Suffering is Optional

And other things I have learned from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

The wind is playing up in the trees. The sky is getting dark as the sun is ready to set. It was rainy for about two hours and now it is partly cloudy out there. Fortunately, I don’t need to grumble about the bad weather because I’m at home all day long — finishing my first Haruki Murakami book. I never knew that reading a non-fiction book could be so enjoyable. It’s a pleasant time to discover how running has a great impact on this respectful novelist. I learn a lot about running from this book, both practical and philosophical.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Have you ever running and at some distance point, still far from your goal, you start to feel you can’t take it anymore? Well, you’re not alone. Sometimes I used to walk when I feel tired of running. In fact, I always feel tired — running only for a quarter distance then walked till the finish line. Embarrassing. So here is the mantra: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”. The painful part is an unavoidable reality, but whether you can stand up again or not is up to yourself. That mantra is sentenced in the foreword. I don’t even start a chapter and I’m already moved by this book! Oh, I can sense the feeling that I’m gonna love this from the very first page.

It took me five days to finish the tremendous journey on discovering how running affected Murakami’s life. Then, I decided to write a post about things I have learned from it — because it is too good I don’t want to spent it all alone. So here I am, writing this article while listening to Extraordinary by Mandy Moore.

About Writing

Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer who got wider recognition with the publication of Norwegian Wood. His books and stories have become bestsellers in Japan as well as internationally, with his work being translated into 50 languages. He was awarded many prizes, both for his works and for himself as an author. He stated that he was ordinary before he began to write fiction at the age of 29. So what’s the secret? Here are some writing tips which he told on What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

  1. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. He always stops writing at the point where he feels he can write more. By doing that, the next day’s work will be surprisingly smoothly. You have to know your rhythm and keep the pace. This is the important thing for long-term projects.
  2. Basically, a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible. He does not like competition, so there’s no such thing as winning or losing in writing. A number of copies sold, awards won and critic’s praise are never bothered him. What’s crucial is whether his writing attains the standard he set for himself.
  3. These are the most important qualities a novelist has to have: talents, focus, and endurance. Talent is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. Use what talent you possess. Sorry to say, but if you totally lack of literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. The next is the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment — without focus, you can’t accomplish anything. And the last one is how to focus every day. You need to master the art of endurance.

About Long-Distance Running

Murakami does not take running as a sport he can do in his free time. As a matter of fact, running is in his daily routine — just like eat three times a day, take a bath, and sleep. Moreover, he’s a serious marathon runner and triathlon enthusiast. Running a marathon once a year in the cold months and taking part in triathlon once a year in the summer has become the cycle of his life. Here are some tips on running you can apply in daily life:

  1. Taking nap, no cold drinks, and eat more fruits and vegetable is the secret to keep his energy level up. He usually gets sleepy after the lunch and taking a nap for 30 minutes. As soon as he wakes up, his mind is totally clear and ready to work on the project.He also try not to drink so many cold drinks and eat more fruits and vegetable. By doing this healthy lifestyle, he shed a few pounds and had a nice feeling to his body.
  2. Through repetition you input the message into your muscles that this is how much work they have to perform. You have to be strict to yourself if you want a greater result. Find a coach. Schedule your exercise. Take your time in training but remember to do it in stages. Your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger. If you treat your body right, it won’t complain.
  3. All you have to go on before racing are experience and instinct. Experience has taught him: “You’ve done everything you needed to do, and there’s no sense in rehearsing it. All you can do now is wait for the race”. And what instinct has taught him is: “Use your imagination”. So he starts to imagine himself in the race, along with thousand of runners, going through the streets, and feel every little thing he can sense — in detail. It helps him to have a good time in long-distance running.

About Life

Since I am not a runner, I see running in this book mostly as philosophical meaning. Through the book, I have learned that high determination and perseverance are the keys to almost everything in life.

Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits. In most cases, learning something essential in life requires physical pain.

He does not care what other people think, which is the second lesson I learned from him, he does it because it makes him feel good. Everyone needs their own set of villain to be pointed out when things get bad, but he’s not cursing to other’s mistake. He knows he’s imperfect and he accepts it.

If there are this many visible parts of my body that are worse than normal people’s, then if I start considering other aspects — personality, brains, athlenticsm, things of this sort — the list will be endless.

Beside those two, here are other things Murakami has taught us about life:

  1. School is a place where you enter it, learn something, until it’s time to leave. You can’t keep up with your life, like you have in the present time, for the rest of your life. Reality is a real schooling. If you don’t want to be trapped in such a boring life, you have to move and learn something new. When you master that thing, leave and enter another school.
  2. It’s not merely willpower that makes you able to do something — there is passion. Human beings naturally continue doing things they like and stop doing things they don’t like. If you’re not interested in it, no amount of persuasion will make any difference. Even when you do that thing, without any interest, you won’t keep that for a long time.
  3. What’s really important is reaching the goal you set, under your own power. He’s not that kind of an ambitious man who set the standard and pass the obstacles to seek validation. Just like I told you before, he doesn’t like competition. He does it to make him feel alive — the pain and the feeling through the process. And if Murakami thinks there’s something he can’t do but he wants to, he won’t relax until he’s able to do it.

As a closure, this is what he’d like to say this on his gravestone:

Haruki Murakami. 1949–20**. Writer (and Runner).
At Least He Never Walked.

He has experienced countless pain when training and racing. He also has experienced being disqualified once in triathlon competition. But he never walked in the race, not even when he is feeble.

Such a bold ingenious man.