Monday, March 02, 2009

Haruki Murakami's moving words

I just did a count of the running books I've collected in my bookshelves. I see 18. Yes, 18 biographies, training manuals, novels, advice and stories about running. Geez. Not to mention the stacks of magazines underneath my coffee table.

I wrote about starting to read Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running a few weeks ago. I finished the short book on my flight to New York and like Sonia, I liked it a lot. No, actually, I loved it.

Murakami wrote the book in Japanese in a diary format, not unlike a style used by us running bloggers. But he captured a few what I'll call philosophical running beliefs I haven't read in most of my running collection. When I think about it, it's because here he is, another runner, not close to the fastest, not the slowest, but your everyday life-long runner. What he said triggered quite a few nods that only come with the agreement and acknolwedgement that he hit a nerve.

It's funny, the book, like any run, starts in fits, seeks to find a pace, then not often but at times, hits some sort of literary runner's high. I feel those moments in a long run when everything becomes clear. What you may have been thinking about -- focusing on pace, your workplace challenge, how you're going to get by the weekend -- just disappears and you realize that you're running, you're striding and maybe the trees or the water marking the horizon or the big sky beckons and you feel, well, like you've hit a physical state of exerted Nirvana. Believe me, it doesn't last too long but it's freaking fantastic when you find it. (Hint: I get these on sunny days more often than cloudy)

Anyways, back to Murakami. I dog eared this passage on his reflection on his dedication to running after finishing a marathon:
"What I mean is, I didn't start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn't become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I started to run -- simply because I wanted to. I've always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me and I'm wrong, but I won't change."

This one had me, I kid you not, close to tears. He was talking about other athletes after completing a triathlon, thinking about what these citizen athletes do with their time commitment to their sport. I often think these after doing an 18 miler on a Sunday when I explain the mileage to a friend. I think, wow, great run. They think, huh, you're crazy.

"Even if, seen from the outside, or from some higher vantage point, this sort of life looks pointless or futile, or even extremely inefficient, it doesn't bother me. Maybe it's some pointless act like, as I've said before, pouring water into an old pan that has a hole in the bottom, but at least the effort you put into it remains. Whether it's good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what's most important is what you can't see but can feel in your heart. To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts."

And finally, this bit, about his commitment to continue running, continue training, continue racing

"One by one, I'll face the tasks before me and complete them as best as I can. Focusing on each stride forward, but at the same time taking a long-range view, scanning the scenery as far ahead as I can. I am, after all, a long-distance runner."

It gets better, but you should buy the book to get the whole story. Beautiful, an ode to running.


Marlene said...

Thanks for the review. Definitely sounds like it is worth a read!

Sonia said...

It was a great book! Glad you enjoyed it too. Reading about your favorite parts made me realise they could have been mine too =)