The Best Running Books To Inspire And Inform

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Even the most obsessed runners can only spend at most a few hours running every day, which leaves a lot of time to fill. Sure, you might “work”, and occasionally need to “sleep” and “eat”, but there will be plenty of free time left where you need something to do that isn’t running. So why not pick up one of these excellent books and use that time to read about running?

There are plenty of great options. Along with many must-read memoirs from top pros, you’ll find an abundance of research-filled books that both inspire and provide insight that can be applied directly to your goals as an everyday runner. 

Two Coach writers (and keen runners) have pulled together their recommendations, including popular classics from recent years and some new releases, to help you feel motivated and optimistic about our sport. We’ve also woven in recommendations from pro runners, such as Hayden Hawks and Tom Evans, both professional ultra-marathon runners. So after your run, put your feet up and get stuck into one of the many fascinating running-related books that are worth your time.

Running While Black by Alison Mariella Désir

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Running While Black: Finding Freedom In A Sport That Wasn’t Built For Us

By Alison Mariella Désir

In light of the social justice reckoning that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alison Mariella Désir’s Running While Black is one of the most important running books to be published in the last few years. Described by Désir as “part memoir, part manifesto”, Running While Black takes readers through key moments of Black American and running history, as well as Désir’s own running story and her hopes for a more inclusive sport and industry.—Emilia Benton

Run The World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around The Globe by Becky Wade

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Run The World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around The Globe

By Becky Wade

After graduating from Rice University in Texas, marathon runner Becky Wade didn’t immediately seek out a professional contract and jump right into racing as a pro. Instead, through a fellowship obtained through her alma mater, Wade spent a year exploring running cultures and communities across the world. Along the way, she visited several countries and stayed with 72 host families. In this book, she chronicles her time in nine of those countries, in which she also logged much of her cumulative total of over 3,500 miles of running.—EB

Up To Speed: The Groundbreaking Science Of Women Athletes by Christine Yu

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Up To Speed: The Groundbreaking Science Of Women Athletes

By Christine Yu

More women than ever are participating in sports, their numbers often surpassing male participants in large races. However, much of the sporting data available, whether related to training, equipment or nutrition, is based on research that solely studied men. This is finally changing, with more researchers taking care to examine specific ways women can stay healthy and minimize their risk of injury. In this book, sports and health journalist Christine Yu examines existing gender bias from available science, emphasizing how changes and better solutions can help women and girls thrive in sports at every stage of life.—EB

Choosing To Run by Des Linden

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Choosing To Run

By Des Linden

Anyone who closely follows the elite race in the Boston Marathon knows what you’re referring to if you bring up “Boston 2018”. It was a year when torrential rain brought seriously treacherous conditions, and two-time US Olympian Des Linden became the first American woman to win in 33 years. In her memoir, Linden takes readers mile by mile through that day, alternating chapters between that race and the story of her life and career, sharing never-before-told details such as a diagnosis of severe hypothyroidism that nearly led her to quit the sport a year earlier.—EB

Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.: Quick-Fix Recipes For Hangry Athletes by Shalane Flanangan and Elyse Kopecky

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Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.: Quick-Fix Recipes For Hangry Athletes

By Shalane Flanangan and Elyse Kopecky

There are many cookbooks available for runners and athletes, but this series by former professional runner and 2017 New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanangan and her college team-mate Elyse Kopecky is extremely popular for good reason. Flanagan and Kopecky emphasize key nutrients for runners while providing recipes for dozens of meals that are not only delicious but can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. My personal favorites include the Peachy Green Smoothie and the Pesto Tuna Melt.—EB

26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running And Life From My Marathon Career By Meb Keflezighi and Scott Douglas

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26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running And Life From My Marathon Career

By Meb Keflezighi and Scott Douglas

Former professional runner Meb Keflezighi made history after winning both the Boston and New York City Marathons, in addition to an Olympic marathon medal. His final professional marathon in New York in 2017 marked not only the end of a remarkable career, it was also his 26th time racing the distance. In this memoir, co-written with Scott Douglas, Keflezighi takes readers through those races and what made each one particularly memorable. Through these experiences, Keflezighi also shares lessons he’s learned about life, family, identity and faith, as well as tips related to training and nutrition.—EB

Breakthrough Women’s Running: Dream Big And Train Smart by Neely Spence Gracey and Cindy Kuzma

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Breakthrough Women’s Running: Dream Big And Train Smart

By Neely Spence Gracey and Cindy Kuzma

Professional runner and coach Neely Spence Gracey and journalist Cindy Kuzma provide readers with engaging stories from top female athletes who have set challenging goals and achieved them. Each one combines science and insights with experience and effective strategies—including training, strength and mobility programs—that can be applied to your own running goals.—EB

Running Stories: By People Of All Ages, Speeds and Backgrounds

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Running Stories: By People Of All Ages, Speeds And Backgrounds

By Jerry Lockspeiser and Andrew Roberts

This collection of first-person accounts provides two types of inspiration. The first is, of course, 88 testimonies to the power of running to transform and enrich lives. The second is that all profits from the sale of the book support The Running Charity, which uses the sport to help young people who are either homeless or at risk of becoming so. Since you will no doubt be inspired to lace up, there’s also a section to help beginner runners get started, including a resounding answer to the question of whether you can run: “Yes, yes, you can.”

Two Hours: The Quest To Run The Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar

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Two Hours: The Quest To Run The Impossible Marathon

By Ed Caesar

Even if you only have a passing interest in running you will probably have heard of Eliud Kipchoge’s (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to run a sub-two-hour marathon as part of Nike’s Breaking2 project in 2017. Journalist and amateur runner Ed Caesar had unique access to the athletes and experts behind the attempt, and his resulting book gives unparalleled insight into elite marathon running, as well as the history of the sport.

Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside With Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, And The University Of Colorado Men's Cross Country Team by Chris Lear

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Running With The Buffaloes: A Season Inside With Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, And The University Of Colorado Men's Cross-Country Team

By Chris Lear

You’d probably assume, quite fairly, that the exploits of the 1998 University of Colorado cross-country team won’t hold much interest for you – but you’d be very wrong. Misfortune strikes the team at every turn, but they continue to rally and excel in heroic fashion. Go ahead and dip your toe into the world of top-level US collegiate sports. You won’t be disappointed.

“I read [Running With The Buffaloes] five or six times,” says professional ultramarathon runner and Hoka One One athlete Hayden Hawks. “It reminds me of my days at an American college running cross-country and it helped to fuel my dreams. I always wanted to be an All-American and maybe win a national title, and although I never won a national title I was an All-American [selected by a national body of coaches and experts as one of the best college athletes in the US]. It always takes me back and reminds me where my love for running came from.”

Lore Of Running by Timothy Noakes

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Lore Of Running

by Timothy Noakes

If you want a deep dive into every aspect of running performance, this is the book for you. Author Tim Noakes looks in forensic detail at training, racing, injuries, physiology, the secrets of world-class athletes and pretty much everything else related to the sport. Two Adidas Terrex pro runners picked the book for our list, Tom Evans and Sabrina Stanley, and both warn it’s not an easy read, as insightful as it is.

“This is a pretty technical running book, which goes into lots of detail about how to improve performance,” says Evans. “It’s really interesting, quite deep. I’d say you’ve got to have a coffee before you start it and you might end up reading every page twice!”

“It took me years to read it cover to cover,” says Stanley. “I would carry it with me everywhere and take pages at a time and highlight stuff. There's so much information in there. It’s dry, but the volume of information is great. I think every runner should read it.”

Runner: A Short Story About A Long Run by Lizzy Hawker

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Runner: A Short Story About A Long Run

By Lizzy Hawker

Hawker is one of the all-time greats of ultra-marathon running, having won the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc five times, and she is an inspiration for amateurs and pros alike. Her book Runner: A Short Story About A Long Run covers her first win at UTMB, and was picked for our list by Adidas Terrex pro ultra-marathoner Emily Hawgood.

“She [Hawker] talks about everything. She is good for our sport, showing that we get to be professional athletes, but that it’s not our complete identity,” says Hawgood. “We’re moms or friends or sisters or students. We go to school or we work, we have other jobs. She had a desk job and ran. It was just inspirational for me to read her book and understand how you do that and how successful she can be.”

Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession: The Classic Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession by Richard Askwith

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Feet In The Clouds: A Tale Of Fell-Running And Obsession

by Richard Askwith

If you’ve only ever run in cities, we heartily recommend expanding your horizons by reading Feet In The Clouds, which dives deep into the world of fell running – an obsessive passion in areas of Britain like the Lake District. The author, Richard Askwith, falls so in love with the sport that he tackles the infamous Bob Graham Round – an attempt to summit 42 of the Lake District’s highest peaks in 24 hours.

Don't Stop Me Now: 26.2 Tales of a Runner’s Obsession by Vassos Alexander

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Don’t Stop Me Now: 26.2 Tales Of A Runner’s Obsession

By Vassos Alexander

Running has a way of getting its hooks into a person, no matter how sceptical of the sport you might be before you start. This book not only follows broadcaster Vassos Alexander’s journey from reluctant runner to ultramarathoner and Ironman triathlete, but thoroughly explores how running can become an obsession for anyone. Keep a pair of trainers handy, because you will want to run after reading.

The Way Of The Runner: A journey into the fabled world of Japanese running by Adharanand Finn

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The Way Of The Runner: A Journey Into The Fabled World Of Japanese Running

by Adharanand Finn

Six Japanese runners finished the 2018 Tokyo Marathon in under 2hr 9min. That might not mean much to you but to put it into context, in the history of British running only five men have run under that marker, and only eight Americans have done it. That strength in depth is a result of Japan being one of the most running-obsessed nations on Earth, especially long-distance running. In this fascinating book, journalist Adharanand Finn explores the unique running culture in Japan.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

By Haruki Murakami

The most bizarre things tend to pop into your head when you’re running and it’s fair to say most of us would struggle to explain them with any clarity later. Fortunately, Haruki Murakami is one the world’s greatest living writers as well as an avid runner, and this book perfectly captures the stream-of-consciousness thinking many experience when running. If you’re a fan of Murakami and running, this will really hit the spot.

Running With The Kenyans: Discovering The Secrets Of The Fastest People On Earth by Adharanand Finn

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Running With The Kenyans: Discovering The Secrets Of The Fastest People On Earth

By Adharanand Finn

In The Way Of The Runner, Adharanand Finn explored a largely unknown running culture in Japan, but the world is well aware of the prowess of Kenyan runners, having watched them triumph in Olympic events and major marathons for many years. To write Running With The Kenyans, Finn moved to Kenya and trained with the country’s elites to try and discover the secrets of their speed – but the book is also an inspiring account of his travels and training for his first marathon.

“I loved Adharanand Finn’s Running With The Kenyans,” says Evans. “I spent a year in Kenya and read the book while I was out there. I then went to Iten [the mountain town used by many Kenyan runners as a base] and ran with the guys up there and did the Lewa marathon, which is the big race he [Finn] did out there. I actually raced against Adharanand and we’ve been frenemies ever since—he didn’t like me beating him.”

How to Lose a Marathon: A Starter’s Guide to Finishing in 26.2 Chapters by Joel Cohen

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How To Lose A Marathon: A Starter's Guide To Finishing In 26.2 Chapters

By Joel Cohen

If exultant tales of elite – or at least very good – runners rejoicing in the joys of the sport don’t tally up with your own experience of running, try this book. Author Joel Cohen is happy to wallow in the misery that can arise from attempting to run a marathon, and does so in amusing fashion here. If you’ve signed up for a marathon only to find that the fabled “runner’s high” never arrives during or after your own runs, How To Lose… will be an invaluable guide to getting through the race.

Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

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Born To Run: The Hidden Tribe, The Ultra-Runners, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen

By Christopher McDougall

It’s the book that sent thousands out on to the streets shoeless (or wearing very minimal shoes) to try barefoot running. We’d recommend you don’t do that—at least, not without a long and careful plan to prepare your body for it—but it’s still worth reading Christopher McDougall’s inspiring Born To Run, which focuses on the Tarahamura tribe of northern Mexico, renowned for their long-distance running ability.

Today We Die a Little: Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend to Cold War Hero by Richard Askwith

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Today We Die A Little: Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend To Cold War Hero

By Richard Askwith

One of the greatest Olympians of all time, Emil Zátopek redefined what it took to be the best with his savage interval sessions. He trained in all conditions, sometimes while wearing army boots, and left his rivals in his wake as a result – Zátopek is the only person to win the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon at a single Olympic Games. This terrific biography by Richard Askwith covers both Zátopek’s astonishing achievements and his life outside running.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn

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Rise Of The Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance

By Adharanand Finn

After his in-depth books on Japanese and Kenyan running, Adharanand Finn has turned his attention to the growing popularity of ultramarathons. As always, Finn doesn’t just provide observations about the sport – he dives in and becomes an ultra runner himself, tackling the fearsome 105-mile (169km) Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc as well as runs in the Rockies and the deserts of Oman.

Epic Runs Of The World (Lonely Planet)

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Epic Runs Of The World

Lonely Planet

If you’re putting together a bucket list of places and races you’d like to run one day, this book will be an invaluable companion. It provides details and photos of 50 of the world’s best running routes, and is sure to whet your appetite to get out and explore on two feet. Some of the runs involved are epic races like the Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa, while others are just incredible routes you can do at any time like the climb to a temple in Pokhara, Nepal. There are four you can enjoy in the UK, including a half-marathon trail run in Pembrokeshire detailed in this exclusive extract.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.

With contributions from