To a non-runner, the thought of reading a book about running might seem painfully boring. Surely, a sport this repetitive does not lend itself to story telling. But the literature around ultra, trail and road running is rich and enthralling. The depths and introspection that hours of training and racing provokes creates profound observations and character arcs.
Here are some books worth checking out, whether you are a runner or not.
Running with the Kenyans
Adharanand Finn was at a crossroads in his life. He realised time had slipped away and his promise to himself to start running again was now made years ago and looking empty. Finn reacted drastically, uprooted his family and moved to the town that produces the world’s most successful runners, in rural Kenya.
This excellent personal journey of discovery is framed in a sociological look at what makes Kenyans such successful athletes. The lazy answer is genetics, but Finn explores and finds more factors at play, from upbringing, culture, diet, training schedules, rest and more.
Eat and Run
Ultra running’s first superstar was American Scott Jurek. He rose quickly through the ranks and went on to win the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (161km) for seven consecutive years. His autobiography examines his early life and is an introspective look into his motivations, and the struggles he experienced in his personal life.
Jurek cleverly weaves in his journey to veganism and even includes recipes for his on-trail snacks, without turning it into a food book or a story of the ethics of diet.
Born to Run
Christopher McDougall embarks on a personal journey from being perpetually injured to ultra runner by searching out a hidden tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyons. These Mexican Tarahumara seem able to run for hours, even days, without tiring or getting injured. And more surprisingly still, they do it without the aid of modern running shoes.
As McDougall goes on his own journey, he explores human’s evolutionary history and new theories on how we are mechanically wired. Ultimately, he concludes, we were born to run and born to run barefoot. Somehow, he convinces a group of famous runners, including Scott Jurek, to head to Mexico and race the Tarahumara.
Running the Rift
A rare fictional book in the midst of biographies, this story follows the rise of Rwandan Jean Patrick Nkuba and his dream to become the first from his nation to compete at the Olympics. As Hutu-Tutsi tensions wreak havoc on Rwanda, more obstacles block Nkuba’s path and put his life in jeopardy, but he holds fast to his dream even after he is forced to flee for his life.
Runner: A Short Story about a Long Run
Lizzy Hawker is one of the best ultra runners to grace the sport, having won the famous 171km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) three times in a row. This book details her rise in the sport, from the moment she burst onto the scene with her first epic victory, to her pushing her limits over a 320km run through the Himalayas from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu.
Hawker delves into her physical and mental challenges, and what she learned as she pushed herself through some of the most extreme races and locations on earth.
Depression Hates a Moving Target
Running and exercise is about mental health and meditation for many participants, but even more so for Nita Sweeney, who brought herself back from the abyss of depression to happiness by running with her dog. This inspirational story lets you see the power of running, and the power within yourself to face any challenge.
Sweeney chronicles her journey from depression to her first marathon, sharing the hard-fought battles with emotional and physical obstacles.