SPIEGEL Interview with Haruki Murakami 'When I Run I Am in a Peaceful Place'

Japanese author Haruki Murakami, 59, also runs marathons. His memoir about jogging has been translated into German, and he talked to SPIEGEL about the loneliness of the writer and the runner.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Murakami, which is tougher: writing a novel, or running a marathon?

Murakami: Writing is fun -- at least mostly. I write for four hours every day. After that I go running. As a rule, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). That’s easy to manage. But running 42.195 kilometers (26 miles) all at once is tough; however it’s a toughness I seek out. It is an inevitable torment which I deliberately take upon myself. For me that is the most important aspect of running a marathon.

SPIEGEL: And which is nicer: completing a book or crossing the finishing line of a marathon?

Murakami: Putting the final full stop at the end of a story is like giving birth to a child, an incomparable moment. A fortunate author can write maybe twelve novels in his lifetime. I don’t know how many good books I still have in me; I hope there are another four or five. When I am running I don’t feel that kind of limit. I publish a thick novel every four years, but I run a 10-kilometer race, a half-marathon and a marathon every year. I have run 27 marathon races so far, the last was in January, and numbers 28, 29 and 30 will follow quite naturally.

SPIEGEL: In your latest book, the German translation of which is to be released next Monday, you describe your career as a runner and discuss the importance of running for your work as a writer. Why did you write this autobiographical work?

Murakami: Ever since I went running for the first time, 25 years ago in the autumn of 1982, I have been asking myself for why I decided on this particular sport. Why don’t I play football? Why did my real existence as a serious writer begin on the day that I first went jogging? I tend to understand things only if I record my thoughts. I found that when I write about running I write about myself.

SPIEGEL: Why did you start running?

Murakami: I wanted to lose weight. During my first years as an author I smoked a lot, about 60 cigarettes a day, in order to be able to concentrate better. I had yellow teeth, yellow fingernails. When I decided to stop smoking, at the age of 33, I sprouted rolls of fat on my hips. So I ran; running seemed to me to be most practicable.


Murakami: Team sports aren’t my thing. I find it easier to pick something up if I can do it at my own speed. And you don’t need a partner to go running, you don’t need a particular place, like in tennis, just a pair of trainers. Judo doesn’t suit me either; I’m not a fighter. Long-distance running is not a matter of winning against others. Your only opponent is yourself, no one else is involved, but you are engaged in an inner conflict: Am I better than I was last time? Exerting yourself to the limit over and over again, that is the essence of running. Running is painful, but the pain doesn’t leave me, I can take care of it. That agrees with my mentality.

SPIEGEL: What kind of shape were you in at the time?

Murakami: After 20 minutes I was out of breath, my heart was hammering, my legs were trembling. At first I was uncomfortable when other people saw me jogging. But I integrated running into my day like brushing my teeth. So I made rapid progress. After just under a year I ran my first, though unofficial, marathon.

SPIEGEL: You ran from Athens to Marathon on your own. What appealed to you about that?

Murakami: Well, it’s the original marathon, it’s the historic route -- though in the opposite direction, because I didn’t want to arrive in Athens during the rush hour. I had never run more than 35 kilometers; my legs and my upper body were not particularly strong yet; I didn’t know what to expect. It was like running in terra incognita.

SPIEGEL: How did you get along?

Murakami: It was July; it was hot. So hot, even in the early morning. I had never been to Greece before; I was surprised. After half an hour I took off my shirt. Later I dreamt of an ice-cold beer and counted the dead dogs and cats lying along the roadside. I was furious with the sun; it burnt down on me so angrily, small blisters formed on my skin. It took me 3:51 hours, a passable time. When I arrived at the finish I hosed myself down at a petrol station and drank the beer I had dreamt of. When the petrol pump attendant heard what I had done, he presented me with a bunch of flowers.

SPIEGEL: What is your best time for a marathon?

Murakami: 3:27 hours by my watch, in New York, in 1991. That’s five minutes per kilometer. I am very proud of that because the last stretch of the course, which leads through Central Park, is really hard. I have tried a few times to improve on that time, but I’m getting older. In the meantime I’m no longer interested in my best personal time. For me it’s a matter of being satisfied with myself.

SPIEGEL: Is there some mantra that you recite while running?

Murakami: No. I just tell myself once in a while: Haruki, you’ll make it. But in fact I don’t think of anything while I’m running.

SPIEGEL: Is that possible, to think of nothing?

Murakami: When I am running my mind empties itself. Everything I think while running is subordinate to the process. The thoughts that impose themselves on me while running are like light gusts of wind -- they appear all of a sudden, disappear again and change nothing.

SPIEGEL: Do you listen to music while running?

Murakami: Only when I’m training. And then rock music. At the moment my favorite is the Manic Street Preachers. When I go jogging in the morning, which is the exception, I load Creedence Clearwater Revival into the minidisk player. Their songs have a simple, natural rhythm.

SPIEGEL: How do you manage to motivate yourself again every day?

Murakami: Sometimes I find it too hot to run, and sometimes too cold. Or too cloudy. But I still go running. I know that if I didn’t go running, I wouldn’t go the next day either. It’s not in human nature to take unnecessary burdens upon oneself, so one’s body soon becomes disaccustomed. It mustn’t do that. It’s the same with writing. I write every day so that my mind doesn’t become disaccustomed. So that I can gradually set the literary yardstick higher and higher, just as running regularly makes your muscles stronger and stronger.

SPIEGEL: You grew up as an only child; writing is a lonely business, and you always run alone. Is there some connection between these things?

Murakami: Definitely. I am used to being alone. And I enjoy being alone. Unlike my wife, I don’t like company. I have been married for 37 years, and often it is a battle. In my previous job I often worked until dawn, now I'm in bed by nine or ten.

SPIEGEL: Before you became a writer and a runner, you owned a jazz club in Tokyo. A change in life could hardly be more radical.

Murakami: When I had the club I stood behind the bar, and it was my job to engage in conversation. I did that for seven years, but I’m not a talkative person. I swore to myself: Once I’ve finished here I will only ever talk to those people I really want to talk to.

SPIEGEL: When did you notice it was time for a fresh start?


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