If you’re like me, sometimes you just need more than a “How to” list, or a 1000 word post could ever offer.  You want to dive deeper.

You want science, back story, and page after page of useful information or good stories that will make you a better runner. 

In other words, you want a book.

Even with the boom of the internet and short reads, books are still probably the best way to dive deep into a topic and become a student of your craft.  And luckily for us runners, we have plenty to choose from.

Below I’ve listed 11 books that I believe every runner should have on their bookshelf or side table.  The list is split into two sections:

  1. The first section include books that provide training advice, workouts, and running fundamentals that will make you a stronger runner physically.
  2. The second section includes 4 books guaranteed to work the mental side of your training.  Two are actually guides to training the brain, while the other two are more meditations on running that speak to the deeper meaning behind the miles.

So here you have it, books I recommend every runner read, presented in no particular order:

Books That Train the Runner’s Body

Run_Faster1) Run Faster by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald

Ever wanted to have access to everything an elite coach has to say?  Here’s your chance.

This incredible book offers training plans from 5k to marathon distances, and explains, in detail, the techniques Hudson has used to turn runners into Olympians.  No guarantees that will happen to you, but Run Faster will help you find your best run.

chi_running_cover2) Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer

If you’re looking for a way to improve your running form, this is a good place to start.

The Chi Running approach is all about removing the heal strike, reducing injury, and creating a more effortless stride.  The approach has become a sensation in recent years, to the point where they hold multi-day workshops and trainings.

This book, along with the included informational DVD, provides information that will help you rethink and adjust your stride and cadence.

bookphoto3) No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self by Matt Frazier

Matt’s new book is the perfect guide for beginner runners, especially those looking to run on a vegetarian or plant based diet. The first half of the book focuses on goal setting, forming habits, and running basics.  He even throws in training plans for 5k to half marathon distances.  The second half is all nutrition, including how to fuel before, during, and after your run, along with optimizing your diet for when you aren’t running.  And the recipes are great.  A few have already become go-tos in my house.

Plus Matt gives me a shout-out in the acknowledgements.  How could I leave his book off this list after that?  Also check out my full review of the book.

Daniels_Running_Formula4) Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels

So you’ve read the introductory books, and you’re ready to take your training to the next level.  This should be your next stop.

Daniels’ Running Formula is all about the science of getting stronger and getting the most out of your effort.  It’ll tell you all about your heartrate, cadence, VO2 Max, and all the other science runners love to geek out on.

It includes training plans, and an in-depth look at how you should approach training for your next big race.

101_Simple_Ways5) 101 Simple Ways to be a Better Runner by Jason Fitzgerald

Want to be a better runner?  Jason gives you 101 ways to do just that.  Laid out as short tid-bits grouped together in a categories, the e-book covers everything from workouts to gear to safety.

This simple, easy to read e-book is a great reference guide for all runners looking to pick up a few (or many) pointers.

Since it’s an e-book, I guess it wont actually go on your shelf, but it comes highly recommended, and you absolutely can’t beat the price!

Relentless-Forward-Progress-cover-250x3756) Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell

If you’re even thinking about running an ultra, you should pick up a copy of Bryon Powell’s book.  He’s the go-to guy for anything ultra, and his elite ultrarunning buddies back him up throughout this book.

If you want to know how to poop in the woods during a long run, you’ll find it in this book.  If you need to know how to handle stomach cramps, dehydration, over-hydration, or fatigue from lack of calories, you’ll find it in this book.  Gear, training plans, horror stories, and stories that will make you immediately want to get up and run 100 miles, you’ll find it in Relentless Forward Progress.

Born_to_Run7) Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

When I tell someone I’m an endurance runner, it’s usually no more than 45 seconds before someone asks if I’ve read Born to Run.  The book has easily influenced the mainstream more than any other running book currently on the market.  And for good reason!  It’s fun, exciting, and tells a great story.

But more than that, it is a great introduction to running biology and physics, and raises a lot of good questions about conventional modern running techniques.  Should new runners use Born to Run as a guide?  Probably not.  But you won’t regret picking it up…except maybe when you realize you can’t put it down.

Books That Train the Runner’s Mind

JOANN-BOOK-Web8) Your Performing Edge: The Complete Guide to Success and Fulfillment in Sports and Life by JoAnn Dahlkoetter

They say running is just as much mental as it is physical.  In my opinion, the longer the distance, the more that mental percentage goes up.

The information Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter shares in this book will help you strengthen the mental side of your training.  She uses examples from research on pro athletes and Olympic runners to explain just how the mind works under pressure and intense athletic stress.  You’ll come out of the book with knowledge of how to train the mind for high pressure races, and stay focused during throughout training, injury, and defeat.

what_i_talk_about_when_i_talk_about_running_1.large9) What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is an elegant writer, making this mediation on running a perfect quick read for anyone who loves the sport.  Murakami walks you through his thoughts and reflections on running and writing while training for the New York City Marathon.

I’m not sure the book made me a better runner, but his delicate words definitely inspired me to get out and log more miles.  Then go home and write about them.

Power_of_Habit10) The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Alright, I admit it.  You’ll never find this book sitting around the running section of your local book store.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to teach us.

The Power of Habit dives deep into why we form habits, how to create new ones, and how to manipulate the ones we already have.  Arming yourself with these skills can help create habits that turn you into a running machine, by turning your running form and technique into natural motions you never have to think about, and by making it easier than ever to actually get out the door in the first place.

Running_and_Being11) Running and Being: The Total Experience by Dr. George Sheehan

More of a meditation of life than it is about running specifics, this book summarizes beautifully what it means to be a runner.

Sometimes we just need a reminder of philosophical reasons why we run, and the mind/body connection we are creating.  As a distance runner, this book is a solid curl-up-by-the-fireplace read, that will speaks to the pain or triumph we experience from each run.

Now it’s your turn.  What running books have had the biggest impact on you?  What books to you recommend to runners that I left off this list?

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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14 thoughts on “11 Books Every Runner Should Have on Their Shelf

  1. My favorite running book of all-time is “Best Efforts” by Kenny Moore. He spent time training with some of the best runners in the world (John Walker, Frank Shorter, Pre, Seb Coe, etc.) and provides some insight on their lives/training in a beautiful, narrative format. It’s a great book.

    Another great one: “Thirty Phone Booths to Boston” by Don Kardong.

  2. “Personal Record: A Love Affair With Running” by Rachel Toor. This more than anything has made me want to run long.

    “The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga” by Sage Rountree. She also has another, “The Runner’s Guide…” but I actually like this first one best.

    I love the Murakami book and “The Power of Habit”.

    And need to check out “Relentless Forward Progress” since I’m planning my first ultra!

    1. Oh yeah, I’ve heard great things about “Personal Record.” I’ll have to check both of these out. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great list, thank you!
    “Eat & Run” by Scott Jurek is fun and entertaining: it’s Jurek’s biography and each chapter ends with a vegan recipe. So the “Eat” part in the title is devoted to explaining how he became a better ultrarunner by relying exclusively on a plant based diet (notice: he’s never boring and the tone is never that of a preacher). Very inspirational and well written. Pick it up!

  4. Hey Umberto, thanks for chiming in.

    I loved “Eat & Run”. Scott has a great story, and I found the book very inspiring. It was on the original list for this post, but I was up to 17 books and thought that was too many! Unfortunately it got cut 😉

  5. As a woman, I thought Kara Goucher’s women’s running book was both fun and instructive. Also, I, too, enjoyed Jurek’s and Matt’s respective books.

  6. I like your list — I definitely will check out a few of these. Like every other runner on the planet I loved “Born to Run,” obv.

    I’m reading Matt’s book right now. He actually recommended the Jack Daniels book to me (and my readers) when I interviewed him last month.

    Dr. George Sheehan’s book is on my Christmas list.

    I would also recommend Danny Dreyer’s “Chi Marathon” for anyone interesting in stepping up their Chi Running game to 26.2.

    And finally: I cannot recommend more highly Liz Robbins’s “A Race Like No Other” — a FANTASTIC narrative journalism book about the New York City Marathon — indeed it is what inspired me to run NYC.

    1. Thanks for sharing Arun,

      A friend was just telling me about “A Race Like No Other”. I’ve added it to my Christmas list! Sounds great.

  7. I need to get Relentless Forward Progress! I’m running my first ultra (a 24-hour event in SC) in about 2.5 weeks, so a little late for this training round, but since I said that to myself all through my training runs, I should probably read the book :). Thanks for the list!!

  8. I am few pages away from finishing Moire O’Sullivan’s “Mud, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery”. http://www.amazon.com/Mud-Sweat-Tears-Journey-Self-Discovery/dp/0615505155/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1394046438&sr=8-4&keywords=mud+sweat+and+tears

    This is/was sooo much fun! Honestly not a single page of boredom! It details her growing as a mountain/adventurer runner and then attempting running the Wicklow Round, that is a a hundred kilometres over twentysix Irish peaks. Did I mention how beautifully written it is? Honestly a delightful, humble account of the pain, fun and…mud she had to experience.
    I don’t know how to replace it after I am done with it and what to read next on the same level. Suggestions?

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