I’ve just finished reading Adharanand Finn’s book, Running With The Kenyans. Or rather devouring it.
Finn’s hugely enjoyable book is based around a simple question – how is it that Kenyan runners have a virtual monopoly on middle-and long-distance running?
To answer it, he takes himself, his wife and young family off to Iten, a small town in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Iten is ground zero for Kenyan runners. Every second person there seems to be a current or former champion.
Finn, himself no slouch as a distance runner, integrates himself as best he can into the town’s sporting scene, trains with the locals and tries to figure out their secret.
It’s a charming and compelling book – helped in large part by Finn’s self-deprecating approach to his quest - and one of the best running books I’ve read in recent times.
And, as I look at the titles on my shelves and on my Kindle, I’ve read a fair few. In fact, I love reading about running almost as much as I love actually running.
There’s certainly no shortage of material. In fact, there has been an explosion in running books lately, helped along by Christopher McDougall’s crossover success, Born To Run.
And we’re not talking here particularly about technical running tomes – classics like Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running, which also deserve a place on every runner’s bookshelf – but the books that tell of extraordinary feats and some of the fascinating personalities, both famous and unknown, who have accomplished them.
For anyone who doesn’t run, I imagine it’d be hard to understand how fascinating a book about putting one foot in front of the other can be. But it’s often the runner’s inner journey that is so compelling.
Here, in no particular order, are a few of my deadset favourite running books.
Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith
Richard Askwith is a London journalist who becomes completely enthralled by the hardcore sport of fell running in the North of England. He describes himself as a “13-stone southerner with weak ankles who spent the best years of his life smoking and is terrified of heights”, but nevertheless goes on to attempt the legendary Bob Graham Round, a terrifying challenge that involves visiting 42 peaks in the Lake District within 24 hours. It’s inspiring stuff and may just make you want to run up mountains.
Running on Empty, by Marshall Ulrich
Ulrich’s searingly honest autobiography charts his run across America – nearly 5000km in 52 days – at the age of 57. Ulrich’s record even before that extraordinary run was super-human and includes multiple Badwater Ultramarathon crossings and climbing each of the world’s seven highest peaks. But it is the personal epiphany he experiences during his trans-American odyssey that makes this book so hard to put down.
Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
There’s not a lot more can be said that hasn’t already been said about Born to Run, which is not just a standout running book but one of the best sporting books written in recent times. Unfairly, it’s often called “the barefoot running book” but it is about so much more than that. McDougall deftly handles his material, from characters such as the late Caballo Blanco to his own experiences with the Tarahumara people in Mexico, weaving together a convincing and entertaining thesis about why humans are, literally, born to run.
Running Hot, by Lisa Tamati
Kiwi Tamati is one of those characters in the running world that it would be hard to invent. She is also, in a good way, a little bit nuts. She divides her time between designing jewellery and running outrageously long distances in some of the world’s most inhospitable places. Running Hot is an inspirational tale about how she got into running in the first place and how she used her new-found athletic prowess to escape a series of destructive relationships
Going Long: Legends, Oddballs, Comebacks and Adventures, by various
This is a collection of some 40 of the best pieces from Runner’s World and is a great representation of the diversity of the sport. From John Brant writing about the legendary duel between Salazar and Beardsley in 1982 to (a personal favourite) the emotionally exhausting story of New York firefighter and runner Matt Long and his road back to running after a horrific accident, there’s something for everyone.
What are your favourite running books? Is there one that you keep going back to? Is there a single title that first inspired you to get out there and have a go?