MENTAL On Haruki Murakami, The Running Writer

Published on May 20th, 2015 | by Mark


On Haruki Murakami, The Running Writer

Have you ever read the book –  “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” ?

Haruki Murakami actually didn’t start as a runner. Before he started running, Haruki actually owned a bar for about 10 years. He then went to writing novels after he shut down his bar for the night.

His first two books took off fast. Haruki wrote two books over one year and they both sold so well that he was able to shut down his bar and write full time.

The problem was that Haruki ended up going into a line of work that meant working many sedentary hours. He needed a way to counter this problem and stay in shape. This is where the running came into play.

So Haruki used running to stay in shape while he spent three to four hours a day behind his desk writing. And the running also helped to clear Haruki’s mind and gave him many good ideas and concepts. He even said in his memoir that if it hadn’t have been for the running, then his writing would have been different (and probably not as good) as it is today.

Haruki actually started off with his writing career before he started running. He made the decision to start writing during a baseball game. He was sitting in the grassy area back behind the out-field in April 1978 drinking a beer. He heard the crack of bat against ball as an American player on his team hit a home run.

Then just as the batter hit the ball, it dawned on Haruki…”I should write a novel.” And that is just what he did.

Now when he made the decision to start writing, Haruki owned and ran a Jazz bar. He would supervise the bar and do the work with his staff. Then after the bar closed at midnight, he would count up the receipt earnings for the night. By the time he got home and started writing, it was nearly 3 AM.

There were many times during the first year that Haruki reported writing until he could see the sunrise.

Haruki finally finished his first novel and mailed it off to a contest for review. After a few months, he was notified that his novel would be published. The book was an immediate sensation. So much so that he wrote another book right behind it…as well as a few short stories.

Then at this point, a year or two after he started writing, Haruki decided to close his jazz bar so that he could focus on his writing work. His friends were completely against it. But he knew that it was something that he needed to do. He sold his jazz bar and started writing full-time.

During the first year or two writing full time, Haruki spent lots of his time at the desk, writing. So much so that he started building up flab around the hips. And to top things off, he started smoking. He said it calmed his nerves and helped him focus.

But Haruki knew that in the long run, these habits were unsustainable. He had to do something to change this direction in his life. This is where the running came into play. In the early ‘80’s, Haruki started running so that he could stay in shape and not let the waste line get wide on him.

And saying that at this point, Haruki was smoking over 60 cigarettes a day, he also decided to give up smoking.

He and his wife moved to a more rural area and made these changes. They also decided to start going to bed earlier as well as change up their diet to healthier foods.

Haruki was nervous when he started running. He was nervous of what others were thinking, and how his body would handle it and such. But after a month or so, those worries dissipated. He gained more confidence in his running abilities as his endurance increased. He eventually went and got getter clothes and good running shoes to run in.

And Haruki’s main running schedule at this point was to get up at about 5 AM and write for about four hours, then he would run for 10 Km.

The run was actually very important to Haruki and his writing. He always says that when a good writer writes, the writer taps into a very dark place in the soul. This is what gives the writing depth and power. But when he got done writing, he needed to find a way to kind of close down this area or get away from it.

This is what the running is partly for. To use as an escape out of that area and get back into reality.

When Haruki actually runs, he runs at a comfortable pace. But this changes when he trains for races. Haruki works more for speed at those times.

Haruki started by running in short races such as 10k races. Then one day he ran seven laps around the imperial palace in Tokyo. This was a distance of 22.5 miles. And with that run he decided to start running marathons and half marathons.

And when it comes to races, Haruki shoots for one 10k, a half marathon and a marathon every year. After all, running was only used as a way to stay in shape through his writing career. And the races are not necessarily ends in themselves.

Haruki tried running a 100k race before, but he stated in his New Yorker article that he just felt like he was falling apart shortly after 26 miles and didn’t get back to his normal self again until near the end of the race. And after the experience, he just felt burned out on running. It actually took him taking up triathlons to get back into running again.

So from that point Haruki said that he would never run anything longer than a Marathon.

And also, another complaint that Haruki had was that he was so lonely out on the 100k. He was typically a loner, but there was just something about being alone out on that track that was worse than the lone individual presence that he kept at most times. This was probably part of the burnout that he was experiencing.

Also, Haruki selected running because it is a completely individual sport. He doesn’t have to worry about competition with others. The only one he has to compete against is himself.

And this is the way Haruki viewed his writing. Remember how he sent in his first manuscript for a contest. Well, when he was notified that he was on the short list, Haruki actually had forgotten about submitting the manuscript.

Then the first manuscript was published. And he just started on the second one…all while maintaining his jazz club.

This is also the way Haruki views his racing. He isn’t out there to race against others. He is out there to compete against himself. Can he make better time on this marathon than he did on last year’s Marathon?

Now Haruki will admit that as he gets older, that goal gets harder to meet. I mean, our bodies don’t get stronger with age. They tend to degenerate. So as he meets and surpasses previous times, I’m sure they are even sweeter than ever.

Now that we know a little about Haruki Murakami, here is also some ways that he looks at life. And these ways of seeing life can have a profound effect on anyone that follows them.

Haruki on Winning, Losing, and Fairness

First of all…life isn’t fair. We are all raised with the notion that life is fair for everyone. We all get what we deserve, and if we don’t, then some class is oppressing us…whatever that class may be.

Well, I have to break it to you…life isn’t fair. I don’t care how many trophies you got in grade school just because you were the least valuable player on the team. You’re in the real world now, and if you just mope on by, then the real world is just going to steam roll you. That’s just the way it is.

Haruki got out there and made stuff happen for him. He didn’t blame some Yakooza Clan member or whatever for holding him back. He just got out there, kicked butt, and took names. That is what any really successful person does. And that’s what you should do as well…that is, if you want to be successful.

So you can stand there and cry and say that a boogey man class or whatever is holding you back, or you can grab life by the cahoneys yourself, and you can kick butt and take names and make things happen in your life.

Life isn’t fair…it’s what you make it.

Murakami’s views on Willpower

In Haruki’s mind, Willpower is built upon two pillars, focus and endurance.

The first pillar is focus. This is the ability to keep your mind on a subject for an extended period of time. For Haruki and his writing habits, this would be three to four hours a day at his desk. When he sat down at his desk he would think about his writing projects or he would be writing. That is the only thing he did with that time.

The Second Pillar is endurance. This is the ability to mentally sit there and do that work for three to four hours a day during weekdays. In Haruki’s mind, if you can’t think and write through your story line for three to four hours a day…then you won’t be able to write a whole novel. The reason is because you will not be able to stay with the same story for the three to five months that are required to write the story.

And Haruki’s running regimen works the same way. It takes endurance to run the distances that are required for good fitness. The types of endurance for sprints is different than the type of endurance for marathons and farther, but endurance is still needed, none the less. If you don’t have endurance, then you aren’t going to make it as a runner.

And the best thing is that both focus and endurance can be developed. These virtues are developed by just showing up and doing every day. You show up to the writing desk or to the track/gym every day. You run every day. You think or write every day. When you do this enough, you will develop the virtues of Focus and Endurance.

When you develop focus and endurance, then you will have the two pillars of Willpower developed. And these virtues grow your willpower synergistically. So the more you grow your focus and endurance, the more your willpower will grow.


Haruki Murakami isn’t just a runner. In fact, this is actually a secondary activity for him. His primary activity is actually writing. He just started running to counteract sitting behind the desk and writing all morning.

Running was also a form of release for Haruki. He states that when good artists apply their craft, they enter a dark part of their personalities. This gives a certain depth to their stories that people who don’t go there just don’t achieve. But the running helps to ground Haruki after writing from that place for three to four hours daily.

Finally, running is a form of competition against oneself. Haruki can hit the pavement or run a race and say “I have this goal to make”…usually to beat last year’s time or yesterday’s time. This is compared to other sports where you’re competing against other people. And Haruki liked competing against himself over competing with others.

But no matter what, running is a great stress reliever. It works for Haruki, and it may work-and probably is already working-for you, too.

Image Credit: 1Q84 at

About the Author

is actually a super running fan.

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