7 Books on Running That’ll Inspire You to Dream Big

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1) Running: A Love Story

This brand-new book by Jen A. Miller, a New Jersey-based freelance writer whose work you’ve seen in the Washington Post, Allure, Runner’s World and the New York Times, chronicles her lifelong relationship with the sport we all love and the ways in which it has intertwined with her life and her relationships, helping her get to know herself in ways she might never have otherwise.

It’s her story of pushing “herself toward ever-greater mileage, [while] running helps Miller learn to love herself first, revealing independence, discipline, and confidence she didn’t realize she had.”

As Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso says, the book “is Jen’s ultimate faith healer, restoring belief not only in herself but life’s possibilities.”

2) Running & Being: The Total Experience

This classic by the late Dr. George Sheehan isn’t your average book on running. It has as much to do with the mechanics of running form or the particulars of training as with what happens between the ears when you run.

Dr. Sheehan, who rediscovered running at age 45 after decades away from the sport, mixes the philosophies of Socrates, Emerson, Thoreau and William James into his perspective on running, which he saw as one of the highest forms of the activity he considered essential to us as humans: play.

“Play is where life lives,” he wrote. “Where the game is a game.” Without it, he added, we “become serious, lose our sense of humor… money, power, position become ends. The game becomes winning. And we lose the good life and the good things that play provides.”

3) Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Yes, this 2009 book started a barefoot running craze that has largely come and gone now, but the heart of the story to me is how endurance running is woven into the DNA of the human species, that it’s something we’ve evolved to do over hundreds of thousands of years – that it’s quite literally in our blood.

If you don’t know the story, the author Christopher McDougall travels to Mexico’s remote Copper Canyons in hopes of finding native Americans from the reclusive Tarahumara tribe, who are legendary for their ability to run extraordinary distances in little more than thin pairs of sandals.

McDougall notes especially the attitude the Tarahumara show toward running, often a far cry from our own: “We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth,” he said in an interview with Amazon. “[That] it’s going to hurt … and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.”

“Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast,” he added. “They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves.”

4) Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

Published a decade ago, this bestseller by Dean Karnazes tells the story of a man who was a dedicated athlete as a teenager but quit the sport after high school, when his favorite coach retired.

Fast-forward more than ten years and Karnazes, then nearing his 30th birthday, was struggling with his life. “I was in a San Francisco bar, drunk on tequila and fed up with my life in PR for a multinational corporation,” he told Wired magazine in an interview several years ago. So he decided on the spur of the moment to go for a run in the middle of the night, and the rest is history.

Now he’s run marathons and ultramarathons in Death Valley – a grueling 135-mile run through 120º heat in mid-July – the South Pole and the legendary Western States 100-mile race. Ever since, he’s become an ambassador for the sport, recently running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.

5) What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Written by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, this slender book takes the reader into the contemplative mind of a man wrestling with his career and the challenges and struggles of becoming a writer, and the place running has occupied in his life throughout the decades.

The book is really about how marathon runners do what they do, less from the physical side than from the mental side – how do they keep themselves mentally strong and persisting over the course of 26.2 miles (or 13.1 miles, or 135 miles).

6) The Courage To Start: A Guide To Running for Your Life

Two years ago, this Runner’s World columnist and frequent public speaker (who’s often credited as a driving force behind the second running boom of the 1990s and 2000s) decided to hang up his shoes and retire.

What he’s left behind is a body of work that speaks not to the elite runner, but to the runner in the rest of us – the man who hasn’t run two steps in 20 years; the woman who’s nearing 40 and is exhausted from working and taking care of multiple kids, but also wants to feel energetic and alive again; the near-retiree whose youth has ebbed but who refuses to go gently into that good night.

“The Courage to Start,” which details Bingham’s epiphany at age 43 – after a lifetime of sitting, smoking and drinking – to take up running, is my favorite for lines like these: “I’ve given up on having a plan to succeed. With each step, with every mile, I am making a new plan … Because I know that the only person I will ever have to outrun is the person I used to be.”

Amen.

7) The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life

Published nearly a decade ago by the famed Runner’s World editor and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, this short volume (it’s just 150 pages) details Amby Burfoot’s lifelong love affair with running, and in his words what the sport has taught him about “winning, losing, happiness, humility and the human heart.”

Each of its 15 chapters covers a simple lesson – on “Starting Lines,” “Time,” “Listening,” “Losing,” “Simplicity,” and “Children,” which talks about why they must choose their own paths – punctuated by brief interludes that offer insights on the trandscendent moments a runner can experience, music, and essential reading for us all.

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