From the title, yes, it is about running since Murakami enjoys running, joins marathons and he considers it a very important part of his life.
He begins his book by sharing how an article about marathon once caught his attention when runners were asked what goes through their head to keep themselves pumped during the race who all gave different answers.
When Murakami asked his older brother's mantra when he runs, he shared:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself.
I've never run a marathon and my farthest fun run is just 5K (haha!) but what keeps me pumped up is thinking about the big breakfast we'll have after the run. Big breakfast...Big breakfast... is my mantra. :)
I enjoyed reading Murakami's book and here are some of my favourite excerpts:
There are several reasons why, at a certain point in my life, I stopped running seriously. First of all, my life has been getting busier, and free time is increasingly at a premium. When I was younger it wasn’t as if I had as much free time as I wanted, but at least I didn’t have as many miscellaneous chores as I do now. I don’t know why, but the older you get, the busier you become.
(I couldn't agree more. Chores and errands just keep on adding as soon as you tick off some!)
On competing with others:
The thing is, I’m not much for team sports... I’m also not very good at one-on-one sports like tennis. I enjoy squash, but generally when it comes to a game against someone, the competitive aspect makes me uncomfortable.... Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not totally uncompetitive. It’s just that for some reason I never cared all that much whether I beat others or lost to them. This sentiment remained pretty much unchanged after I grew up. It doesn’t matter what field you’re talking about—beating somebody else just doesn’t do it for me. I’m much more interested in whether I reach the goals that I set for myself...
(Funny but that's how I feel about playing too. I don't care whether I win or lose.)
On winning and losing:
In the novelist’s profession, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as winning or losing. Maybe numbers of copies sold, awards won, and critics’ praise serve as outward standards for accomplishment in literature, but none of them really matter. What’s crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you’ve set for yourself. Failure to reach that bar is not something you can easily explain away.
On growing old
I don’t care about the time I run. I can try all I want, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to run the way I used to. I’m ready to accept that. It’s not one of your happier realities, but that’s what happens when you get older. Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. ... And one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old...
(Growing old is a blessing!)
On pursuing your goals
I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run— simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.
While reading the book, I also found out that the distance from Athens to Marathon is just 25 miles - a mile short from the official length of a marathon which is 26.2 miles. Murakami discovered this as he ran there once. He said that if you watch the Athens Olympics, you'll notice that at some point, runners go off on a side road then later return to the main road. The side road makes up for the extra mile.
For those who aren't aware of the origin of marathon, Marathon is a place in Greece and legend says that there was once a Greek messenger (sometime in 490 BC) who was sent from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians have been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that the messenger ran the entire distance without stopping. When he reached Athens and exclaimed that they won, the messenger sadly collapsed and died.
Anyway, if you're into running, or even just brisk walking, or writing, "What I talk about when I talk about running" is a good read. You'll be able to relate to a lot of Murakami's stories.
As a final note, I like what Murakami said about running:
When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at the scenery passing by.
This is exactly how I feel too - except that when I am walking! Haha... :)