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An Expert Coach’s Bookcase: The 5 Best Running Books To Inspire You

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When it comes to the best running books, they can pretty much be categorized into two distinct groups – guides or personal reflections.

The first is a manual of sorts, a “guide” that aims to explain the science and philosophy behind running, speed, and so on. The second group is more biographical in nature, such as an autobiographical account of a famous athlete‘s story.

So, picking the right book about running all depends on what you are looking to get from it.

If you’re looking for a better understanding of different training philosophies, the hard science, physiological and psychological side of things, then go for a good running training manual.

However, if you are keen to get to know an athlete’s story, understand how they got to where they are, learn from the obstacles they faced and overcame, then like me, running autobiographies are the ones for you.

Here’s a list of my 5 best running books to increase your enthusiasm for the sport, help you along the way with your running goals, and keep you motivated and focused while training.

Let’s get into it.

The 5 Best Running Books To Inspire You.

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#1: Running with the Buffalos

To open my list of best running books, I’m starting with Running with the Buffalos by Chris Lear.

Whether you started running later in life or have been in the game for a long time, most people have some concept of what cross-country running involves. 

It may evoke a vivid memory of running around a sports field back in your school days, battling the elements of wind and rain, feeling damp to the bone, but nonetheless glad to be out in the fresh air away from the monotony of classroom activities.

Those of you who have tried it will know how extremely rewarding cross-country can be. The team spirit of such races lends itself to a camaraderie and team element that pales that seen at individual running events.

In Running with the Buffalos – a story about the Colorado Men’s Cross Country team and their attempt to make history by winning the NCCA Cross Country title, Chris Lear explores these themes of team spirit and togetherness with beauty and earnestness. 

His captivating writing provides great insight on how they train, what it takes for their prominent star, Adam Goucher, to prepare himself for individual glory, and how a group of young men came together to overcome setbacks and barriers they met along the way.

For me, the biggest triumph of Lear’s autobiography is his heartening account of a saddening tragedy, and how the support and bonds between the members helped the young men overcome it. 

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#2: From Last to First

Next up for the best running books is From Last to Firstby Charlie Spedding.

If you’re someone who loves tales where the underdog comes out on top, this fascinating book is perfect for you. 

From Last to First: A Long Distance Runner’s Journey From Failure to Success is the autobiography of Charlie Spedding. It’s an inspiring tale of how someone who struggled immensely both academically and in sports, transformed himself into a real-world class athlete. 

Each page relays Spedding’s captivating and inspiring tale, showing how grit, determination, dedication, self-belief, and having a point to prove can take you. For Spedding, this was as far as winning the London Marathon and standing proudly on the podium at the 1984 Olympics, with his marathon bronze medal around this neck.

The book is dotted with intriguing detail about his training philosophy, the benefits of having patience, and the importance of building up the body’s aerobic base. Even more intriguing are his accounts of how he’d prepare for races and what he believed contributed to his success.

This book is the remedy for all those runners and non-runners alike who want to overcome their doubts to realize their goals.

If nothing else, it will convince you that it pays off to think big and set your goals high. As the poet Robert Browning once said: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or else, what’s a heaven for?”

#3: The Perfect Distance

Third on the list of best running books is The Perfect Distance by Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, British athletes, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett dominated the world of middle-distance running. The Perfect Distance is a book written by these once rivals and is a tale that offers great insight into everything from their early beginnings in the sport to their philosophy and attitudes to life.

It’s a story not only of their achievements but also of the sad politics that tainted the world of running. Their honest accounts invite us to delve into their personal lives and appreciate how their difference in social class and media presence divided the nation of Britain.

Indeed, you were either an Ovett fan or a Coe fan. There was no middle ground.

Through their twists and tales, we learn of drastically different approaches to training – the notorious ´Big Dipper´sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr, the thrice-weekly weights sessions at Loughborough college, the meticulous preparation by Peter Coe, the love of cross-country in one, and the passion for indoor racing in the other.

The book is filled with exciting anecdotes and tales of these two goliaths. Amongst my fondest are the freezing of time of one of Coe’s world records on an old Casio watch, the controversy of team selections, the behind-the-scenes account of the infamous I love you message of Ovett in Los Angeles 1984.

Despite the tales of fierce rivalry, the book is infused with an endearing tone of camaraderie and fond memories shared between the pair. The most palpable example is their discussion of the Christmas Day training from the winter of 1979 – the story and reactions from each of them are simply legendary. 

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#4: Running with The Kenyans

Fourth on the list of best running books is Running with The Kenyans, by Adharanand Finn.

Kenyans have dominated the world’s biggest long-distance running races for the past number of decades – from the World Cross Country, Olympic marathons, and the endurance track events, their ability is just awe-inspiring. 

With so much dominance and success, it is no wonder that journalist, Adharanand Finn, decided to go to Kenya and seek answers for his many questions. He just had to discover what made these athletes so good. And that’s exactly what he did.

In Running with the Kenyans, Finn takes his family along for the trip of a lifetime as they move to Iten, Kenyan – a place considered by many as the mecca of Kenya running.

Training at altitude is a common theme when it comes to Kenyan athletes and is regarded as one of the key factors behind their continued success across endurance events. Recognizing this, Finn embarks on a journey of investigation and observation to reveal the secrets behind their excellence.

People float many ideas – is it their diet? Lifestyle? Or maybe simply something in their genes? Is it the diet? But as Finn discovers, there is something else that has been overlooked when it comes to the Kenyan’s advantage.

Along the way, we also meet several powerful key protagonists, including the legendary Irish priest Brother Colm O´Connell, who many believe was one of the first people to add structure to the sport of athletics in Kenya. He is affectionately known as the “Godfather of Kenyan running.”

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#5: The Lore of Running

Last but not least on my list of best running books is The Lore of Running by Timothy Noakes.

The Lore of Running is renowned as one of the most comprehensive explanations of the science behind running training. Its author, Dr. Timothy Noakes, is both a professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. Moreover. 

Oh…and did I mention that he’s completed over 70 marathons and ultramarathons in his time as a runner? 

As you can see, Noakes’ resume is outrageously impressive – and this is only reflected in The Lore of Running, where he enlightens us to the complexities of running science in a way that’s curious and intelligible for even non-runners.

The book is packed with references to peer-reviewed sports science journals. Yet, physiology, biomechanics, and psychology are described in a way that is easily understood by even the non-scientific amongst us.

Amongst other things, Noakes provides insight on how to help prevent or return from injuries, how to increase flexibility and strength how to use nutrition to optimize performance, adding useful graphs and charts for extra clarity.

The book is an ideal companion for someone who really wants to understand the specifics behind their training and how tapping into the latest breakthroughs in marginal gains and sports science can give an edge over others.

It’s a brilliant read – often referred to as the bible of running training manuals and it really needs to be on your bookshelf!

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Best running books: A note from the writer.

Well, there you have it, 5 of the best running books out there.

Get your shoes on and write your own story. Although at times you’ll be met with obstacles and setbacks, you can draw strength from the plentiful inspiring moments from the many protagonists you’ll encounter in these books.

Moreover, by understanding and then applying the knowledge you’ll glean from the comprehensive insight into the sports science that underpins many of the proven training plans, you’ll be right on your way to achieving any goals you’ve set yourself. 

Happy reading! Yours, Cathal Logue.

These best running books have given you the inspiration, but do you have the training plan?

Why not check out our extensive training plans below?

Photo of author
Cathal Logue is an avid runner and coach. After competing against Sir Mo Farah aged 16, he suffered several injuries throughout his 20s. Despite not reaching the same heights as some of his contemporaries, he still holds impressive PBs of 9.09 for 3k, 15.36 for 5k, and 33.36 for 10k. His goal now is to help runners of all abilities reach their potential and likes exploring the mountains north of his current home, Madrid, Spain.

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