I've read three other books by Haruki Murakami but I wouldn't say that I'm a big fan. His writing is unique and interesting, even if the plot isn't (for me).

When I discovered that the author wrote a book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and that it is a memoir about running, I had to read it. Not only did I want to see how he writes non-fiction, but I also wanted to read a book about running.

about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

what i talk about when i talk about running by haruki murakami book cover

In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and—even more important—on his writing.

Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him. Through this marvelous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.

By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in running.

my review

Right from the first sentence, it feels like we're in a friendly conversation with the author over tea. The book starts with a funny anecdote and sets a light mood. We get to know him as a person and not as an author of bestselling novels.

Murakami doesn't try too hard to set a scene or start with a revelation. Unlike his fictional works, the memoir is light-hearted, not serious, and relatable. He writes plainly about his goals, worries, and joy.

This is a book in which I’ve gathered my thoughts about what running has meant to me as a person. Just a book in which I ponder various things and think out loud.

I've read a few memoirs so far and can confidently say that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a unique memoir.

Firstly, the book isn't a recap of the author's life so far. We don't get to know about his childhood or events from his high school. We don't learn about his family or how he met his wife. Instead, we hear about the author's running and the parts of his life that were affected by it.

The author shares how he got into running, why he likes it and stuck with it, how it created ripples in his lifestyle, and how it changed his worldview. He shares the aches that are caused by running and how he deals with them. He talks about his athletic milestones over the years. He reminisces about the relationships he's made through the sport.

Usually, memoirs are centred on a person. This memoir is centred on an act. Everything mentioned in the book is related to running—even things you wouldn't think of. The book shows his journey with running and the life lessons he has learnt along the way.

No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.

The memoir is written in journal style. From the summer of 2005 to the fall of 2006, the author has written chapters on random days. He starts with an update about his running or a musing about the weather and writes whatever comes to mind.

There’s not much introduction or setting to his chapters/entries, which I liked. Murakami writes about what’s on his mind—which is usually how much he ran that day, his current routine, the music he listens to while running, his next goal, and other factors that influence his journey to that goal.

Just like how our minds wander through time and memories—with different parts of life interwoven in a single thought stream—so do his chapters. They go from running to how it influenced his writing to how it changed him as a person, past challenges or big events, and come back to the present.

While I'm sure that it has been edited and polished like any novel, it doesn't feel like it. Murakami's journal entries reminded me of my journal entries.

Since I started running in 2023, I've written many journal entries about my runs. I usually write about the day's run, whether I was happy with it, what I wanted to do next, and my goal. I write about which foot ached and my breathing. I write about any musings that went through my head or whether I had a head-empty-no-thoughts run.

The journal entry style memoir is easy to read and relate to. Murakami doesn’t use complex words or flowery writing. He says things as they are. But, of course, since he’s a writer, his journal entries are also like a piece of art. I highlighted something on almost every page and was in awe of the writing.

Long-distance running suits my personality, though, and of all the habits I’ve acquired over my lifetime I’d have to say this one has been the most helpful, the most meaningful.

Out of all the lines I've highlighted in the book, "long-distance running suits my personality" is the one that got stuck in my brain. After I finished reading the book, I couldn't stop thinking about that line.

Most memoirs are focused on the story of the person and not the person itself. We hear about their past and motivations but it often takes the entire book to understand what kind of person they are. Sometimes, I'm still not clear on it.

In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami explains what he likes about running and why it suits his personality. Through it, we get a deep insight into his character that wouldn't have come across in any other way. Because running suits him so well and has greatly impacted his life, what he says about running tells a lot about himself.

As we read about him striving towards his goals and trying to overcome fears by pushing himself physically, we truly get to know him as a person.

One thing I noticed was that writing honestly about running and writing honestly about myself are nearly the same thing.

Murakami says that he started running because he needed exercise after becoming a writer. Then, he explains how it makes him a better writer.

The way he links the two activities is very interesting. In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron tells her readers to go for a walk every day to help them get out of a creative rut. It is hard to explain how it helps, but it always does. Similarly, Murakami has written how the running taught him things that apply to writing too.

It was cool to get to know him as a person through running. What a person puts significant effort into can tell a lot about themselves. Reading about the way he goes about his marathons and triathlons shows how committed, disciplined, and motivated he is. We also see how he carefully curated his life with the things he cares about.

As you age you learn even to be happy with what you have. That’s one of the few good points of growing older.

The author has been running for three decades (as of when the book was written) and life has changed a lot in those years. Mainly, his body has changed. Murakami talks about ageing, maturing, and accepting changes in the body.

He talks about not being able to run without stretching/care anymore and having random aches. He talks about having weak knees and worries about missing marathons. But seeing how he accepts the changes and does his best is inspiring.

Reading it gave me a lot of motivation to run. I've been running regularly for a few months now and while I love it, I could use more motivation to continue. I've saved so many quotes from this book on my phone to look at whenever I need some motivation.

First there came the action of running, and accompanying it there was this entity known as me. I run; therefore I am.

This memoir is written so well. Yes, it's a memoir about running written in journal style but there aren't any fillers. Every paragraph is intentional. I've highlighted lines on almost every single page.

I have highlighted 100 quotes—all of which I have exported and saved in my notes app. I loved the way Murakami wrote the points. The content he says isn't perfect (there was a fatshaming sentence that I did not like) but it is mostly nice.

The way he described the act of running, the toll on the body, making it a habit, getting through the hard parts, and achieving milestones was great. The way he relates everything together—food, determination, curiosity, lifestyle, personal traditions, and more—was great.

Murakami doesn't stick to the good things. He shares the good and bad parts of his journey. We read about his failure at one of the triathlons, how he didn't try again for 4 years and then overcame it. We read about how he's been physically attacked by fellow triathletes during the race in order to take him out of the competition.

Athletes don't stick to a sport day after day, through the pain, unless it's fun. Murakami shares why marathons and triathlons are fun and why he participates in both every year. Through his experience, we see the beauty in physical exercise as it is. Instead of seeing it as a requirement for something like weight loss, the book shows why the act and the experience is fun.

[...] essentially I’m not thinking of a thing. 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.

In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami captures the best parts of running. It's not a manifesto to running or a guide. It's his personal experience and why he loves doing it. Even as a beginner, I highly related to everything that he mentioned.

There are a few reasons I like running and they're not because of what it leads to overtime. I like it because of the way it makes me feel while I'm running and right after a run. I like competing against myself and doing it on my own time. And mostly, I like the mental void after I cross 2km, when my body is on auto-pilot and I don't think.

While reading, I frequently thought "oh yes! me too!" I also picked up a few tips to keep my streak going and push myself bit by bit. He uses the Hemingway bridge concept to keep running, which was interesting. The book gave me an idea of what to expect as I run longer distances. I'm already thinking of how to use them for my running goals for this year.

The book made me want to run for decades and become stronger. Despite balking at the standard marathon distance, it made me want to attempt it.

And that's the best part of the book for me—it made me want to do more and aim higher.


This review was a little unstructured but the main point is: I loved it. While I would like to recommend it to everyone, it's not a book for everyone.

The book is great for runners and athletes. You will like it if you're into regular physical exercise and pushing yourself farther every week. You will like it if you want motivation to run/exercise more.

You won't like it if you don't care about running! You might find it pointless like many others. You won't like it if you want to hear about his writing—there's only a little bit on it. You won't find his life story in this book either. This book is GREAT for runners/athletes and not good for almost everyone else.

If you want to try reading it anyway though, go for it.

chat with me!

Have you read any of Murakami's works? Have you read any memoir centred on a certain act like this one? Is there any book that motivated you to do something? Tell me in the comments!

photo of Sumedha

Sumedha spends her days reading books, bingeing Kdramas, drawing illustrations, and blogging while listening to Lo-Fi music. Read more ➔

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  • Riza says:

    Really glad you liked this Sumedha! I am definitely not a runner but reading this book made me want to pursue it even just for the meditative quality of it that Murakami mentioned. Also this book boasts one of my favourite quotes from him: "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

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  • Smelly Socks and Garden Peas says:

    I read this a couple of years ago and loved it. I found his style so open and easy going.

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