What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I talk About When I Talk About Running

In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and on his writing.

Equal parts travelogue, training log, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and settings ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston. Funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a must-read for fans of this masterful yet private writer as well as for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in running.


I think this book is probably already on many runners shelves (it makes a good present – incidentally how I became owner of my copy) or on a wishlist to purchase. There seems to be something about a few books including (but not limited to) Born to Run, The Lore of Running, and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, that basically everyone who is a runner should read. As a result, when I received this book I was very excited to get stuck in.

The first thing that struck me was that it seemed suprisingly slight. I expected a book from a novelist to be a little thicker, a little more substantial. As it is though, the book (the version that I have) is just 180 pages long, and I finished it in just 3 commutes to work (about a 40 minute trip each way).

That’s not to say though, that the book is too easy and lacking in substance, instead Murakami has a writing style that really lends itself to being read. The pages are written in a method that seems to have its own cadence running through it.

For me, the one thing that really sets this book apart from so many other sports books is that it is not written by a sportsman. Rather than someone who has devoted their life (or about 5 years in the case of Mark Cavendishs first tome) to their sport before turning to writing in the obvious style of a non-writer, Murakami writes novels for a living whilst also having run a marathon every year for 20+ years, clocking up 100+ miles per month in training. This quote, taken from a chapter about running a marathon on his own between Athens & Marathon to me sums up the way that someone who actually writes for a living is able to describe a mundane run down the road.

It’s at this point that I encounter my first dead dog. A large, brown dog. I don’t see any external injuries. It’s just laid out in the middle of the road. I figured it’s a stray that got hit by a speeding car in the middle of the night. The body still looks warm, so it doesn’t seem dead. It looks more like it’s just sleeping. The truck drivers zooming past don’t give it a glance.
A little further on I run across a cat that’s been flattened by a car. The cat is totally flat, like some misshapen pizza, and dried up. It must have been run over quite a while ago.
That’s the kind of road I’m talking about.

You can get a sense, just from that short pair of paragraphs, of the short sharp cadence of the sentence structure which pulls the reader through the book so quickly.

Whilst I appreciate that this was never Murakami’s main focus of work, and as such it took him quite a while to complete – but I do kind of wish it was subsequently a bit longer or atleast cover a longer period of time. The premise of the book is the lead up to the New York Marathon – a subject that in the end barely gets covered as he has a bad run on the day.

In summary, I think this is a lovely book – it’s written in a beautiful way that just makes you want to keep on reading it. It extols the wonderful virtues of running, but doesn’t skimp on details about how tough it can be – the mental anguish that hours on your feet can put on a runner.

I definitely think people should read it, but maybe don’t splash £8 on a new copy – see if your library has it first!!

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