The 18 best running books in 2021 | Improve your running, by reading

Useful insights, inspiring stories and hilarious tales from the world of running
The 18 best running books in 2021

There's a wealth of information available to people who want to delve further into the world of running, from detailed books on the science behind movement to inspirational stories on how running has helped people to overcome personal struggles.

We've ploughed through piles of running tomes to find the most interesting, humorous and useful reads out there to satisfy the literary needs of runners. Whether you want to learn about the history of running or you just want to sit back and have a laugh, we've got it covered.

Most of the options on this list are also available through Audible, so you can stick on your headphones and dive in whilst you're clocking up the miles.

The best books on improving your running

The Lost Art of Running by Shane Benzie

The Lost Art of Running by Shane Benzie

Shane Benzie is a running coach who has worked with an enormous number of athletes and recreational runners around the world. His main focus when it comes to helping people improve their running is form and movement, something he approaches by analysing leading athletes to see what it is that makes them so efficient.

By understanding and tapping into the forgotten running styles we all have, Shane explains how we can use the natural elastic energy in our bodies to unlock our individual running potential.

The detailed book takes us through Shane's theories, how they were developed and the process by which they can be applied to everyone. In doing so he takes us on a journey of runners around the world and how they have adapted to their surroundings in order to produce natural movement patterns.

Our favourite aspect of the book is the clear guidance in how to apply Shane's learning to your own training, along with insights and guidance from the athletes he has also worked with, from Marathon des Sables winner Elisabet Barnes to Team GB 24 hour athletes, Robbie Britton and Dan Lawson.

Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

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 McDougall’s 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 ‘Barefoot Ted’, 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.


The Rise Of The Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn

The Rise Of The Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn

Guardian journalist and runner Finn’s latest book follows his introduction to the world of ultra-running. And he doesn’t 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 world’s most brutal ultramarathons, including Anglesey’s Ring O’ Fire, which nearly breaks him, and London’s 24-hour Self-Transcendence Race, which leads him to dig deeper than he’s dug before and - in doing so he makes some eye-opening discoveries about himself.

Endure by Alex Hutchinson

Endure by Alex Hutchinson

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.

The best books for running inspiration

Can't Nothing Bring Me Down by Ida Keeling

Can't Nothing Bring Me Down by Ida Keeling

If you've ever needed inspiration to get out and run then this incredible story about Ida Keeling, a 104 year-old woman that didn't start running until the age of 67, will hit the spot.

The honest memoir of Ida covers her life in the Bronx over a century that saw the Depression and the Civil Rights movement as well as the murder of her two sons. It was her daughter that encouraged her to take up running at a late age, something that helped Ida deal with her loss and find a new energy for life.

From those first steps, Ida has gone on to compete in a a number of events, even becoming the world record holder for the fastest 60-meter dash for the 95-99 age group. Motivated by her faith, her family and a changing nation, it's an incredibly deep insight into what running has become over the last few decades.

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

The best running books to add to your shelf

The fiction writer and regular runner reflects on the effect that 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 – as he says in his introduction, “No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.”

The book takes the form of a running diary, and Murakami’s humble, unassuming style feels meditative in itself as he provides valuable insight into his writing life and techniques while talking about running.

Running For My Life by Rachel Ann Cullen

Running For My Life by Rachel Ann Cullen

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 Cullen’s internal monologue, talent for humorous description and 90s nostalgia but also feeling inspired to lace up your trainers and hit the trails.

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

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

British runner Hawker has been victorious in the UTMB an unprecedented five times – 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 runner’s 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 “scared witless” 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.

Running Home by Katie Arnold

Running Home by Katie Arnold

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 ‘Ultra Marathon Man’ Dean Karnazes (also well worth a read).

From there, like British runner Damian Hall, she turned from journalist to elite runner. However, this doesn’t examine her running life in minute detail, it’s 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.

Running With The Buffaloes by Chris Lear

Running With The Buffaloes by Chris Lear

Admittedly, not the most gripping of synopses – sports writer Chris Lear follows the University of Colorado’s cross-country team through their 1998 season. However, via unlimited access to the team members, coaches, practise sessions and competition races, he’s crafted a page-turner of a novel about cross country running, and it’s not often you can say that.

It’s aimed more at serious runners, due to the inclusion of detailed training logs which can make for dry reading if you’re not into that kind of thing, but the drama behind the characters in the team more than makes up for the time skimming training sessions (although there are plenty of training tips you can take away from it).

Beyond Impossible by Mimi Anderson

Beyond Impossible by Mimi Anderson

Mimi Anderson’s 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 O’Groats to Land’s 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.

The best running challenge books

A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins

A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins

There aren't many races in the world that have the level of global interest of the New York Marathon, and whether you've done it, want to do it or just want to hear about one of the world's biggest events, A Race Like No Other is an exceptionally heartfelt and detailed account of the race.

Throughout the book, Liz Robbins covers all aspects of the event in beautiful detail, from the history of its meteoric rise to become the biggest marathon in the world to a mile-by-mile overview of what it's like to take on the challenge. It's not just a book about running though, acting as an honest testament to what the event means to competitors and spectators, why people do it and what emotions go through runners as they cover the 26.2 miles.

If you've run the race or plan to do so one day, it's an essential read that covers off the bulk of what it's like to take part in the enormous event.

North by Scott Jurek

North by Scott Jurek

You could easily place Jurek’s previous book, Eat & Run, on this list (if not for the useful vegan recipes alone), but we’ve 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 ‘Jurker’ 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 – 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 – “There was so much to learn from running and sharing these wilderness passages as they crisscrossed through ranges and canyons like blood vessels spanning the continent”.

Feet In The Clouds by Richard Askwith

Feet In The Clouds by Richard Askwith

This not only deals with author Askwith’s obsession with completing the Lake District’s 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 sport’s great characters and record-holders interviewed, including ‘Iron’ Joss Naylor and Pete Bland.

You don’t need to be a fell-runner to get the most out of this, or indeed have ever tried fell-running – the stories behind some of the records and runs will inspire you, even if it’s just going out for a completely flat 5k loop around the block in the sun. By the end you’ll 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

There Is No Map In Hell by Steve Birkinshaw

Another one in the vein of Jurek’s unbelievable challenge, this time in the claggy north of England, specifically the 214 ‘Wainwrights’ 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 – “it was a pain that bit into me all day… like red-hot needles shoved into my ankles”. Birkinshaw knows his limits – 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 – Birkinshaw is an athlete of stunning endurance and humbleness. A true running hero.

The best running books for light reading

26.2 Miles To Happiness by Paul Tonkinson

26.2 Miles To Happiness by Paul Tonkinson

Some running books are designed to fill your head with sage-like insights to help you improve you're running, others – like 26.2 Miles To Happiness – are simply written so you can have a damn good laugh, with maybe a sprinkling of running advice dotted across the pages.

Over the course of the book comedian Paul Tonkinson (The Big Breakfast, The Sunday Show) talks frankly about his love of running as he prepares to take part in the London Marathon. From desperately trying to avoid alcohol during training – and occasionally failing – to heading to an extreme diet resort in Australia with Michael McIntyre, the book is a funny and honest look at the struggles of 26.2 miles when life gets in the way.

If you want to get the full experience of 26.2 Miles To Happiness we suggest you give the audiobook a go. Read by Paul himself, it's the perfect way to keep your mind off a long Sunday run.

Running With Sherman by Christopher McDougall

Running With Sherman by Christopher McDougall

The author of one of the most influential running books of all time, Born To Run (see below), returns with a new book about running with a donkey, of all things. And you may be surprised to learn it is a truly inspirational read.

McDougall begins the book by taking ownership of a severely neglected donkey he names Sherman. Sherman is on death’s door, but after months of care and gentle coaxing, the author manages to defy all the experts and get the donkey moving. Then McDougall learns about burro racing, a genre of running in the US where competitors lead donkeys along canyons and up mountains in races of around 15 miles.

He decides this is the sport for him and Sherman and, after entering a major event, begins training with his wife, a friend who had been suffering severe depression and two more donkeys. What follows is a wild running journey and an enlightening insight on the stubbornness of donkeys and how animals can help those with mental health problems.

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes

Nowadays ultra-running is far from a niche sport. The widespread take-up of new events and long-distance endurance athletes has normalized it to the point where it feels like it was always like this. Back in 2005, it was a different world though – and one man spearheaded the movement.

That man was Dean Karnazes, a marketing executive who suddenly decided to get out and run ridiculously long distances. His story is about exploring the world of ultra-running in a time where there was no social media, when rocking up to an almost impossible endurance event in the middle of nowhere was an alien concept to normal runners.

The book is almost a piece of history now, documenting the early days of ultra-running and how it developed. Whether you're new to the sport or just want to read a riveting and exciting story, it's an incredible overview of how ultra-running started and how the world perceived it.


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