Best Running Books

Our last column introduced our newly released Running Life book, now available from this website (see sidebar). Ours is just the latest entry in a long history of running books, many of which are truly outstanding both for their subject matter and for their wordplay. Since the holiday season is approaching, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite books that would make great stocking stuffers for any runner on your gift list.

We thought of doing a top-5 list but decided to go the extra mile and make this a top-6 list of the best running books ever, presented here in no particular order:

Once a Runner by John Parker: The only fiction entry on our list has developed a fanatical cult following among runners for three generations. The plot is only fair, but the prose taps into the mental struggles of running like no book before or since. A few years ago, the book was out of print and fetching up to $300 on eBay; today you can find it on Amazon for 10 bucks.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb: It’s no hyperbole to say that breaking the 4-minute mile was the greatest athletic accomplishment of all time. More than a few people, including respected scientists, believed that such an extreme effort would cause an athlete’s heart to burst, resulting in sudden death. Roger Bannister’s breakthrough run forever changed the way athletes pursue accomplishments that others think impossible.

The fact that the race to 4 minutes was also a three-way intercontinental drama involving two of the most popular athletes in the world, as well as one who never truly got his due, just adds to the compelling nature of this tale – and Neal Bascomb’s account of this golden age of running is the most comprehensive ever written. It also manages to be a good page-turner, even though you pretty much already know the outcome of Bannister’s quest.

The Four-Minute Mile by Roger Bannister: Have we mentioned that we’re big Roger Bannister fans? This memoir showcases Bannister’s refreshingly old-school properness and humility, and you may never find a better role model for idealistic young athletes.

Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear: Lear caught lightning in a bottle during the season he embedded himself with the University of Colorado cross country teams, featuring superstar runner Adam Goucher and tough-as-nails coach Mark Wetmore. This is an excellent account of the work ethic that is required to succeed in intercollegiate cross-country; one example is an exchange between Wetmore and inquisitive students who express an interest in trying out for the XC team. Wetmore’s standard response was to, “Run 100 miles per week, every week for a year, and then come talk to me.” Even more astonishingly, one kid actually did it.

Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes: The book that helped launch the fringe sport of ultrarunning into the national conscious. Karnazes is probably more responsible for the explosive popularity of modern day ultrarunning than any single person, and his personal story will inspire anyone to give this so-called extreme sport a try.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall: A modern day classic that triggered the current barefoot renaissance. McDougall chronicles the legendary Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, and describes how a maniac American gringo and a group of crazy ultrarunners banded together to help preserve their remarkably simple existence.
Check out any of these books, and we’d love to hear your suggestions for titles we overlooked.

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