Acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami started running seriously around the same time he started writing fiction seriously. He was the owner of a successful jazz club, and he'd written a few novels on the side, the first of which had won a prize for new writers. Once he sold the bar in order to write full-time, however, Murakami found that the sitting-and-smoking writer's lifestyle didn't keep him in good trim. So in 1982, at the age of 33, he took up running, a solitary, meditative, endurance-building sport that turned out to mesh perfectly with his developing ideas about the discipline of fiction writing.
Twenty-three years later, after contemplating a memoir of his running life for about a decade, Murakami started writing a series of sketches reflecting on his daily runs. In Hawaii, at Harvard, in Japan, at marathons in Boston and New York, at triathlons in Niigata Prefecture and ultra-marathons in Hokkaido, he trained, raced, and wrote about the process. The result is an unpretentious, charming, sometimes profound book about the astounding human capacity for systematic activity. Murakami isn't an evangelist for running, nor does he have a training program or a brand of equipment to recommend. He's just a man who's been practicing for a long time, a man who's getting older and starting to realize that his marathon times won't steadily improve anymore.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is composed of short pieces written over the course of about a year, interspersed with essays about running that Murakami wrote over the years for other purposes. (His description of a foolhardy first 26-miler over the original route between Athens and Marathon, alone in the blazing Greek summer heat, as a stunt for a men's magazine, is an excellent early example of Murakami's self-deprecating first-person voice.) Everybody who has tried to arrange their lives to accomplish some long-range task, or chose some activity that requires daily commitment, will understand what Murakami experiences while running, and what he learns from it. As he pounds the pavement listening to The Rolling Stones or Beck, he ponders his whole life, putting the pieces of his ambitions and achievements in place, facing fears of obsolescence, and hoping for this epitaph on his tombstone: "At least he never walked."