Books I Talk About When I Talk About Running

After running, reading books is one of my favourite things to do.

I’m often asked to recommend books about running; whether it’s books on training, injury prevention, personal accounts, or simply good reads.

In this blog, I’m going to cover some of my favourite books about running – books that are ‘good reads’, books which I recommend to runners and non-runners alike.   

These books are great stories and insights into the world of marathons, ultramarathons, and running far – enjoy!

Any if you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments below!

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Born To Run – Christopher McDougall

A now-classic, Born To Run has been many things to many people.   An adrenaline-fuelled travelogue, a potted history of ultra-running, a manifesto for barefoot running, a thesis on human evolution and a natural sports nutrition guide…Chris McDougall’s bestseller packed a lot into a little book.  

For those who somehow haven’t heard of it yet, BTR tracks runner and journalist Chris McDougall’s journey into the Copper Canyons of Mexico in order to take part in an ultra-marathon with some of the top names in ultra-running (including Scott Jurek) and the local Rarámuri tribe – who run with little more than a sheath of rubber to protect their feet.   Along the way, McDougall revisits the history of distance running and explores how shoe design had evolved to provide more-and-more cushioning – and why that could be a bad thing.  McDougall’s pace meanders at the start then hits 100kmph and doesn’t let up.  

The book’s impact can still be seen every time you pass someone wearing minimalist running shoes or sipping on a chia seed smoothie.   Initially divisive, Born To Run has now become one of those tomes that every runner has to read.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

In case you haven’t heard of him, Murakami is one of my favourite authors – he writes weird, otherworldly books that are at the same time accessible and have that hard-to-define escapism quality.   He’s also a runner, and in this – one of his few non-fiction books – he opens up simply and philosophically on all aspects of his running.

The book very loosely follows his preparation for the 2005 New York Marathon, which leads to him reminiscing about running in different parts of the world – Hawaii, Boston, Tokyo.  His humble way of chatting about his approach to marathons – its rare for him to take longer than 3hrs 45mins in a marathon – is engaging and leaves you feeling like you’ve had a great conversation with a fellow runner.

I was chatting to a friend recently who doesn’t run, but she read WITAWITAR after checking out some of his other works, and found it totally engrossing.   As well a reflection on a lifetime of running, the book is a glimpse into Murakami’s own life, one that is usually hidden behind his obscure stories.

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Finding Gobi – Dion Leonard

I met Dion Leonard at the Global Limits Cambodia race a few years ago – the last time I saw him we went for a training run in his adopted home town of Edinburgh.  At the time, we both happened to be training for 4 Deserts races – me for Namibia and Dion for the Gobi March.

Dion’s Gobi race ended up being eventful, in more ways than one.   The runners faced extreme weather and sandstorms and a tough battle for the podium – Dion ended up sacrificing his chances of the no.1 spot to help out fellow competitor Tommy Chen, who was in a bad way on the long day.

But Dion’s life changed during that race for another reason.   On the 2nd day, a little dog began running next to him, and ended up following him through most of the race.   This book is Dion’s story about the race and meeting Gobi, and his subsequent decision to adopt the dog and the whirlwind of media attention, espionage and surprises that came with it.   In the end, Dion moved to China for 4 months to stay with Gobi while she was undergoing the quarantine process.  His subsequent re-telling of the story, ‘Finding Gobi’, has become a media hit and its appeal has stretched far beyond distance runners and dog lovers.  A perfect runner’s tale to listen to on your workout!

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Eat & Run – Scott Jurek

Here’s a book by a real-life ultra-running hero.

In this, his memoir, Scott Jurek tells the story of how he was an unlikely ultra-runner – growing up in snowy Minnesota, his real passion was for Nordic skiing.  However during his college years he started running long distance events, at first just to have a go, but before long he found himself finishing on the podium.

Since then he has conquered the world of ultra-running, setting new course records at the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles across the hottest place in the USA), winning the Western States seven consecutive times and taking part in a little ultra involving a lost tribe somewhere in the Copper Canyons…

Amongst the tales from the trail is Jurek’s own personal story of switching to a plant-based diet in 1997 after seeing his immediate family’s serious health problems, which he now cites as key to his athletic performance and recovery ability.

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The Long Run – Mishka Shubaly

Mishka Shubaly was never a runner (in fact, he wasn’t a writer either, but that hasn’t stopped him).   In circumstances that will be familiar to many distance runners, Mishka found himself struggling with addiction to drink and drugs after years on the road with bands.

It was only through a fluke that he found he could actually run – physical exercise was something that hadn’t been high on his priority list.   Mishka’s additive personality suddenly had a new focus, and he found himself running 100km non-stop races.  The Long Run is Mishka taking you by the hand through some of his darkest experiences, and some of his most transformative.

Mishka heard about Amazon Singles so decided to write something about his running experiences.   What he produced went on to become one of the most read books on the whole Kindle store.

Mishka’s books are ‘Singles’, in that you can read them in just 2 to 4 hours normally – so this audiobook is a great shorter option, and at 2hrs 8mins could be listened to in one run.

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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