A Runner's Library: 15 Great Running Reads
by Steve Sisson
As runners we can’t always be out on the roads, trail and track putting in the miles. Sometimes it is nice to sit back and read about this sport we’ve become fanatical about. Below is a list of 15 of my favorite running books. I limited my list to books that are readily available and in print. I hope the books below help you come to a more complete understanding of our sport in all of its drama and history. Some of the books are technical training texts, others are stories about specific runners and races but all of them are excellent reads. Enjoy and Godspeed!
1. Tim Noakes' The Lore of Running. This is the best book on running you will EVER find. Please don’t allow its mammoth size to daunt you. You can pick through this & find all kinds of goodies from history & physiology to training theory & nutrition. He has really made the only single MUST READ book I have come across in running literature. You can't go wrong with this one. Hint: Be sure to buy the latest edition...I believe it is in the 4th edition now.
2. Jeff Galloway's Galloway’s Book on Running. The range of valuable information in this book is truly amazing. My father coached me to a high school state championship based on this book and yet I know rank novices for years have gotten a huge benefit from it. That is literary versatility. The principles are sound and the methodology is easily understood by non-specialists. Though he has moved in recent editions away from some of his initial beliefs this is still a good book. I really prefer the earliest edition before he moved into this current run/walk phase of coaching. Though I happen to disagree with much of his newer theories, this book is still an absolute gem. There is also a great section on Women's Running.
3. John L. Parker's Once a Runner. The only novel about running that is worth a damn. It doesn't get any more moving than Parker's account of hero Quentin Cassidy's monster 400 workout late in the book. Try that one if you dare. Though I haven’t read his sequel, Again to Carthage, I still don’t know how anyone could find a better running read.
4. Jack Daniel's Daniels' Running Formula. Jack Daniels is the godfather of American distance running. Though he rarely gets the credit he deserves for pioneering threshold training & refining the science of running into practice, Dr. Daniels is the master. His protocols are used in almost every good coach's bag of tricks & all coaches and athletes owe him a huge debt of gratitude for publishing his research and experience in a highly readable & understandable form.
5. Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas' Advanced Marathoning & Road Racing for Serious Runners. I like these two books more than Jack Daniel's book because they are easier to understand, they take Daniel's protocol & make it simpler to implement. I really like their insistence on Multi-Paced Training, which I believe is an essential component to quality training.
6. David E. Martin & Peter Coe's Better Training for Distance Runners. Another classic text that tells you more than you'll ever need to know about training (unless you are a coach yourself.) It is hard to digest and very thorough in the science and strategy sections. This book is especially valuable for those looking for another perspective on the multi-pace training theory.
7. Matt Fitzgerald’s Brain Training for Runners. This recent book claims to have unlocked a revolutionary new approach to run training. Though I think the author may be overstating his case, his approach to understand the brain & how it impacts training and competition are very valuable. This book is excellent in the way it debunks conventional running wisdom of the sort preached by those coaches and athletes who do not keep current on the latest in research related to endurance sports. This book also includes a systematic series of training plans as well.
8. Kevin Beck’s Run Strong. This book of essays is an invaluable resource for the intermediate runner looking for tools and concepts to take their running to the next level. The twelve chapters in this book are written by a different author on subjects ranging from biomechanics and speed development to strengthening and balancing the runner’s body. One of my favorite chapters is on devising an efficient training plan written by Joe Rubio. This chapter gives every runner the ability to design their own training by understand the various components of training theory. Every chapter is excellent.
9. Jerry Lynch & Michael Scotts’ Running Within. This is the best guide to the mental side of running that is currently available. While there are better books on sports psychology and mental training for sports generally, this book really gets to the heart of the mind-body connection in a way that is understandable and practical.
10. Arthur Lydiard’s Running to the Top. This book is the controversial coach and lecturer’s best distillation of his revolutionary training method. Truly a legend, Lydiard changed the way runner’s train and was foundational to the explosion of running in the 1970’s. He brought legitimacy and passion to the sport of running, bringing the activity to the masses and inspiring the great Oregon coach Bill Bowerman to get everyday people involved in running.
11. & 12. Kenny Moore’s Bowerman and the Men of Oregon and Best Efforts. Perhaps distance running’s greatest writer, Kenny Moore communicates the mental, physical and spiritual attributes of runners better than any author I have read. His recent study of Bill Bowerman is moving reportage from a key player in the Oregon drama. Kenny helps us understand how formative Bowerman really was. He helped create the two biggest icons in running: Nike and Pre. Best Efforts would have topped this list but for it’s being perennially out of print. Moore’s essays in this book are the finest pieces of running literature ever written. His story of Emil Zatopek’s gift to Ron Clarke of an Olympic gold medal is still the most moving story I have ever read.
13. Tom Jordan’s Pre. This is the iconic classic story of the legendary Steve Prefontaine. This too-short book brings the legend alive, warts and all, helping to give substance and dignified bearing to one of America’s best loved rogues. Read by nearly every high school runner, this book spawned two feature films and a documentary, perhaps providing distance running its greatest exposure ever.
14. Chris Lear’s Running with the Buffalos. The chronicle of the 1998 University of Colorado’s cross country team’s quest for a national championship has drama, tragedy and triumph: all the ingredients necessary in a great book. Though some might find the workouts detailed a bit dry, the book builds steam throughout and Lear happens to find himself in the midst of a tragedy that turns triumphant.
15 John Brandt’s Duel in the Sun. This book tells the story of two men, locked in an epic struggle at the 1982 running of the Boston marathon. More than just a tale of one race, Brandt reveals how this race was the pinnacle of these two men’s storied running careers and digs deeper into its significance and meaning. For those looking for a book that explains the difficulty of the marathon race in suspenseful prose, this is a fantastic book.