Tag Archive | long-distance running

RTT Book Club: Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

Welcome to the Running to Tahiti Book Club! I don’t intend to actually start a book club. I’m already trying my damnedest to get momentum going on a book club in the physical world. Lord knows I don’t have time to start one in the internet world. So I suppose this is more of a Book Corner. A corner of my blog dedicated to books pertaining to the journey of running. There are so many great ones out there! I will read them. Hopefully some of you will either have read them and start a dialogue in the comments section, or you will be so inspired by my brilliant reviews that you will dash out to the library and get a copy for yourself. I wrote about this idea several months ago, and I’m picking up the mantle, as I just finished one of the books on the list. 

I recently went through a literary drought. It was awful. The problem was, I started to read a book that, truth be told, did not captivate. I love the author so much that I couldn’t bring myself to quit the book. I felt I owed it to him to stick with it and give the book a chance to measure up to the author’s previous brilliant works. It never did; and it took me almost 6 months to finish! So awful. I just didn’t want to read, but I also didn’t want to start a new book until I finished the current one. Long story short, I finally finished this book that shall remain nameless, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally I could get started on my running book list!

I decided to start the RTT Book Club (or corner) off with a bang and picked up a copy of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I have so many things to say about it, the most important being that it was fantastic and you should read it.

Murakami I believe Haruki Murakami might quickly become one of my favorite writers. I say “believe” and “might” because I’ve only read one of his novels, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and this memoir. His writing is whimsical, yet concise. His ideas are fantastical, yet stark. There is a sub-conscious to his writing; an underbelly like a nihilistic wonderland. I could not say that I “liked” The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, because I don’t particularly like to feel unsettled and morose; but it made me feel those things in such an understated, subtle, and inviting way that I felt compelled to investigate the darkness it welled up in me.

But this isn’t a review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I only give that back story so you have a little bit of an idea as to what kind of writer Murakami is. He’s not generally a first-person memoirist. Certainly not in the traditional sense.

Let me start you off with the biggest selling point. This book is short. I read it in one day. I believe it’s only 180 pages (not exactly sure of the printed count as I read it on my Kindle), and it’s a quick read to boot. 

Murakami is honest. He begins the book by stating that he doesn’t really know exactly what he wants to say or how it will manifest, but he feels compelled to write down his thoughts about running. Running has been a huge part of the author’s life for 30+ years and he feels he can’t really talk about himself without talking about running. How many runners out there feel this way? Raise your hand. Am I right?

If you’re looking for a time-lined account of the author’s life, this isn’t it. This is a lovely patchwork quilt of running anecdotes and musings on the greater implications of endurance sports. Murakami runs 6 days a week, usually 6 miles a pop. He has done so for decades. One of my favorite aspects of this book is how he illustrates his running discipline as an active metaphor for his accomplishments as a novelist. He points out how people always ask him, how does he keep up that running schedule when he gets so busy? His response is so simple and true, it hits me in the gut. He points out that if he used being busy as an excuse not to run, he would never run. He requires the same discipline as a writer. He has to write everyday. Even on the days he doesn’t feel like it. Even if he just sits in front of his computer and doesn’t type a thing. He has to sit there. He has to be present. He learned that discipline from long-distance running.

How many of us can relate to that? How many goals in my life could I substitute for running in that sentence? If I used being busy as an excuse not to paint, as an excuse not to write, as an excuse not to eat healthy, as an excuse not to be creative. If you let being “busy” get in the way, you will excuse yourself right out of living. It’s not a valid excuse. There will always be obstacles that get in the way of the things you love in life, the things you want to do. You have to jump over them, or run through them. Being disciplined enough to run everyday (or run to Tahiti) is not easy, and some days I don’t want to do it. But you must, and if you do, you will reap the jewel-encrusted rewards of your hard efforts some day. 

This is the kind of metaphorical-speak that Murakami does SO much better in his memoir than I am doing right now. I think the best thing about this memoir is that it’s not flowery. He’s so conservative and blunt with his prose. This book inspired me deeply, and yet is the farthest thing from self-help or motivational speaker type fare. It’s a practical no-nonsense love letter to the sport of running, and to the value of setting aside time for yourself to reflect and to make plans that will take you in the direction of your destiny.

Highlights of the memoir stick with me, like the time he ran a 62-mile ultra-marathon in the very northern tip of Japan. Imagine running for 12 hours straight! His experience was transcendental and not altogether inspirational. Another highlight was when he decided to run a solo marathon in the place where marathons were born, the road from Athens to the town of Marathon. We all dream of such a trip to “Mecca.” However, my favorite images from the memoir have to be his stories of running along the Charles River in Boston. A month ago I would have said that this was simply a personal treat; a nostalgic jog along the running path of the dirty dirty Charles that I frequented so often; but after what happened last month I think we could all appreciate his passages about running in historic Beantown. This book was published several years ago, long before runners had to worry about explosives going off during a race. Murakami resides in Boston when he’s in the states, and talks a great deal about the city and its running paths. He talks briefly about the Boston Marathon specifically and what a carrot it is for so many runners all over the world. I read this book very shortly after the Boston bombings and my heart broke to read his comments about what the marathon means to that city. It made me want to fly back there and run from the Boston Harbor all the way to Brookline, via Boylston Street, like I used to do 7 years ago. It’s a privilege to run in such a beautiful city. 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running gets 5 out of 5 running sneakers. If you’re a long-distance runner, and if running means more to you than just exercise, if it’s a part of your DNA, your fabric, I highly recommend this book. I’ll finish by sharing a few of my favorite passages:

“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.”

“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”

“So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets.” 

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. 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 then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. 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 whole. I believe many runners would agree”

“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–or at least a partial sense of it.”

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”


the man himself


Have you read Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below! Also feel free to share recommendations for the next book we should read in the RTT Book Club (or corner :))!

a beginner’s guide to running: the mental edition

This is for all my ladies and gents out there who have said to themselves at one time or another “I could never run that far.” Remember Chef Gusteau’s motto from Ratatouille “Anyone can cook”? Change one word and that sums up my feelings exactly, *anyone can run.

*who doesn’t have severe back injuries, knee injuries, a lack of two functioning legs or other debilitating health issues. If you do not have any of those things, be grateful, sheesh. And stop being afraid of running.

I wanted to publish a beginner’s guide in The Happiest Runner on Earth last year, but somehow it got away from me. In all honesty, giving people advice about running intimidates me probably as much as running itself intimidates you. Offering advice implies that I actually know what I’m doing, which is not something I usually feel confident about when it comes to anything athletic, BUT, I ran a Half Marathon last year. I ran the entire time. I have to accept the fact that I must know a thing or two about endurance running or I would not have been able to finish without serious injury, mental or physical. Suddenly I feel like sitting up a little straighter, letting my nose ever so slightly rise up into the air. That’s right! I DO know some things. I’m no Jeff Galloway, and I am not a role model for speed, but I am an amateur runner who has learned a great deal from my running adventures, and who has a strong desire to inspire people who are afraid of running, to run. It’s fun! Let’s get to it:

Preface: as I alluded to above, I am a complete amateur. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. I don’t mean to talk myself down but I want you to know that I have never consulted with a professional trainer about running and every piece of advice I can offer comes completely from personal experience. These are the things that work for me. Running is such a personal sport in so many ways. Not only are you competing against yourself and relying completely on your body, your will, your spirit to get you across the finish line, but what you discover works for you will not work for a hundred other people, and what works for a hundred other people will not work for you. The following techniques have steered me clear of injury and discouragement. Give ’em a try. If you end up disagreeing completely with what I have to say, let me know and let’s start a healthy dialogue. Or we can yell at each other. That’s fun too.

  1. ANYONE CAN DO IT. Finishing a Half Marathon, Marathon or Triathlon displays three things about a person. 1) She likes running. 2) She is patient. 3) She is determined. (Or “he.” So what, I had to pick a pronoun and writer’s ALWAYS pick “he.” Drives me bananas.) If #1 applies to you, then anyone and everyone can accomplish #2 and #3. The part about liking running, well, you either do or you don’t. Craving the experience and loving the sport are both very important components to becoming an endurance runner. Now, there’s a bit of a tricky catch to this. You may think you hate running because you’ve never given it a fair shot. Or maybe you’ve been running with bad form, or trying to force yourself to run too far too quick. All things that would turn off even the most seasoned athlete. It’s like sex. If every girl forecast her sexual future based entirely upon her first time, there would be no new babies in this world. Thank God we take it on a wing and a prayer that “it’s not always going to feel like that, right?” Same with running. You may discover, if you do it the right way, that running and you go together like Rebecca and Ice Cream:

    mmmm, i love ice cream

    To all the running/jogging haters out there, follow my advice in this guide and see if it changes your outlook. If you truly do hate running, then I’m afraid I can’t help you friend; but I can point you in the direction of the lap pool or the spinning studio. Try those out.

  2. DON’T BE AFRAID. Running is the art of the possible. When I talk to non-runners about finishing a Half Marathon, I often get the response “I can’t believe it! I could NEVER do that!” I feel proud of the accomplishment, but I kid you not when I say, it’s really not that big of a deal. You (yes I mean YOU) could do it, and I’m going to tell you how. If your joints have been kind to you, if you enjoy running, and if you have time enough to train, then you can most definitely run a long distance race. Believe it. If you don’t believe it to the very depths of your being, then you won’t finish.
  3. IT’S ALL IN THE MIND. If you’re going to start out on the quest to become an endurance runner, be prepared for some healthy mind games. Don’t think about how many miles you are going to run. Think about the first step you are going to take. Can you take a step? Then you can run. Don’t think of the mountain, think of one foot after the other. There is no reason to be afraid of a series of steps, but I would understand feeling afraid of 26.2 miles. When I approach the final leg of a long run, I cannot finish if I focus on the front door of my apartment. I have to give myself small goals. “Can I make it to that tree? Yes! I made it to the tree. Can I make it to that lamp post? Yes! Made it to the lamp post.” Before I know it, I’m at my front door. You must be very Zen about the whole thing. Focus on the moment, the journey, not the destination. Of course the point is to finish the race, but the finish line itself has no inherent value. It’s all the little strides in between that give it meaning. Relish those.
  4. ACHH! GET OUT THAT DOOR MISTER! The last major mental hurdle you will have to jump over if you want this running thing to happen for you is waking up to the days that you simply cannot imagine hitting the treadmill, and doing it anyway. Ideally you should run 3-5 times a week at the very least to build up your endurance. It’s alright to miss a day here and there. Lord knows I do. Studies show that missing one or two days out of your week every once in a while will not adversely affect your training, but endurance does steadily decline after one week off. One week! Just one widdle bitty week and you’re going to lose what you’ve worked so hard to build up. Don’t let that happen. Just get out the door. Even if you only run half your intended distance, even if you have to walk part of it, even if you curse my name the whole time, get out that door. I’ll finish with a little anecdote. About a month ago, I remember having a particularly lazy day. The last thing I wanted to do was run. I’d had a long day at work, I was tired, hungry, exhausted. Brad kept tempting me with going to a movie or cooking a delicious dinner instead of running. Sharky had jumped up onto my lap and made it almost impossible to get up. I mean, that furry face. How could I? I honestly did not know where I was going to find the motivation to get on the running trail. I was looking everywhere for even just an ounce of inspiration and found myself at a complete loss. I knew I couldn’t miss this run, so I translated some acting advice the late great Jim Spruill used to give us at Boston University: fake it ’til ya make it. Sometimes in a scene, you don’t feel the emotion. You can’t find the key in. If you start breathing a bit differently, start wimpering, start physically crying even though you don’t feel it, 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up with warm tears running down your face. The body remembers when the mind doesn’t. I knew this technique could be applied to this situation. I figured maybe if I just get off my you-know-what and change into my running clothes “something” will happen. I got up off the couch thinking “don’t want to run don’t want to run,” walked into my bedroom “don’t want to run don’t want to run,” went into the closet and put my running clothes on “don’t want to run don want to run… don’t… well, hold on,” laced up my sneakers “kinda sorta…. starting… to…,” looked in the mirror and voila! The simple act of putting on a sports bra and running shorts made me feel like going out for a jog. I knew I wasn’t going to find the inspiration from within, so I just walked through the motions of getting ready, zombie like, and it worked. The moral of the story is, training is hard. No matter how much I love running, there are days, many days, that I do not want to do it. The test of a true athlete is not on the easy days, but the difficult ones. It’s easy to do something good for yourself when you feel like it, but it means so much more when you do it in spite of the little lazy devil on your shoulder.

There is so much to cover in a beginner’s guide to running. We’ll call this the “Mental Chapter,” covering the mental/emotional hurdles associated with beginning running. Next time I’ll tackle some physical challenges like how to protect your knees, running form, the burnout factor, breathing and pace, things like that.

All I can hope is that there is someone out there reading this who has been completely intimidated by the prospect of signing up for a race, yet now feels a bit closer to searching Active.com for a nearby 5k. In fact, how about this. If you’re still feeling apprehensive and need that extra nudge to sign up for your first race, I’ll push you, literally! Sign up for your first 5k and my schedule allowing, I will run it with you. Just let me know which race you have in mind and we’ll do it together. How’s THAT for motivation?