The 5 Best Books About Running

My post-title might be highly inappropriate as this strictly speaking will be the five books I personally considers to be the top running books, hence it should probably have been called “My Favorite Books About Running”. So before I get into this I must say that I hope I don’t seriously offend anyone by omitting their personal favorites. I must mention that being a middle distance runner myself, these picks might be slightly biased. Lastly, I’ve tried to include most kinds of books, from biography to fiction to documentary to training manual. These different book types aren’t that easy to compare, therefore the 1-5 rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. With that out of the way, lets stop beating around the bush and jump right in.

#5: Daniels’ Running Formula

danielsThis book has sold over 140,000 copies, so it’s not without reason that Jack Daniels has been called “The World’s Greatest Running Coach” by none other than Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot. Among all the books I’ve read about the training aspect of running, including but not limited to Winning Running by Peter Coe and Healthy Intelligent Training by Keith Livingstone, this comes out on top by a small margin. Daniels, being highly educated within the field of physiology takes a clever and highly scientific approach to training, using a runners current fitness level to define specific intensities and speeds for every workout that produces the best results. In the book he basically includes specific training programs for runners at any level at any distance (above and including 800m), and he explains why they work, along with a bunch of other snacks like how to train at altitude, training breaks, supplemental training, cross country training, running technique, and more. 

#4: The Perfect Distance

…treading in his footprints before the dust could settle there“.

perfect disanceThis documentary/biography-style book by Pat Butcher tells the story of the “Homeric” Coe-Ovett rivalry in a way that makes the book hard to put down. Starting from their childhoods, this book tells both the Seb Coe side and the Steve Ovett side of the story; a tale of training, victories and defeats, world record swapping, relationships, conflicts, politics, everything building up to a big climactic clash at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. In a time where track and field was as popular as football in Great Britain, the main spotlight shone on these two running stars, who in my opinion produced the greatest middle distance rivalry this world has seen. This book is a highly enjoyable piece of running history, capturing a golden era of British and World track and field. It also contains pictures. And, if I remember correctly, this book is supposed to be cinematized with Daniel Radcliffe playing Sebastian Coe.

#3: No Bugles, No Drums

I had to search both high and low to get myself a copy of this book. “No Bugles, No Drums” is New Zealands triple olympic champion Peter Snell’s biography, written by him and Garth Gilmour. I had to buy it used from a guy in California, and I remember opening the book and just feeling that awesome smell that old books have. This book from 1965 is the oldest on my list, and you are sort of able to tell just by the style of writing. Nonetheless, it puts you inside the mind of Peter Snell as he tells you about his journey to win three Olympic gold medals, two in the 800m and one in the 1500m. That alone makes it a good read, but what really made this book top-5 material is that it in so many ways is such a piece of running history. The 60’s where the years where legendary coach Arthur Lydiard revolutionized the sport with his groundbreaking new training methods, laying the foundation for how close to all runners train today. With Snell as his master student winning Olympic gold medals and breaking world records, inspiring Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman and his men of Oregon (another great read from the 60s and 70s), and paving the road for the running boom that were to take place in the 70’s. For every hobby runner community in the world today, this might as well be taught as their creation myth.

nobuglesnodrumsThis book does not go into detail about Snell’s training; if you want to read about that and the Lydiard system in general, I would recommend getting a copy of Healthy Intelligent Training. “No bugles, no drums” is a story about being part of the international track and field / middle distance circus in the 60’s, traveling and competing, gold medals and nagging injuries, and the upbringing of a legendary runner. Peter Snell was heavy and muscular for a distance guy, but he still ran times on grass tracks that would be competitive today, and he did it in a time were PED’s were virtually non-existent. A truly inspirational read.

#2: Born to Run

borntorunThe title of this book is by far the coolest on my list as the full title reads “Born to Run – A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen”.  In this documentary-style book we follow the author Christopher McDougall on a journey to the Copper Canyons of Mexico, home of the Tarahumara Indians who can run incredible distances without injuries. Hidden from the modern world for hundreds of year, the Tarahumara perform the lost art of long distance running like no other people on earth, and for some (related?) reason they also never get cancer or any of our modern day diseases. McDougall’s journey raises more baffling questions about running, health, happiness, and human endeavour, as he searches for answers both in Harvard’s modern technological laboratories, in ultra-running communities and inside the Tarahumara tribe. While the other books on this list might be more about runners themselves, or training, “Born to run” is about running in it’s truest form, and it’s story will make you fall in love with this sport all over again.


Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

The Real #1: Once a Runner

“Part training manual, part religious tract, part love story, and all about running, Once a Runner is so inspiring it could be banned as a performance-enhancing drug.” — Benjamin Cheever

OARIt may surprise people that I picked a fictional book as my #1, but I’ll try to defend my choice as best as I can. First of all, this book is basically a cult classic by now, and considered by most to be the best novel ever written about running. As much as running biographies try to put you inside the minds of your favorite athletes, it doesn’t really compare to the experience this book gives you. What makes this book unique is that author John L. Parker Jr. used to be a competitive runner himself, and therefore able to literally capture the core essence of being a competitive distance runner like no other book I’ve come across. “Once a Runner” features fictional college miler Quenton Cassidy training for his quest to run a sub 4 mile, somehow leading him to a clash with the world record holder John Walton (based on New Zealand’s John Walker). More than that I don’t really wanna say about the plot in fear of spoiling it, however, I will say that the Benjamin Cheever quote above is pretty spot-on.

This book is the probably the most ultimate “by runners, for runners”-thing in existence. It was originally sold by the author himself at road races, straight out of the trunk of his car. If you are (or once were) a runner, I personally guarantee that you are gonna enjoy this book in some way or another. The rest of the world probably won’t relate to it as much, but we can do without them.

“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.” – Once a Runner

The sequel “Again to Carthage” is also an excellent read, and I can’t wait to dig into the newly released prequel “Racing the Rain” as it just arrived in my mail the other day.


So there you go, that’s my top five favorite books about running. If you got any objections to my list or a list of your own I highly encourage you to put it down in a comment or something like that. Until next time.

One Response to “The 5 Best Books About Running

  • Jurek’s book is highly entertaining– would be the perfect follow-up read to Born to Run.

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