NOVELISTS HAVE a way of bringing fresh insight to nonfiction sportswriting, of looking past the minutiae—the stats, the play-by-plays—and uncovering deeper truths. Norman Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates did it with boxing, John Updike did it with baseball and Ernest Hemingway did it with bullfighting. Now comes Haruki Murakami on running.
In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the Japanese writer, best known to American readers for his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, has turned something seemingly mundane—his running journals—into a brilliant meditation on how his running and writing nurture and sustain each other. "Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day," he writes. "I know that if I hadn't become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different."
His transition to the running life was no small thing. In 1981, when he was 32, Murakami, then a heavy smoker, sold a jazz club he ran in Tokyo to became a full-time novelist. He took up running as a way to keep off the pounds that came with his new, more sedentary lifestyle and to curb his appetite for cigarettes. "[W]hen I began my life as a runner," said Murakami, "it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist."
Since tracing the original marathon course on a trip to Greece in 1983, he has completed at least one marathon a year and done six triathlons. By his own account he is a serious, but not great, runner. He laces up his Mizuno trainers every day with his mind set on improving his concentration and endurance—two things he also needs to push through the often lonely and arduous process of finishing a novel.
With spare, engaging prose (translated from Japanese), Murakami shares his runner's high. Ultimately, running becomes for him what whiskey or cigarettes or sex has been for many another artist—his lifeline and energy source. Murakami says he wants his gravestone to read WRITER (AND RUNNER), AT LEAST HE NEVER WALKED.
The Pop Culture Grid
How do sports stars fit in?
Favorite movie of all time
TV show I never miss
It may be hot but ...
Funniest person alive
____ is the secret to happiness
HUNTER PENCE Astros OF
Saved by the Bell
We've got ice
CAMILO VILLEGAS PGA golfer
I don't wear Crocs
JOE BLANTON Phillies P
Dumb and Dumber (top)
I don't have one
There's shade somewhere
Larry the Cable Guy
I don't think there is one
CANDICE WIGGINS Lynx G
Waiting to Exhale
I will still go to the beach
COURTESY OF ELENA SEIBERT (MURAKAMI)
ON THE ROAD Murakami has run several marathons in under three and a half hours.
JACK OPATRNY (FOREMAN)
NEW LINE/EVERETT COLLECTION (DUMB AND DUMBER)
C SQUARED STUDIOS/PHOTODISC/GETTY IMAGES (ICE CREAM)
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP (CROC)
NEAL PETERS COLLECTION (CADDYSHACK)
JOHN BIEVER (PENCE)
MIKE EHRMANN (VILLEGAS)
BENNETT COHEN/ICON SMI (BLANTON)
DAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGEX (WIGGINS)