Nonfiction Nagging- The Best Running Book I've Ever Read

I've had What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami for awhile but told myself I wouldn't read it until "the time was right." A few days ago I decided the time was right for two reasons. The first was that after a long break, and mixed feelings, I've started running again. The second was because I was trying to hit sixty books in 2012 and needed something short. 

Murakami marries writing and running in his short memoir, paralleling the endurance and mental strength needed to train for a marathon to that of what it takes to be a successful writer. He discusses his training plans for various marathons and triathlons without being excessive or terribly technical. He describes the origins of his running and writing- he simply decided one day that he'd do these things. There was no build up or encouragement by others, he just basically woke up and decided that he was going to write a novel, and, separately, become a runner. He also spends quite a bit of time discussing how age is effecting his running, and how he is accepting the changes it means for his training. His method is simple, though- he plans to keep running until he is satisfied (runners are never satisfied). He is driven by the competition he has with himself, knowing that he will never break any records or win races. One can tell from his writing and narration, though, that he is a meticulous man; he carefully fine tunes his muscles much as he does his prose. 

And now on to the self-absorbed portion of the post.

I ran my last half marathon almost  a year ago- Surf City in Huntington Beach in February of 2012 (I've run a fun 5k since then, but no training was required, so it doesn't count). Somewhere around mile six or ten I decided that I was done. This is fairly typical for runners; we hit walls during long distances and vow to never ever sign up  for "one of these fucking things" ever again. This time, though, it was different. I was seriously burnt out. I had run 12 halves in the course of something like a year and a half. I was logging anywhere from 50 to 100 miles a month, focusing on endurance and contemplating a full marathon. I wasn't seeing much improvement because I wasn't diligently incorporating speed work- I was simply running the miles to get them done. I was frustrated, I was tired, and I was bored.

After February I basically stopped running all together, putting in less than 5 miles a week. I focused on incline walking on the treadmill to prep for Half Dome and spent more and more time at the yoga studio. My foot issues improved (meaning I didn't have incredible pain every time I put pressure on my right foot after resting it for more than thirty minutes) and I convinced myself time away from running was "what my body needed." 

But then a month or so ago I started running a little here, a little there. My body hadn't needed a break- it welcomed the intense cardio back instantly. I ran a 5k at UCLA in November and loved the adrenaline you get from pinning on your bib and lining up in the starting corrals. I went home and told my husband, "do not let me sign up for a half." He pointed out my tendency to do whatever I want regardless of input from others, which is technically true. Since then I've been slowly upping my mileage, although it tends to be in more interval/circuit form looking like this:

[runs are measured in miles, walking in minutes]

I am absolutely getting the itch to start training again, but I can confidently and realistically say that this is not the right time for me, physically or mentally (no I'm not yet pregnant to all you nosy bump-watchers). The time and energy needed for adequately preparing (especially since I'm coming back from such a long break) just isn't available right now, and I'm okay with that. I don't want to give up the other things I like to do for fitness or start dreading my workouts again.

So, yes, reading this book came at the right time. 


  1. I gave this book to a colleague-friend who is an accomplished cross country runner and award winning cross country coach. Glad to know that it's as fine a book as I would have hoped!
    I have been itching to run again myself, but I need to go to a specialist first to figure out how to train around or through my serious Achilles issues. If you are injury free now, then why not train into the joy of it, regardless of distance, run a few 5K's rather than another half marathon, if that burned you out? I definitely understand the desire to keep topping oneself in running, but I quickly learned that as we get older that might not be the strategy for long term running happiness! (Who's the self-absorbed one now? ;)
    Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best on your return to running.

    1. I'm not training for anything at all right now and have no plans to, I just feel inclined to start. There's something about the 13.1 that does it for me... 5ks are too short for me; I don't fully get warmed up until 2 or so miles in and at that point it's basically over. We'll see! Thanks for your comment and good luck with your Achilles- no fun!

  2. Best running book you've read? High praise! I guess this means I definitely need to read it!

    And yeay for the running itch, even if it doesn't materialize into too much running. The desire to run is sometimes the biggest hurdle.*