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Two

AUGUST 14, 2005 • KAUAI, HAWAII

Tips on Becoming a Running Novelist

It’s August 14th, a Sunday. This morning I ran an hour and fifteen minutes, listening to Carla Thomas and Otis Redding on my MD player. In the afternoon I swam 1,400 yards at the pool and in the evening swam at the beach. And after that I had dinner—beer and fish—at the Hanalea Dolphin Restaurant just outside the town of Hanalea. The dish I have is walu, a kind of white fish. They grill it for me over charcoal, and I eat it with soy sauce. The side dish is vegetable kebabs, plus a large salad.

So far in August I’ve racked up ninety-three miles.

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It was a long time ago that I first started running on an everyday basis. Specifically, it was the fall of 1982. I was thirty-three then.

Not long before, I’d been running a sort of jazz club near Sendagaya Station. Soon after college—actually I’d been so busy with side jobs I was still a few credits short of graduating and was still officially a student—I opened a small club at the south entrance to Kokubunji Station and ran it for about three years; when they started to rebuild the building I was in, I moved to a new location closer to the center of Tokyo. This new venue wasn’t so big, or so small, either. We had a grand piano and just barely enough space to squeeze in a quintet. During the day we served coffee, at night it was a bar. We served pretty decent food, too, and on the weekends featured live performances. This kind of live jazz club was still pretty rare back then, so we gained a steady clientele and the place did all right financially.

Most people I knew had predicted that the bar wouldn’t do well. They figured that an establishment run as a kind of hobby wouldn’t work out, that somebody like me, who was pretty naive and most likely didn’t have the slightest aptitude for running a business, wouldn’t be able to make a go of it. Well, their predictions were totally off. To tell the truth, I didn’t think I had much aptitude for business either. I just figured, though, that since failure was not an option, I’d have to give it everything I had. My only strength has always been the fact that I work hard and can take a lot physically. I’m more a workhorse than a racehorse. I was raised in a white-collar household, so I didn’t know much about entrepreneurship, but fortunately my wife’s family ran a business, so her natural intuition was a great help. No matter how great a workhorse I might have been, I never would have been able to make it on my own.

The work itself was hard. I worked from morning till late at night, until I was exhausted. I had all kinds of painful experiences, things I had to rack my brains about, and plenty of disappointments. But I worked like crazy, and I finally began to make enough profit to hire other people to help out. And as I neared the end of my twenties, I was finally able to take a breather. To start the bar I’d borrowed as much as I could from every place that would lend me money, and I’d almost repaid it all. Things were settling down. Up till then, it had been a question of sheer survival, of keeping my head above water, and I didn’t have room to think of anything else. I felt like I’d reached the top of some steep staircase and come out to a fairly open place and was confident that because I’d reached it safely, I could handle any future problems that might crop up and I’d survive. I took a deep breath, slowly gazed around me, glanced back at the steps I’d taken here, and began to contemplate the next stage. Turning thirty was just around the corner. I was reaching the age when I couldn’t be considered young anymore. And pretty much out of the blue I got the idea to write a novel.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first thought I could write a novel. It was around one thirty in the afternoon of April 1, 1978. I was at Jingu Stadium that day, alone in the outfield drinking beer and watching the game. Jingu Stadium was within walking distance of my apartment at the time, and I was a fairly big Yakult Swallows fan. It was a perfectly beautiful spring day, not a cloud in the sky, with a warm breeze blowing. There weren’t any benches in the outfield seating back then, just a grassy slope. I was lying on the grass, sipping cold beer, gazing up occasionally at the sky, and leisurely enjoying the game. As usual for the Swallows, the stadium wasn’t very crowded. It was the season opener, and they were taking on the Hiroshima Carp at home. I remember that Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows. He was a short, stocky sort of pitcher with a wicked curve. He easily retired the side in the top of the first inning, and in the bottom of the inning the leadoff batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left field line. The crack of bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at that exact moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I still can remember the wide open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and whatever it was, I accepted it.

I never had any ambitions to be a novelist. I just had this strong desire to write a novel. No concrete image of what I wanted to write about, just the conviction that if I wrote it now I could come up with something that I’d find convincing. When I thought about sitting down at my desk at home and setting out to write I realized I didn’t even own a decent fountain pen. So I went to the Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of manuscript paper and a five-dollar Sailor fountain pen. A small capital investment on my part.

This was in the spring of 1978, and by fall I’d finished a two-hundred-page work handwritten on Japanese manuscript paper. After I finished it I felt great. I had no idea what to do with the novel once I finished it, but I just sort of let the momentum carry me and sent it in to be considered for a literary magazine’s new-writers prize. I shipped it off without making a copy, so it seems I didn’t much care if it wasn’t selected and vanished forever. This is the work that’s published under the title Hear the Wind Sing. I was more interested in having finished it than in whether or not it would ever see the light of day.

That fall the perennial underdog Yakult Swallows won the pennant and went on to defeat the Hankyu Braves in the Japan Series. I was really excited and attended several games at Korakuen Stadium. (Nobody ever thought that Yakult would win, so they had already arranged for their home venue, Jingu Stadium, to be used for college baseball.) So I remember that time very clearly. It was a particularly gorgeous autumn, with wonderful sunny weather. The sky was perfectly clear, and the ginkgo trees in front of the Meiji Memorial Gallery were more golden than I’d ever seen them. This was the last fall of my twenties.

By the next spring, when I got a phone call from an editor at Gunzo telling me my novel had made the short list, I’d completely forgotten that I’d entered the contest. I’d been so busy with other things. At first I had no idea what he was talking about. But the novel won the prize and was published in the summer. The book was fairly well received. I was thirty, and without really knowing what was going on I suddenly found myself labeled a new, up-and-coming writer. I was pretty surprised, but people who knew me were even more surprised.

After this, while still running my business, I wrote a medium-length second novel, Pinball, 1973, and while working on this I wrote a few short stories and translated some short fiction by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 were nominated for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, for which they were said to be strong contenders, but in the end neither won. To tell the truth, though, I didn’t care one way or the other. If I did win it I’d become busy with interviews and writing assignments, and I was afraid this would interfere with running the club.

Every day for three years I ran my jazz club—keeping accounts, checking inventory, scheduling my staff, standing behind the counter myself mixing up cocktails and cooking, closing up in the wee hours of the morning—and only then writing at home at the kitchen table until I got sleepy. I felt like I was living enough for two people’s lives. Physically, every day was tough, and writing novels and running a business at the same time made for all sorts of other problems. Running a service-oriented business means you have to accept whoever comes through the door. No matter who comes in, unless they’re really awful, you have to greet them with a friendly smile on your face. Thanks to this, though, I met all kinds of offbeat people and had some unusual encounters. Before I began writing, I dutifully, even enthusiastically, absorbed a variety of experiences. For the most part I think I enjoyed these and all the stimuli that they brought.

Gradually, though, I found myself wanting to write a more substantial kind of novel. With the first two, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, I basically enjoyed the process of writing, but there were parts I wasn’t too pleased with. With these first two novels I was only able to write in spurts, snatching bits of time here and there—a half hour here, an hour there—and because I was always tired and felt like I was competing against the clock as I wrote, I was never able to concentrate. With this kind of scattered approach I was able to write some interesting, fresh things, but the result was far from a complex or profound novel. I felt I’d been given a wonderful opportunity to be a novelist—a chance you just don’t get every day—and a natural desire sprang up to take it as far as I possibly could and write the kind of novel I’d feel satisfied with. I knew I could write something more large-scale. And after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to close the business for a while and concentrate solely on writing. At this point my income from the jazz club was more than my income as a novelist, a reality I had to resign myself to.

Most people I knew were flat out against my decision, or else had grave doubts about it. “Your business is doing fine now,” they said. “Why not just let someone else run it for a time while you go and write your novels?” From the world’s viewpoint this makes perfect sense. And most people probably didn’t think I’d make it as a professional writer. But I couldn’t follow their advice. I’m the kind of person who has to totally commit to whatever I do. I just couldn’t do something clever like writing a novel while someone else ran the business. I had to give it everything I had. If I failed, I could accept that. But I knew that if I did things halfheartedly and they didn’t work out, I’d always have regrets.

Despite the objections of everybody else, I sold the business and, though a bit embarrassed about it, hung out my sign as a novelist and set out to make a living writing. “I’d just like to be free for two years to write,” I explained to my wife. “If it doesn’t work out we can always open up another little bar somewhere. I’m still young and we can always start over.” “All right,” she said. This was in 1981 and we still had a considerable amount of debt, but I figured I’d just do my best and see what happened.

I settled down to write my novel and that fall traveled to Hokkaido for a week to research it. By the following April I’d completed A Wild Sheep Chase. I figured it was do or die, so I’d put everything I had into it. This novel was much longer than either of my previous two, larger in scope, and much more story-driven.

When I finished the novel I had a good feeling that I’d created my own writing style. My whole body thrilled at the thought of how wonderful—and how difficult—it is to be able to sit at my desk, not worrying about time, and concentrate on writing. There were untouched veins still dormant within me, I felt, and now I could actually picture myself making a living as a novelist. So in the end the fallback idea of opening a small bar again never materialized. Sometimes, though, even now, I think how nice it would be to run a little bar somewhere.

The editors at Gunzo, who were looking for something more mainstream, didn’t like A Wild Sheep Chase at all, and I recall how unenthusiastic their reception was. It seems like back then (what about now, I wonder) my notion of the novel was pretty unorthodox. Readers, though, seemed to love this new book, and that’s what made me happiest. This was the real starting point for me as a novelist. I think if I’d continued writing the kind of instinctual novels I’d completed while running the bar—Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973—I would have soon hit a dead end.

A problem arose, though, with my decision to become a professional writer: the question of how to keep physically fit. I tend to gain weight if I don’t do anything. Running the bar required hard physical labor every day, and I could keep my weight down, but once I started sitting at my desk all day writing, my energy level gradually declined and I started putting on the pounds. I was smoking too much, too, as I concentrated on my work. Back then I was smoking sixty cigarettes a day. All my fingers were yellow, and my whole body reeked of smoke. This can’t be good for me, I decided. If I wanted to have a long life as a novelist, I needed to find a way to keep fit and maintain a healthy weight.

Running has a lot of advantages. First of all, you don’t need anybody else to do it, and no need for special equipment. You don’t have to go to any special place to do it. As long as you have running shoes and a good road you can run to your heart’s content. Tennis isn’t like that. You have to travel to a tennis court, and you need somebody to play with. Swimming you can do alone, but you still have to go to a pool.

After I closed my bar, I thought I’d change my lifestyle entirely, so we moved out to Narashino, in Chiba Prefecture. At the time it was pretty rural, and there weren’t any decent sports facilities around. But they did have roads. There was a Self-Defense Force base nearby, so they kept the roads well maintained for their vehicles. And luckily there was also a training ground in the neighborhood owned by Nihon University, and if I went early in the morning I could freely use—or perhaps I should say borrow without permission—their track. So I didn’t have to think too much about which sport to choose—not that I had much of a choice—when I decided to go running.

Not long after that I also gave up smoking. Giving up smoking was a kind of natural result of running every day. It wasn’t easy to quit, but I couldn’t very well keep on smoking and continue running. This natural desire to run even more became a powerful motivation for me to not go back to smoking, and a great help in overcoming the withdrawal symptoms. Quitting smoking was like a symbolic gesture of farewell to the life I used to lead.

I never disliked long-distance running. When I was at school I never much cared for gym class, and always hated Sports Day. This was because these were forced on me from above. I never could stand being forced to do something I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it. Whenever I was able to do something I liked to do, though, when I wanted to do it, and the way I wanted to do it, I’d give it everything I had. Since I wasn’t that athletic or coordinated, I wasn’t good at the kind of sports where things are decided in a flash. Long-distance running and swimming suit my personality better. I was always kind of aware of this, which might explain why I was able to smoothly incorporate running into my daily life.

If you’ll allow me to take a slight detour from running, I think I can say the same thing about me and studying. From elementary school up to college I was never interested in things I was forced to study. I told myself it was something that had to be done, so I wasn’t a total slacker and was able to go on to college, but never once did I find studying exciting. As a result, though my grades weren’t the kind you have to hide from people, I don’t have any memory of being praised for getting a good grade or being the best in anything. I only began to enjoy studying after I got through the educational system and became a so-called member of society. If something interested me, and I could study it at my own pace and approach it the way I liked, I was pretty efficient at acquiring knowledge and skills. The art of translation is a good example. I learned it on my own, the pay-as-you-go method. It takes a lot of time to acquire a skill this way, and you go through a lot of trial and error, but what you learn sticks with you.

The happiest thing about becoming a professional writer was that I could go to bed early and get up early. When I was running the bar I often didn’t get to sleep until nearly dawn. The bar closed at twelve, but then I had to clean up, go over the receipts, sit and talk, have a drink to relax. Do all that and before you know it, it’s three a.m. and sunrise is just around the corner. Often I’d be sitting at my kitchen table, writing, when it would start to get light outside. Naturally, when I finally woke up the sun was already high in the sky.

After I closed the bar and began my life as a novelist, the first thing we—and by we I mean my wife and I—did was completely revamp our lifestyle. We decided we’d go to bed soon after it got dark, and wake up with the sun. To our minds this was natural, the kind of life respectable people lived. We’d closed the club, so we also decided that from now on we’d meet with only the people we wanted to see and, as much as possible, get by not seeing those we didn’t. We felt that, for a time at least, we could allow ourselves this modest indulgence.

It was a major directional change—from the kind of open life we’d led for seven years, to a more closed life. I think having this sort of open existence for a period was a good thing. I learned a lot of important lessons during that time. It was my real schooling. But you can’t keep up that kind of life forever. Just as with school, you enter it, learn something, and then it’s time to leave.

So my new, simple, and regular life began. I got up before five a.m. and went to bed before ten p.m. People are at their best at different times of day, but I’m definitely a morning person. That’s when I can focus and finish up important work I have to do. Afterward I work out or do other errands that don’t take much concentration. At the end of the day I relax and don’t do any more work. I read, listen to music, take it easy, and try to go to bed early. This is the pattern I’ve mostly followed up till today. Thanks to this, I’ve been able to work efficiently these past twenty-four years. It’s a lifestyle, though, that doesn’t allow for much nightlife, and sometimes your relationships with other people become problematic. Some people even get mad at you, because they invite you to go somewhere or do something with them and you keep turning them down.

I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? My opinion hasn’t changed over the years. I can’t see my readers’ faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual type of human relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible, conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life.

In other words, you can’t please everybody.

Even when I ran my bar I followed the same policy. A lot of customers came to the bar. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what. This is what I learned through running a business.

After A Wild Sheep Chase, I continued to write with the same attitude I’d developed as a business owner. And with each work the number of my readers increased. What made me happiest was the fact that I had a lot of devoted readers, the one-in-ten repeaters, most of whom were young. They would wait patiently for my next book to appear and grab it and read it as soon as it hit the bookstores. This sort of pattern gradually taking shape was, for me, the ideal, or at least a very comfortable, situation. There’s no need to be literature’s top runner. I went on writing the kind of things I wanted to write, exactly the way I wanted to write them, and if that allowed me to make a normal living, then I couldn’t ask for more. When Norwegian Wood sold way more than anticipated, the comfortable position I had was forced to change a bit, but this was quite a bit later.

When I first started running I couldn’t run long distances. I could only run for about twenty minutes, or thirty. That much left me panting, my heart pounding, my legs shaky. It was to be expected, though, since I hadn’t really exercised for a long time. At first, I was also a little embarrassed to have people in the neighborhood see me running—the same feeling I had upon first seeing the title novelist put in parentheses after my name. But as I continued to run, my body started to accept the fact that it was running, and I could gradually increase the distance. I was starting to acquire a runner’s form, my breathing became more regular, and my pulse settled down. The main thing was not the speed or distance so much as running every day, without taking a break.

So, like my three meals a day—along with sleeping, housework, and work—running was incorporated into my daily routine. As it became a natural habit, I felt less embarrassed about it. I went to a sports store and purchased running gear and some decent shoes that suited my purpose. I bought a stopwatch, too, and read a beginners’ book on running. This is how you become a runner.

Looking back now, I think the most fortunate thing is that I was born with a strong, healthy body. This has made it possible for me to run on a daily basis for almost a quarter century, competing in a number of races along the way. I’ve never had a time when my legs hurt so much I couldn’t run. I don’t really stretch much before running, but I’ve never been injured, never been hurt, and haven’t been sick once. I’m no great runner, but I’m definitely a strong runner. That’s one of the very few gifts I can be proud of.

The year 1983 rolled around, and I participated for the first time in my life in a road race. It wasn’t very long—a 5K—but for the first time I had a number pinned to me, was in a large group of other runners, and heard the official shout out, “On your mark, get set, go!” Afterward I thought, Hey, that wasn’t so bad! In May I was in a 15K race around Lake Yamanaka, and in June, wanting to test how far I could run, I did laps around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. I went around seven times, for a total of 22.4 miles, at a fairly decent pace, and didn’t feel it was that hard. My legs didn’t hurt at all. Maybe I could actually run a marathon, I concluded. It was only later that I found out the hard way that the toughest part of a marathon comes after twenty-two miles.

When I look at photos of me taken back then, it’s obvious I didn’t yet have a runner’s physique. I hadn’t run enough, hadn’t built up the requisite muscles, and my arms were too thin, my legs too skinny. I’m impressed I could run a marathon with a body like that. When you compare me in these photos to the way I am now, they make me look like a completely different person. After years of running, my musculature has changed completely. But even then I could feel physical changes happening every day, which made me really happy. I felt like even though I was past thirty, there were still some possibilities left for me and my body. The more I ran, the more my physical potential was revealed.

I used to tend to gain weight, but around that time my weight stabilized at where it should be. Exercising every day, I naturally reached my ideal weight, and I discovered this helped my performance. Along with this, my diet started to gradually change as well. I began to eat mostly vegetables, with fish as my main source of protein. I never liked meat much anyway, and this aversion became even more pronounced. I cut back on rice and alcohol and began using all natural ingredients. Sweets weren’t a problem since I never much cared for them.

As I said, if I don’t do anything I tend to put on the pounds. My wife’s the opposite, since she can eat as much as she likes (she doesn’t eat a lot of them, but can never turn down anything sweet), never exercise, and still not put on any weight. She has no extra fat at all. Life just isn’t fair, is how it used to strike me. Some people can work their butts off and never get what they’re aiming for, while others can get it without any effort at all.

But when I think about it, having the kind of body that easily puts on weight was perhaps a blessing in disguise. In other words, if I don’t want to gain weight I have to work out hard every day, watch what I eat, and cut down on indulgences. Life can be tough, but as long as you don’t stint on the effort, your metabolism will greatly improve with these habits, and you’ll end up much healthier, not to mention stronger. To a certain extent, you can even slow down the effects of aging. But people who naturally keep the weight off no matter what don’t need to exercise or watch their diet in order to stay trim. There can’t be many of them who would go out of their way to take these troublesome measures when they don’t need to. Which is why, in many cases, their physical strength deteriorates as they age. If you don’t exercise, your muscles will naturally weaken, as will your bones. Some of my readers may be the kind of people who easily gain weight, but the only way to understand what’s really fair is to take a long-range view of things. For the reasons I give above, I think this physical nuisance should be viewed in a positive way, as a blessing. We should consider ourselves lucky that the red light is so clearly visible. Of course, it’s not always easy to see things this way.

I think this viewpoint applies as well to the job of the novelist. Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do—or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Occasionally you’ll find someone like that, but, unfortunately, that category wouldn’t include me. I haven’t spotted any springs nearby. I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity. To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole. But as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein. So as soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their only source, they’re in trouble.

In other words, let’s face it: Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek out a kind of fairness. Of course, that might take time and effort. And maybe it won’t seem to be worth all that. It’s up to each individual to decide whether or not it is.

When I tell people I run every day, some are quite impressed. “You really must have a strong will,” they sometimes tell me. Of course, it’s nice to be praised like this. A lot better than being disparaged, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it’s merely willpower that makes you able to do something. The world isn’t that simple. To tell the truth, I don’t even think there’s that much correlation between my running every day and whether or not I have a strong will. I think I’ve been able to run for more than twenty years for a simple reason: It suits me. Or at least because I don’t find it all that painful. Human beings naturally continue doing things they like, and they don’t continue what they don’t like. Admittedly, something close to will does play a small part in that. But no matter how strong a will a person has, no matter how much he may hate to lose, if it’s an activity he doesn’t really care for, he won’t keep it up for long. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be good for him.

That’s why I’ve never recommended running to others. I’ve tried my best never to say something like, Running is great. Everybody should try it. If some people have an interest in long-distance running, just leave them be, and they’ll start running on their own. If they’re not interested in it, no amount of persuasion will make any difference. Marathon running is not a sport for everyone, just as being a novelist isn’t a job for everyone. Nobody ever recommended or even desired that I be a novelist—in fact, some tried to stop me. I had the idea to be one, and that’s what I did. Likewise, a person doesn’t become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they’re meant to.

Still, some might read this book and say, “Hey, I’m going to give running a try,” and then discover they enjoy it. And of course that would be a beautiful thing. As the author of this book I’d be very pleased if that happened. But people have their own individual likes and dislikes. Some people are suited more for marathon running, some for golf, others for gambling. Whenever I see students in gym class all made to run a long distance, I feel sorry for them. Forcing people who have no desire to run, or who aren’t physically fit enough, is a kind of pointless torture. I always want to advise teachers not to force all junior and senior high school students to run the same course, but I doubt anybody’s going to listen to me. That’s what schools are like. The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.

No matter how much long-distance running might suit me, of course there are days when I feel kind of lethargic and don’t want to run. Actually, it happens a lot. On days like that, I try to think of all kinds of plausible excuses to slough it off. Once, I interviewed the Olympic runner Toshihiko Seko, just after he retired from running and became manager of the S&B company team. I asked him, “Does a runner at your level ever feel like you’d rather not run today, like you don’t want to run and would rather just sleep in?” He stared at me and then, in a voice that made it abundantly clear how stupid he thought the question was, replied, “Of course. All the time!” Now that I look back on it I can see what a dumb question that was. I guess even back then I knew how dumb it was, but I suppose I wanted to hear the answer directly from someone of Seko’s caliber. I wanted to know whether, despite being worlds apart in terms of strength, the amount we can exercise, and motivation, when we lace up our running shoes early in the morning we feel exactly the same way. Seko’s reply at the time came as a great relief. In the final analysis we’re all the same, I thought.

Whenever I feel like I don’t want to run, I always ask myself the same thing: You’re able to make a living as a novelist, working at home, setting your own hours, so you don’t have to commute on a packed train or sit through boring meetings. Don’t you realize how fortunate you are? (Believe me, I do.) Compared to that, running an hour around the neighborhood is nothing, right? Whenever I picture packed trains and endless meetings, this gets me motivated all over again and I lace up my running shoes and set off without any qualms. If I can’t manage this much, I think, it’ll serve me right. I say this knowing full well that there are lots of people who’d pick riding a crowded train and attending meetings any day over running every day for an hour.

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At any rate, that’s how I started running. Thirty-three—that’s how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.

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