Talking About Talking About Running
It’s spring, which means it’s the time of year we go to bed saying “I’ll totally wake up early and go running tomorrow morning.”
I’m more of a biker and weightlifter myself, but the idea of running outdoors in the morning is too romantic to ignore. So to prepare myself for summer, I recently read Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
Murakami is clearly one of the world’s greatest living novelists, though I’d be more qualified to comment on that if I had the patience to read fiction. But enough people vouch for his novels that I certainly respect him. And his nonfiction, I can confirm, is nothing short of extraordinary.
The memoir is a collection of his thoughts on long-distance running, written while training for the New York Marathon. The entire book is excellent, but what fascinates me is the way his two passions, writing and running, seem to combine. His life is an incredibly simple, disciplined existence, devoted solely to writing novels and running marathons.
He talks about the incredible focus required to write novels, and the utter lack of focus that running necessitates. When you run for hours at a time, your mind empties, and you lose control of the thoughts that pass through. For his purposes, the two activities compliment each other perfectly. He writes for four hours each day, and runs for an hour or two. And while running clears his head, it also prepares him for the physical demands of writing. As he ages, it gets harder to sit hunched over a desk for hours each day, and running keeps him in the proper shape to remain a disciplined novelist.
I can’t recommend the book highly enough. As far as writers’ memoirs go, it’s unparalleled. However, I’m not bringing it up because I’m obsessed with fitness and writing hacks (both are true, but that’s beside the point). I’m not trying to convince anyone to become a writer, or a runner. I’m simply interested in the way he maximizes his productivity and happiness by combining two unrelated passions.
So often, we approach our lives in one of two ways. One is to view our work as a necessary evil, keeping it completely separate from the things we enjoy. That can lead to a lot of unhappiness, as you end up spending most of your life on something you don’t like. The other way is to eschew hobbies altogether and expect work to provide all of your fulfillment. I see this all the time in young people pursuing careers about which they’re truly passionate. They become addicted to their work, but constantly feel like something is missing.
Murakami seems to have found the best of both worlds. He’s devoted his free time to a hobby that has nothing to do with his work, but goes a long way towards making him a better writer. Talk about mastering the whole work-life balance thing…
It’s worth thinking about the ways we choose to spend our time. Finding intertwining passions, like Haruki Murakami has, can leave you feeling more refreshed and make you better at your job.