25 of the Best Books for Runners (Some will surprise you)

25 of the best books for runners

Great reading for your running recovery time

For every workout you do, you have to recover—that means rest. What better way to be productive and enlightened during your downtime than to read? The staff at runnersonthego.com has put together a list of books that they enjoyed reading and, in some cases, made them more effective as runners or just gave them a better appreciation for life.

It may surprise you to know that many of these books are not about running. Furthermore, none of them are about training – that is a subject that deserves it’s own post.

Here are the suggestions—with just a word about each. If you have any books to add to the list, please let us know. Everyone benefits from your input.

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An impossible goal? Maybe not

Every so often an athlete past his or her prime decides to aim for a goal that seems out of reach. But that doesn’t stop them. As they say: “It’s the journey, and not the destination that’s really important.” Three books we suggest show that that adage is true and help to inspire us all.

Off the Deep End by W. Hodding Carter chronicles his quest to qualify for the Olympic trials in swimming. Anyone familiar with Division III collegiate swimming knows that Kenyon College is the often at the top of the heap. Carter swam there as a student and goes back for one more chance at the Olympics.

In Long Distance: Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously Bill McKibben decides to learn about cross country skiing and attempts to become competitive. It’s a tough challenge, made more difficult because his father is dying. This is another inspiring story.

Running Away is the story of a Robert Andrew Powell, a journalist who, like us all, faced setbacks in his life and decided to make some changes. Leaving Florida for Boulder Colorado—talk about making a change—he joined the endurance community to run marathons and to try to qualify for Boston.


How the best do it

Sometimes it’s helpful to see that top level athletes have the same ups and downs with their training and races as everyone else. There are lessons to be learned as well as good stories to read.

Golden Girl by Natalie Coughlin and Michael Silver is the story of the important choices Coughlin made to become a multiple Olympic medal winner. Even though most of us don’t have Coughlin’s ability and the attendant opportunities, her path to excellence gives us perspective for our endurance life.

A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey provides insight into the world of top-level triathlete Chrissie Wellington. Many of us wish we could devote all of our time to training, and Wellington shows us what that life is like. All of us deal with injuries and disappointments, and how Wellington overcomes them is a helpful part of her book.


Get an inside look

Make yourself part of the experience! Some books “embed” you with a group to give you an inside look at the details of an interesting event or program. Here are books will capture your attention.

Running with The Buffaloes by Chris Lear puts you in the mountains around Boulder for a cross country season at the University of Colorado. How do these student-athletes combine academics and the high level of running? And how do the team members interact with each other and with the coach? You’ll get all the answers.

The Way of the Runner takes you to Japan where author Adharanand Finn dedicates six months to be part of the Ekiden long distance relay experience and to learn about all aspects of this unique tradition. Just as interesting are the interactions of the author and his family with the Japanese culture. For anyone who enjoys travel, this is a must read.

Running with the Kenyans is another book by Finn. This time, he explores the phenomenon of Kenyan running excellence. Everyone knows how good they are, but this book pulls back the curtain on that success and gives great insight on how the society cultivates great runners. If you can’t travel to Kenya to run, reading this book is the next best thing.


Take a hike

Two of our most well-known trails, the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest, are the settings for two unforgettable, but very different, books by two people at different stages of their lives.

In Wild, author Cheryl Strayed decides to take on the challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, triggered by a dark period in her life following her mother’s early death and her divorce. Her experiences along the way, as well as her transformation, make for a great read.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is an engaging and often humorous tale of accomplishing the daunting challenge of hiking the Appalachian Trail. The vivid details of the day-to-day experiences of the trail will have you planning your next hike before finishing the book.

A Shout out to Biking

This list would be incomplete without at least one book about running’s close relative, biking.

Across America by Bicycle: Alice and Bobbi’s Summer on Wheels by Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery shows us not to let age prevent us from trying to achieve our goals. These two recent retirees cycle from Oregon to Maine and recount the wide variety of experiences along the way.


Become more effective

All runners and endurance athletes face the same challenge: how do we fit training and racing into our daily lives that have so many other demands? The answer is to be more efficient and effective in everything we do. Here are some of the best books on the subject:

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, MD is a fascinating look into the way all types of tasks— from the most complex to the relatively straightforward can be accomplished more successfully with the help of checklists. This book will help you find more time in your busy schedule.

168 Hours, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast and I Know How She Does It, all by Laura Vanderkam, give the reader real insight into how we live our lives and how we can make the most of the time available to us. Just one idea from one of these books can make a big difference in becoming able to do all that we want.

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How did they do it?

Two women who have achieved extraordinary feats give us a reason to think about what is possible for us. Although they have very different stories—one trained from her youth to engage in a number of challenges; the other decided in young adulthood to undertake a daunting challenge—both inspire us.

In Swimming to Antarctica, distance swimmer Lynne Cox takes us through her years of training and her evolving career swimming in the coldest water imaginable. Important, too, is her interest in doing swims that had significance to the larger world.

Rowing The Atlantic by Roz Savage is the unbelievable story of a young management consultant who totally changed her life by deciding to row across the ocean. Besides accomplishing her objective, she has gone on to be a strong voice for conservation. Along the way, Savage trained for and ran the New York and London Marathons. While we haven’t yet read her follow-up book, Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific, it’s definitely on our list.


Fantastic Running Fiction

Everyone loves to get lost in a good fictional story, why not double down on the fun and make the next fiction novel you read one about running.


Once a Runner by John L. Parker is perhaps the most notorious cult classic about running that exists, especially after the book became so rare when it went out of print in the early 2000’s. In the book you get to “run a mile” in the shoes a of Quenton Cassidy, a high-level college runner looking to break through to the world-class level who suffers a major setback.

Again to Carthage, also by John L. Parker is a sequel to Once a Runner and followup story on Quenton Cassidy. Years after is college days, Cassidy has some unfinished business, this time on the roads, as he attempts to make a big jump from the mile and make the Olympic team in the Marathon.

Become a Better Runner with Mental Training

We spend hours training our bodies, but very little time training our minds. Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence, by Gary Mack and David Casstevens teaches us how we can become the best athlete we can be by training our most important body part- the one between our ears.


Why do we run?

All of us who run and race are asked: “Why do you run?” It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people to spend so much time and effort doing something so difficult for which most of us don’t get monetary compensation. All of us share some motivations for running, and each of us has unique reasons for dedicating so much of our lives to our passion.

Often, we can’t explain why we run, but now we have help in articulating why running is so important to us. And these authors give us new perspectives, make us think and ultimately make us feel good about the choices we make everyday.

Here’s our list. Let us know what’s on your list.

To Be A Runner by Martin Dugard explores why running makes us the best possible versions of ourselves.

in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, author Haruki Murakami gives a personal account of his obsession with writing and how it intersects with his obsession for runners as he attempts to explain them both.

The Inner Runner: Running to a More Successful and Creative You by Jason Karp Dives into the reason that so many people are drawn to running, and how it helps us tap into our deepest levels of creativity and highest levels of success.

Running Home Author Alicia Perkins is the wife of a major league baseball player who struggles with self-doubt and anxiety. Through running she is able to let go of the feeling that she is “competent but not complete.”


What are some of your favorite recovery time books?

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