Top running books

Top running books—even though I’m not too much of a runner myself

2020 consisted of me running more miles than I ever had in my life. Even though I don’t care for running. The pounding on the road, the labored breathing, and the tedious, never-ending slog across pavement. It is a necessary evil, like a red-eye flight to see the lights of Paris or the handful of spinach thrown into a smoothie. In fact, before graduating college, I had never run more than a couple of miles. Two or three, that is. As a volleyball player, I could jump and squat for hours. I powered through three-hour practices on a two-a-day schedule. I could nearly bench press my weight. But run? For fun? No thank you.

Things change.

During the pandemic, with four kids and two dogs, while working full-time, I ran the equivalent of a half-marathon for six days of the week. I finished a race across Tennessee in 63 days, ahead of 16,000 other entrants. Long, skinny Tennessee. 

635 miles through Louisville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. 

I lost those last ten pounds of baby weight. I reduced my resting heart rate twenty-five percent. I got ridiculous tan lines and free highlights for my hair. I witnessed corn planted, then grow taller than me. I befriended a cache of photographers capturing images of the sunrise reflecting in the pond.

Most miles included at least one of my kids beside me. They ran or hiked or rode their scooter or bike. I sprinted down hills chasing my toddler as she learned to ride a bike, while battling the bladder of a woman who birthed all those kids. My girls read aloud to me while I jogged on the basement treadmill. I’d hustle to get a few miles in before my morning conference call. I fell down, got poison ivy, walked into spider webs, and encountered nasty swarms of mosquitos and gnats.

It was awful. It was exceptional. And it was virtual.

I didn’t win the race. Instead, I crossed the line after 1,800 other runners. Behind a man who lapped me four times, a girl younger than my dog, at least a dozen septuagenarians, and a couple of eighty-year-olds.

Along with that, I have been reading. A lot. I also finished my own book, coming out next month. Like a race I have started, nothing can hold me back. 

I've always enjoyed reading non-fiction. I love reading about other people, experiencing new places, and learning new skills. In honor of my husband, an ultrarunner, that has included a glut of running books. Hence, they are my most read sub-genre.

I find the books below to be interesting, inspirational, and well-written. Here are my top ten:

1.     Born to Run by Chris McDougall. This is a classic that teaches about human evolution, running, and history. McDougall is a dedicated writer and his intense research shows.

2.     Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. From the author of Seabiscuit, a story about a former runner and WWII hero. Beautifully written piece of work.

3.     Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal. Hilarious.

4.     My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon by Bart Yasso. Another great and funny story from a running great.

5.     Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America by Marshall Ulrich. This is truly inspirational and impressive. Additionally, I enjoyed reading the mindset of an ultrarunner since I live with one. 

6.     The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn, along withRunning with the Kenyans. Finn travels to the heart of the sport to investigate the reasons behind its rise and discover what it takes to join the ranks of these ultra athletes. I like this one especially since it combines running and travel. (My love plus my husband’s!)

7.     Let your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking my Way to Victory by Deena Kastor. A look inside the mind of the woman who earned America’s first Olympic medal in the marathon in twenty years.

8.     Running to the Edge: A Band of Misfits and the Guru who Unlocked the Secrets of Speed by Matthew Futterman. An inside look at Bob Larsen’s journey to become one of the best American running coaches.

9.     The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb. I learned about Roger Bannister as a middle-school athlete at summer basketball camp, but this story shares the backstory and more. This book was so memorable it even warranted a mention in my own book when we visited Helsinki and saw a statue of Paavo Nurmi.

10.  Once a Runner by John Parker Jr. Said to be the best fiction book about running. I haven’t read too much running fiction but I enjoyed it.


Bonus: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker. This is not a running book, per se, with all of the apocalypse content. However, as much as I don’t care for this genre, this book captured my attention.


Happy reading! (And running, if you so choose!)

Kaitlyn Jain
author of Passports and Pacifiers—traveling-world-one-tantrum-time