Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’

Thoughts on running, writing, and the words of Haruki Murakami

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a book written by Haruki Murakami, a favourite author of mine. The words extend my awareness of my body, my mind, my heart, my soul and my spirituality. I wake up to insights I never thought of before. And ironically, it is through the straight-forward, simple contemplative Murakami-style that is so effective.

The nature of being aware is the essence of the direct path to contentment, empowerment and joy. In this book, in particular, it extends the passion through the talk about running and running expands this path.

I have read several of his books including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood,and Kafka by the Shore. I am about to read (or rather listen to because audible books often carry me through my running) After Dark. That’s the book After Dark not running after dark:).


Mind and body consciousness

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a rich and revelatory memoir. So as a writer and a runner, I found a particular intuitive connection to this book. This motivated to increase my training to between 10 and 15 kms daily run in training for an upcoming 30 km race.

I set my running goal of a minimum of 3300 running km between August 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019. I like the number 33 so I rounded down a bit although my goal is a marathon so it will probably be higher.

My writing goal for the same time period is to log those 1000 published words per day. This is in the form of the book I am working on as well as my Medium poetry, stories and articles.

I have been a runner (in more ways than one but we will get into the other ways later). But, in consideration of my recovery, and the determination to maintain authenticity and integrity, I figured there is no better time than now to ‘walk/run the talk’. So far, I am on target with both, 2 months in and counting.

The flowing, changing watershed moments

In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Haruki Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon.

After dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a slew of critically acclaimed books, he spends time reflecting. He reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life. And, even more important, on his writing.

Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon. It also includes settings ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him.


Pushing through triumphs and disappointments

Through this marvellous lens of sport emerges a cornucopia of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments; his passion for vintage LPs; and the experience, after the age of fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.

During the swim portion — the bane of his existence as a triathlete — he found his trusty old goggles had fogged up. They wouldn’t come clear, no matter how much he wiped them. It dawned on him, while treading water, that he did not clean the Vaseline from his hands from his pre-race lube to make pulling off his wet suit easier.

Murakami starts chapter six asking the reader,

Have you ever considered running sixty-two miles (100K) in a single day? The vast majority of people in the world (those who are sane, I should day) have never had that experience…..and for a while afterward I swear I’d never run again…..but who knows what the future will hold.

Funny yet, philosophical

Philosophical, yet with humour, Murakami gives the reader the sense of walking (or running:) in his shoes. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a masterful example of how a guardedly private writer shares a memoir in way that maintains a personally shared portrayal. And, it is for the rapidly expanding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in distance running.

Long-distance running is tough. It takes sheer self-determination. No one can tell you you should do it. It is one of those things that has to come from within — an intentional attitude is essential.



There is no way you could do what Murakami writes about doing if not for an intentional attitude, mindfulness and a smart skills and strategies.

ACT (action and commitment therapy), is one source of such tools. It teaches us many skills and strategies but this book made me think of the acronym SOBER.

Stop — slow down your mind and become very aware of what you are doing and thinking and feeling at that very moment.

Observe — Observe the sensations, feelings and thoughts; notice as much as you can about your experience.

Breathe — Gather your attention and bring it to your breath.

Expand — Expand your awareness to include your body, your experience, and to the situation if you can gently hold in all awareness.

Respond — (versus react) Respond mindfully, with awareness of what is truly needed in the situation and how you can take better care of yourself. Whatever is happening in your mind and body, you have a choice in how you respond.

When you are experiencing urges or cravings (like when running you would like to jump in the shower or have a cold beer and a big steak), you need to step out of auto-pilot.

You can become less reactive to the situation and more aware and mindful of your responses to what you are doing at that very moment.

As my knee tells me sometimes to think of it, I do, and mindfully carry on. My physical and mental health depends on it. It depends on having a confident voice, writing, running, and living with authenticity according to my core values, with integrity. Running and writing encourages this kind of mindful reflection.

you expect it to afford you a special sort of self-awareness
it should add a few new elements in understanding of
who you are

— writes Murakami


Grit, endurance and focus

Running is a metaphor of life if you choose view it that way. Murakami’s writing not only establishes the metaphor, but beautifies it.

The most profound may be of what it takes to be a professional writer, which may have more to do with what it takes to be an endurance athlete: grit, endurance and focus.

running and writing
need each other
together they build confidence, an empowered identity-narrative, established core values, a growth mindset, boundaries, insightful contemplations ….

Thank you for reading!

Namasté, Leah J🕊

© 2019 Leah J. Spence, M.Ed, Psychology writer, artist, teacher
The ART of Living the Matrix