Runners often end up being the laughing stock of the public, which mocks their drive for the outdoor activity. Though most people think that runners are invested in their daily runs because they see it as a step towards immortality, the truth is that running is not a shortcut to a longer life; it just helps you live your life to the fullest.
It makes more sense to live your life with defined goals, a sense of purpose and oodles of energy, all of which can be arrived at through the pursuit of an activity like running. Though not a runner myself, I am a fitness freak and spend most of my time playing squash and badminton, which is why when I started reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, I found it impossible to put the book down.
The book is a bible of sorts for runners and discusses the author’s passion for running and his philosophy of life. It is a beautiful memoir about his two obsessions — running and writing — and is full of vivid memories and insights, including the moment that led him to decide to become a writer. The book is Murakami’s response to the question ‘why do people run?’ and he answers it with a narrative that encapsulates stories about running, race reports and various other personal anecdotes. Murakami also includes a generous sprinkling of philosophy that any athlete will appreciate. Even I found myself frequently nodding in agreement while reading the book.
What I Talk… offers a glimpse into the mind of a self-motivated amateur runner, whose persistent self-belief eventually destroys the limits set by his mind. The most appealing thing about the book is the author’s sincerity and honesty.
Even the near-insanity of the running mind is clearly captured while describing everything from his first marathon, which he ran from Athens, to a marathon that he ran with only a photographer for company. His description of the physical and mental pain he struggled with while trying to complete a 62-mile course, followed by a connection he felt with the cosmos as he approached the finish line is one of the highlights of the memoir.
Running plays a central role in Murakami’s life. He runs to stay healthy so that he can write novels; he runs because it is a labour of love for him. In the book, Murakami openly admits to his shortcomings and that he is not a perfect person. His descriptions of overcoming his fears — of jellyfish and vicious bears — during the swimming leg of triathlons are both humorous and heartfelt.
Funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, this book is a must-read for fans of this masterful yet intensely private writer, as well as for those who find similar satisfaction in the sport. The book has taught me the real meaning of running, which is “exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits.” If runners are saints, running is their meditation and their way to connect with the supernatural.