What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Recently, I completed the Gold Coast Half Marathon, slowly and rather painfully. It made me think of one of my favourite writers and his love for long distance running.

Haruki Murakami is a best selling Japanese writer whose works have been translated into 50 languages and sold millions of copies globally. He has completed over 20 marathons since the 1980s and one ultra marathon.

Haruki Murakam

Famous for his fiction works which blend fantasy with realism, it’s his non fiction work “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” [走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること Hashiru Koto ni Tsuite Kataru Toki ni Boku no Kataru Koto] which depicts his love of running so well.

The book’s title was inspired by Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories entitled ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. Murakami sits within the tradition of post-modern writers such as Carver, Kurt Vonnegut and J. D. Salinger. Frequently featuring western pop culture, music and themes, Murakami’s works are a pastiche of impressions, often surrealistic, melancholic or fatalistic, characterised by post-modernist themes of alienation and loneliness.

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The reason he is one of my favourite writers is because he paints a world of magical realism; a world in which dream and reality intertwine curiously lending an otherwise inexplicable existence, something magical, something mythical, something akin to wonder.

“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” recounts Murakami’s foray into long distance running in his early 30s, some five years after becoming a full time writer. 

He equates the process of setting out on a long run with writing, both methodical decisions to complete a journey, often pointless to everyone except the one undertaking it. Used as a metaphor for existence, the race and the novel are both grueling but beautiful endeavours, inexplicable yet sweet, painful yet redemptive, each in their own unique way.

image what I talk about when I talk about running

Through running, as with writing, Murakami has met many people, seen many strange and remote places, thought hours of his own thoughts and suffered great highs and great lows. It is the same methodical discipline that Murakami applies to writing and to life.

As with Carver’s original, what is talked about when talking about running is far more trivial and yet far more profound. By running and by writing about running, Murakami explores the sweetness and mystery of being and becoming. The sweetness and mystery of life.

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The World of Story

Beneath the entertainment and diversion of narrative and art lies a great power – the power to tell a truth or truths.  Many of us would watch a film or read a book for an escape from the real world, but there are in fact much greater and deeper purpose to story and art. 

Post-enlightenment theory and post-modern philosophy would have us believe that “there can be no certainty in an objective reality or morality.” The only certainty we can have is our own existence and experience.

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In contrast, for narrative to work, a story must exist within a world built upon various rules: a historical, political, geographical, and moral framework, one fit with religions, fate and destiny for characters and a trajectory and denoument for the plot. The hero belongs to this world and explores it, constrained by its rules and limitations, struggling against foes therein, travelling through its landscape and striving to find catharisis and resolution.

Immersion in a narrative world for the contemporary reader, is immersion in a world of objective meaning, against which the protagonist can struggle to find themselves. By following the protagonist through this  world, the reader can find some foundation from which to understand their own world, a world often too terrible and great to understand alone through one’s subjective lens.

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