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10 lessons from “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” by Haruki Murakami

Hello, and welcome to the first installment of a new series that I’m running (hehe) about what I’m learning from the books I’m reading. This is partly to help give me some accountability on reading, partly to share what I’m reading and learning, but mostly to force me to define what I’ve actually learned from a book, to ensure that I’m reading it deeply, and to collect my favorite quotes.

This book was suggested by Brian Koppelman in his recent interview on the Tim Ferris Show because of Tim’s fascination with systems and “The Process.” Haruki Murakami is a Japanese novelist and amateur runner with a fascinating late-bloomer path to writing. This book is a memoir about how long-distance running has played a huge part in his life and run parallel to his development as an author. He tells his story and outlines his preparation for and experiences running marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons.

I’m not planning to release these on any schedule, but just as I finish books (I’ve got plenty of other things on my schedule already!). So, here’s the first one! 10 lessons (and my favorite quotes) from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

What I talk about when I talk about Running

10 Lessons:

  1. To be a great writer, or great in other fields, you need Talent, Focus, and Endurance, in that order.
  2. Focus and endurance make up for, over time, any lack of Talent.
  3. Experience teaches you how to compensate for your shortcomings and how to continue when your spring of inspiration or talent dries up.
  4. Natural talent can be a drawback, because you start strong and burn out and never have to learn what building focus and endurance and experience is like.
  5. Design your life around your calling and your priorities. The author was running a bar, requiring him to be awake until 5 every morning. When he committed to becoming an author he shifted his life to align with what was optimal for his new priorities.
  6. Set you minimum and keep it. The author’s goals for each race were to 1. Finish the race, 2. not walk, and 3. enjoy himself, in that order. He was never a professional runner but ends the book with his imagined tombstone engraving: “Haruki Murakami, 1949-200**, Writer (and Runner), At Least He Never Walked.”
  7. Identify what you’ve gotta do that you’re bad at, and then work to fix it. Get a teacher if you have to. If it’s part of your career, definitely sure it up. If it’s not, think about whether you need to be good at it at all.
  8. Sometimes it’s not about your preparation. Luck or age or circumstance all play a role.
  9. You’ve gotta teach your body and your mind what to expect. Muscles are hard to gain and easy to lose, fat is easy to gain and hard to lose. Don’t let up on your focus and endurance and working muscles by showing up every day. Being busy cannot be an excuse.
  10. In anything that requires endurance (most things worth doing), you’ve gotta end each session ready for the next. Excuses happen and you don’t feel like writing or running the next day, so end each day with momentum to start the next day. Endurance is the only way to keep going at anything hard through your entire life.

Favorite Quotes

  • “The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learnt at school.”
  • “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
  • “There are three reasons I failed. Not enough training. Not enough training. And not enough training…It’s pretty thin, the wall separating healthy confidence and unhealthy pride.”
  • “If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.”
  • “In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
  • “If we think we can put up with it, somehow we can.”
  • “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth giving it your best – or in some cases beyond your best.”
  • “Sixteen is an intensely troublesome age. You worry about little things, can’t pinpoint where you are in any objective way, become really proficient at strange, pointless skills, and are held in thrall by inexplicable complexes. As you get older, though, through trial and error you learn to get what you need, and throw out what should be discarded. And you start to recognize (or be resigned to the fact) that since your faults and deficiencies are well nigh infinite, you’d best figure out your good points and learn to get by with what you have.”

So there you go! Thanks for reading, and let me know in the comments or send me a message if you’ve read “Running” or what you’re taking away from this summary.