We all know that some days it’s harder to get excited about stepping into our running shoes and hitting the road. Maybe you’ve had a rough few weeks. Perhaps you’re recovering from the flu. Or maybe it’s just a slump.
If you need some extra inspiration, the best books about running will give you a boost and restore that passion for the sport!
We’ve chosen “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall as our number one must-read. It’s packed with fascinating real-life characters and you’ll come away from it feeling amazed and motivated.
There are many great running reads out there, though. See how many of them you can get through!
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Best For Beginners
Best For Beginners
Runner’s World Train Smart, Run Forever by Bill Pierce
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
1. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
How would you feel if you had to run a marathon wearing nothing but old-school leather sandals? What if I did the old bait-and-switch and gave you sandals made from old tires instead? That is but one of many questions tackled in this wildly influential book. It focuses on the author’s running journey, but also on the remote Tarahumara tribe of Mexican Indians, who are some of the top ultra-distance runners in the world.
The real central question of the book is whether all this fancy running technology we have – especially running shoes – really benefits us. The Tarahumara don’t have the technology we do, yet they consistently run enormous distances with no rest, in nothing more than sandals and loin cloths. The author himself has suffered running-related health problems for years, and after learning of the Tarahumara, embraces barefoot running. He refinds his health and mojo in the process.
And that, folks, is how you start a revolution. His return to running health, told along side the thrilling account of an ultramarathon in the wild canyonlands of northern Mexico, as well as the extraordinary running feats of the remote rural tribe, kicked off the minimal running fad that is still playing out in shoe brands and running philosophies to this day.
The book meanders through high-tech performance labs, various peaks and valleys of extreme temperatures, and the lives and training of runners who are considered to be extraordinary.
Yes, the book leans heavily into the noble savage trope. Yes, the book gives a simplistic view of running technology. Sure, many of its scientific claims have, put charitably, been contested. But the book certainly opened up a world of possibility for runners not satisfied with the Nike-ified running world we were so complacent in. It doesn’t have to be about big heel drops and ever-increasing cushioning. If you can take all these qualifications in stride, McDougall’s story keeps a sharp wit and an open mind, and succeeds in reminding the reader that we’re all truly born to run.Check Price on Amazon
2. Runner’s World Complete Book of Running by Amby Burfoot
Any runner who’s been doing it for a while knows that Runner’s World has been one of the leading authorities on the sport for decades. Back before Runner’s World‘s editorial reorientation a few years ago, Amby Burfoot was their maven of training advice. This compendium offers just about everything you could possibly want to know about running from one of their most trusted sources.
Beginners will find super motivation to hook them on running for life. Intermediate runners will benefit from understanding how to prevent the most common running injuries. Even professionals would find the section on mental training tips useful.
There’s something for everyone in this book. Training to lose weight? There’s a running plan for that. Love triathlons? They offer tips to supercharge your training efficiency. Heading for your first half-marathon? They’ve got you covered.
You’d be hard-pressed to find something this book hasn’t covered. Well worth the buy and the read!Check Price on Amazon
3. Running & Being: The Total Experience by George Sheehan
It’s easy, to a certain extent, to write a manual about the physical side of running. Some of these books even talk about your mental game, and the importance of thought and emotion in running. Typical training books, though, more often than not never get around to touching on the deeply philosophical experiences some runners can have.
If you enjoy that kind of philosophizing – the idea that there is far more to running than running- this is a worthwhile read. If you’ve been running for any length of time, you know that it can feel like a form of meditation. Like all exercise, it can be a mind, body, and soul experience – if you’re open to it.
Sheehan explores the connections between health and fitness, competition, sport, and spirituality. It may seem like a roundabout way of connecting things, but this book is well put together.
It contains some great practical information about running, competing, and preventing injury. But it’s all tied in with the oneness of physical, mental, and spiritual, and above all, fundamental truths of life.Check Price on Amazon
Top Science of Running Book
4. The Lore Of Running by Tim Noakes
Tim Noakes is renowned as a guy who knows what he’s talking about in the running world. This book is staggeringly comprehensive, and should be on every runner’s bookshelf.
It provides a scientific overview of what happens in the body while training, and offers a wealth of information on preventing overtraining, treating injuries, getting nutrition right, and increasing strength and flexibility.
Noakes analyzes and reviews a variety of supplements and running/training aids. You’ll also be able to read in-depth interviews with some of the running greats.Check Price on Amazon
Best for Beginners
5. Runner’s World Train Smart, Run Forever: How to Become a Fit and Healthy Lifelong Runner by Following The Innovative 7-Hour Workout Week by Bill Pierce
For beginners, some of the more scientific books out there can be too much. If VO2 max and lactate thresholds have you scratching your head and wondering why you can’t just go for a run, this is a great book to dig into. It’s all about teaching the reader to become a great runner, and it’s perfectly suitable for everybody from beginners to marathon runners.
You’ll get a combination of a well-laid-out training program and a treasure trove of information on the most important things to know – effective training, overtraining, healthy aging, and the stresses of competition.Check Price on Amazon
6. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
There’s a story about Bruce Lee talking about how to think about a punch. When you start off in martial arts, a punch is just a punch. Then you learn to think about it, analyze it, turn it into a philosophy. It becomes much more than a punch. Then, when you know enough, you realize that at the bottom of it all, it’s just a punch.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running shows a similar idea in the context of running. In a world lousy with books that are overblown with philosophical claims about the running life, Murakami has arrived, slowly but surely, back at the point where running is simply running. It might be tempting to want to search for the meaning of life in daily training or the big goal marathon. This book suggests that it is fine, and perhaps even best, if we leave running as running. Running can be undertaken thoughtfully and well without trying to connect it to some bigger ideal, and that can be liberating. It shows this viewpoint with subtly, wit, and fun.
After all, who says running can’t be fun? This autobiographical journal will have you thinking, marveling, and laughing, all the while considering the intermingling of passion and running in your own life.
The author is writer and experienced marathoner, so you can expect to read all about your (and his) favorite sport with a dash of humor, some unusual insights, and recollections of his own experiences.
It’s a relatable, enjoyable read that’s quite different from your average running book. What does Murakami talk about when he talks about running? Simple: running.Check Price on Amazon
7. Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down by Ida Keeling
There’s nothing like an inspirational true story to give you back that oomph, and Ida Keeling’s story is an amazing one. Right now, she’s 105 years old and still running. Next time you feel like staying in bed or you have a twinge in your toe, this is the book to pick up.
Ida’s life hasn’t been easy. Hailing from the Bronx, she had every excuse to give up as her life took several bad turns. But her determination to survive and thrive saw her through the Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, being a single mom to four kids, and the deaths of two sons.
She began running at the age of 67 (!), and has since broken numerous records! Ida is the perfect example of what strength of will can do. The story is inspiring, touching, and something every runner can enjoy.Check Price on Amazon
Top Book For Recovering from Injury
8. Rebound: Train Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger From Sports Injuries by Cindy Kuzma
Injury plagues every runner at one point or another. Physically, it can be tough to bounce back. But the real challenge is coming back mentally stronger.
Mindset is everything. What if you could get a leg-up on your injury recovery time just by learning some psychological tools and tricks? That’s what this book is all about.
Written by a top mental skills coach, this book contains almost 50 skills and drills that high-performing athletes use to get in the right frame of mind.
You don’t need to be injured to gain valuable lessons from this read. It’s jam-packed with tools that you can begin to implement immediately to improve your mindset right now, injured or not.Check Price on Amazon
Top Trail Running Book
9. The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience by by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Trail and ultra runners, have a vast library of books to choose from, because ultra-running by its very nature creates compelling stories of overcoming. Among this wide choice, Jennifer Pharr Davis‘s book is a stand-out. The author is an adventurer who has the distinction of holding the FKT (fastest known time) on the Appalachian Trail.
Those who love ultra running will be hooked, as Pharr Davis takes the reader on a journey chronicling her training, analysis and trail-testing, and lessons from her mentors.
It’s not just a story, though. She offers valuable practical tips and lays out complicated histories and processes in an easy-to-understand way. If you’re interested in finding out just what it takes to endure, this is a great read.Check Price on Amazon
Best for Losing Weight
10. Run Your Butt Off!: A Breakthrough Plan to Shed Pounds and Start Running by Sarah Lorge Butler
The beauty of running is that it’s something almost anyone can do – any time, most places, and without equipment. That’s one of the reasons it’s often the first step people take when they want to lose weight.
This book is a no-fluff, to-the-point, straightforward guide to how to use running to drop the pounds. Butler focuses on the simplest formula for weight loss: calories in, calories out.
It’s a full book, so of course Butler’s argument about a complex topic is not that simple. It could be said that this is more of a nutrition book than a running book, but the author’s choice of exercise is important, as it’s so accessible to most people.
You’ll also find that the book isn’t about a quick fix. Butler offers a blueprint for a healthy, active life that promotes weight loss, but it’s up to you to take the lessons and knowledge and run with it…literally.Check Price on Amazon
Top Running Book for Vegans
11. Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
The author of this book, Scott Jurek, is one of the top ultrarunners ever, and one of the elite athletes featured in Born to Run.
He has impressive palmares, even if many of his records and accomplishments have since been bested. He’s highly regarded for his running, but is also notable for being one of the first high-profile athletes to dominate the world on a plant-based diet. The story he tells is one of defying stereotypes and being true to himself.
Every page offers something of value. You’ll find scientific research, details of competitive races, practical and helpful advice, and delicious recipes for those who wish to try veganism.
All in all, it’s a memoir that’s written to inspire not only vegans, but all runners who want a little boost in self esteem.Check Price on Amazon
Best Running-Related History Book
12. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
This historical account is not exactly about running, but its protagonist is, at the start, a world-class athlete. Unbroken is for those runners who are more into historical accounts than memoirs. Yes, history can be compellingly told, and you are likely familiar with Hillenbrand – she also wrote the famed Seabiscuit.
The book opens in the pre-war years of Hitler’s rise in Germany. A young rebel discovers running as a way of blowing off steam. His talent is widely recognized, leading to a performance at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. A few years later, as the war breaks out, he’s forced to put aside his running shoes and don an airman’s uniform.
When his plane goes down in the ocean, the young man finds himself alone on a life raft, battling the elements, the wildlife, and the enemy planes flying overhead. The story follows his incredible journey of a different kind of endurance and offers hope and strength, splashed with a good bit of humor.
There’s a movie too, but we recommend reading the book first!Check Price on Amazon
Best Book For Training
13. The Art of Running Faster by Julian Goater
Endurance is just one aspect of running. The other main element, and the one that many runners aim for, is speed.
As its name suggests, this book reminds us that there’s an art to running. Passion, love for your sport, and a good dose of determination are essential components of becoming a faster runner.
Goater encourages runners to rethink the same old methods and traditional ways of training, monitoring progress, and improving. This book is not your conventional workout program. Instead, the author gives readers the tools to customize their own training, while focusing on what’s necessary to improve speed and stamina.Check Price on Amazon
Best Book About Women and Running
14. Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run by Kristin Armstrong
Ladies, this one’s for you. Milestones are important markers along a race course, and Kristin Armstrong sees the parallel with meeting milestones along the road of life.
Armstrong shares experiences that many readers can relate to, sharing her thoughts on how sport and life overlap. Running with girlfriends builds unique bonds. Watching your children run for the first time instills a joy that you’ve passed on a passion of yours. Women who run will understand.
There are moments of humor and moments of vulnerability, but as we travel with the author through the book, we understand how running isn’t just a sport. It’s a lifestyle.
While written with a definite slant towards women, many men will enjoy this witty read too.Check Price on Amazon
Beginner Marathon Training
15. Running Your First Marathon: The Complete 20-Week Marathon Training Plan by Andrew Kastor
Andrew Kastor has great credentials to write a marathoning book. He was a competitive runner for 15 years, and now is the coach of one of the States’ most notable distance running groups: the legendary Mammoth Track Club. Even in that position, he’s the second-most-accomplished person in his marriage (we’ll leave it to you to figure out, if you don’t already know).
You may have been running for years, but there’s nothing like running your first marathon. This is a comprehensive, well laid-out marathon training plan that contains tips and tricks from pros, as well as bits of advice from some of the greats to motivate you as you go through it.
It’s a mind and body trainer, perfect for runners who need to prepare both physically and mentally for the challenge ahead. If you want to train properly and effectively, this is the book for you.Check Price on Amazon
Top Ultra Running Book
16. Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures From The Back Of The Pack by Cory Reese
Ultrarunning is a brutal sport of extreme will and physical fitness. In a sense, it is the undertaking of finding a breaking point that lies either somewhere on the far side of the mountain, or somewhere deep in the woods. If it’s deep in the woods on the far side of the mountain, even better. It is very much about perseverance and finding one’s limits, rather than finishing fast. Within the ultra community, there is a sort of perverse pride in BOP (Back of the Pack), DNFs (Did Not Finish) and DFLs (Dead F*cking Last). Specifically, those are the people who actually did find the breaking point, and there is honor in that.
I mean “perverse” in the best possible light, the kind of perverse that believes we all learn from pain and failure, and would benefit from having more of it in our lives. This is the arena of ultra running. This is the world of Cory Reese, who brags about his BOP status but is nonetheless, like all ultrarunners, built from strong stuff. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
He shares his incredibly personal story of heartache, loss, and a burning desire to live his life to the absolute fullest.
He writes humbly about his early life experiences that led him to the sport of ultrarunning, with a lens of joyful humor over every experience that brought him to where he is today.Check Price on Amazon
Is the Book Born to Run a True Story?
It is! (In fact, all the books on this list are non-fiction) The characters you read about in the book are real people. Every amazing feat of running is completely true, based on the Tarahumara Native Mexican tribe’s abilities to run incredibly long distances without tiring or injuring themselves.
Who Wrote the First Book About Running?
As long as running has been around, there have been records and writings about it. The book that’s credited with kickstarting the USA’s fitness revolution, though, is The Complete Book of Running, by James Fuller Fixx.
This book, which has sold over a million copies, was released in 1977. It’s accepted in the running world that its release is what led to the sudden and extreme rise in interest in running for fitness.
It covers both the physical and psychological benefits of running, and touches on various running-specific topics such as:
- Runner’s high
- Improving self-esteem
- Dealing with pressure