All books below are rated 4 stars (out of 5) or above. Rather than assign star ratings to each book, we'll only include write ups on books we feel are worth reading.
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"Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall: A lot of running books are about anatomy, training, strategy, and recovery. This is truly a story that takes most people into a world that we never knew existed. The Tarahumara Indians, based in Mexico's Copper Canyons, can seemingly run forever. The author travels to the Copper Canyons and meets various characters, including Caballo Blanco, a mysterious American expatriate who has immersed himself in the Tarahumara culture. The author also makes a strong case for barefoot running (I, for one, believe he essentially launched the hype around this back in 2009.) I loved this book because it's a captivating exploration of human endurance, a tribute to the joy and simplicity of running, and a reflection on the potential of the human spirit. This book is listed on a lot of "best running books" lists for good reason.
"Reborn On The Run" by Catra Corbett: Corbett shares her struggles with addiction, the impact it had on her life, and her eventual path to recovery. She discusses how she discovered running as a means of escape and a way to challenge herself physically and mentally. Through ultra-distance races and trail running, she's able to find a renewed sense of self and a way to cope with her past. If you're looking for the best ultra running books, this one belongs there.
"Choose Strong" by Sally McRae: McRae, a professional trail runner, opens up about abuse, loss, and her hardcore training tactics in this new memoir. It's always interesting to me to see someone like Sally, who is elite both physically and mentally and wonder, "how did she get to be that way?" From college soccer to running marathons to becoming a Nike-sponsored trail athlete, Sally has continued to climb because she believes that she can. If you came here looking for a motivational running book, this is it.
"The Longest Race" by Kara Goucher: We previously highlighted Goucher and her book, Strong, which we included on our list of best motivational books. Her new book is a story that I'm sure she never thought she would write, as she details the horrific culture established by former Nike running coach, Alberto Salazar. It takes a lot of guts to speak out, especially when you're at risk of losing your career. Props to Goucher for being the voice that changed US running.
"Endure" by Alex Hutchinson: This book challenges conventional beliefs about the limits of human endurance, examining the interplay between the mind and body and how mental factors can influence physical performance. Hutchinson explores the concept of the "central governor" theory, which suggests that the brain regulates effort to prevent catastrophic failure and protect the body from harm. He also discusses the role of motivation, perception of effort, and the ability to push beyond perceived limits. There are some great stories in here about legendary athletes, as well as quite a bit of scientific research. We featured this book in a previous article about endurance athletes, and it's a must read for both runners and coaches.
"80/20 Running" by Matt Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald suggests that approximately 80 percent of a runner's training should consist of low-intensity, aerobic workouts, while the remaining 20 percent should be higher-intensity, anaerobic workouts. The book argues that many runners often train at moderate intensity without reaping the full benefits of their training. There are several specific training programs, workout structures, and pacing guidelines in this book for runners of different levels and distances, from beginners to experienced marathoners. I really like Fitzgerald's How Bad Do You Want It? book as well, and we featured it on our list of best motivational books.
"Finding Ultra" by Rich Roll: This book also made our list of best motivational books. The story almost seems too good to be true: a man is about to turn 40, is terribly out of shape, and wants to change his life. This probably applies to millions of people across the globe. The difference, though, is that Roll almost flips a switch overnight, changing his diet, mindset, and vision for his life. Roll loses weight, develops mental toughness, and not only starts to look like a different person but competes in the 320 mile Ultraman challenge! If you're middle age and want to change your routine, read this book: one of the best ultra running books I've come across.
"The Rise of the Ultra Runners" by Adharanand Finn: Finn, an avid runner himself, investigates the physical and mental challenges of ultra-running, examining the limits of human endurance and the extraordinary feats that individuals can accomplish. He shares his firsthand experiences, struggles, and triumphs as he pushes his own boundaries and attempts to understand what drives ultra runners to tackle races that go far beyond the traditional marathon distance. If you came here in search of an ultra-running book, I'd start here.
"Choosing to Run" by Des Linden: Des wins the Boston Marathon in 2018, becoming the first American woman to win in 33 years (a story that is inspiring in itself). I like books like this because they get into the mindset, the training, and life of a real champion. Even on the day she won Boston, Des wasn't in peak form and the weather was poor. She still found a way to win. If you like motivational athlete books straight from the source or are looking for an inspirational sports book, check this book out.
"North" by Scott Jurek: Jurek breaks the speed record running the Appalachian Trail and recounts his experience running the entire 2,189-mile trail in 46 days. Talk about inspirational. The book combines Scott's personal narrative with insights from his wife, Jenny, who served as his support crew during the journey. There's a lot of "truth" in this book about the daily struggles, the toll on his body, and the determination required to continue running day after day through varied terrain and unpredictable weather conditions. While any runner would enjoy this book, I was personally drawn to Jurek's adventure spirit and willingness to share the ugly side of these types of pursuits.
"Science of Running" by Chris Napier: Napier, a physiotherapist and experienced runner, examines the mechanics of running, explaining the role of form, cadence, stride length, and footwear in optimizing running efficiency and reducing the risk of injuries. He also explores the physiological demands of running, including oxygen uptake, energy systems, and the impact of different training intensities on performance. If you're medically inclined or simply enjoy learning about how the human body works, this is a fascinating book.
"The Incomplete Book of Running" by Peter Sagal: Sagal, the host of the popular NPR radio show, "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" is witty, honest, and not afraid to make fun of himself. Drawing on his own experiences going from a "non runner" to running 14 marathons, he also talks about crossing the finish line just before the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon. What I liked about this book was the reflection: what running does for you, how a community can improve anything, and why setting an example is good for your kids.
"Running Rewired" by Jay Dicharry: Dicharry, who also wrote Anatomy for Runners, is a biomechanics expert that will make you re-think how you train. I like this book because it's not about mindset or motivation: it's about how your body actually works with your brain to move. For most of us, we have muscle imbalances, areas of weakness, and inflexibility in key areas. Dicharry provides several tests to identify them and then specific plans and exercises to address them. Reading this book is like having a performance coach, only for a fraction of the cost. A younger version of myself would've scoffed at something like this; today, at 39 years of age, I'd tell every young person I know to read something like this now before your body starts to break down.
"The Complete Book of Running" by James F. Fixx: So, you may have just done a double take after seeing Peter Sagal's book above. This book is one of the OG's and should be on every list that explores the best running books: 334 pages of everything you'd ever want to know. From the psychological benefits to living a happier life, Fixx is proof that running can change your life. Not only did he lose 60 pounds, but he went on to run marathons, including Boston six times.
"A Runner's High" by Dean Karnazes: Karnazes returns to Western States, which is one of the toughest 100-mile races in the world. If you know Dean, you know that he's run races like this for years. But, now in his mid-fifties, he chronicles the journey to compete at a different stage in his life. This is a powerful book that's rooted in getting the best of yourself, regardless of age or circumstance. It's not about all that; it's about you. The subtitles, Older, Wiser, Slower, Stronger, leave a lot to be unpacked, and Karnazes delivers. One of the best books about running that I've read this year.
"Running With The Kenyans" by Adharanand Finn: Finn is a freelance journalist that goes to Iten, Kenya to train for six months. What's fascinating is that roughly 25% of the 4,000 people that live in Iten are full-time athletes. While Finn goes there to discover their "secrets," he leaves with a profound respect for the hardships that inherently force many to travel long distances with only their two feet. Parts of this book reminded me of James Cameron's Deepsea Challenger, which was a submarine built to go the deepest place on Earth. Excited about what he might discover, the reality was that the deeper he went, the less there was. At their deepest point, virtually nothing existed.
"26 Marathons" by Meb Keflezighi: This book is cool, in that it starts each chapter with a lesson from one of the marathons that Meb ran. The book builds to Meb winning the Boston Marathon, and he does a nice job of opening up, not just about the good stuff, but about things like "leaving a breathe right strip in his shoe." Overall, it's a nice mix of learning about his career achievements and how he felt during it all. Would recommend for both competitive and recreational distance runners.