Haven’t felt like running lately? The author best known for his eccentric brand of literature is your unlikely running motivation

By Catherine Orda | Lead photo from Patrick Fraser /Corbis Outline

The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami has written over a dozen books—all of which are beloved, critically acclaimed bestsellers that have been translated into 50 languages. He is also a marathoner, ultramarathoner, and a triathlete. He loves running so much that he wants his tombstone to read:

Haruki Murakami

1949-20**

Writer (and Runner)

At Least He Never Walked

Best known for his surrealist plotlines and eccentric characters, Murakami has written about a wide variety of topics including long distance running, which has since made him an unlikely inspiration to runners. His 2007 memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running documents his experiences as a runner and a novelist, and how the two seemingly disparate fields often intersect.

This book—while reasonably lacking much of Murakami’s signature literary oddities, and written in a more straightforward, sparse style (similar to that of Raymond Carver, from whom the book’s title is derived)—is a compelling meditation on running as a way of living a purposeful life. Murakami is wise, funny, self-effacing, and wildly passionate about running and the many unexpected ways it ties in with a person’s inner life. So if ever you’re in need of inspiration, pick up and read this book. Here’s a sample of what you can learn from Murakami:

1. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”   

 

2. “For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level.” 

 

3. “All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”

 

4. “I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run—simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.” 

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5. “I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary—or perhaps more like mediocre—level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” 

 

6. “Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice.” 

 

7. “Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger.”

8. “I’m going to swim 0.93 miles, ride a bike 24.8 miles, then run a final 6.2 miles. And what’s all that supposed to prove? How is this any different from pouring water in an old pan with a tiny hole in the bottom?”

9. “I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit.”

10. “I don’t think it’s merely willpower that makes you able to do something. The world isn’t that simple. To tell the truth, I don’t even think there’s that much correlation between my running every day and whether or not I have a strong will… I’ve been able to run for more than 20 years for a simple reason: It suits me.”