Sunday, June 07, 2009

Talking About Running

I just finished reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese novelist, runner, and triathlete.

I really enjoyed this book and identified with what he talked about. I'm not a serious runner, I don't enter any races. But I've run fairly regularly since I was a kid. Nor am I a serious writer, but I've done a little, and I'm certainly a serious reader, and in some ways my programming is a similar solitary creative pursuit. I'm also reaching a similar age as Murakami writes about - the point where you have to face the fact that your physical performance is past its peak.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
"Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next days work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed - and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.
This seems very true for my big programming projects.
"It might be a little silly for someone getting to be my age to put this into words, but I just want to make sure I get the facts down clearly: I'm the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I'm the type of person who doesn't find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I've had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.
I've always been happy on my own as well, preferring to run on my own, and happy to read or work on projects on my own.
"I'm in my late fifties now. When I was young, I never imagined the twenty-first century would actually come and that, all joking aside, I'd turn fifty. In theory, of course, it was self-evident that someday, if nothing else happened, the twenty-first century would roll around and I'd turn fifty. When I was young, being asked to imagine myself at fifty was as difficult as being asked to imagine, concretely, the world after death. ... For me - and for everybody else, probably - this is my first experience growing old, and the emotions I'm having, too, are all first-time feelings. If it were something I'd experienced before, then I'd be able to understand it more clearly, but this is the first time, so I can't. For now all I can do is put off making any detailed judgments and accept things as they are. Just like I accept the sky, the clouds, and the river. And there's also something kind of comical about it all, something you don't want to discard completely.
"I look up at the sky, wondering if I'll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don't. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn't be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative, often self-centered nature that still doubts itself - that when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I've carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long dusty path. I'm not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I've carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.
"I expect that this winter I'll run another marathon somewhere in the world. And I'm sure come next summer I'll be out in another triathlon somewhere, giving it my best shot. Thus the seasons come and go, and the years pass by. I'll age one more year, and probably finish another novel. One by one, I'll face the tasks before me and complete them as best 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.


  1. I really enjoyed the quotes. I found two points of particular interest. First of all, why do those of us who enjoy solitude always feel a need to apologize or explain? Are we really a minority? Secondly, I was interested to see that the author is, like I am, startled to be growing old. I watched Mum grow old so I know all the "symptoms." And yet somehow I never believed it would happen to me. The final quotation provides some helpful advice - to just keep moving forward - to face the tasks before me and complete them as best I can.

  2. I'd never considered before that spending four hours at my desk working alone would be unusual, doubly proving how off-the-mean I am.

    I've been blaming my slow times on being 3 kgs heavier than what I should. I guess I need to admit that it might be because I'm over 50.