What I think about when I think about running…(and life)

A little over 30 years ago, Haruki Murakami, famed Japanese author of Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood and the enigmatic trilogy 1Q84, decided to quit smoking and start running. He based his decision upon the idea that he could all too easily get out of shape and gain weight as a writer sitting at a desk for hours a day.

His logic is sound, yet the ends he went to are extreme to say the least.

On average, he runs 60kms a week, typically running 10kms a day 6 days a week. To date, he has completed 25 marathons, one ultra-marathon (100kms) whilst filling the time between penning 11 novels, most of which have won awards &/or critical acclaim. The man is both a hero to me and the reason I wake up wondering at 45yrs of age ‘what the f@ck have I done with my life?’

As a writer, Murakami has a wonderful way of transporting a reader to worlds that are same-same different. I love reading his work because it’s wonderfully written, elegantly paced prose, with well-formed characters interspersed with a smattering of slightly left of center elements that sit somewhere between ‘uncanny valley’ territory and ideas that are ‘odd but not too odd to be jarring’.

Spending a day lounging on a couch or in bed with his work is like spending a day between the sheets with someone you love. As reading experiences go it’s akin in sentiment to the line Michael Fassbender serenades Penelope Cruz with in the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The CounselorLife is being in bed with you…”.

Murakami is however less famous for a non-fiction novel he penned on his experiences as a runner, titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The title itself is a play on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which is fitting indeed because Murakami conveys his twin loves – writing and running – in this uncharacteristically light 180 page read.

Having recently finished this agile tome, I have been inspired to commit to completing the New York marathon this year. At first glance this may sound extreme to my non-runner friends, but as someone with 30+ years of running under his feet it’s more a goal than a guillotine for me. It also turns out to be fairly simple to achieve, I found a suitable charity to join, I raise some money for them, and voila, I’m off to New York in November.

From a runner’s perspective, the New York marathon is the Holy Grail. It’s a goal, nay, a raison d’être, that’s lingered in my mind longer than any other idea I have every managed to concoct. Last November I had the good fortune to be in New York City the day after the marathon, and I had the joy of being able to run through Central Park through the marathon finishing line gates without having to have spent almost four hours of my life earning the right.

But, this year I intend to earn that right. The reason ‘why now’ can best be encapsulated in three quotes that I often see or hear from running friends;

“Because we can, we must.” Bono

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Haruki Murakami

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” John Bingham

So, to all my running friends out there, and to those who know they should, but who are teetering on the edge of starting, I wish you many happy hours on the roads, trails and tracks. Every step taken on the road is a step taken towards a healthier life. Every run a building block towards even greater goals.

All it takes is one step, and then another, so go on, take it and see what happens…