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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Inside the Big Sur Half Marathon

We soaked up the excitement of all the events on Big Sur Half Marathon weekend and enjoyed some great conversations with some very interesting runners from all parts of the country; 49 States and 8 countries were represented. No…we don’t know the state that was missing.

Marathon Memories: Deborah Telesmanic (her real name…and yes she is) from Santa Rosa showed us her ankle and calf. She has done 23 marathons and gets a tattoo to memorialize each one. The Tat is typically the logo of the marathon she completed. Very cool idea actually.

Sisterhood: Four wonderful women from the Riverside Road Runners, Teresa Pofahl, Barbara Edmunds, Pam Durazo and Romana Fierro started planning to run the Big Sur Half Marathon almost three years ago. They started training together specifically for the race in February and training was going great until Ramona had a serious bike injury just two weeks ago. Ramona wasn’t going to be able to run….in fact Ramona couldn’t even walk. BUT…this didn’t stop the 3 other friends from pushing Ramona in a wheelchair the entire half marathon. And they finished happily about 30 minutes ahead of the 4 hour course time limit. We’re impressed.

Kids say the darndest things: At the Just Run 3K and Bubba Gump Run Forest Run 5K on Saturday one little kid had a great time running the 3K and getting a medal, but he was seen being dragged by his mother over to the 5K finish area yelling over and over, “I DON’T WANT TO SEE DADDY RUN!” He’s learned really early that it’s better to be a competitor than a viewer.

Bad Juju: We’re constantly dismayed that even though we have mentioned this several times before that there are still dozens of half marathon runners who wear the race shirt during the race. One of the cardinal rules of racing is never wear a race shirt until you have completed that race. Really bad Juju.

Really Enjoying the HALF: During last year’s Big Sur Half, local runner and MPC Nursing Program instructor Eileen Lamothe, was in the hospital hemorraging and in danger of losing her leg from Peripheral Artery Disease. She recovered and this year ran the half and was smiling the entire race.

Running Shoe names: At the expo, one runner from Kansas was examining the running shoes for sale and seeing the usual names that are designed to make us want to buy running shoes: Mizuno Wave Nirvana, Nike Free, Mizuno Inspire, Asics Cumulus, Asics Nimbus, Asics Speedstar, Saucony Grid Hurricane. The names of the shoes make you feel fast and powerful. The Kansas man had obviously thought about his before as he started pontificating on possible alternative names for shoes that we agreed would probably never sell: The Blister Maker, The Bunion Blaster, the Sloth, The Pain Machine, The Quicksand, The Molasses, and the Fungus.

5K Course Record: Danny Tapia, who was this year’s Big Sur Marathon winner ran the Run Forrest Run 5K and set a course record 14:52. Danny is preparing for a “money” 5K in San Jose on Thanksgiving day. An impressive performance for a training run.

Setting a great example: We congratulate Cle Thayer, Cross Country coach at Stevenson School. Cle’s teams qualified for the State Cross Country Championships on Saturday at the CCS regional meet at Toro Park, with most runners getting personal best times. Even with all the excitement and work on Saturday, Cle ran well and placed high in his age group at the Half Marathon.


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The Running Life Book!

It seems hard to believe that we’ve had this column for more than six years; you could say the time has sort of raced past us.

We hope to continue for many years to come – but in the meantime, we thought it was time to take a look back at all the roads and trails we’ve traveled thus far, and compile them into a collection we can share with everybody.

The result is The Running Life: Wisdom and Observations from a Lifetime of Running, our new book which is scheduled for release next week. It's effectively a "greatest hits" collection of our writing over the course of six years, organized into sections that represent the topics we most frequently write about: the benefits of running, basic training guidelines, inspirational stories and motivational boosts, social commentary, and accounts of our running and racing adventures.

Our goals in starting this column back in 2004 were to promote the sport of running in Monterey County, be an informative resource for runners, and give non-runners a glimpse of what the running life is all about. The content of the book reflects this as well: whether you are an advanced runner, a novice, or even a non-athlete, we’re confident that you’ll find something in this collection that you’ll enjoy.

Much of our writing has a local focus, but many articles in the book have been revised to be applicable to anybody, anywhere. However, we haven’t lost our appreciation for the best of what’s around us – in fact, there’s a special 40-page section on the Big Sur Marathon and Half-Marathons featuring all our coverage of the events over the years, and training advice for runners who hope to complete those events someday.

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that there’s a fair amount of silliness as well, as a healthy portion of our columns are only peripherally about running. Letters to Santa, Wizard of Oz metaphors, sexual activity of Olympians, Kenny Rogers lyrics … you’ll find it all in the book. There’s even an article that was deemed too scandalous to print in the Herald – and no, it’s not the sex one. You’ll just have to read and guess for yourself.

While publishing a book is a nice accomplishment for us, we recognize that it never would have happened without an enormous amount of support from multiple allies. Sports editors Dave Kellogg and Scott Forstner have been extremely supportive of our efforts – really now, how many newspapers even have a running column? – and the Monterey Peninsula running community has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for us. And obviously, our families deserve some kind of medal for putting up with our nonsense all these years, but that should go without saying.

The Running Life book is now available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle versions, and can be purchased directly from our website via PayPal or credit card (click link on sidebar). To celebrate the release, and in conjunction with next weekend’s Big Sur Half-Marathon, the book is being sold for 20% off the cover price from now through race day on November 13th.

You can also look for us at the Big Sur Half-Marathon race expo next weekend, where we are sharing a booth with The Treadmill running store to sell the books in person. We look forward to meeting you there, hearing about your plans for race weekend, and sharing a few stories of our own.

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