Haruki Murakami on the Spirit of the Boston Marathon

If you’re as much a fan of Haruki Murakami as I am, then you know how much of an avid runner he is. He’s run more than two dozen marathons in his life. But the Boston Marathon is his favorite. Writing in The New Yorker, he reflects on the spirit of the Marathon with the April 2013 bombings in mind:

What’s great about marathons in general is the lack of competitiveness. For world-class runners, they can be an occasion of fierce rivalry, sure. But for a runner like me (and I imagine this is true for the vast majority of runners), an ordinary runner whose times are nothing special, a marathon is never a competition. You enter the race to enjoy the experience of running twenty-six miles, and you do enjoy it, as you go along. Then it starts to get a little painful, then it becomes seriously painful, and in the end it’s that pain that you start to enjoy. And part of the enjoyment is in sharing this tangled process with the runners around you. Try running twenty-six miles alone and you’ll have three, four, or five hours of sheer torture. I’ve done it before, and I hope never to repeat the experience. But running the same distance alongside other runners makes it feel less grueling. It’s tough physically, of course—how could it not be?—but there’s a feeling of solidarity and unity that carries you all the way to the finish line. If a marathon is a battle, it’s one you wage against yourself.

Running the Boston Marathon, when you turn the corner at Hereford Street onto Boylston, and see, at the end of that straight, broad road, the banner at Copley Square, the excitement and relief you experience are indescribable. You have made it on your own, but at the same time it was those around you who kept you going. The unpaid volunteers who took the day off to help out, the people lining the road to cheer you on, the runners in front of you, the runners behind. Without their encouragement and support, you might not have finished the race. As you take the final sprint down Boylston, all kinds of emotions rise up in your heart. You grimace with the strain, but you smile as well.

I love Murakami’s message on how to cope with the pain, and how to remember the victims of the Boston bombings:

For me, it’s through running, running every single day, that I grieve for those whose lives were lost and for those who were injured on Boylston Street. This is the only personal message I can send them. I know it’s not much, but I hope that my voice gets through. I hope, too, that the Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and that those twenty-six miles will again seem beautiful, natural, free.

Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject.

2 thoughts on “Haruki Murakami on the Spirit of the Boston Marathon

  1. Why would you have three to five hours of torture running 26 miles alone? Thirty years ago, I could run 20 miles, alone or with companion, in 2.5 hours without great discomfort. My recollection is that the first half of a marathon was never that bad.

    I am appalled at the injuries and loss of life in Boston; I suppose one could say that I grieve. But I don’t imagine that my running makes a bit of difference either way to any of the victims. And how could a solitary run in Washington, DC, ever be a personal message to somebody hospitalized in Boston?

    Having said all that, yes, the communal spirit of the marathon is wonderful.

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