Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Image from author's UK site

A LONG time ago now, I bought the Haruki Murakami book 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' and promised to review it. But then I lost it. And then found it under my bed when I bothered cleaning the bursting cave of dust that is our flat. Firstly, in case anyone wants to stop reading my drivel ASAP: its good. Case closed. Probably my favourite ever running book.

I already held Murakami in great regard before reading this, as I have positively inhaled many of his fictional novels. I found this book to be an incredible mix of training information; philosophical musings about the nature of running; and an emotional insight into a private man and how he feels about running- his obsessions, worries, and his own work.

Murakami started running when he started writing, to give himself some movement away from his desk and a sedentary life and has now completed multiple marathons and ultramarathons. The book covers his preparation for the NYC marathon; discusses the famous 'wall'; describes the religious experience of nearing the end of a 62 mile race; and muses about the nature of running and of people.

It is also full of wonderful quotes about running:

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree”

“Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren't involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive--or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.”

and of course, my favourite, used in We Do Run Run's profile of me:

Image by WeDoRunRun

I would recommend the book not just to runners, but also to anyone who is a fan of Murakami. If you're looking for training tips on how to improve your marathon time, its definitely not the book to read. You are unlikely to gain anything to contribute to your training, but very likely to gain something you can contribute to how you feel about running. If you're looking to feel understood, and to feel like jogging about on your branded sneaks is a part of something bigger, it is. Honestly I only wish it was a longer book.

If you are interested in Murakami as a general runner, there's a RunnersWorld interview with him here.

For a completely different opinion, check out this review, from someone who did not like the book- literature is subjective, and many people will not enjoy the.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Any other running novels you'd recommend? 


  1. Ooo I've had this on my wishlist for so long, I'll have to pop it in my basket next time.

    1. Do it, 100%. Its a great read and not disturbingly long either!

  2. Great review- looking forward to reading this. Who can beat quotes like this: "Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest." Love it!

    1. Beautiful quotes yeah- I highlight my books and this one is a mass of green highlighter!

      Thanks for reading :)

  3. Only just spotted this review recently and I can see I'm going to get in trouble for this but I don't share your love of Murakami. I have read some of his other stuff and while bits here and there appeal, I find his writing mostly leaves me cold. And the above book I found poor and poorly written. Maybe because at the time I read it I was always looking to improve my running and mad keen about ALL running and books about running. To give you the full picture I'll put a link to the book review I did on my running club website. I'm afraid I was pretty harsh about the book, which I know a number of runners enjoyed, even though Murakami is a real slacker when it comes to intelligent training methodology, even though I might agree with the couple of quotes about living life to the fullest.

    1. That is totally fine, literature is at its heart a subjective thing, and I love hearing a range of opinions! I do agree that its very much not a training book at all, more an inspiration one.

      Your friend is definitely right that its an indulgent book- its very me, me, me. You are also right that for a writer so reflective, he fails to reflect on ways he could be improving his mile-heavy training. I suspect that I can partially relate- I, too, know deep in my mind how I could improve my running exponentially but sometimes fail to do the work in favour of just getting out there.

      I'll add your review to this page if that is okay?

      Also, I will definitely be adding ultra marathon man to my to-read run list!

  4. I'm still looking for the perfect running book somewhere between Ultra Marathon Man (which is perhaps a bit macho and not very reflective) and Murakami. Maybe Feet in the Clouds although it's a while since I read that.

    1. I really liked Askwith's Running Free- again, its more an anti-consumerist book than purely about running. I also liked Run or Die, but of course being by one of the greats a lot of it is about Killian's life too.



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