In his 2009 acceptance speech for winning a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award, actor Will Smith offered some pretty sound advice:
“The keys to life are running and reading.”
With running, Smith argued that if we learn how to defeat that voice in our head telling us to stop or slow down, we will know not to quit when things get hard in our lives.
With reading, Smith told the audience that there’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.
By paying attention to the “gazillions of people that have lived before all of us,” we can, in turn, learn about others — and sometimes ourselves.
If the keys to life are, in fact, running and reading, then reading about running must be one of the best ways to kill two important birds with one simple stone.
20 Books Every Runner Should Read
Aside from earning the admiration of Will Smith, running and reading share something else in common: people have been doing them for millennia.
So, there are easily thousands of books on running that go back centuries.
Don’t have time to read all of them?
I’ve compiled a list of 20 running books - including some of my personal favorites and many that countless runners swear by.
20. How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle (2015)
Mind over muscle.
Seems easy enough, right?
Racing is a tough sport, but running coach Matt Fitzgerald aims to break down the mental barriers that stand in the way of many runners in his book, How Bad Do You Want It?
By highlighting a wide range of epic races throughout history (from cycling to triathlons to rowing and, of course, running), Fitzgerald spotlights how some elite athletes have shored up their psychological savvy.
Fitzgerald believes that a truly “mentally fit” athlete can use any coping skill (whether it's cognitive, emotional, or behavioral) to offer a perceived level of motivation - which, for many, is enough.
Empowering runners to flex their own mental fitness, Fitzgerald shows case-after-case how different athletes have dealt with the age-old question: How bad do you want it?
Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just a casual runner looking to learn some proven techniques to overcome nagging plateaus, this is an approachable, easy-to-understand book on running that I highly recommend.
19. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (2009)
Haruki Murakami is a world-famous novelist with dozens of titles to his name.
He’s also an extremely passionate runner.
Combining these two vocations, Murakami wrote a beautiful memoir in 2009 titled, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
In it, he details the wide range of experiences he had when training to run the New York City Marathon. This includes how he prepared, how he trained, and how he felt before, during, and after his races.
A poetic rendition of a “runner’s high” and a “brilliant meditation on how running and writing nurture and sustain each other” that is full of vivid memories and fond admiration for the sport of running.
As he so poignantly describes in the book, “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits is the essence of running, and a metaphor for life.”
If you’re looking for a dazzling description of the mental and physical preparation for one of the world’s most famous races written by one of the world’s most prominent authors, be sure to include this one in your collection of books about running.
18. The Science of Running: How to Find Your Limit and Train to Maximize Your Performance (2009)
If you’ve ever had nagging questions about the scientific and technical side of running, Steve Magness offers some great solutions and explanations to a slew of subjects in his book, The Science of Running.
However, he also presents some practical pointers for running, making this a go-to guide for coaches who want to balance practice with theory.
By including the latest research and showcasing some of the world’s best runners’ training methodologies, Magness helps not just classify but clarify why the body is fatigued, how runners can produce more energy, and even how the brain works to both inhibit and inspire a runner.
In section two of the book, which focuses more on the practical application of the information, Magness is quick to qualify what the training process looks like.
He encourages both runners and coaches to “be imaginative” when reviewing and tweaking workouts.
As he has noted before, “There’s no one simple way to attack the same adaptation.”
This is a great book for runners who want to better understand the foundation behind their sport, so they can make adjustments for better results.
17. The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer (2018)
Dr. Megan Roche, a professional mountain runner, teamed up with her husband/coach David Roche to offer a two-part text focused on helping runners improve both physically and mentally.
Designed to help “any runner who runs long enough who feels burned out or bored, ” The Happy Runner reinforces the notion that if you love the process, you will get faster and run longer — a goal that both professional and recreational runners often share.
The first part of the book mixes running philosophy with life philosophy, focusing on emotional and mental factors that will help runners feel both happy and motivated.
The second half offers more practical strategies to improve training techniques and running plans.
Considered by many to be an integral book for running coaches, The Happy Runner will motivate you to not just set goals but also to share them, which will improve consistency.
Ultimately, the Roches explore one of the most universal concepts in life:
“You live, you love, you run, and you die. The whole time, no matter what, you are enough, unconditionally.”
16. Daniels’ Running Formula (2013)
Named the “best running coach in America,” Jack Daniels (no, not that Jack Daniels) has been instrumental in the running world since the 1970s.
I recently chatted with Coach Daniels about the process and protocol for hiring a running coach, but his knowledge about the running world runs (sorry) far deeper than that.
In 1998, Daniels published his first edition of Daniels’ Running Formula (a new edition is scheduled for release in April 2021).
Considered a seminal work in modern training, Dr. Daniels’ book outlines formulas for pacing and training intensity, helping adherents to train more efficiently, and optimizing their performance and results.
By continually updating and adding chapters (including entries on how to train in high altitudes and even how to train in specific seasons), Daniels offers a customizable, easy-to-grasp guide to help beginners and professions beef up their workouts.
15. Runner's World - The Runner's Diet: The Ultimate Eating Plan That Will Make Every Runner (and Walker) Leaner, Faster, and Fitter (2005)
Many books on my list focus on the importance of a healthy mind, but Madelyn Fernstrom and Ted Spiker cover a subject that’s just as important in their tremendous book, The Runner’s Diet.
All the meals and plans in this book are manageable and practical, which is a refreshing change of pace from so many diet books geared towards athletes, which usually feature unrealistic - and, often, expensive - recipes that no normal person can follow for very long.
In fact, Spiker has even gone as far as to say that she simply doesn’t eat food that doesn’t taste good, regardless of the nutrient content.
So, she “gets it,” and in her dietary guide, she outlines a 50-25-25 ratio (50% carb, 25% protein, 25% fat) breakdown for beginning and seasoned runners and walkers.
In my experience, far too many runners assume that physical conditioning reigns supreme.
However, this text outlines how the only way to truly control weight is to combine this physical activity with a sustainable diet that suits your unique needs best.
By taking the time to explain how each nutrient affects your performance and recovery, and by recommending sample meal plans, The Runner’s Diet remains an integral text to the running community.
14. Run Faster: How To Be Your Own Best Coaches (2008)
Brad Hudson, a former Olympics running coach, believes in the power of… well… self-empowerment.
Whether you’re wondering how to get off the couch to run your first 5K, or even your first full marathon, you’ll find strategies to essentially coach yourself and, in the process, gain more confidence by reading Run Faster.
A firm believer that methodology can teach the mental aspects of running, Hudson offers a variety of methods and sample training programs that runners can use to chase down their own unique goals.
If you’re looking to learn how to assess your own abilities and then apply a training program geared for your individual needs, Hudson’s guide is for you.
As someone who definitely believes in “working smarter, not harder,” I’m a big fan of both this book and Brad Hudson’s philosophy on training - this is an easy one to recommend.
13. Run Like A Mother: How To Get Moving – And Not Lose Your Job, Family Or Sanity (2010)
Running is a balance of skill, determination, and endurance.
But how do you also balance your day-to-day life and external responsibilities when trying to commit to a running schedule?
Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell co-founded their site Another Mother Runner and have since built an online community in hopes of not just entertaining but also encouraging mothers to find ways to fit running into motherhood.
In Run Like a Mother (one of their three books they’ve published together), Shea and McDowell offer some easy-to-follow tips and routines to help mothers delicately balance that work/home life with their running schedules.
McDowell has said that those beginning their running journeys resonate the most with her, as “they have this awkward aura about them, like they’re about to be pushed out of a nest.”
Both women want to inspire mothers to embrace and conquer the multitasking power of motherhood.
Presented more as a conversation with someone else going through the experience of tackling all of the duties of parenthood, as well, this text is ideal for anyone who wants to know how others have handled some common running necessities.
Whether you’re a mom just starting out or one who wants to be part of a larger community, you’ll find everything from the types of shoes to buy, the nutrients and supplements you’ll need, and even the best ways to deal with potential injuries in this highly-entertaining book.
12. Anatomy for Runners: Unlocking Your Athletic Potential for Health, Speed, and Injury Prevention (2012)
One of the few books on my list that focuses more on the physical preparation for runners and less on the psychological, Anatomy for Runners is a must-read for those looking for ways to strengthen their running style, increase stamina, and improve their running times.
Dicharry, disillusioned and dismayed by doctors’ treatments for his heal and joint pain, turned to the world of clinical care, biochemistry, and coaching to offer some tips on avoiding common injuries (like shin splints and rolled ankles).
He even includes a stability and mobility test along with some corrective exercises to help runners train more efficiently in hopes of avoiding those dreaded injuries.
Kinesilogists and physical trainers agree that Dicharry’s book “offers tremendous value and can be placed in all sporting clinics waiting rooms across the country.”
11. Pre: The Story of America's Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine (1997)
Back in the 70s, Steve Prefontaine - better known as just “Pre” - was on his way to becoming one of the winningest runners of all time.
Jared Leto even starred in a 1998 biopic about him called Prefontaine.
As a college student at the University of Oregon, he racked up four NCAA titles in a single event — the first person to ever accomplish that feat.
Running every race as if it was his last, Pre solidified himself in the running community as one of the hardest working, most dedicated athletes.
He had a chance to go pro, but he remained in the amateur leagues, lending his voice and power to the fight for better pay for amateur runners.
10. The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance (2019)
In The Rise of the Ultra Endurance Athlete, Adharanand Finn explores the rise in popularity of extreme distance running.
For a long time, such high-endurance runners were part of a niche group within the running world.
However, over the last decade, hundreds of thousands of hardcore athletes from all over the world have begun to compete in ultraruning competitions.
Back in 1996, there were fewer than 35,000 ultrarunners in the entire world. Today, there are more than 600,000.
In this book, Finn spotlights this meteoric rise, profiling one of the most extreme and brutal running sports in the world. Along the way, he interviews a colorful cast of runners and shares his own experiences running everywhere from deserts to the Rocky Mountains.
If you’re looking to “experience the rawness and simplicity of existence”, go grab a copy of Finn’s fascinating feature on pushing yourself to the “edge of human endurance.”
9. My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon (2008)
As someone who has run big and small races in the parks of Nepal, on the tundra of Antarctica, and in the savannas of Africa, Bart Yasso is no stranger to the running world — or to the world in general.
He even has a racing workout named after him: Yasso 800.
In his funny and nostalgic memoir, My Life on the Run, Yasso taps into his years of running experience and recounts his adventures from visiting all seven continents. In the process, he offers guidance to beginners and advanced runners with their 5k and half/full marathon training.
If you’re looking for some of the best marathons from all over the world, you’re in luck. Yasso tells you everything you need to know when running in a new or unfamiliar country.
Even if you don’t plan on running past polar bears or being chased by an angry rhino any time soon, Yasso offers some inspirational advice, encouraging us all to “never limit where running can take you because each race has the potential for adventure.”
8. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (2011)
Why does my foot hurt?
With that single question in mind, Christopher McDougall travelled from Harvard science labs to the extremely hot and cold regions of North America and all the way to the Copper Canyons of Mexico to explore barefoot and minimalist running benefits.
His fascinating book, Born to Run.
In the Copper Canyons, McDougall studied the Tarahumara Indians, whose superhuman toughness and tranquility makes them, as he describes, “the healthiest and most serene people on earth and the greatest runners of all time.”
How can someone run hundreds of miles without worrying about stopping to rest or tending to an injury?
McDougall recounts the tale of how some of America’s best ultrarunners went toe-to-toe against the tribe (barefoot and all), seeking to discover the secrets of the tribe’s superhuman strength.
While not the originator of the barefoot running movement, McDougall is credited with pushing and popularizing the benefits of minimalist shoes and barefoot running to the general public. If you’ve ever wondered if this may be right for you, I highly suggest this book.
7. 26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career (2021)
Over the course of 26 marathons, Meb Keflezighi has logged 681.72 miles of professional marathon racing in his lifetime.
That’s like running from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina.
After retiring in 2017 and becoming the first individual to win the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, and an Olympic marathon medal, Keflezighi, like many athletes, understands the delicate balance between physicality and mentality.
Ultimately, Keflezigh, an “athlete whose wisdom and lessons aren’t just for runners,” reflects on how his personal journeys and lessons learned throughout the marathon world can help anyone grow and adjust to adversity.
If you don’t actually want to run 26 marathons to gain those same insights, just pick up a copy of 26 Marathons.
6. Running Your First Marathon: The Complete 20-Week Marathon Training Plan (2018)
Maybe you’re a long ways away from running 26 marathons (literally).
Maybe you have yet to run one.
In that case, I recommend Andrew Kastor’s Running Your First Marathon.
By tapping into years of experience working with Olympic medalists and world-class runners, Andrew Kastor offers up a training program that will help get your body in shape and your mind focused on the right goals.
Breaking his approach down to a day-by-day guide over 20 weeks, Kastor offers not only practical running and training tips but also advice and tips from former and current renowned runners.
This may be the only book you’ll need to go the distance.
5. Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory (2019)
In another memoir focused on the mind, Deena Kastor sets out to show how the power of positive thinking can quite literally help you run laps around people.
An Olympic medalist and American record holder in the marathon, Deena Kastor opens up her soul to the reader and shows how she babystepped her way to a successful, award-winning career — one positive mindset after another.
On the brink of a burnout after college, Kastor journeyed to Colorado to train under legendary coach Joe Vigil, where she began to shift her focus away from negative words like “don’t give up” to more positive words like “maintain contact” — a move she credits with revitalizing her competitive spirit.
Ultimately, Kastor sums up her entire philosophy to improving your mindset with one maxim:
“Find a thought that serves you better.”
I really, really love that message, which is why I hope you’ll find time to read the highly-enjoyable, Let Your Mind Run.
4. Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance (2018)
If you’ve ever heard anyone tell you “It’s all in your head!” you’re not alone.
In Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, Alex Hutchinson harkens back to what Will Smith said in his Kids’ Choice Award Speech:
“The struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop” is one of the toughest feelings a runner can...well...run into.
Sure, runners’ legs might weaken, their arms may feel like limp noodles, their stomachs like death — but as Hutchinson notes, the brain can bear the biggest burden.
In his book, Hutchinson examines how runners can train their brains to overcome any mental blocks that inhibit physical performance.
By shadowing elite athletes and using his own experience as a former national-team long-distance runner, Hutchinson dives into years of research, retells countless anecdotes, and reflects on his journey through Nike’s top-secret training project to break the two-hour marathon barrier.
In the end, he shows how humans are always capable of pushing a little farther.
3. North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail (2019)
Trail running requires more than just a new pair of shoes and some bug spray.
It’s an exhausting expedition that requires focus, flexibility, and physical stamina.
And, yes, lots of bug spray.
North follows ultrarunner Scott Jurek on his journey to break the speed record for travelling the Appalachian Trail, showing just how demanding such a journey is — even though he has completed a long list of long distance runs.
Jurek, a world-renowned runner known for top finishes in long distance races, recounts the details of a 46-day exhausting, grueling journey that came close to wiping out his willpower.
In the end, Jurek’s 2,000+ mile journey north through injury, bad weather, and punishing terrain shows that something that can torment can also be transformative.
If you need a dose of inspiration, crack open Jurek’s memoir. If you’re inside, you can hold off on the bug spray.
2. Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery (2020)
In this New York Times sports and fitness bestseller, Good to Go, science journalist Christie Aschwanden is on a mission to clarify if some of the latest training practices actually help athletes adapt and recover from injuries.
Considered “the definitive tour through a bewildering jungle of…claims composing a multibillion-dollar recovery industry,” Good to Go gets to the bottom of the effectiveness of a wide range of treatments. These include foam rolling, sports drinks, chocolate milk, cryotherapy, and even special pajamas and boots used by some famous athletes.
This book helps shine some light on the big question: Do any of these things actually help the body recover?
Perhaps you’re skeptical about a treatment plan.
Maybe you’re just curious.
If you’re interested in the legitimacy of some of the latest trends in recovery and treatment, you’’ find the answers you’re looking for by reading through Aschwanden’s case studies.
1. The Comeback Quotient: A Get-Real Guide to Building Mental Fitness in Sport and Life (2020)
In this “guide to building mental fitness in sport and life,” sportswriter Matt Fitzgerald combines real-life examples of select athletes and scientific studies to present a three-step process that any athlete anywhere can use to overcome adversity.
By contrasting “ultrarealists” — those who can accept and address the reality of their situation no matter how overwhelming — with everyone who cannot find the same success, Fitzgerald makes the case that the the very notion of a comeback is open to all athletes across the wide spectrum of sports.
It’s imperative to be as open and neutral of an observer as you can be because, after all, you cannot accept a reality that you don’t even see.
With The Comeback Quotient, Fitzgerald arms athletes with the tools to regain their positivity and to be prepared for any obstacles that stand in their way of a true comeback.
As he stresses, no matter what kind of bad situation you find yourself in, you want to respond to it by facing the reality.
The formula is really that easy.