What is running when you really think about it? For sure, we can say that it’s putting one foot in front of the other at a (hopefully) fast speed, but there’s more to it than that.
These fantastic books show us what running is all about. Tales of immense fatigue and mind-splitting pain? Check. More scientific deconstructions of how to nail your running technique fuelled by research and interviews with top athletes? Check. Inspiring stories of underdogs rising from the ashes of depression, mid-life crises and lethargy to become bona fide running heroes? Triple check.
We’ve put together this list with you in mind, starting with a quality selection of our own titles before branching out into works from other publishers. There’s something for everyone here, from narratives of extreme, record-shattering endeavours to touching personal memoirs of how running can change lives.
The Lake District is known to some for its cottages and leisurely ambles, but it’s much more than that to Steve. In 2014 he embarked on an epic task of endurance: running all 214 Lakeland Fells. He completed the 322-mile challenge in a record-breaking time, but it was hell on earth; blisters, tendonitis, and sickness all gnashed their teeth at him. At times he even managed to fall asleep while walking. But he completed his monumental challenge, and this book tells the story of how personal determination and community spirit helped Steve etch his name into fellrunning history.
Damian Hall stumbled into running in his late thirties hoping it would help him escape his mid-life crisis. By accident, he became one of today’s most tenacious ultrarunners, pounding his way through marathons, ultramarathons, and a 261-mile Pennine Way run like few others can. This is his poetic and humorous account of how ‘those peaty, heathery moorland plateaus, curious groughs and mythical bogs’ inspired an undying commitment to running and a discovery of his true self, revamping his life beyond recognition.
2020 was a record-smashing year in running, even when Covid-19 had cancelled so many races. In Broken, Ally Beaven dives behind the scenes of many record attempts that sprung up in this unprecedented time, from running coach Donnie Campbell’s fastest round of Scotland’s 282 Munros, to Beth Pascall’s momentous Bob Graham Round attempt. Beaven’s personal account of helping these daring souls rewrite the history books is witty and insightful in equal measure.
401: The Man who Ran 401 Marathons in 401 Days and Changed His Life Forever by Ben Smith
You know when you just come across a mind-boggling story? This is one of them. You read the title right. Ben Smith, struggling to understand his place in the world, sold all his possessions and embarked on a Herculean running bonanza, covering over 10,500 miles across the UK, burning 2.5 million calories, and raising £330,000 for two anti-bullying charities, after having been bullied for his sexuality in his youth. It’s a heart-warming tale of passion, endeavour, and aspiration, though Ben insists: “I’m just a normal guy.”
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Don’t roll your eyes at us. Yes, you’ve probably been recommended this too many times before, but guess what? It’s a classic for a reason. In this fascinating narrative McDougall comes face-to-face with the mysterious Tarahumara tribe in the depths of Mexico’s canyons. They’re spellbindingly brilliant runners, managing to run 100-mile distances at breakneck speed and with fewer injuries than most American runners. McDougall’s book explores the unique bond between humans and running and gives a fresh prospective on the ability to learn from others. Remodelling his own running technique, based on what he saw in Mexico, McDougall experienced a drastic reduction in his own injuries.
Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton
Deena Kastor is an American runner of generational talent, having won eight national cross-country titles and a bronze Olympic marathon medal in her career. Yet all these achievements almost didn’t happen. Frustrated and burnt out, Kastor almost threw in the towel on her running career after university, but revered coach Joe Vigil had other ideas. What followed was the rejuvenation of a dejected mind. This is the story, step by step, of how Kastor not only got her mojo back, but injected fresh energy into America’s Olympic efforts.
Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink by Nita Sweeney
Nita Sweeney isn’t a decorated, world-famous runner, but her story is as inspiring as anybody’s. At the age of forty-nine, Nita was chronically depressed and hardly able to jog at all. Bit by bit, though, running with her dog became her therapy. This moving memoir follows Nita’s story as she overcomes physical and emotional obstacles to finish her first marathon, all with the helping paw of her furry companion along the way.
26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life From Each Marathon by Meb Keflezighi and Scott Douglas
Not many people can tell you what it’s like to win the Boston Marathon, the New York Marathon, and an Olympic silver medal – in fact, only Meb Keflezighi can. In this deeply personal book, Meb reflects on what he learned from each of the twenty-six marathons he ran in his career. It’s also a handy guide for those trying to go faster and further in their running shoes, with plenty of tips on nutrition and training.
The Lost Art of Running by Shane Benzie
Described by none other than Damian Hall (does that ring a bell? Care to buy his book?) as ‘the Indiana Jones of the running world’, Shane Benzie takes us around five continents on his quest to unpack the secrets of running excellence. Having trained with and analysed the techniques of the most remarkable runners on the planet, Benzie knows what he’s talking about, and offers a practical insight into how to improve your own running, be you a novice or an experienced runner.
Running Up That Hill by Vassos Alexander
Jam-packed with accounts of gruelling races and high-profile interviews, Alexander’s book is a tribute to the glorious sport of endurance running, exploring “the highs and lows of going that bit further”. It works well as a general introduction to the endurance running universe and looks through the keyhole into the minds of some of the sport’s best – their personalities, their triumphs, and their motivations.