Here are my eight essential running books for blokes.
Of course, there are many more out there but this little collection will give you a start, offer you some inspiration, and give you some techniques and approaches to get you fitter as well. If you’ve not read these already then I recommend you add them to your list. Some of these books are more about inspiration than cutting edge science but, hey, we can’t run all the time and sometimes vicarious miles are as good as anything.
[Disclosure: some of the links below (in the book cover images) are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.]
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Literary giants don’t come much greater than Murakami but his love of running shines through here. Endlessly quotable it has driven more Instagrammable inspirational posts than I care to think about. Murakami muses on running and on how it fits with his life. He took up running when the sedentary nature of writing started to catch up with him. It’s a part memoir and another part philosophical reflection. Murakami has come a long way from his days running a bar and details his exploits in marathons and a 100km ultra. He doesn’t romanticise the pain and hardness of running but you’ll still want to get out there and do your own thing as you read it.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
It may not have spawned the barefoot running movement but McDougall’s book gave it the literary equivalent of a slack handful of caffeine gels. Vibram jumped on the bandwagon but went on to rue it. In May 2014 they had to settle a $3.75 million dollar class action lawsuit for making medical claims for barefoot running that couldn’t be supported by the evidence. This book is not to blame for Vibram’s over-enthusiastic marketing but McDougall writes vividly and persuasively about the Tarahumara, a tribe of Mexican Indians with remarkable abilities to run long distances. McDougall also introduces other remarkable ultra-running characters and he can spin a yarn that most will agree is firmly in the rip-roaring category.
Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn
This book follows Finn when he packs up his family and heads, improbably, to Kenya, to find out what makes them so damn good at running. This is more of an autobiographical tale than a cool-eyed appraisal of the science underpinning Kenyan dominance. It touches on barefoot running and, as suggested above, I’d generally recommend that should be treated with some caution. Their dominance is multi-factorial and, not least, related to the prodigious mileages logged by Kenyans. There is a good story to enjoy as Finn builds up to the Lewa trail marathon running through the heart of the Kenya wilderness.
Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith
If you’ve not already discovered the joy of running on trails and hills then Askwith’s homage to fell running will have a magnetic effect for the fell-curious. Fells are the relatively small (by global standards) hills of northern England. As anyone who has jogged up the slightest of inclines knows that doesn’t make them a soft touch. The challenges to knees and grisled ankles can be forbidding. Askwith weaves in the history of fell running as he builds up to completing his own Bob Graham Round, the 66 mile circuit of 42 Lakeland peaks with 27,000 feet of ascent and descent that fell runners strive to get around in under 24 hours.
The Art of Running Faster by Julian Goater and Don Melvin
This book has been around since 2012 but the cover of the book already looks a little dated – mind you, it did when it came out. But it is chockful of sensible advice. If you are seeking the latest cutting edge research that will shortcut your way to astonishing athletic performance then this is not the book for you. That said, you are likely to be disappointed as that elusive shortcut doesn’t exist. Most of the solid principles of good training are well established and Goater and Melvin give a good account of the key factors that will, as the book titles suggests, get you running faster. It’s a little gem of a book.
80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
I’m a fan of Fitzgerald who wrote one of the most sensible books on diet and fitness out there – Racing Weight. He sticks to the evidence and interprets it with an enormous amount of good sense. In this book he sets out a strategy to get you fitter based around that science. Of course, there is an element here, from me, of confirmation bias. I’ve long believed that most runners run too fast and that is, ultimately, holding most people back. It also increases your risk of injury. Constantly running at near-as-dammit your threshold pace is not a good way to progress. Matt takes the Pareto Principle and puts a training spin on it. If you have any interest in cracking sporting stories then I also recommend the excellent Iron War by Fitzgerald.
Mindful Running by Mackenzie L. Havey
The great thing about this book is how it layers in plenty of science as well as practical applications to get you a little more mindful. One of the reasons in recent times that mindfulness has been such a buzzy, on-trend phenomenon is that there is a pretty good evidence-base underpinning it. I’ve often thought that my own running has been good for me because of a mindful element that I’ve fallen into. You shouldn’t feel obliged to be ‘more mindful’ and sometimes it is simply enough to enjoy the activity. There doesn’t always have to be some greater purpose to every activity we do in life. But, if you want to maximise some benefits of running then this is a very fine place to start.
Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human by Vybarr Cregan-Reid
Cregan-Reid takes us on a journey through all sorts of different areas and discipines in a polymath exploration of running. In a Blokeology spirit he ranges far and wide speaking to various experts and enthusiasts to explore different facets of running. There’s sociology, geology, and we even touch on ornithology. But it also lands on 19th century literature and there is even a parallel drawn with gym treadmills, the ‘dreadmill’ and penal culture. He writes beautifully on the simple pleasure of moving through the landscape under our own power.