Books for Runners

by Holly Martin

It’s almost paradoxical to be a runner who loves to read. I think there’s a big misconception that all runners are moving all the time, that we spend every waking moment on our feet, chasing the runner’s high.

I love the endorphins just as much as anyone else, but I also love to curl up with a good book and not move for a while—bonus points if it’s a book about running. Lucky for me, runners love to talk and write almost as much as they love to run, and there are tons of available books about running. Lucky for you, I’ve read lots of them, and narrowed down to a few of my favorites, so the next time you’re on the prowl for something to fill the time that you’re not running (your next taper tantrum, maybe?), give one of these tried-and-true books a try.

My Best Race (Chris Cooper)

my best race book cover

My Best Race is a book that I picked up on a whim, but it has become one of those books that I will read randomly, when I’m looking for a specific type of inspiration. This book is a compilation of runners’ stories, from elite athletes to race directors to charity runners, describing their best races. Some of those races are incredible wins, others are humbling learning experiences, but they are all relatable in some way. An added plus, it helps to know that even the most elite athletes have (really, really) bad days.

Pick it up if: you enjoy reading smaller snippets, rather than one long narrative, or if you’re looking for great insight on how to improve your races.

My favorite part: “Don’t see the race as a test but as a celebration. When we experience being in an organized race we discover a sense of community, and the sense of community we get from running is so powerful. Cheer, encourage, and inspire others in your race and you will be inspired too.”

Eat and Run (Scott Jurek)

eat and run best cover

Part memoir, part training advice, part cookbook, Eat and Run was written by vegan ultramarathoner Scott Jurek. Fun fact: Scott Jurek pops up a lot in Born to Run, so if you’re going to read that, you better read this too! In Eat and Run, Jurek describes the difficulties in his life that got him started as a runner, and also writes about the slow realization that good health and nutrition could have an impact on his running. Sprinkled throughout the book are several vegan recipes (definitely try the veggie burgers, they’re delicious!) that even the most die-hard carnivores would enjoy.

Pick it up if: you’re curious about the life of a competitive ultrarunner, or skeptical about how a vegan diet can fuel endurance athletes (spoiler alert: yes, you can get enough protein in a vegan diet).

My favorite part: “I ran because overcoming the difficulties of an ultramarathon reminded me that I could overcome the difficulties of life, that overcoming difficulties was life.”

Going Long (Editors of Runner’s World)

going long book

Going Long is another compilation of stories, but the stories in this book are taken from the pages of Runner’s World—the inspirational stories of people who have had to fight through devastating illness and injury, those of incredible athletes and their contributions to society, and even stories of the oddballs and weirdos that populate our sport. There are stories that will make you laugh out loud, cry your eyes out (must have been the allergies, I think), and maybe even restore your faith in humanity. I think what I love the most about this book is that it isn’t all about the elite runners that we hear about, setting records and winning races, but it’s about the everyday people that pound the pavement, day after day, juggling life and running, just like the rest of us.

Pick it up if: you like a little inspiration, aren’t afraid to shed some tears (don’t worry, it’s definitely the allergies), and like to be reminded about the good in people.

My favorite part: “Any friendship that is based on running is, in essence, about accrual—of time, or miles, of intimacy built over a lot of small steps forward. It sneaks up on you that way, I think. It can seem merely enjoyable until you need it for more,” and “…life is something like a downhill marathon. You have to believe it’s easier than it is. Or at least it helps to have a friend who views it that way.”

The Lola Papers (Amy L. Marxkors)

lola papers book cover

Another book I picked up on a whim, The Lola Papers is one that I like to read when I’m beginning a new training cycle. It’s actually a collection of running store newsletter columns, detailing the author’s training and experiences as she went from a casual, race here-and-there runner to an officially coached, PR-seeking runner, with plenty of mishaps and misadventures along the way. I think what I love the most about The Lola Papers, though, is the author’s style of writing—she speaks candidly about the highs and lows of running and training, from new PR’s to burnout, and everything in between, but has plenty of wisdom to share as well. Of all of my favorite books, I look to The Lola Papers for the guidance that I need to start over and to try again (especially when running seems really hard and a new PR seems far away).

Pick it up if: you’ve ever wondered what running with a coach is like, you’ve had hard moments in training and feel like it will never get better, or you just want a little inspiration to get yourself moving towards a new goal.

My favorite part: “It’s funny how running works. It brings with it rising moments of elation and sinking moments of struggle. It makes us stronger and breaks us down. It gives us reason to be proud, and it humbles us with a single stroke. And in the midst of these ups and downs, we discover that each of these moments has its own pace, its own rhythm. We also realize that one can hold a pace only so long before something gives. Pace and the changing of pace is, after all, the nature of the sport.”

Running and reading are very complimentary experiences—both require patience, an openness to new experiences, and they can be uncomfortable at times, too.

The wonderful thing is that we can learn and grow through each of them, in similar and very different ways. I can’t put it as elegantly as Will Smith did, so take some advice from the Fresh Prince:

“The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, ‘Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.’ You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running, you will know how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading, there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have—with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about in a book.”

So the next time you’ve got a rest day, or you’re suffering from the Taper Tantrum, or you just need a break, grab one of these books and give it a go. If Will Smith has time to run and read while saving the world from aliens and zombies and everything else, you should too.

Obviously, there’s many, many more books about running, and undoubtedly you have your favorites that I may have missed, so please share in the comments so I can read something new!

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