what I thought about when I thought about running
posted: February 20, 2014
“First there came the action of running, and accompanying it there was this entity known as me. I run; therefore I am.”
So eloquently and confidently novelist and marathon runner Haruki Murakami opines this affirmation.
I personally am a runner. Well, I run anyways. I have run for many years. For a long time I didn’t dare to engage in any sort of competitive or organized race. Running was an escape; a way to see my surroundings in a different way than I had experienced them before.
Then one day, like many others before me, I wondered, “What if I enrolled in a half-marathon?”
And just like that the confident and careless part of me agreed to this event without consulting the more reasonably tempered portions of my brain and body.
Truth is, I can run pretty fast. Sure I get tired and sore, but generally I can ignore these paltry inconveniences. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had never actually run the distance of a half-marathon before: 21.0975 kilometers. That’s double the distance that I normally run.
I began to doubt and inhibit myself. The fear set in. I sought help from Murakami. I picked up his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running—the same one that the New York Times called “part training diary, part reruns of escapades undertaken at the behest of magazines and part memoir”—hoping to find…anything.
Murakami on the run
What I discovered were myriad philosophies ranging from professional to philosophical, exercise to exploration. Most importantly, I was introduced to Murakami, a man who could, quite succinctly, explain away the fear and pain by exploring its very spirit.
“In most cases learning something essential in life requires physical pain,” he wrote. As rough-hewn a mantra as this is, its simplicity gave me strength. Running is a sport we engage with that teaches us all of the lessons we need in life. As we run, pain ensues. Learning how to engage with this pain, to let it fuel us, is what makes a great runner.
In his words, “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits, that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life.” Who cares how much a marathon hurts, it’s the kind of stuff that makes us completely awesome.
He bleeds a love of the journey like few before him. “There are things that only runners understand and share,” he says, and speaks of the importance of pushing oneself into the unknown, explaining why it’s crucial to breach one’s comfort zone in life and in sport.
Most importantly, he displays the ways in which a love of running allows access a greater part of who we are.
There are some heavy moments in this book, so I will get heavy for a second. In order to better understand who we are we have to go beyond our own conception of what we are capable of. If one can push beyond anything they have done before, they can look back at their old self, and analyze things about the person they once were. When we endure, and survive, our expectations of what we can live through are changed. We train and prepare ourselves. Then every so often we are given, or chose, opportunities to go beyond this daily measure, to enter new territory. Got it?
I do. Well, I think I do. But this year, well, it’s not my year. As it turns out, I won’t be running a half. So I have won’t discover what it will feel like. I won’t find out if I would sprint through the finish line to be showered with champagne and hundred dollar bills, or be cramped up sobbing next to a convenience store, begging for free Gatorade two minutes into the race.
But having read Murakami’s memoir, I now know that a half marathon, a marathon, and—if I really take what he talks about when he talks about running at face value—anything else I set my mind to is within reach. And I know that I when I do it I will do it for myself.
Murakami’s memoir taught me that a person is forever changed by their grandest attempts. So run further than you have before, and you will inevitably arrive somewhere new.
Murakami (image from I Heart Berlin)
Murakami’s new novel is due to come out in English this summer. What has running taught you?
Ben is a Community Brand Specialist working on our brand storytelling team. We’re still not sure which is bigger, his collection of sports equipment bursting the seams of his meager storage locker or his collection of satirical fiction that allows Billy Pilgrim and Tyler Durden to be in arms reach at all times.