For a list of great running reads checkout the Trailrunningman page on Amazon
Most of the books are available on Kindle (you can download a Kindle reader to most devices). Try Kindle Unlimited here.
I enjoyed reading this book, it is a very authentic account of a world I know well; the wonderful world of ultra running. I know the people he talks about and interviews, the elites by reputation - some I have met (I have the obligatory selfie with Kilian Jornet), some I have had a longer interaction with. In the pages about the health benefits of ultra running and the hazards he mentions Micah True, we went for a curry after a talk he gave in Bristol only a matter of months before his untimely death. I hope my ultra running means I have very healthy telomeres (p257) and will live 16 years longer than had I not been a runner.
Some of the non-elites mentioned in the book I know personally. I also know many of the races he talks about, I have a very intimate knowledge of the route of his first ultra having run it several times and volunteered at the event regularly. So, for me, reading this book was like having a few pints down the pub with mates, drinking a cold cider in the garden on a warm evening or running my favourite route in Marsland Valley. If you are an experienced ultra runner it should be a similar experience for you. If you are not an ultra runner it will give you a very good insight into the ultra running world.
As pointed out in the book the ultra running world is very diverse; Adharanand concentrates on what could be called the mainstream, trail ultras, and the slightly more rarefied world of mountain running. However; he does touch on other areas; road ultras, fell races, multi-day events, track races, etc. His account of the 24-hour Tooting Bec track race and the emotions he went through are very similar to how I felt during the Gloucester 24hr. He was obviously less enchanted than I was with the Comrades marathon in South Africa but still describes it well.
A lot of other things resonated with me, for example “Thirty miles still to go. It seems like such a huge distance. I keep looking at my watch, which doesn’t help. Every time I look at it, hoping another mile has ticked by, it’s not even close. And each time, it’s like a blow to the stomach. I try not to look at it, but it’s too tempting”
“…putting our finger on why we do this seemingly mad sport is almost impossible. The real reasons seem to lie just beyond the reasons we give”.
There are other even more powerful words, but I will not spoil your enjoyment of the book by reproducing them here.
One thing I did not like about the book was its title ‘The Rise of the Ultra Runners’. There are some pages about the rise in popularity of ultra running; I was surprised to learn that in the year 2000 only 595 people completed an ultra marathon in the UK. I finished several that year including Comrades and the London to Brighton. By 2017 the number has risen to 18,611. However, most of the book is about the author’s journey to becoming an ultra runner and his journey to taking part in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. We all know that you should not judge a book by its cover, and this is the case here. What is written inside is excellent, it is a very enlightening account of his journey, expertly described so that you will feel that you are there with him. The interviews with elite runners added to the richness of the book. I would have liked to hear more from ‘ordinary’ ultra runners. Hopefully, this will be in a future book. I look forward to reading that.
Adharanand is not sure whether he is a committed ultra runner now, I’m not sure either, only time will tell. He has experienced 'becoming fully aware of your existence'; it is hard to turn away from that.
Available from Amazon
I struggled to categorise this book; it is not a running book and it is not about Kelly’s life and athletic achievements. For that you should read her biography ‘Black, White & Gold’. I should have paid more attention to the cover where it says “Mindset, fitness & nutrition for positive wellbeing”; that describes it perfectly.
The book is divided into three sections; Mindset, Fitness and Nutrition. It is well set out with some great photos of Kelly, a big thing if you are a massive fan like I am. There is a lot about how to deal with mental issues (there is some detail about her battles) and develop a positive mindset to enable you to be the best you can be, whether that is an Olympic gold medallist or a parkrun completer.
This book will be very useful for beginner runners and the more experienced runner who is dissatisfied with how things are going. It is a manual for a happy and successful running life. I found the table on pages 134 & 135 (Are you a flicker or a flapper?) very useful. They identify common problems with running styles and how to overcome them with useful cross references to exercises in other parts of the book. There are a large number of exercises that you can do at home without the need for any specialist equipment.
The Nutrition section is not overcomplicated or preachy. It just has useful information and advice with some very scrummy looking recipes.
Embrace this book and you will improve your running by changing your mindset varying your routines and nourishing your body with good food. It will lead to a great Running Life.
Available from Amazon.
Wild Running by Jen & Sim Benson
I’ve spent the last few weeks dipping into ‘Wild Running’ by Jen & Sim Benson. It is full of treasure. I raved about the first edition of this book and Jen very kindly sent me a copy of the new edition updated with 150 new runs. I am pleased to see that they have retained the extremely useful format and classification of runs although this has been updated a bit and now includes ‘Best for Islands’ as well as ‘Best for Beginners’, ‘Best for Urban Escapes’, 'Best for Wildlife’ etc.
It is very easy for me to describe what is in this book; I just need to use Jen & Sim's words:
“For us, a great running route – one that makes it into this book – has to have these ingredients: an amazing setting, great running terrain and just a little magic. We’ll choose a place because it’s a delight to be there, whether it’s peaceful, leafy woodland, a mountain valley or a hidden wave-bashed beach. Underfoot, the terrain must feel fantastic to run on; winding single track, springy grass, soft peat, firm sand, shingle, even smooth tarmac… The variety is endless but the feeling – that thrilling interaction between body and earth – is always there. And, finally, to the magic. This is the ingredient that is the hardest to define but we always know when it is there.”
I have run quite a few of the routes in the book, from those in my beloved Cornwall all the way up to Sandwood Bay in north west Scotland. They all have those three ingredients perfectly blended to give an awesome running experience. I am going to keep this book with me so that I can work through the list of runs I have not yet done. I only hope I have time to get through them all before the next edition comes out.
The runs are arranged by area, South West, South East, Central etc. but you can use the ‘Best For’ guides to select the ones in those areas you want to tackle. At the back of the book are maps of where the starts are and as list of grid references for start locations. The route instruction in the book are clear and for each one there is a reference to a page on the website where you can download and print out the route instruction and GPX files.
The only reason not to buy this book is if you don’t like running.
Available from Amazon.
GO by Tobias Mews
This is a book of ideas for adventures (mainly running) that you could have thought up yourself, but never will. After reading this book you will think up more of your own ideas for adventures.
The book is divided into three sections, Midweek Madness, Wacky Weekends and Long Term Burners. The Midweek Madness section contains challenges you can do during the working week, for example seeing how many landmarks you can visit in one hour. Tobias chose Blue Plaques in London, but it could be anything. Each entry describes what he did then gives suggestions for variations. Wacky Weekend adventures obviously take a little longer; I loved the idea of taking a cheap flight somewhere, exploring the trails then getting back to the airport for the last flight home that day. The Long Term Burners are about bigger adventures, exploring some of the well known or lesser known long distance trails or cycling the perimeter of a country. Open this book and you are opening the door to a kaleidoscope of adventure. Available from Amazon.
Your Performing Edge - Joann Dahlkoetter, Ph.D
The ultimate book for mind-body performance
This book is about 10 years old now but still very relevant. It is now only available in Kindle format.
This book is described as The Complete Mind Body-Guide for Excellence in Sports, Health and Life. It uses examples from Olympic athletes and world champions to show you how to achieve to your maximum limit. It is a little surprising therefore to find the author, Joann Dahlkoetter, mentioning enjoyment, fun and pleasure so many times.
Joann is remarkable in that she is a qualified psychologist, an exceptional marathon runner and an Ironman triathlete. She knows the theory of sports psychology and has very practical experience from the sharp end of sport. She has used her blend of knowledge and experience and her love of sport to help many athletes and business people achieve their best.
Although the examples and illustrations she uses in the book are drawn from the very best achievers in sport; Maurice Green, Marion Jones, Michael Johnson Joan Benoit Samuelson (the author is American) there are also very practical mental exercises that everyone can use.
Runners spend a lot of time training their bodies and looking for the perfect speed or hill session to help them achieve a personal best, but seldom spend much time on mental training. It is our minds that are ultimately responsible for all our outcomes, both in sport and in life. The book not only looks at achieving you sporting best through mental strategies but it also stresses the importance of keeping things in perspective. It will help you achieve a balance between sport, work and life.
I read the book from cover to cover almost in one go then went back and re-read it several times. It was that good.
“You can work extremely hard towards your future goals both in sports and in life, but you don’t need to sacrifice the rest of your life to achieve them. It is possible to balance working hard and playing hard while having a fulfilling life in the here and now. You can achieve your dreams and have fun in the process”
This book shows you how to do that.
Sky Runner - Emelie Forsberg
Finding Strength, Happiness, and Balance in Your Running
This is quite simply the best running book I have ever read. Read is the wrong word, I savoured it, every bit of it, the writing, the photographs, the exercises, the recipes, the yoga poses and the insights into what motivates Emelie. It is not a book, it is a cornucopia of running stuff.
Emelie's love of running shines through in the words as does her passion for the mountains and is very well matched by the beautiful photographs taken by Kilian Jornet. He is a very accomplished mountain runner and skier; author of Run or Die
The sub-title Finding Strength, Happiness, and Balance in Your Running is very appropriate as that is exactly what she does and wants other people to do. The book is not a running manual, it is a manual for a running life. Emelie is a Salomon athlete and has won many races, but she is determined not to let that interfere with the pure joy of running.
I am going to keep this book close to hand and if I ever lose my running mojo I will know what to do; re-read Sky Runner
Dare to Run - Amit Sheth
I absolutely loved this book, which consists of a series of essays that chart, not necessarily in chronological order, Amit's journey from couch potato to Comrades Marathon runner. It is the same journey that I made some years ago and it is fascinating viewing it from a different cultural perspective; Amit was born and brought up in Mumbai. It is written in a very easy to read style that paints pictures as it flows along.
Amit uses quotes extensively and selects them from a wide variety of times and places; Heraclitus, Shakespeare, from 'The Last Samurai' movie, from the South Africa song 'Shosholoza' and from the ancient Hindu texts.
I will quote from someone to recommend this book, Lisa Jackson - ultra runner.
"Read this book if you want to run - and think you can't.
Read this book if you already run and want to understand why.
Read this book if you want to take your running to the next level."
Amit has now become a great ambassador for running and acts as a pacer in the Mumbai marathon helping people finish in under 5 hours. This is what one of the Mumbai marathon runners said about him.
"It was great to have met you yesterday, albeit briefly, and even greater to have run with you from 23k marker onwards. The walk breaks and the 'Another one bites the dust' shouts made me feel I was living the lines from your Dare to Run Comrades experiences! Your book has been a strong motivator. I thank you"
The book is published in Mumbai, India, but is written in English, and can be bought from Amazon. It is currently only available as an e-book, however you can download a free reader from Amazon.
Finding Gobi - Dion Leonard
I met Dion during the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon and had followed the Finding Gobi story on social media so I was not expecting the book to be gripping, because I knew the story. I was wrong. I could not put it down. It is well written and interspersed with the story about Gobi we learn about what makes Dion tick, what it is like to be competitive and more.
There are interesting twists and turns throughout the book. There were parts I found very emotional. Having met Dion and his wife at a race I was surprised to learn that Dion didn't like running. I was not surprised to learn that part of the reason why he ran was his love for his wife.
You don't need to be a dog lover or a runner to like this book, you just need to be human.
Available from Amazon.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami
This is a difficult book to categorise. It is not a running book, yet it will be of interest to runners, giving you an insight into one person’s approach to training for marathons. The publishers describe it as equal parts travelogue, training log and reminiscence. The training log part is a huge piece of poetic licence, but I suppose the sentiment is about right.
I liked the book as it was easy to read, entertaining and thought provoking. It made me look at myself and my running in a different way. I did wonder why it was not called ‘What I think about when I run’ because I cannot see Murakami talking about running very much. I found the answer on page 16* ‘What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.’
Murakami is a very successful author and this shows through. If you are an aspiring writer then this book contains some good tips and comments. If you are also a runner then in the middle of page 71* there is a great paragraph on the theory of training which I will not repeat here because I want you to read the whole book. And in the second paragraph on page 73* there are some profound words on why you should keep running.
However most of the book is a reminiscence of Murakami’s journey through life, from running a jazz bar in Japan to becoming a successful and contented author and runner. It takes you from Japan to Boston, USA and back to Japan, meeting Olympic athletes and pretty women on the way.
An excellent read. *(the page numbers may be different in some editions)
Feet in the Clouds - A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession – Richard Askwith
If you are a runner this book is a must read. Fell-running is a very specialist sport which few of us will ever participate in but this book still has a wide appeal because it is essentially about people, their characters and their obsessions.
The book is well written, with passion and with authority. Richard Askwith laced on his trainers and entered most of the races he describes. The framework for the book is the fell-running calendar and interwoven with this are details of Richard’s attempts to complete the Bob Graham Round.
I found it absolutely fascinating to learn about a sport so full of history and drama that takes place not in some remote place but in the United Kingdom yet, until I read the book, I knew nothing about it. We learn about the events, the racers, the organisers, the history and the politics within this very specialist part of the wider sport of running. It came so very much alive and enticing that I was tempted to train for the Bob Graham round. Fortunately, a moment of sanity saved me.
A great book well written, but it should have a health warning. “Getting hooked could seriously damage you.”
Eat & Run is a fascinating insight into the life and thoughts of Scott Jurek, an extremely accomplished ultrarunner. Seven consecutive victories at the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trail race in northern California, which he dominated from 1999-2005. Three consecutive wins at the 152-mile Spartathlon, 2006-2008. Two wins at the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon and podium places on many, many other races of 50km and more.
The book is well written, perhaps due to the work of his co-author Steve Friedman, who Scott acknowledges "helped narrate my life in a way I never would have been able to do". That narative produces a book that is very readable and relevant to all runners, not just ultra marathoners. This does mean that very experienced, hardened ultrarunners may find some of the content not relevant and leave them wanting more.
He deals in an open and honest way with all aspects of his ultra running and personal life without moaning or evangelising. The book does deal in some detail with his vegan lifestyle and includes some of his favourite recipes for both meals at home and food for long runs, but it is done in a way that says this is what works for me; it may be different for you.
The book is primarily about his life, it is not about how to train for ultramarathons. There are little sections of advice at the end of some of the chapters. My favourite is "You don't have to be an ultrarunner to take advantage of the social rewards of running. Try running - at least on some of your routes - with a friend. Join a running club or weekly group run. Enter a 5K or 10K race. Do something for running that doesn't involve running. Working at the finish line or at an aid station or joining trail work parties."
While it is not a training manual reading it will make you think about running differently and probably help you improve and enjoy running more, you may even find yourself trying some vegan dishes. I'm sure you will find at least a few thoughts that resonate with you.
I have always struggled to put into words why I run, Scott Jurek, in Eat & Run, gave me those words.
'I love the feeling of moving over the earth, with the earth, the sensation of being in the present, free from chores and expectations and disappointment and worry.'
Available from Amazon
I approached this book with some trepidation, David is a friend so I did not want to have to say anything unpleasant. I’ve come across quite a few books that people have written after taking on a few challenges; most are not very engaging and are often poorly written.
I’m pleased to say I liked this book and not because I get a mention in the chapter about the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. It is a very absorbing account of some very big challenges, from multi-day races in deserts to epic events in the Arctic with a few mountain events and a couple of triathlons thrown in as well. It all started with a 10 minute TV clip about the Marathon des Sables and things snowballed from there. David tells it as it is, no hype just good honest observation in a very engaging style. I couldn’t put the book down; I wanted to know what happened next in each event and did he finish (not all had happy endings) and then I wanted to know what his next adventure was going to be.
Read this book and you will know what it is like to take part in some of the toughest footraces in the world. You will also know what it takes to succeed. I like his words right at the end.
“Do you think you should have a go? You should. Will you finish? If you really want the finish line you will.”
Buy this book if you are even half thinking of taking on a big challenge. Buy this book if you want to be inspired. Buy this book and give it to someone who doesn’t understand why you do the crazy stuff you do. Don’t buy this book if you don’t want to leave your comfort zone and experience that incredible feeling you get when you complete an extreme challenge.
Available from Amazon