Track and field is one of those sports that showcases the incredible capabilities of the human body. From sprinting and long jumps to shot put and javelin throws, it's amazing to watch what some of these men and women can do. If you are an athlete, learning from a guy like Michael Johnson can offer a tremendous amount of value in how you train and prepare. If you're a fan, getting a glimpse into what was going through Johnson's mind in the seconds before the 400 meter final at the 1996 Summer Olympics is why we read. Today, we take a look at at my favorite track and field books.
Why Do I Care?
I started participating in competitive track when I was eight years old, and it was one of the best early experiences of my life. Because I was one of the younger members of the track club, I was forced to pay attention so I didn't look bad in front of the older kids. Most importantly, it was my first memory of really learning something new. We had plenty of fun and days where we'd just run as fast we could. But, there were plenty of practices where I remember becoming acutely aware of how my body worked (and how I could move faster, throw further, and jump higher if I learned to connect my mind and body).
When I was ten years old, I was running in the 400 meter final for the boy's state championship. As part of my preparation, my coach had me visualize the start of the race, how it would feel to come out strong, and what it would take to come around the final bend and give it my all down the stretch. As much as I prepared physically, that was really the first time in my life that I had mentally prepared more than just the day of the race.
When that gun went off, I ran the race that I was prepared to run. At 300 meters, I was out of breath and hurting, but I knew I was going to feel that way so I pushed harder. As we came down the stretch and people yelled and screamed from the stands, I ironically only heard one voice, which bellowed "You're going to catch him!"
Knowing that I was in the lead by a hair, it was that voice that gave me the final ounce of juice to pull away and win the gold medal.
I'm forever grateful to my experiences in track and have been a fan of the sport ever since.
Why Read One of These Books?
It's fair question, and one that I always ask myself when I'm looking for a new book. For me, it's important to have the right expectations before reading something. So, if you enjoy books that lean on the historical angle vs. being more people focused, keep that in mind when evaluating this list.
With that, please enjoy the list.
The Best Track and Field Books
"The Perfect Mile" by Neal Bascomb
Hailed as a masterpiece in the realm of sports literature, "The Perfect Mile" by Neal Bascomb takes readers on a thrilling journey back to the 1950s. This captivating non-fiction book chronicles the quest of three legendary runners: Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee, as they strive to break the elusive four-minute mile barrier. Bascomb's vivid storytelling paints a vivid picture of the physical and mental challenges these athletes face, immersing readers in the intensity and determination of their pursuits. We enjoyed this book so much that it made our Top 10 Sports Books of All Time list.
"Bowerman and the Men of Oregon" by Kenny Moore
For those curious about the origins of modern running and the legendary coach behind it, "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon" by Kenny Moore is an exceptional choice. This insightful biography delves into the life of Bill Bowerman, the co-founder of Nike and a revered figure in the world of track and field. Moore paints a vivid portrait of Bowerman's relentless pursuit of excellence, his innovative training methods, and his unwavering dedication to his athletes. This book offers valuable lessons not only for runners but also for anyone striving for success in their endeavors.
"Gold Rush" by Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson, one of the greatest sprinters of all time, shares his personal journey and insights in "Gold Rush." This autobiography provides a fascinating glimpse into the mindset and training regimen of an Olympic champion. Johnson's honest and introspective storytelling takes readers through his triumphs, setbacks, and the immense sacrifices he made to become a track and field legend. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking inspiration and a deeper understanding of the dedication required to excel in the world of sprinting. I ran the 400 meters as a youngster and watching Johnson capture Olympic gold in those gold shoes is something I'll never forget.
"Running For My Life" by Lopez Lomong
The book chronicles Lomong's incredible journey, starting from his childhood in war-torn Sudan, where he was forcibly separated from his family and taken to a Kenyan refugee camp.
Lomong's story takes a dramatic turn when he becomes one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" selected to come to the United States through a refugee resettlement program. He finds himself in a small town in New York, where he begins to adapt to a completely different culture and discovers his passion for running.
The book details Lomong's transition from a young boy with dreams of reuniting with his family to an aspiring athlete, eventually earning a scholarship to compete in track and field at Northern Arizona University. Lomong's determination, resilience, and unwavering spirit are vividly portrayed as he overcomes various obstacles, both on and off the track.
"Running with the Buffaloes" by Chris Lear
This book centers around the 1998 season, a year that holds high hopes for the University of Colorado's men's cross country team. Led by their renowned coach, Mark Wetmore, and featuring talented athletes such as Adam Goucher, the team aims to capture the NCAA Cross Country Championship. Throughout the book, Lear delves into the personal stories and backgrounds of the team members, highlighting their individual aspirations and struggles. He explores the commitment, sacrifices, and sheer dedication required to excel in the demanding sport of cross country running.
"Fire on the Track" by Roseanne Montillo
"Fire on the Track" tells the remarkable story of Betty Robinson, an American sprinter who became the first female Olympic gold medalist in track and field. Roseanne Montillo meticulously chronicles Robinson's journey, from a near-fatal plane crash that threatened her career to her triumphant return to the Olympic stage. This book sheds light on the struggles and achievements of early women athletes, inspiring readers with tales of resilience and determination. We also included this book on our list of Best Olympic Books.
"The Perfect Distance" by Pat Butcher
Pat Butcher's "The Perfect Distance" provides a compelling account of the legendary rivalry between British middle-distance runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. The book explores their contrasting personalities, training methods, and intense competition that captivated the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Butcher delves into the races, controversies, and the enduring legacy of these two remarkable athletes.
"Once a Runner" by John L. Parker Jr.
A cult classic among running enthusiasts, "Once a Runner" follows the story of Quenton Cassidy, a talented collegiate runner. John L. Parker Jr.'s novel takes readers into the world of competitive running, exploring the physical and mental challenges faced by athletes in pursuit of their goals. Through Cassidy's journey, the book delves into themes of dedication, sacrifice, and the pursuit of excellence.
"A Kind of Grace" by Jackie Joyner-Kersee
In "A Kind of Grace," Joyner-Kersee shares her experiences as a young girl discovering her passion for sports, her triumphs and setbacks as she pursued her dreams, and the dedication and determination that propelled her to win multiple Olympic medals and set numerous records.
The book offers insights into Joyner-Kersee's training methods, her mental and physical preparation for competitions, and her unwavering drive to excel in her sport. It also touches on her personal life, including her relationships, family, and the support system that played a crucial role in her success.
"Amazing Racers" by Marc Bloom
While this book is focused on distance running (and we could argue cross country vs. track), I want to include it here because it's a phenomenal book. Coach Bill Aris has created a running powerhouse at Fayetteville-Manlius, or F-M, in upstate New York. Coaching both boys and girls, Aris's techniques are unconventional, which is all the more reason to read the book.
I hope you were able to find something that piqued your interest.
Track & Field seemed to be a lot more popular when I was growing up than it is today. Maybe it was the lack of other things going on, but I'd like to think that it was the athletes: Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gail Devers, Allyson Felix, and Michael Johnson were can't miss events. They also represented America with such pride that you couldn't help but feel patriotic after watching them run.
Time moves us forward and maybe the best days of track & field are behind us; I'd like to think that they aren't.
For additional book recommendations by sport, check out our Recommendations page.
In addition, we are always publishing new content on our Blog that you may find interesting.
Last, I previously wrote about book recommendations if you're preparing for a 5K, 10K, or marathon. You can find that article here.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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