Jogging the Memory

A novelist discovers the joys of running
August 03, 2008

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 Cinderella Man Saved by the Bell We've got ice Ty Wigginton Ice cream
CAMILO VILLEGAS PGA golfer Caddyshack 24 I don't wear Crocs David Feherty Balance
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 Project Runway I will still go to the beach Charde Houston Optimism
PHOTOCOURTESY OF ELENA SEIBERT (MURAKAMI)ON THE ROAD Murakami has run several marathons in under three and a half hours. PHOTOJACK OPATRNY (FOREMAN) PHOTONEW LINE/EVERETT COLLECTION (DUMB AND DUMBER) PHOTOC SQUARED STUDIOS/PHOTODISC/GETTY IMAGES (ICE CREAM) PHOTODAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP (CROC) PHOTONEAL PETERS COLLECTION (CADDYSHACK) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (PENCE) PHOTOMIKE EHRMANN (VILLEGAS) PHOTOBENNETT COHEN/ICON SMI (BLANTON) PHOTODAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGEX (WIGGINS) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)