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1 February 2011

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

An open, honest, and thoughtful book, full of biographical reflections on running, writing and life in general. There's a peppering of poetic flourishes too - the special New England fall is my particular favourite. It all goes to make for a very enjoyable and interesting read.

Haruki's extensive running experiences and personal insights provide a rich resource for delving into the motivations of a long distance runner. His highly descriptive accounts of marathons, triathlons and other endurance events, will be of interest to anyone who runs, is thinking about running, or wonders why anyone would ever decide to run. He conveys the intimate link between the physicality of running and the associative state of mind, with phrases such as “All I do is keep running in my cosy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence”.

From a personal viewpoint, I found his insights into the mindset of a novelist, and a writer's life in general, just as interesting. Indeed, I can only feel a sense of poignant affinity with someone who's decision to become a writer was born out of a single thought, on one particular day. Like most writers he initially wrote in short, snatched periods, whenever his time-absorbing bar and Jazz club business allowed. But, after attracting significant attention with his early 'Hear the Wind Sing' and 'Pinball, 1973' novels he then, “hung out my sign as a novelist and set out to make a living writing” admitting to himself, “I'm the kind of person that has to totally commit to whatever I do”.

Wandering through the chapters it's impossible to miss the many connections between the solitary world of a long-distance runner and the solitary life of a creative novelist - something he explores, confirms and strengthens throughout the book. Both endeavours he maintains suit him, as someone who, “likes to be by himself” and, “doesn't find it painful to be alone”.

Finishing a long race in a personally acceptable time involves a hard, regular training regime to acquire not only the muscle tone and physique necessary, but also to train and strengthen the mind. Improvements are made daily, albeit at an almost imperceptible pace.

Tackling a book project requires an equally steely undertaking, sitting every day in focussed concentration. As he points out, even if no words are penned this process is necessary to build physical stamina and willpower - essential when completing a sizeable writing project, to a standard with which the writer can be proud. For him, being creative isn't a natural process, but a hard, physical one which requires lengthy toil, dredging out deep holes to find the sources of creativity.

In writing and running you need self motivation and inner drive; dedication and routine; confidence and optimism; willpower to keep going to the finish; and a desire to explore what's possible. The rewards are a heady sense of release, contentment and inner-calm that occur as you settle into a steady-paced running rhythm or find yourself amidst an outpouring of free-flowing prose.

Ultimately, in writing as in running, there is really only a single opponent to achieving your goals - yourself.

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