There are shelves and shelves full of books about the running, some of which are worth more of your time than others. But which are the ones to pick up between races? Which ones will inspire you to push yourself that little bit further, that little bit longer, and see you reach new levels of endurance you never thought you could achieve?
Weâve selected a list of some of our favorites. From meditative journals on what running means to writers, to accounts of the pure agony (including blisters, lots and lots of blisters) and mental fortitude required when attempting to break long-standing records.
These books offer insight and inspiration in equal measure, as well as attempts to decipher why we actually enjoy lacing up our trainers on and putting ourselves in an uncomfortable situation, often on a daily basis.
Born To Run by Christopher McDougall
Buy now: Amazon | From $16.95
This is the one that can lay claim to changing the running industry and sending a surge of people out on the streets in minimalist running shoes, or even fully barefoot. Released in 2009, journalist McDougallâs journey into the world of ultrarunning paved the way for all the books that have followed since.
In it, McDougal meets runners such as Scott Jurek (see below) and âBarefoot Tedâ, and runs with the famous Tarahumara runners of Mexico, who can keep going for miles and miles on tyre-tread shoes and a chia-based drink called iskiate. A must-read for anyone with an interest in running.
Beyond Impossible by Mimi Anderson
Buy now: Amazon | From $7.99
Mimi Andersonâs journey is an inspiration to many, runners and non-runners alike. After overcoming a long-standing eating disorder, she took up running in her late 30s, teaching herself how to run on a treadmill (and stopping after just one minute of running for fear she was going to die), and struggling to complete even 5km at first.
Then she got the bug, and from there went on to complete longer and longer races, eventually breaking multiple world records, including the fastest time for a woman to run John OâGroats to Landâs End. The deep depths she had to go to complete this record forms the backbone of this gripping read, with plenty of insight into her other ultramarathons and achievements which include Badwater and the Marathon de Sables. A book that will inspire you to get out there and challenge yourself to find new limits.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Buy now: Amazon | From $15
The fiction writer and regular runner reflects on the affect running has had on his life, after taking it up in 1982. He runs 10k every day after writing for four hours, wherever he is, and always tries to run near water as he finds it calming â as he says in his introduction, âNo matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.â
The book takes the form a running diary, and Murakamiâs humble, unassuming style feels meditative in itself as he provides valuable insight into his writing life and techniques while talking about running.
North by Scott Jurek
Buy now: Amazon | From $16.99
You could easily place Jurekâs previous book, Eat & Run, on this list (if not for the useful vegan recipes alone), but weâve gone for North due to the addition of his wife, Jenny, and her accounts at the end of each chapter on her efforts to crew âJurkerâ as he attempts to break the fastest-known time record for running the Appalachian Trail.
It shows just what it takes to complete a challenge like this, importantly not just for the runner themselves, but also the support crew â the stresses and lack of sleep they endure in order to help a friend/loved one reach inside themselves and run 2,200 miles over 47 days.
Jurek has a lyrical style of writing that captures his thoughts and feelings as he ran â âThere was so much to learn from running and sharing these wilderness passages as they crisscrossed through ranges and canyons like blood vessels spanning the continentâ.
Running Home by Katie Arnold
Buy now: Amazon | From $27
Arnold was a writer on US adventure magazine Outside, and wrote this memoir reflecting on her finding ultra-running through a magazine assignment when she interviewed the original âUltra Marathon Manâ Dean Karnazes (also well worth a read).
From there, like British runner Damian Hall, she turned from journalist to elite runner. However, this doesnât examine her running life in minute detail, itâs more about her relationship with her father and how she worked through her grief following his death. It also examines how to be a parent while training for long-distance endurance events.
Feet In The Clouds by Richard Askwith
Buy now: Amazon | From $13.25
This not only deals with author Askwithâs obsession with completing the Lake Districtâs famous Bob Graham Round (42 peaks, self-navigated, within 24 hours), but it also serves as an enthralling history of fell-running in the UK, with many of the sportâs great characters and record-holders interviewed, including âIronâ Joss Naylor and Pete Bland.
You donât need to be a fell-runner to get the most out of this, or indeed have ever tried fell-running â the stories behind some of the records and runs will inspire you, even if itâs just going out for a completely flat 5k loop around the block in the sun. By the end youâll be talking about races such as the Langdale Horseshoe and Skiddaw like a seasoned fell-runner.
There Is No Map In Hell by Steve Birkinshaw
Buy now: Amazon | From $16.49
Another one in the vein of Jurekâs unbelievable challenge, this time in the claggy north of England, specifically the 214 âWainwrightsâ in the Lake District. The Wainwrights are a list of hills/summits set out by fell-walker Alfred Wainwright in his influential seven-volume Practical Guide To The Lakeland Fells released between 1955 and 1966.
Fell-running legend Joss Naylor set the record, famously continuing after his shoe rubbed through to the ankle ligament â âit was a pain that bit into me all dayâŠ like red-hot needles shoved into my anklesâ. Birkinshaw knows his limits â he is not as fast as Naylor, but believes that he has planned a more direct route, and aims to sleep less.
The account of his seven days running is gripping and, in typical Yorkshire style, deadpan and understated â Birkinshaw is an athlete of stunning endurance and humbleness. A true running hero.
Runner: A Short Story About A Long Run by Lizzy Hawker
Buy now: Amazon | From $13.99
British runner Hawker has been victorious in the UTMB an unprecedented five times â no other athlete can lay claim to such a vast haul of UTMB golds. However, she remains relatively unknown for her achievements.
This book follows the unassuming runnerâs journey and love for the mountains, her first UTMB where she was woefully underprepared, buying her first pair of trail shoes just before starting the race and standing âscared witlessâ on the starting line, yet still, against all the odds, triumphed against some of the best ultrarunners in the world. Her self-taught approach will get you reassessing your own potential.
The Rise Of The Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn
Buy now: Amazon | From $26.23
Guardian journalist and runner Finnâs latest book follows his introduction to the world of ultra-running. And he doesnât do things by halves, entering himself into one of the hardest ultras on the planet, the 171km Mont Blanc-skirting UTMB.
In preparation for this epic race, he meets a range of runners and tries to understand why they do it, while taking part in some of the worldâs most brutal ultramarathons, including Angleseyâs Ring Oâ Fire, which nearly breaks him, and Londonâs 24-hour Self-Transcendence Race, which leads him to dig deeper than heâs dug before and - in doing so he makes some eye-opening discoveries about himself.
Endurance by Alex Hutchinson
Buy now: Amazon | From $15.58
Less a running journey, more a deep dive into the science and medical theories behind endurance and how and why runners can access extra reserves of energy when needed. Some of the experiments and athletes Hutchinson talks to will redefine what you see as your own limits.
By examining things like oxygen, hydration, muscle, pain, fuel, VO2 max and how your brain affects endurance, there are plenty of tips you can utilize in your own training and you may well find you can extend your own endurance, which will come in handy during your next marathon.
Running For My Life by Rachel Ann Cullen
Buy now: Amazon | From $7.99
A memoir from a true non-runner, Rachel Ann Cullen had never taken much interest in running until she was diagnosed with severe depression and bipolar disorder, having also suffered for years with body dysmorphia and low self-esteem.
Taking up running helped her deal with her demons, and she went from struggling to complete a 10-minute run to a marathon PB of 3.16 at the Yorkshire Marathon. You cannot fail to finish this without not only laughing a lot at Cullenâs internal monologue, talent for humorous description and 90s nostalgia but also feeling inspired to lace up your trainers and hit the trails.