To get into the spirit of World Book Day here’s a list of 21 running books to inspire, motivate and enjoy.
Jog On by Bella Mackie
Divorced and struggling with deep-rooted mental health problems, Bella Mackie ended her twenties in tears, scared of everything imaginable. She could barely find the strength to get off the sofa, let alone piece her life back together. Until one day she did something she had never done of her own free will — she pulled on a pair of trainers and went for a run.
For a decade, Bella was so paralysed by her fears that exercise was the very last thing on her mind. So that first run didn’t last long. But to her surprise, she was back out there the next day. And the day after that. Before she knew it, her mood was lifting for the first time in years, and she had swapped hiding in her house for fresh air and unknown roads.
In Jog On, Bella explains with unfiltered honesty how she used running to battle crippling anxiety and depression, without having to sacrifice her three loves: booze, cigarettes and ice cream. This funny, moving and motivational book will encourage you to say ‘jog on’ to your problems and get your life back on track — no matter how small those first steps may be.
Running Free, a runner’s journey back to nature by Richard Askwith
Richard Askwith wanted more. Not convinced running had to be all about pounding pavements, buying fancy kit and rocking up extreme challenges, he looked for ways to liberate himself. His solution: running through muddy fields and up rocky fells, running with his dog at dawn, running because he’s being (voluntarily) chased by a pack of bloodhounds, running to get hopelessly, enjoyably lost, running fast for the sheer thrill of it. Running as nature intended.
Part diary of a year running through the Northamptonshire countryside, part exploration of why we love to run without limits, Running Free is an eloquent and inspiring account of running in a forgotten, rural way, observing wildlife and celebrating the joys of nature.
An opponent of the commercialisation of running, Askwith offers a welcome alternative, with practical tips (learned the hard way) on how to both start and keep running naturally — from thawing frozen toes to avoiding a stampede when crossing a field of cows, Running Free is about getting back to the basics of why we love to run.
Eat & Run, my unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman
Scott Jurek has been a dominant force in the gruelling sport of ultrarunning for nearly two decades. In 1999, as a complete unknown, he took the lead in the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile jaunt over the Gold Rush trails of the American Sierra Nevada. He went on to win that race seven years in a row.
In Eat & Run, he opens up about his life and career in one of the toughest athletic disciplines on earth. From his childhood spent hunting and fishing in the American Midwest to his epic, record-breaking runs. Jurek’s story is full of vivid descriptions of what it’s really like to compete among athletic superheroes in some of the toughest races known to man. His amazing stories of endurance and competition, as well as practical advice, will motivate you to go the distance.
Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
Alexandra Heminsley had high hopes: the arse of an athlete, the waist of a supermodel, the speed of a gazelle. Defeated by gyms and bored of yoga, she decided to run.
Her first attempt did not end well. But years later and with several half marathons under her belt she agrees with her dad: you run with your head as much as your legs.
So, while this book is about running, it’s about much more — ambition, relationships, and wilful boobs. But it’s also about realising what you can do if you want to.
Whether you’re in serious training or thinking about running for the bus, this is a book for anyone who thinks they might…just might…like to run like a girl.
Runner, A short story about a long run by Lizzy Hawker
Scared witless and surrounded by a sea of people, Lizzy Hawker stands in the church square at the centre of Chamonix on a late August evening, waiting for the start of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. The mountains towering over the pack of runners promise a gruelling 8,600 metres of ascent and descent over 158 kilometres of challenging terrain that will test the feet, legs, heart and mind.
These nervous moments before the race signal not just the beginning of nearly twenty-seven hours of effort that saw Lizzy finish as first woman, but the start of a career of one of Britain’s most successful endurance athletes. She went onto become the 100km Women’s World Champion, win the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc an unprecedented five times, hold the world record for 24 hours on the road and become the first woman to stand on the overall winners’ podium at Spartathlon.
An innate endurance and natural affinity with the mountains has led Lizzy to push herself to the absolute limits, including a staggering 320 kilometre run through the Himalayas from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu in Nepal. Lizzy’s remarkable spirit was recognised in 2013 when she was a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. These ultimate challenges ask not just what the feet and legs can do but question the inner thoughts and contemplations of a runner.
Runner tells Lizzy’s story and in so doing, uncovers the journey of the physical, mental and emotional challenges that runners go through at the edge of human endurance. From the school girl running the streets of London to breaking records on the world’s mountains and toughest races, Lizzy Hawker is an inspiration to anyone who would like to see how far they can go, running or not.
The Pants of Perspective by Anna McNuff
Anna was never anything like those ‘real’ runners on telly — all spindly limbs, tiny shorts and split times — but when she read about New Zealand’s 3,000-kilometre-long Te Araroa Trail, she began to wonder…perhaps being a ‘real’ runner was overrated. Maybe she could just run it anyway?
Travelling alone through New Zealand’s backcountry for 148 days, she scrambled through forests, along ridge-lines, over mountain passes, along beaches and across swollen rivers. Running up to 52 kilometres in a day, she slept wild most nights, and was taken into the homes and hearts of the kiwi people in between.
The Pants of Perspective is a witty, colourful and at times painfully raw account of a journey to the edge of what a woman believes herself to be capable of. It is a coming-of-age story which will lead you on a roller coaster ride through fear, vulnerability, courage and failure. For anyone who has ever dreamt of taking on a great challenge but felt too afraid to begin — this story is for you.
Running For My Life, how I built a better me one step at a time by Rachel Ann Cullen
Suffering from depression but desperate for ‘normality’, Rachel Cullen found herself in failing relationships, the wrong career and relying on alcohol and chocolate to get through each day. Stuck in a cycle of mental misery, she put on a pair of old trainers.
She’d never been able to think of herself as a ‘runner’ before, and the first time she forced herself out the door, she knew it would hurt. Everywhere. She just didn’t realise how much it would heal her, too.
Interspersed with Rachel’s real diary entries, from teenage non-runner to London Marathon finisher (just months after giving birth), she questions if she really can outrun her demons.
Run, Ride, Sink or Swim by Lucy Fry
At the age of thirty-one, Lucy Fry was pretty certain she knew her limits: triathlon was not for her.
But as increasing numbers of her female friends signed up to tri, Lucy couldn’t help wondering: what was it about this sport that women found so transformative? The time had come to find out.
Over one year, five triathlons and hundreds of training hours, Lucy discovered the competition and camaraderie, how to wear a sports bra under a wetsuit, whether getting over ‘jelly legs’ makes you a more resilient human being — and that maybe she doesn’t know her limits after all…
Funny, warm and encouraging, Run, Ride, Sink or Swim is for the tri-curious and the tri-hard, and for any woman looking to make the transition from sofa to start line.
The Way Of The Runner by Adharanand Finn
Japan is the third fastest marathon nation on Earth, after Kenya and Ethiopia. But why do we hear so little about it? Adharanand Finn, award-winning author of Running with the Kenyans, moved to Japan to discover more about this unique running culture. Along the way he met the marathon monks who run a thousand marathons in a thousand days, the corporations who sponsor running teams, and the Ekiden competitors who run marathon relays. What he learned — about competition, about teamwork and about himself — will fascinate anyone who is keen to explore why we run, and how we might do it better.
Adventures In Mind, a personal obsession with the mountains by Heather Dawe
Growing up in Bristol, Heather Dawe was 17 when she started running. Having fallen into the teenage trap of smoking and drinking she resolved to do something about it, not knowing then where it would take her.
A climber since her youth, an obsession with wild places and the mountains was engrained in her DNA. Moving to Leeds to study, she began to compete in fell races and mountain marathons, joking in the pub one night that she could race at the highest level.
Being hit by a car doing over 50mph while cycling would have ended many athletes’ dreams, but Dawe’s drive pushed her even harder. Hard enough to make her pub joke a reality, hard enough to win Elite Mountain Marathons, to win the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross race and to complete the Bob Graham Round. Pushing harder still, she entered the Tour Divide — racing the 2745-mile route of the Continental Divide in North America as she sought to discover her physical, and emotional, limits.
Dawe writes of what it takes to compete in adventure races; the training, the sacrifice, the mistakes that must be made in order to learn to develop. An intensely deep and personal book, Adventures in Mind explores what drives a woman — living with her partner and their child, working 9-5 — to push so hard and so far, into herself, and into the wild.
Recovery Run by Nicky Lopez
Running is a ridiculous activity that hurts every part of your body and leaves you feeling like you’re dying.
But then so does a hangover,
And so does cancer.
So, I figured that if I was going to survive the latter then it might be a good thing to learn how to survive the former because I definitely had a lot of experience of the one in the middle.
Sometimes life stops you in your stiletto heeled tracks and takes you on a very different journey than the one you had planned. But with a decent playlist, a solid party crew and a very large amount of nonsense (and vodka) you can find yourself in an altogether better place. All it takes is a change of shoes…
Keep on Running, the highs and lows of a marathon addict by Phil Hewitt
Marathons make you miserable, but they also give you the most unlikely and the most indescribable pleasures. It’s a world that I love — a world unlocked when you dress up in Lycra, put plasters on your nipples and run 26.2 miles in the company of upwards of 30,000 strangers.
Phil Hewitt, who has completed 25 marathons in conditions ranging from blistering heat to snow and ice, in locations round the globe from London to New York, sets a cracking pace in this story of an ordinary guy’s addiction to marathon running. Reliving the highs and lows along the way, this light-hearted account of his adventures on the road examines the motivation that keeps you going when your body is crying out to stop. Above all, it tries to answer the ultimate question: ‘Why do you do it?’
Run For Your Life, how one woman ran circles around breast cancer by Jenny Baker
Running has been many things to Jenny Baker — a space to achieve new things, a way to keep fit and healthy and a source of friendship and community.
She had planned a year of running to celebrate her birthday; instead Jenny was hit with a bombshell which rocked her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had one question for her oncologist: can I keep running? It gave her a sense of identity through her chemotherapy, while her treatment was stripping away everything that was important to her. Run For Your Life is the story of how she kept running to help her beat cancer, and how it helped her get her life back on track after an intensive spell of treatment and turbulent time in her life.
There is no Map In Hell by Steve Birkinshaw
In 1986, the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor completed a continuous circuit of all 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District, covering a staggering distance of over 300 miles — plus many thousands of metres of ascent — in only seven days and one hour.
Those in the know thought that this record would never be beaten. It is the ultimate British ultramarathon. The person taking on this superhuman challenge would have to be willing to push harder and suffer more than ever before. There is no Map in Hell tells the story of a man willing to do just that.
In 2014, Steve Birkinshaw made an attempt at setting a new record. With a background of nearly forty years of running elite orienteering races and extreme-distance fell running over the roughest terrain, if he couldn’t do it, surely no one could. But the Wainwrights challenge is in a different league: aspirants need to complete two marathons and over 5,000 metres of ascent every day for a week.
With a foreword by Joss Naylor, There is no Map in Hell recounts Birkinshaw’s preparation, training and mile-by-mile experience of the extraordinary and sometimes hellish demands he made of his mind and body, and the physiological aftermath of such a feat. His deep love of the fells, phenomenal strength and tenacity are awe inspiring, and testimony to athletes and onlookers alike that ‘in order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd’.
Run for Your Life, mindful running for a happy life by William Pullen
We all know how a long walk, a slow jog or a brisk run can free our minds to wander, and give us a powerful uplifting feeling. Some call it the ‘runner’s high’, others put it down to endorphins. But what if we could channel that energy and use it to make positive change in our lives?
William Pullen is a psychotherapist who helps people dealing with anxiety, lack of motivation and addiction, to work through their issues using his revolutionary method, Dynamic Running Therapy. He believes that we need a radical new approach to mindfulness: an approach that originates in the body itself.
Whether you are looking for strategies to cope with anxiety, change or decision-making, or simply want to focus your mind while pounding the streets, Run for Your Life offers a series of simple mental routines that unleash the meditative, restorative powers of exercise.
Eat, Drink, Run, how I got fit without going too mad by Briony Gordon
Bryony Gordon was not a runner. A loafer, a dawdler, a drinker, a smoker, yes. But, as she recovered from the emotional rollercoaster of opening up her life if her memoir Mad Girl, she realised there were things that might actually help her: getting outside, moving her body and talking to others who also found life occasionally challenging. As she ran, she started to shake off the limitations that had always held her back and saw she had actually imposed them on herself. Why couldn’t she be a runner?
In April 2017, Bryony Gordon ran all 26.2 miles of the London Marathon. In Eat, Drink, Run, we join her as she trains for this daunting task and raises to the challenge one step at a time. Of course, on top of the aching muscles and blistered feet, there’s also the small matter of getting a certain royal to open up about his mental health. Through it all, Bryony shows us that extraordinary things can happen to everyone, no matter what life throws our way.
Don’t Stop Me Now, 26.2 tales of a runner’s obsession by Vassos Alexander
This is a celebration of running — and what lots of us think about when we run. Part escape, part self-discover, part therapy, part fitness. Part simple, childlike joy of running when you could be walking.
Vassos Alexander shares the highs and lows of falling in love with running, from his first paltry efforts to reach the end of the street to completing ultra-marathons and triathlons in the same weekend.
Each of the 26.2 chapters also features a fascinating insight into how others started, from Paula Radcliffe to Steve Cram, the Brownlees to Jenson Button, Nicky Campbell to Nell McAndrew.
Funny, inspiring, honest — the perfect read for anyone with well-worn trainers by the door (or thinking of buying a pair…).
Run Wild by Boff Whalley
Running shouldn’t just be an alternative to lifting weights and avoiding cream cakes. It shouldn’t be about winning or beating a time in a herded mass charge through a metropolis. Don’t we want our running to reclaim a connection with the earth beneath our trainers? To know the land, the birds, cloud formations, the history of a place, its geography and geology?
Boff Whalley heads towards the mud, rock and tree tangle of surprise and unpredictability to experience something utterly memorable and notoriously wild. Be alone on a hilltop, beside a river, in the dense heart of a forest. Stop and listen. Rediscover the freedom of following your nose. Find space to think, time to breathe. And most importantly, enjoy yourself.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and on his writing.
Equal parts travelogue, training log, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and settings ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston. Funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a must-read for fans of this masterful yet private writer as well as for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in distance running.
Running With The Pack, thoughts from the road on meaning and mortality by Mark Rowlands
Why do we run? Philosopher and dedicated runner Mark Rowlands thinks he has the answer. In this pact and thought-provoking work, Rowlands combines his most significant runs with a series of meditations on what matters in life. From his childhood in rural Wales to runs along French beaches and up Irish mountains with his beloved wold Brenin, Rowlands illuminates the joys of running and argues that it may be as good for the mind as it is for the body.
Feet in the Clouds, a tale of fell-running and obsession by Richard Askwith
‘What makes a good fell-runner?
Answer: you need four things. Good heart and lungs. A light frame, preferably well under 10 stone, with no excess fat. The kind of sure-footedness that comes from lifelong familiarity with the hills. And a disregard for pain and danger that verges on lunacy.
As a 13-stone southerner with weak ankles who spent the best years of his life smoking and is terrified of heights, I’m a less than perfect fit for this profile…’
What are your favourites? Any other running book recommendations?