Participating in endurance events is awesome, but learning about the history of these events, or reading the tales of those who have conquered them, can keep you inspired and motivated through this time of self-isolation. Check out 10 of our favourite books below that have left us even more breathless than a good training day.
Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep: The Tale of the First Tour de France – Peter Cossins
Go back to the very beginning with Cossins’ in depth narrative history of the 1903 Tour de France. Most of us are familiar with the greats – Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, and Indurain have become household names – but the men of the 1903 Tour are significantly more obscure. Read it to discover how a ramshackle marketing ruse to revive L’Auto became one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey – Chrissie Wellington
Undoubtedly one of the greatest triathletes alive, Chrissie Wellington burst onto the professional triathlon scene only three years after her first race. Her maiden Ironman world championship title in 2007, deemed the “biggest upset in Ironman Hawaii history”, makes for riveting reading, but so do her tales of overcoming extreme adversity on her path to becoming a living legend.
Maglia Rosa: Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro D’Italia – Herbie Sykes
If Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep wasn’t enough Grand Tour reading for you, Sykes’ Maglia Rosa is half gorgeously illustrated coffee-table book and half gargantuan history of the Giro. Originally organised by La Gazzetta dello Sport as an opportunity to outdo their rival publications, and infamous for its devilish climbs, the Giro is the much cooler younger brother of the Tour and makes for riveting reading.
Sevens Heaven: The Beautiful Chaos of Fiji’s Olympic Dream – Ben Ryan
When he first became the Fijian 7s coach in 2013, Ben Ryan had a mission – to bring home the tiny Melanesian nation’s first Olympic gold medal. The ultimate underdogs, no other rugby nation has done so much with so little and the story of their journey through adversity to a historic victory over Great Britain in Rio is one to lift the spirit.
A Walk in The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail – Bill Bryson
Short of escaping into the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, Bryson’s genuinely hilarious memoir is chock-full of interesting historical and ecological tidbits, as well as insect-based anecdotes. A modern classic of the travel writing genre, this is perfect for both outdoorsy woodsmen and city-dwellers alike and makes an important plea for the conservation of American wilderness.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
Running isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when someone mentions Haruki Murakami, one of the giants of surrealist literature. However, Murakami is also an accomplished endurance athlete, counting running as an essential part of his writing process. Come for the beautiful prose, stay for his recollection of a herculean 100km ultramarathon in Hokkaido.
Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado’s Men’s Cross-Country Team – Chris Lear
A classic of the genre, Running with the Buffaloes is a deep dive into the Colorado University cross country team’s 1998 campaign, their controversial coach Mark Whitmore, and the tragic death of their #2 runner, Chris Severy. 20 years after publication, Lear’s monumental work still keeps up with the best of them.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christopher McDougall
The Tarahumara name for themselves, Rarámuri, roughly means ‘those with light feet’. Considering their ancient tradition of running ultramarathon distances, it’s unsurprising that McDougall uses them to support the endurance running hypothesis: that human characteristics can be attributed to long distance running and persistence hunting. McDougall travels to the Rarámuri to understand what makes them such incredible athletes whilst recounting his own history with running on this highly-readable ride.
Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice – Matthew Syed
In Bounce, Matthew Syed questions everything you thought you knew about talent. He argues that what really produces champions and prodigies is, instead, thousands of hours of practice, criticism, and the acceptance of failure. Himself a champion table-tennis player and two time Olympian, Syed asks us whether talent really is more important than dedication?
Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Journey to the Top of Everest – Jamling Tenzing Norgay
For the Sherpa, Mount Everest is so much more than a mountain; Qomolangma (trans. Holy Mother) is the sacred home of the goddess Miyolangsangma, and it’s said that Tenzing Norgay followed her to the summit that fateful May day in 1953. Known for being the sirdar of the IMAX Expedition during the infamous 1996 Everest Disaster, Jamling Norgay interweaves family history and Buddhist Sherpa culture with a recount of his ‘96 summit, challenging conventional views of high altitude climbing.