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What I Talk About When I Talk About “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

It was the perfect fall day. Bright sun, balmy – if not unseasonably warm – with an occasional crisp breeze to remind everyone that it was still October. The first frost had already passed, making this a true Indian Summer, and before long the leaves would fall, the cold would come, and the end of Daylight Saving Time would expedite the sunset so those with day jobs could only see it on weekends. Everyone had to take advantage of the weather and go outside. In northern climates, it’s never a choice.

New mothers were out pushing strollers with their napping infants. Kids played basketball or gathered at the street hockey rink near my house to skateboard. Yuppies tossed tennis balls for their slobbering labradors. I went for a run.

If you ask me, Running is probably the most uncomfortable experience an otherwise healthy person can volunteer to do. You get hot. You get sweaty. You choke down air that burns the back of your throat and lungs. Your muscles cramp. Some people puke. The only thing that allows runners to endure is sheer force of will. It’s a feeling I’ve grown accustomed to through my own years of running, not to mention the process of Writing a book.

Last April, around the time of the Boston Marathon, it occurred to me how I often I compared writing a book to running a marathon, but had by then not completed either. Now, my agent and I are preparing to submit to publishers and I still haven’t run a marathon. I have, however, referred to Haruki Murakami for additional insight on the relationship between running and writing.

When Murakami closed his jazz bar after publishing his first novel, it didn’t take long for him to realize he would not be able to sustain his new career with his basic health choices: he smoked too much, drank too much, ate all the wrong things. His sedentary hours working at the typewriter only magnified the problem.

I have noticed similar trends with my own health – although I quit smoking and probably don’t drink as much as Murakami. After two years of full time writing, my muscle tone had begun to diminish. I wasn’t as flexible as before. As the daughter of martial artists, these changes were pretty alarming. The hip pain I had from sitting, and the carpel tunnel from holding my pen for hours at a time, were nothing to laugh at, either.

Murakami addressed these challenges by taking a break between writing to jog laps around the track at the local university. In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (the title a nod to his literary idol – and mine), Murakami expresses the initial discomfort I described above. But he did not allow himself the luxury of not running.

Running became an essential part of his writing schedule: wake up early, write all morning, go for a run, a light lunch, more work, dinner, some reading in bed. He describes this routine as necessary, the rhythm soothing and predictable. The continuity of his days allows him to focus on what matters most: the words on the page. Now the internationally acclaimed author of twelve books, dozens of stories and essays – some of which have been adapted to film – I’d say this is a pretty fail-proof routine.

I’ve experimented with exercise in my own writing schedule, though my own version is not nearly as regimented as Murakami’s. I do yoga or dance. Sometimes I take a kung fu class at my father’s martial arts school. I constantly change my routine as my needs and schedule shift, but I try to do something physical every other day.

Aside from the obvious health benefits, exercise has a positive impact on my writing. It clears my head, unblocks me in critical moments. Or, it gives me a break from my work, reminding me there are other valuable things in this world – the real world – and puts the fictitious ones into perspective. At the end of the day, no matter how many books we’ve published or penned, writing is still just a small part of our lives. We are people, too, after all, and it’s important to get some fresh air and appreciate the turning autumn leaves, or even the big slobbering labrador. It might end up in your next story.

Katie Li is a writer from Boston, MA. Her work has appeared in Write From Wrong, The Nexus, and has been performed by the Theatre Company, The Next Stage. She is currently writing her first book. To learn more, please visit


Photos by Daniel Oines and Michelle Kinsey Bruns.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”


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