16 of the best running books recommended by fellow runners
Lately, I’ve begun to ask myself exactly why I run (perhaps I was prompted by Google’s year in review video). Running is hard, really hard, and it hurts, a lot with one author in this list even describes running as an ‘irrational passion’. Yet, despite the pain, you’ll still find me sticking on my running shoes and heading out the door most days. So, in the pursuit of answers, I turned to running books. What became clear was that reading about other peoples’ experiences with running was not only a great way to identify the why, but also to keep inspiration and motivation high.
With this in mind, I thought I’d compile a list of the absolute best running books out there. To do so, I asked some of the Let’s Do This team for their favourites. There were a real mixture of recommendations; ultra running books, running books for training, running books for motivation. Some are absolute must-reads, some offer quirky insights into individuals in the space and some will motivate you to get up and out the door.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christopher McDougall
Best for: Falling in love with running
It’d be impossible not to start a list of the best running books with Born to Run. McDougall’s book centres on Mexican-Indian tribe The Tarahumara whose name for themselves – Rarámuri – roughly translates to ‘those with light feet’. The tribe has an ancient tradition of running long, long distances (in other words ultramarathons) and McDougall dives into the tribe’s anthropology in an attempt to uncover its running secrets. This is a story about running in its purest form and it’s an essential read for anyone looking to answer the why behind running. If there’s a book on this list which you buy tomorrow, then this is it.
Best for: Planning a running trip to the mountains
Kilian Jornet is unquestionably one of the most impressive endurance athletes of the 21st century. If you don’t know him, I suggest a quick Google – the guy is an absolute machine. On not one, but two occasions, he’s been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and there’s no adventure that better encapsulates Jornet than his ascent(s) of Mount Everest. You may be thinking, ‘but lots of people have climbed Everest, what’s so special about this guy?’ Well, Jornet made the climb twice, in 7 days, without any ropes or bottled oxygen. Above the Clouds will give you the full story, and more, of Jornet’s numerous feats.
Best for: Booking yourself onto a running holiday
Dreaming about your next (or first) running adventure? Buy this running book. Seriously, I got this for Christmas and have made a ritual of sifting through its pages over my morning coffee. The book is split regionally, so you can easily zero in on a location anywhere on the planet and quickly find it’s best running routes. Perhaps you’ll find that some are closer to home than expected, while others will be sufficiently exotic to remain out of reach at the moment. If reading about amazing running routes doesn’t quite convince you, then there is the added perk that this book looks great on your coffee table.
Best: Bringing out the intellectual runner within
This one came highly-recommended from a number of the team. I appreciate that the revered Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami – author of A Wild Sheep Chase and Norwegian Wood – and running don’t go hand-in-hand. However, Murakami loves distance running and, as you’ll find out in the book, it’s an essential part of his writing process. This funny, philosophical book about Murakami’s love of running is a must-have.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself [or herself].”Haruki Murakami
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
Best for: A quick read, because you won’t be able to put it down
If this was published today it wouldn’t be a running book, but instead a Netflix Original or an Amazon Prime documentary. The book is packed with drama – following Colorado University through their ‘98 NCAA season and all the ups and downs which come at the top level of collegiate athletics in the States. With total behind-the-scenes access to the team, Lear dives into the life and methods of the controversial – yet revered – coach Mark Whitmore, and the tragic death of one of the team, Chris Severy. This raw and honest account of elite-level sport makes this book stand the test of time.
Best for: An intro to running and not taking yourself to seriously
We’ve covered a lot of ultra running books in this list, as well as books that centre on serious experiences or elite athletes. Run Like Duck, on the other hand, self professes itself as a running book for the unathletic. This book has raving reviews and our recommender comments that it has “so many relatable experiences for a newbie runner.” It’s not easy to marry up comedy and genuine advice but this running book does just that. Plus, it’s recommended by Sean Conway – so what’s not to like!
Best for: Being inspired to book your first triathlon
Chrissie Wellington is undoubtedly one of the greatest triathletes on the planet. It only took her three years to go from beginner to bursting into the limelight of professional triathlon. Her debut Ironman World Championship title in 2007 was characterised as one the ‘biggest upset in Ironman Hawaii history’ and the journey to this victory provides great reading. But, more compelling than any single achievement, are her numerous tales of conquering adversity to become one of the most impressive endurance athletes on the planet.
Best for: Making the most of your spare time (there’s more than you think!)
I was sent this book by a friend of mine who thought I’d like it. He was right, and I’ve since got into the habit of sending a copy to friends of my own. Humphreys’ easily digestible writing focuses on how we can live our lives more adventurously, but within the confines of our everyday, busy schedules. Again, this isn’t a running book. However, as all runners know, getting through the doorstep is often the hardest part of a run. Humphreys’ key ethos: live between the 5 – 9, not the 9 – 5.
Best for: Planning a running trip to the Lake District
Next to Born to Run and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, this is one of the all-time best running books. First published in 2004, the book immediately received plaudits and went on to win the Best New Writer Prize in 2005. The name fell running originated in the Lake District and is different from trail running because it takes place in mountains or high moorland. Fell running is a unique sport with a cult following and Askwith delves into it through the only acceptable medium – taking part. Spending a whole season taking on the UK’s most immense fell-running locations, Askwith’s journey culminates in the sport’s most revered challenge, the Bob Graham Round.
Best for: Making you want to try a plant-based diet
Rich Roll becomes the first person to feature on both our lists of recommended running podcasts and recommended running books. Roll isn’t your conventional ultra-athlete. On the eve of his 40th birthday, Roll had an epiphany: he was overweight, unfit, and ultimately worried about what his future held. Now, almost 15 years later, Roll is one of the most prominent plant-based endurance athletes on the plant. Finding Ultra tells us how he got there, and is absolutely one of the best ultra running books out there.
Best for: Getting you up and out the door for training
This list isn’t short on inspiration. But if you’re after someone to get you up and out of the door, there’s no one better than David Goggins. Can’t Hurt Me is a story of a man who came from nothing. A man who, like Rich Roll above, altered his life’s trajectory to become the ‘Fittest (real) man in America’. The story centres around Goggin’s theory ‘The 40% Rule’, which details how the vast majority of us only tap into 40% of our mind and body’s capacity. Anyone seen Limitless? Well, unlike Bradley Cooper taking a magic pill, Goggins advocates three things: hard-work, resilience, and discipline.
Best for: Making you want to hire a personal trainer
Jesse Itzler is an American entrepreneur, author and current owner of NBA team the Atlanta Hawks. But, like so many others, he had fallen into a rut. To counter this, he turned to fitness and a training plan. But not just any training plan. This was an entire month of training with a Navy SEAL, or, in other words, the ‘toughest man on the planet’. While Itzler’s story should certainly exist on a list of general fitness books, it came in so highly recommended that we couldn’t not include it in our list of running books as well.
Best for: A new perspective on running,= and what makes this sport so unique
This one comes a bit out of left field and it was only released on March 16th 2021. Author Brendan Leonard – creator of Semi-Rad – is known for making comical charts about endurance sports and, importantly, not taking it too seriously. Now he’s written a book about running. His credentials? He once ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks, so he knows a thing or two. The blurb alone – ‘how to get started, keep going, and make sense of an irrational passion’ was enough to make me order it. And, I’m glad I did.
Best for: Blowing your dinner guests away with epic imagery
When the aforementioned Kilian Jornet is writing the foreword, you know the book is bound to be good. If you’re looking for an ultra running book, then this really is the best running book for you. Corless has travelled to all corners of the planet to track down the best, most picturesque, and most exhilarating ultra running races. There’s no shortage of awesome content in this book, with interviews with runners, course maps, and much more – but it’s the images that truly make this book. Powerful and expressive, these action-packed images make Running Beyond a coffee table running book, on steroids.
Best for: A running bible
If you’re looking for running books that are a little more interactive, then this is the one for you. Arzon’s book takes running far beyond a mere activity that some do on the weekend, and reveals the extent to which running has become an industry unto itself. This book is a training plan, a running gear guide, and a self-help book all tossed into one. If you’re here for the best running book for training, then you’ve found your winner.
Best for: Realising you’ve got a lot of training to do
Kenyans, alongside Ethiopans, have long dominated the long-distance running space. In fact, Kenya and Ethiopia won more medals in men’s middle to long distance running events at the Beijing Olympics that the rest of the world combined. But what is it that sets them apart? Well, Adharanand Finn is determined to find out. He travels to Iten, Kenya – a running Mecca – to uncover the secrets that make Kenyan athletes better than the rest.