Running Essentials: Books for all Runners!

As simple as running may seem, there are numerous intricacies that make it easily one of the most cerebral sports. Part of any good cereal activity is the digestion of knowledge and information, more often than not from books. Today we kick off our Charge Blog “Running Essentials” series, taking place approximately once per month and outlining some of the essential ingredients to becoming a runner, we’re going to be talking about all things running books! Obviously there are a lot of different book genres out there and running books are no exception. There are plenty of fiction and non-fiction, scientific references, and basic guides as well. Almost every professional runner with a story to tell has published a memoir of some sort and for every cook/jogger there is some sort of “running cook book.” However, below are a few of the absolute essential running texts, polled from our panel of expert Charge trainers, and runners at all levels, from former high school athletes to elite professionals. These books will engage, educate, and encourage. They’ll motivate you to lace up and hit the road, and guide your through every step and nuance to becoming a happy, healthy and successful runner.

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In no particular order:

Once A Runner by John L. Parker Jr.

This initially self-published fiction follows the trials and tribulations of a young protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, and his quest for the ultimate mile race victory. The author has noted that Cassidy’s character is loosely based off of his own experiences as a collegiate runner in Florida but really it’s absolutely enthralling no matter how much of it is founded in reality. The story is a perfect representation of a runner as an individual versus a series of results and Parker Jr. writes it impressively well considering a lack of any formal training or experience. Originally sold out of the back of Parker Jr.’s car at road races, this book has become a cult classic with even the youngest of runners paying it homage by yelling out “The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.” during their workouts. 

NOTE: Parker Jr. wrote three additional books, two or which serve as a sequel and prequel to Once A Runner respectively…don’t feel the need to read any of them…no offense John.

Run Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

A New York Times bestseller for quite a while when it was first published last year, this book combines the nutritional expertise of a certified nutritionist with the functional running expertise of an American record-holder and Olympian. The cookbook has a series of relatively simple (I use the term “simple” lightly) recipes that are great for runners looking to fuel or refuel with the proper caloric and macro-nutritional components. While some dishes are ultimately going to be easier and tastier than others, there are TONS of options and you can almost always find quick substitutes for any of the more obscure ingredients that I truly believe Flanagan in part made up. The cookbook covers snacks (personal favorite = 26.2 Trail Mix), all three meals, drinks, and desserts (check out the Ginger-Molasses Quick Bread). It also has a very handy and pretty fascinating section called “Runner’s Remedies” which lists their previous recipes in categories based on what common running injuries or illnesses they can help prevent.

NOTE: Unlike our dear friend Mr. Parker Jr., Flanagan and Kopecky wrote a sequel titled Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow which is a great bonus if you enjoy the first.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

This may simply be one of the most engaging historical accounts of running that you can find on a bookshelf (only possibly dethroned by Duel in the Sun by John Brant). The story tracks the historical attempts of three young runners, Wes Santee, John Landy, and Roger Bannister, to be the first human to break the 4 minute mile barrier in 1954. Separated by three continents each man literally raced to running immortality. Spoiler alert: it was Roger Bannister. While the history of it all is fascinating within itself, the real prize of the book comes in one of the final chapters which gives a beautifully detailed account of an epic mile race between Bannister and Landy at the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver. I’ve read plenty of race recaps and let me tell you, this one takes gold (pun)!

Endure by Alex Hutchinson

Alex Hutchinson’s book takes a look at human endurance at a time when we are seeing the human body and mind exceed every imaginable expectation and do things no one could have believed possible even 15 years ago (see Eliud Kipchoge doing anything at all). The book is divided into three sections, each one respectively exploring history, case studies, and theories related to the human mind, body, and ultimately spirit, overcoming its perceived limits. Being an outdoor endurance enthusiast and former Canadian national team runner himself, as well as a respected journalist for The New York Times and Outside magazine, Hutchinson strikes a great balance between knowing what he’s talking about from a personal perspective and also knowing how to put in on paper in an appealing way. Let’s be honest, talking about human endurance for hundreds of pages may seem like a bit of a drag, but maybe you should consider opening it up just in case you end up on a mountain top, surrounded by savage koalas, in the middle of a snow storm, with only your wits and human limits to save you…just something to ponder.

Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels

Considered the “World’s Greatest Coach,” Jack Daniels (not the whiskey) has been publishing texts and providing his wisdom to the running community for decades now. This reference guide however gives the most complete overview of all of his methods and protocols for training properly for optimal performance. The text covers precise training plans for different race distances and supplementary training as well as introducing/explaining his renowned VDOT method for identifying the exact training intensity to maximize physiological development. While maybe at times a bit “sciencey” for the average runner, this is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover but instead can serve as a great quick-guide for any questions that may come up concerning your training and progression. At the very least it can serve as a coffee table book that will really impress and confuse your guests. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Not To Be Ignored

  • The Inner Runner by Jason Karp

  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

  • Running With the Buffaloes by Chris Lear

  • The Sports Gene by David Epstein

  • The Science of Running by Steve Magness

  • The Feed Zone Cookbook by Dr. Allen Lim and Bijou Thomas