Monday, January 26, 2009

book review - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Years ago, when getting ready for my wedding, I started to run in an effort to lose weight. It worked for the time I did it but then I let it slip and have ever since been a lapsed runner but one keen to get back out there when they can shake off the procrastination.

When I was plodding the streets all I could think of was when the pain would end, why it always rained on a Monday night and how to run with a battered old Walkman. Had I read this book by Haruki Murakami then I might well have pounded the streets in a much more philosophical mood.

On one level this book is a bit like a greatest hits from a runner’s diary with the longest and best races of a 26-year running career reviewed and enjoyed. There are the first marathons, the run from Athens to Marathon and the 64-mile ultra marathon in Japan. They all tell a tale of a determined individual running in most cases against himself and his own targets.

But as he talks about running and his motivation for it he reveals that he is not only a loner at heart but happy being that way and as a person is ideally suited to long distance running.

That sense of discipline and focus that he holds when running are also the guiding disciplines for him as a novelist and the message for anyone planning a career writing, which can be lonely and isolated, is that they need to prepare for it just as Haruki gets ready for his races.

Go into it under prepared or without the discipline of regular training and injury and failure await. But he also believes that some are made to work harder than others with the creative stream being something most have to mine deep for and there is always the threat it could run dry.

Although there were passages, particularly about the triathlon races that verged on being too introspective, appealing to a small audience of similarly ambitious athletes overall this book did reach out and make you think.

In a sense it made me wonder what sort of runner I would be if it was related to personality. After the most obvious thoughts that I would be the runner lying on the couch dreaming rather than running races I came to the conclusion I would be a short to middle distance person. Not because I couldn’t do a long race but because I need other people, can be alone but not for long stretches, and know my limits.

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