In a collaborative effort with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about books throughout the month of February. To start the month off, I am going to talk about running books.
Books are a great way to find some coaching without having to break your bank account wide open, and can provide the inspiration that you need to get out of the door every day. You can works of fiction, collections of quotes, how to manuals, collections of essays, and historical retrospectives on all manner of subtopics related to running. I am going to share some of my favorites in each category.
Best Fictional Work
Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr was one of my favorite books that I read in college. This is saying quite a bit, as I minored in literature so I read quite a few great novels. The book is about an amateur runner who gets kicked out of school and has dreams of beating the world’s best. My school was nothing like the one in the novel, but there were so many instances here and there of little things that every team does in some way, shape or form that it is difficult not to identify with the characters. A friend of mine even tried the 3 by 20 by 400m workout that is detailed in the book, once. He didn’t finish, but he came pretty close. I wrote a review of Once a Runner shortly after starting this website.
Best Biographical Retrospective
Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner is probably the best auto-biographical retrospective from an inspiration stand point. A lot of people, especially in the ultra-marathoning community, are put off by Dean Karnazes and his self promotion. I think that he tells a great story, and is a very charismatic individual. This book helps to get you inside of his head to see what makes him tick, and was a very humorous read. I had to stop and read out loud to my girlfriend different passages that had me laughing. While the book did not encourage me to want to go out and race the Western States 100 Miler, it did get the gears to start turning for me to look into venturing up into the 50k or even 50 mile range of races. The review of Ultramarathon Man was the first review that I wrote for Run to Win.
Best Retrospective of a Single Event
Coast to Coast, by Ryan Pancoast, is a great story about a transcontinental relay from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This has a special meaning to myself, as I am friends with the group that ran it and still regret to this day my decision not to join them. The narrative follows the perspective of one of the runners through their 12 day journey, and is interspersed with anecdotes from other runners and support crew as well as maps, diagrams, and a lot of pictures. Ryan does a great job of making you feel as though you were there with the crew, and he does not hide from sharing the trials as well as the triumphs. Every person ran every few hours around the clock, and it is not easy to be cooped up with so many people for so long with little to no sleep. I wrote a review of Coast to Coast shortly after it was published.
Best Collection of Quotes
The Quotable Runner by Mark Will-Weber is divided into different sections based upon who said the quote or about what they were talking about. There are chapters on everything from sprints to the marathon, and from training to racing to recovery. It is a great reference not only to get inside the heads of some amazing athletes in their day, but also to see how those athletes perceived their sport and each other. What I find interesting is how often I will hear somebody say something at a race, and I will know who they are quoting because I originally saw it compiled in this book. I also wrote a review of The Quotable Runner.
Best How-To Manual
The Complete Book of Running is still, to my mind, the most comprehensive tutorial on how to become a runner. The training advice is a bit antiquated at this point, but the book is still dead on with its advice on the physical and psychological benefits of running and how to incorporate it into your lifestyle. This book was largely responsible for the attraction to running in the late ’70s and early ’80s in the United States. Jim Fixx died of a massive heart attack after a run, but there is no doubt that his taking up running to replace an unhealthy lifestyle added the decade to a decade and a half that he lived past his father and grandfather.
Most Inspirational Collection of Essays
This Running Life is my personal favorite, but just about any book by the late Dr. George Sheehan can fit into this category. He may not have been the fastest man ever born, and he may have come to running later in life, but he knew how to put into words what running is all about. This reminds me that I have yet to pick up a copy of Chasing the Hawk, which was written by Dr. Sheehan’s son.
So there you have it, a collection of a few of my favorite running books. I have (quote) a few others on my shelf, but these are the ones that I open up and look at again the most often. For somebody new to the sport, they provide a great group of books to pick up and take a look through. Other than Coast to Coast, they all tend to be somewhat older books, so if anybody has some good suggestions on more current works that I should pick up and read I would love to hear about them.