Running Book Reviews

I plan to post reviews of the running books I read here – not necessarily the new ones on the market, just the ones I’ve read already, or I stumble across – feel free to make suggestions of ones I should read on the form at the end of the page.

By the way – has anyone noticed that EVERY running book has a subtitle? Is this like a rule or something?

Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trailrunning by Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell

I was sent a copy of this recently, and added it to the large pile of running-related books I am currently trying to get through. However, this one skipped the queue, owing to the fact that I noticed it had been written by the team behind the iRunFar blog. I enjoy their blog, so decided to dive straight into the book. I’m glad I did. It really is a fantastic resource. I have recently dipped my toes into the trail running waters, and it is a very different sport to road running. This book has advice suitable for everyone from trail running newbies, to the very experienced. It lays out that advice in a very clear, easy to read format, and avoids the usual potholes of speaking down to the audience, or engaging in shameless self-promotion.

Along with information on running technique, and training, there is lots of useful stuff that other books often seem to forget, such as trail safety, navigation, night running etc. This is a book I think I’ll probably wear out, with repeated readings of sections that I need to brush up on. A lot of the information is very useful for road running and longer triathlon distance too.

All in all, one of the best books I’ve read on trail running, and probably essential reading for the serious trail runner.

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

Well, I kinda had to do this one first, didn’t I? A book that has become the daddy of all running books, and has already attained classic status. It also happens to be my favorite running book, and I’ve read it many times. I actually bought this book before I started running – my wife was a marathon runner, and I bought it as a gift for her! I wasn’t a runner at the time, and had no interest in becoming one. Soon afterwards, I began to train for my first marathon, and one day, picked this book up and began to read it.
I was engrossed immediately – Christopher McDougall has a wonderfully conversational writing style, and turns the initial question – How come my foot hurts? – into a fascinating tale of ultra-runners, a “lost” Mexican tribe, and a host of endearing, amazing, and often crazy characters, that is shot through with a palpable love of running. This book introduced me to concepts (barefoot running, leave no trace, ultra-running), people (Caballo Blanco, Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, Ann Trason), and things (Chia Seeds, Vibrams) that I’d never heard of, and made me want to try them, emulate them, or use them. The worst thing about reading Born To Run is that you keep wanting to put it down to go out for a run!
The basic premise of the book is that Christopher McDougall, a magazine writer who liked to run marathons, goes to his doctor to find out why he suffers from foot pain. This led to investigating the Tarahumara, a mysterious Mexican tribe who love running huge distances, and the stage is set for a showdown between the best American ultra runners, and the Tarahumara.

Although, on the surface, Born To Run explores how we run, in reality, it is an excellent and fascinating exploration of why we run.

If you are one of the few runners who hasn’t yet read Born To Run, go read it right now!


Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss
by Dean Karnazes

This is the first of Dean Karnazes books I read (I will be reading Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner shortly) and I have to say it reminded me a bit of my own running – a good start, but a gradual decline as it went on.

The book is made up, as the title suggests, of “26.2” stories, and I think I may have been expecting them to add up to more than they did.
Although some of the stories are good, a lot of them give me the impression that Dean takes himself a tad too seriously, and maybe has bought into his own mythology a little too much. Many of the stories sounded contrived, I thought. I felt I didn’t get to know the real guy behind the book very well, and it came across as something that was done hurriedly.

Overall, a little disappointing, but worth a read for the dedicated enthusiast.

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness
by Scott Jurek

I have a lot of time for Scott Jurek, and was looking forward to reading this book. It has an interesting layout – the last couple of pages of each chapter gives a recipe and cooking instructions for one of Scott’s vegetarian dishes – not much good to me since I’m hopeless at cooking, and have no interest in it, but useful for someone who likes to cook and wants to try some vegetarian options.

Scott gives a lot of background on his upbringing, which was far from perfect, and his relationships with his parents. His mother suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, and his father was not the world’s nicest guy, and this seemed to drive him to constantly challenge himself. He gives good insights into his development as an athlete and a person, and what motivates him – I found it interesting that the saying that he uses to spur himself on comes from his father, a man with whom he did not have a good relationship.

One of the constants throughout Scott’s life (other than a short breakup) is his friend Dusty, who runs and trains with him, and helps him to keep going when he feels he has nothing left.

One of the biggest criticisms I would have centres on Dusty – Scott relates happily how Dusty abuses other runners during ultras, shouting at them and mocking them. While Scott may find this funny, I don’t. Running an ultra is hard enough, and tests you to your limits – the last thing any runner needs is some asshole shouting abuse at them in an effort to impress his friend. If Rusty ever tried that with me, there would be a reaction he mightn’t enjoy. We all run for our own reasons, and a little respect goes a long way – I’m surprised Scott doesn’t see that. Perhaps runners in the U.S. see it differently?

Scott gives some good details on some of the many great ultras he has run, and is very honest about his performances – he doesn’t try to gloss over any of his mistakes. I did find some of the product placement a little jarring – I understand that he needs to do this as it’s his living, but I felt it could have been done a little better.

The one theme that runs through every chapter of this book is diet – Scott gives a LOT of detail on what and how he eats, and it seems a little extreme at times – though it’s hard to argue against his diet considering the huge amount of success he has had!

Overall, I found this an interesting book, and one that gives a good insight into what makes one of the greatest ultrarunners ever, tick.

Zen and the Art of Running: The Path to Making Peace with Your Pace
by Larry Shapiro

Reading at the moment – will review soon.

Running: A Global History
by Thor Gotaa

Reading at the moment – will review soon.

Running With The Kenyans: Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth
by Adharanand Finn

Reading at the moment – will review soon.


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