the top two or three boys and girls) who completed the mile around our football field the fastest. If you won, you got to pick out a prize from Coach Sealock’s treasure chest of toys and candy, plus bragging rights until the next race. One girl in our class, Anna-Laura, was an absolute speed demon and would win practically every week. However, there was usually a chance to get one of the other spots, and every week I loved the feeling of the wind in my hair and the air burning my lungs as I tried my darndest to get that second spot. I definitely wasn’t the fastest girl in my class, but I wasn’t the slowest either. Every once in a while, I would win second or third place and pick out one of the highly-popular plastic bracelets or sticker books as my prize.

Of course, all that’s changed now, and running has become more of a chore than a joy. I’ve heard my other friends say how addicting running is, but I’ve never experienced that runner’s high that so many claim is euphoric and life-changing. I just got on the treadmill three times a week so I wouldn’t feel guilty when I ordered French Fries at dinner. I felt left out of the loop from my runner friends who would discuss the next race at girls’ nights.

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So last year, I told myself that I would run a half-marathon, and I began using the Hal Higden training program three days a week. I got about half-way through the program, but unfortunately I was too aggressive with my pace and not diligent enough with my cross-training or post-run stretches and really did a number on my left knee. I had to take a couple weeks off  of training, and in that time I decided I wasn’t cut out for a half-marathon. Frustrated at myself, I swore off running and went back to my standard spin and Pilates classes.

…but my Type A subconscious wouldn’t let me give up that easily. This winter, I reluctantly decided to try again, but this time at a much slower pace (I mean seriously, at this point I’m borderline “speed walking”) and – shocker! –  I’ve started to actually enjoy my daily jogs in the early evenings after work. Some days running helps me “let out” my frustrations with work or life, while at other times I enjoy being able to just zone out and simply focus on breathing in and out and Just. Keep. Running.

“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”

So when I came across Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I had to nab a copy. I’ve heard of Murakami before, but he is more famous for his critically acclaimed mind-bending fiction (i.e. 1Q84, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, etc) and I’ve actually never read anything by him until this memoir.

This series of essays is a love letter to running, and a reflection on how Murakami’s daily training has shaped both his writing and his life. Murakami didn’t start running until he was in his 30’s, around the time that he sold his jazz club bar and began writing. The way he started his training was incredibly spontaneous as well, much like mine – instead of growing up with runners in his life or months of researching the sport, one day over three decades ago he just woke up and decided he would write a novel, and he would start running every day. He now runs six days a week, at least one marathon every year (at least at the time the book was published), and every few years participates in a triathlon. In other words, this guy has some major self-discipline. (And also that there’s hope for us who are just now starting to seriously run and write in our late twenties…!).

However, this book isn’t just a list of all his personal accomplishments. In the essays, Murakami slowly unravels how his discipline with running also shapes his daily writing routine, and how running helps him find clarity during writer’s block or career burnout. When asked what he thinks about while running, Murakami responds,”Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.”  I love this – instead of claiming he has profound thoughts on life, he shrugs his shoulders and admits he’s just running to run.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”

 

This light memoir can easily be read in a few hours, and fascinating for even those of us who do NOT have a deep infatuation for distance running. Murakami often talks about the physical and mental pain that comes with running, as with life, and how he has learned to embrace the discomfort:

“Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. 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.”

This short book is a wonderful meditation on how our daily routines can become such an integral part of our lives, and I was captivated the entire time I read Murakami’s life story. Be sure to check it out next time you’re looking for a reflective read!

This Book Recommended for: 

running/fitness enthusiasts, aspiring writers, readers who are contemplating a life change, readers who want to be motivated, readers who want to be intimidated by another human beings self-discipline!

What books are you reading? I would love to hear any suggestions!

 

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