40 Exhilarating Reads for Runners

Running isn’t just a form of exercise for many athletes: it’s an entire lifestyle that offers a sense of euphoria, peace and accomplishment in exchange of physically grueling training sessions. Whether you’re just getting into running or are a devoted ultramarathoner, there’s always more to learn about this ancient means for exercise, transportation, and gathering food. From the books below, you’ll read true accounts of high school and college track teams and runners, find tips for barefoot running and traditional conditioning, and read novels and tributes to the culture of running.

How-tos and Guides

In this list, you’ll find books that are full of tips for all types of runners, including barefoot runners, women runners, beginners, and marathoners.

  1. The Barefoot Running Book Second Edition: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running by Jason Robillard; Edited by Dirk Wierenga: Barefoot running has gained a lot of traction in the long distance running world over the last few years, and this book will help you make the transition.
  2. Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running: The Best Advice to Get Started, Stay Motivated, Lose Weight, Run Injury-Free, Be Safe, and Train for Any Distance by Dagny Scott Barrios: Female runners wanting to customize a running routine that results in weight loss, a healthy lifestyle and increased athleticism will appreciate this guide.
  3. The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by David Whitsett, Forrest Dolgener and Tanjala Kole: Based on the training class offered at University of Northern Iowa, this book helps more casual runners step up their game and get ready for marathons.
  4. The Beginning Runner’s Handbook: The Proven 13-Week Walk-Run Program by The Sport Medicine Council of British Columbia: If you’d like to become a runner but are afraid of burning out or injuring yourself, use this 13-week guide to get you in shape.
  5. Running & Being: The Total Experience, by George Sheehan: First published in the 70s, this New York Times bestseller is still regarded as a practical guide and celebration of running as a form of “exercise, play and competition.”
  6. Lore of Running, by Timothy Noakes: This revised book is sort of a one-stop read for learning about running and the running world, complete with information on star athletes, injuries, running anatomy, and more.
  7. The Runner’s Handbook : The Bestselling Classic Fitness Guide for Beginning and Intermediate Runners, by Bob Glover, Jack Shepherd and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover: The cover’s a bit vintage, but this book eases rookies into a new lifestyle by getting them gradually addicted to running.
  8. Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach, by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald: Learn how to take control of your own training program so that you can set new personal records and run longer distances.
  9. Running for Mortals: A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life With Running, by John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield: Even if you don’t want to become a competitive runner or marathoner, you can still benefit from adding running into your daily lifestyle, and this book will show you how.
  10. Running Anatomy, Joseph Puleo and Patrick Milroy: This illustrated guide to running anatomy will help you understand how your body reacts to training exercises and can reach running goals more effectively.
  11. Runner’s World Training Journal by the editors of Runner’s World Magazine: This heavy duty spiral helps runners track their runs, goals, mileage, and more.
  12. Brain Training For Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results, by Matt Fitzgerald and with a foreword by Tim Noakes, M.D.: By training your brain as well as your body, you’ll be able to resist fatigue and run longer and faster.
  13. Running – The Sacred Art: Preparing to Practice, by Warren A. Kay and Kristin Armstrong: Explore the spiritual side of running in this guidebook.
  14. The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life: What 35 Years of Running Have Taught Me About Winning, Losing, Happiness, Humility, and the Human Heart, by Amby Burfoot: Runners will be enlightened to the different ways that running can improve their lives and their perspective, too, from setting goals, accepting failure, being more creative, and appreciating tradition.
  15. Runner’s World The Runner’s Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer, and Faster, by Ross Tucker, Jonathan Dugas and Matt Fitzgerald: Read this book to learn more about the physical stresses of running and new trends — backed up by science — that can help your body reach its optimum performance without getting hurt.
  16. Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, by Matt Fitzgerald: Serious athletes who need to shave off even just five pounds so that they can improve their records will get smart tips from this book.
  17. The Runner’s Field Manual: A Tactical (and Practical) Survival Guide, by Mark Remy and the Editors of Runner’s World: In this manual, you’ll find practical tips for finding aid stations at races, maneuvering around texters who aren’t looking for you on the sidewalk, and surviving “finish line vomit.”

Biographies and Personal Stories

Read personal stories about the runners and coaches who revolutionized the sport and continue to inspire athletes today.

  1. Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine, by Tom Jordan: Read the story of competitive runner Steve Prefontaine, who died of a car crash at just 24 years old.
  2. Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon’s Legendary Coach and Nike’s Co-founder, by Kenny Moore: Learn about Bill Bowerman, the University of Oregon running coach who changed the way American runners trained, rested, dressed, and raced.
  3. 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: Another book about college runners, this account by Chris Lear tracks the real-life 1998 cross-country season of the University of Colorado Buffaloes, through a death, training, and a championship.
  4. Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon, by John Brant: Learn the back stories behind two of the greatest runners in American history: Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley, who ran the entire Boston Marathon practically next to each other.
  5. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics, by Jeremy Schaap: This story, told through flashbacks, follows the rise of Jesse Owens and celebrates his performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
  6. The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It, by Neal Bascomb: This exciting book follows the three men who were the first runners to attempt the four-minute mile in the U.S., in the 1950s.
  7. The Four-Minute Mile by Roger Bannister: All runners will appreciate this book about British runner Roger Bannister, the first to complete the four-minute mile in a recorded race.
  8. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami: This piece of nonfiction includes various diary entries, anecdotes and musings on long-distance running by the famed bizarre fiction writer.
  9. Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon, by Neal Jamison and Don Allison: Through this collection of personal stories, find out what kind of person it takes to run ultramarathons, of up to 100 miles or more.
  10. Juggernauts: The Making of a Runner & a Team in the First American Running Boom, by Steve Adkisson: Sports history buffs, high school and college sports athletes, and competitive runners should read this book about one of the first cross-country teams who gained respect and celebrity status in the 1970s.
  11. Going Long: Legends, Oddballs, Comebacks & Adventures, by the Editors of Runner’s World: Here you’ll read a collection of stories — some of the best from Runner’s World– full of advice, funny tales, inspiration, and running history.

Running Culture

Read these books to get a feel for the unique culture of the running world, from races to the history of running.

  1. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall: McDougall studied long distance runners all over the world to discover the secrets of ultra-athletes.
  2. Strides: Running Through History With an Unlikely Athlete, by Benjamin Cheever: An avid runner for 30 years, Cheever writes about running myths and history in this book.
  3. Zen and the Art of Running: The Path to Making Peace With Your Pace, by Larry Shapiro: Let Buddha’s guiding principles give you the courage to take the first step to running, and to enjoy yourself as you train according to your own abilities.
  4. The Runner and the Path: An Athlete’s Quest for Meaning in Postmodern Corporate America, by Dean Ottati: Touted as a book for anyone who’s having trouble coming to terms with contemporary society’s materialism and superficiality, this book uses running as a metaphor and a means to understanding the true meaning of life.
  5. Extreme Running, by Kym McConnell, Dave Horsley, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes: Read about people who do extreme running: in cold-weather Alaska, the Sahara desert, and more.
  6. Why We Run: A Natural History, by Bernd Heinrich: This book is written by a biologist, nature writer and ultramarathoner who has studied running culture and drive throughout history.
  7. Racing the Antelope: What Animals Can Teach Us About Running and Life, by Bernd Heinrich: From anatomy to racing to hunting, Heinrich provides a comprehensive analysis of how and why we run, and what we can learn from animals.
  8. No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running, by John Bingham: It’s easy to get caught up in beating your times and winning races, but as this book proves, the real joy of running isn’t about your speed.

Novels and Literature

Find poems, short stories and novels that beautifully depict the personal journeys that running takes you on, too.

  1. Life at These Speeds: A Novel, by Jeremy Jackson: This novel is about an eighth grader who loses most of his track friends in a bus accident, transfers to a new school and is celebrated as a hero runner.
  2. The Runner’s Literary Companion: Great Stories and Poems About Running, by Garth Battista: Find inspiration, motivation and encouragement from short stories and poems by Evelyn Waugh, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alan Sillitoe in this collection.
  3. Distant Runner, by Bruce Glikin: This popular novel about a world-record setting runner who suddenly disappears from the scene has influenced many runners and non-runners looking for a second chance at life and their dreams.
  4. Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, Jr.: Called “the best novel ever written about running” by Runner’s World, this book follows the story of a man intent on becoming a competitive runner, but it’s been a favorite of all types of runners for decades.

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