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For a sport that â€” on the surface â€” is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, there are certainly a lot of books out there about running, ranging from training manuals to meditations on the joys of pounding the pavement day after day. â€śThe most powerful books about running are things that inspire you, that will cultivate a love for running that will stay with you,â€ť says Rich Roll, ultrarunner, author of Finding Ultra, and host of the Rich Roll Podcast. And thanks to audiobooks, an inspiring running book can also be an inspiring training partner.
To find the best books for all types of runners, we asked for picks from a panel of 11 experts, including Roll; Jonathan Beverly, editor-in-chief of PodiumRunner and author of Your Best Stride; ultrarunner Kris Brown; Chris Chavez, Sports Illustrated writer and founder of the running website Citrus Mag; running coach Elizabeth â€śCorkyâ€ť Corkum; running coach Jason Fitzgerald; Erin Mink Garvey, blogger at Running Ruminations; Well + Good news writer Kells McPhillips; Katrina Miller, product manager at running apparel brand Rabbit; David Siik, co-founder and creative director of Precision Run; and David Spandorfer, co-founder of running apparel brand Janji. As always, each book comes recommended by at least two experts.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
$13 (was $17, now 24% off)
If youâ€™ve ever heard of barefoot running or considered buying an energy bar with chia seeds, you can thank Christopher McDougallâ€™s book Born to Run, which Spandorfer calls â€śthe preeminent running book of all time.â€ť Driven to find out the cause of his frequent running injuries, the author tracks down members of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexicoâ€™s Copper Canyons. The Tarahumara regularly run hundreds of miles barefoot or in thin sandals (not ultracushioned running shoes) and are fueled by seeds of the indigenous chia plant instead of sugary sports drinks or protein bars. According to Miller, the resulting book â€śalmost seems like a gonzo-style fictional story filled with characters and situations too ludicrous to be true, but entertaining and inspiring enough that it doesnâ€™t matter.â€ť
Spandorfer explains that it â€ścreated the barefoot running movement [and] it even sparked nutrition companies.â€ť He notes that Health Warrior, a brand of chia-based bars and protein powders for athletes, drew inspiration for its products from Born to Run, and that minimal shoes like Nike Free sneakers took off in popularity after the bookâ€™s publication. For many runners, though, the appeal is the bookâ€™s portrayal of the love of running for its own sake. As Roll says â€śit helped inspire my imagination about what running could be outside of just signing up for a marathon.â€ť
$13 at Amazon
Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside With Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, And The University Of Colorado Men’s Cross Country Team by Chris Lear
$14 (was $17, now 18% off)
A favorite of five runners we spoke with, this account of the University of Colorado cross-country teamâ€™s 1998 season and their journey to the national championship is both â€śvery inspiring,â€ť according to Siik, and â€śheartbreaking,â€ť according to Brown and Spandorfer. Brown explains that author Chris Lear set out to write what was â€śsupposed to be a relatively technical journalistic piece,â€ť but ended up being â€śat the right place at the right timeâ€ť to witness a season of tragedy and triumph featuring the Buffaloesâ€™ legendary coach Mark Wetmore and star runner â€” and future Olympian â€” Adam Goucher. Told through a series of journal entries, Running With the Buffaloes details the runnersâ€™ vigorous training and each athleteâ€™s â€ścommitment and dreams of the team,â€ť in the words of Chavez, who calls it his â€śfavorite running book of all time.â€ť Finally, Fitzgerald says, â€śthis is the book that made me fall in love with cross country.â€ť
$14 at Amazon
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
$7 (was $15, now 53% off)
Prolific Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is also an avid runner, as he describes in this meditative memoir on long-distance running. â€śThis is a book that truly can inspire someone to lace up and take this journey on their own,â€ť says Siik. McPhillips likes how Murakami explains that running is â€ślike youâ€™re creating a cocoon within yourself that you can return to again and again even when youâ€™re not running,â€ť and was inspired by his advice to â€śimagine that every mile is a journey further into yourself.â€ť Roll, who sees running as a way â€śto channel your creativity or unlock your creative mind so you can connect more deeply with who you are,â€ť loves that Murakamiâ€™s book â€śis about so much more than just what is running, how to run, and how to run fast.â€ť
$7 at Amazon
Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.
$10 (was $17, now 41% off)
For competitive high-school and college runners, Spandorfer says this â€ścult classicâ€ť novel is â€śwhere the canon begins and ends.â€ť Originally published in 1978, Once a Runner delves into the life of a runner at a fictional college whoâ€™s determined to break four minutes in the mile, even after being kicked off the track team for protesting the Vietnam War. Chavez says itâ€™s â€śthe runnerâ€™s bible. It encapsulates everything that a runner experiences when theyâ€™re obsessed with goals, while also juggling the challenges and obstacles that come with balancing academics and personal relationships. Every runner can relate to pushing themselves to achieve the difficult.â€ť Brown jokes that, thanks to its focus on intense and dedicated training, this book has probably led to more than one stress fracture among high-school runners.
$10 at Amazon
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
$11 (was $15, now 27% off)
The young Rwandan runner at the center of this novel (which won the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) dreams of becoming an Olympian, even when he and his family become the target of unspeakable violence. Beverly says Running the Rift â€śgives a face to the Rwandan genocide â€” especially for runners, who can relate to the joy the hero finds in the sport, and the way running plays a central role in how he survives the horrors of his context.â€ť Spandorfer likes how the book touches on â€śthe unspoken beauty of running and its existence in a much larger geopolitical â€” and microlevel â€” tragedy.â€ť
$11 at Amazon
How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle by Matt Fitzgerald
$13 (was $19, now 32% off)
Corkum loves this book because it â€śdives into the mental preparation and adaptation necessary to embrace hard racing.â€ť In it, writer and running coach Matt Fitzgerald explains the psychological aspects of running success and mental toughness. Garvey says that runners struggling with fear of failure or other mental blocks will benefit from reading about how professional runners deal with these issues, as well as â€ścase studies and the science behind a lot of the tests and procedures that have been done to help further mental fitness.â€ť Both Corkum and Garvey say Fitzgeraldâ€™s book offers plenty of takeaway lessons everyday runners can apply to their own racing and training.
$13 at Amazon
Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
$7 (was $16, now 56% off)
If youâ€™re curious about running as a vegan, champion ultrarunner (or someone who runs distances longer than a marathon) Scott Jurek details how he regularly runs record-breaking times on a vegan diet. Siik likes it for its â€śinteresting insights into plant based-diets,â€ť and Roll finds it to be a â€śreally inspiringâ€ť book about how Jurek became â€śthe most successful vegan runner of all time.â€ť
$7 at Amazon
North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek with Jenny Jurek
$12 (was $17, now 29% off)
Jurekâ€™s second book, which chronicles his experience setting a record-breaking time on the Appalachian Trail while running from Georgia to Maine, is also a favorite among runners. Garvey says that reading North makes â€śyou feel really inspired,â€ť even if super-long-distance running doesnâ€™t appeal to you. She thinks Jurekâ€™s story â€śmakes the wheels start to turn within you,â€ť motivating you to achieve your own personal â€śunicorn quest.â€ť Roll appreciates that North includes insight into Jurekâ€™s process of self-discovery.
$12 at Amazon
Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
$13 (was $16, now 19% off)
Among other superhuman feats, writer and ultrarunner Dean Karnazes has run a marathon in each of the 50 states in 50 consecutive days, and once ran for more than 80 hours straight with no sleep. He details all of this and more in his book on ultrarunning which Brown says â€śhas had the single greatest impact on the sport of ultrarunning.â€ť Roll is also a fan and calls Karnazesâ€™s book a â€śvery inspirational story of transformation.â€ť
$13 at Amazon
Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas
$16 (was $25, now 36% off)
For a straightforward guide on how to structure your running training â€” especially if you want to get faster â€” Corkum likes this â€ścomprehensive training book that breaks down types of runsâ€ť and their different purposes. Beverly likes how it â€śpresents clear and practical advice about marathon training, not only what you should do but why.â€ť Plus, he says â€śitâ€™s easy to read, easy to implement, and it works.â€ť Garvey has used the book in her own training and says, â€śI feel like a lot of my success in marathoning just as a normal everyday runner has come from the training components that are espousedâ€ť in its pages. Although it focuses on marathoners, all runners can benefit from the bookâ€™s training principles and advice on everything from nutrition to racing strategy.
$16 at Amazon
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