11 Running and Health Books You Have to Read

I’m often asked, “what books are you reading?”Books

And while it’s none of your damn business what chapter of 50 Shades of Grey I’m on, I want to share what books have changed my life.

See, I absolutely love books. I’m a total bookworm. During the summer before 5th grade I came in 2nd place in a book-reading competition.

I probably shouldn’t have shared that, but ask yourself: where else can you buy years (or even a lifetime) of an expert’s knowledge for 10-20 bucks? A book might be the best investment you ever make.

Recently a reader commented that he enjoyed how I tie similar, but very different, topics into running.

See the Gym Jones approach to running or how the 4-Hour Body can help your training.

Needless to say, I draw inspiration from non-traditional sources. And while everyone (just me?) loves a complex training book, I’m often reading something offbeat that eventually influences my views about running.

11 “Must Read” Running and Health Books

Today I’m going to share my top list of running and health books that I think should be required reading for anyone attempting to answer the complicated questions:

How do I get faster?” and “How do I achieve optimum health?”

Over the last 15 years of being involved with running, there are certain books that created the foundation of my understanding of the sport. Books allow you to dive deep into a specific subject with an accomplished coach, expert, or elite runner. They’re invaluable.

Of course, I’ve learned immensely from the 10 coaches I’ve had over the years, my USA Track & Field certification, and my experience working with thousands of runners to improve their training.

But there’s something about the simple power of a book that draws me to them time and time again. Now, let’s dive in!

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael PollanDefense of Food

Who should read it: Foodies, anyone who wants to learn how to eat healthy, or those who hate diets.

Why you should read it: It’s easy to read, simple to understand, and cuts through all the bullshit. It answers the fundamental question: “What is food?”

Why We Run: A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich

Who should read it: The training book junkie who wants something different.

Why you should read it: One of the most unique books I’ve ever read, it combines the genres of biography, textbook, race report, and training case study. See how one misfit professor became an ultramarathon national champion.

Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons by Bryon Powell

Who should read it: Every ultramarathoner – or aspiring ultramarathoner.

Why you should read it: You can’t find a more definitive, step-by-step guide to running an ultra. From 50k to 100 miles, RFP covers every aspect of completing an ultra.

Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado Men’s Cross Country Team by Chris LearRunning with the Buffaloes

Who should read it: Any runner who enjoys the team aspect of running or those wondering what it takes to succeed at the Division I college level.

Why you should read it: Brilliantly written, Running with the Buffaloes is first an intensely human story of a team trying to achieve the impossible: a national team championship. It’s also a fascinating account of the training methods of Mark Wetmore, one of the greatest distance coaches in the sport.

The Paleo Diet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel

Who should read it: Runners who are also interested in eating a Paleo diet or those who want to lose weight.

Why you should read it: Balancing a low-carb diet with the demands of being a distance runner is nearly impossible. This book breaks it down and shows you the strategic decisions you can make to do both.

Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald

Who should read it: Everyone.

Why you should read it: This is the best training book I’ve read (so far). It includes fantastic training plans from the 5k to the marathon, plus the running theories that propelled Brad Hudson to coach elites like Dathan Ritzenhein and Ed Torres.

I use many of its principles in my own training and those of my runners.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss4 Hour Body

Who should read it: Everyone.

Why you should read it: For entertainment, novelty, and the chapters on healing “permanent” injuries, pre-hab, and injury-proofing the body.

I don’t agree with many of Ferriss’ suggestions here, but take them with a grain of salt and use the book as a reference. I used one technique to match Houdini’s record for breath holding (3:31!).

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Who should read it: Everyone. 

Why you should read it: It’s a NYT best-seller, catalyst for the barefoot running movement going mainstream, and currently occupies three of the top six spots in Amazon’s “running and jogging” category. You’ll be inspired to run more, set bigger goals, and run in more minimalist shoes.

Tread Lightly: Form, Footwear, and the Quest for Injury Free Running by Peter Larson and Bill Katovsky

Who should read it: Anyone who loves running shoes or has injury problems. In other words, everyone.

Why you should read it: It shows you how to correct your running form (if you need to), what shoes are best for particular foot types according to the latest research (it’s NOT what you think), and what to avoid to stay healthy.

It gets a little dense at times, but it’s beautifully written and accessible for those who don’t want to wade through scientific prose.

Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise by Alex HutchinsonCardio or Weights

Who should read it: Anyone who is interested in fitness and running.

Why you should read it: The definitive coffee table or bathroom book for the fitness geek. Written as 1-2 page sections answering a single fitness question (like, should I have sex the night before a race?), it’s a quick read that puts to rest many wrongly held assumptions about running, lifting, and fitness.

Daniels’ Running Formula: Proven Programs 800m to the Marathon by Jack Daniels

Who should read it: Everyone.

Why you should read it: Because it’s Daniels’ Running Formula! This was the first training book I ever bought and it provided the foundation of my understanding of how to train. He was the first to suggest that a cadence of 180 was optimal and while a lot has changes over the years, this book is still a classic.

What I’m Reading Now

I cycle running books with other non-fiction books and fiction novels. It helps me stay interested in the subject (yes, even I get bored with running sometimes) while expanding my perspectives.

That’s why you’ll notice none of the two books I’m reading right now are about running. There’s a work of fiction that I read before bed that helps shut off my “taskmaster brain,” a tip I picked up from Tim Ferriss, and a non-fiction book on self-improvement.

Shadow of the Osprey by Peter Watt

Who should read it: Fans of “epics” mixed with historical fiction.

Why you should read it: The sequel to Cry of the Curlew, it takes place in colonial Australia in the 1860’s and beyond, chronicling the war between two families. It’s violent, very well written, and is an international bestseller (though it’s very difficult to buy in the US).

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John MedinaBrain Rules

Who should read it: Everyone

Why you should read it: The brain is fascinating and explains everything we do. This book answers questions like what does stress do to the brain? Why is multi-tasking a myth? And what happens to the brain when you skip sleep? 

I love this book because it explains science in layman’s terms while providing actionable advice that you can implement in your daily life. It’s not theoretical – it’s practical.

The Books on my “To-Read” List

This list is actually a mile long, but there are three in particular that I’m dying to read.

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss. His latest best-seller is hard to describe, but it uses cooking as a vehicle for teaching the skills necessary to learn anything.

I’ve always enjoyed Ferriss’ writing and ideas, plus the 4-Hour Chef is beautifully illustrated so you can’t go wrong with bountiful food porn.

Anatomy for Runners: Unlocking Your Athletic Potential for Health, Speed, and Injury Prevention by Jay Dicharry. The topic of injury prevention is my favorite so I’m a sucker for these books.

Just recently Dicharry helped with an article on how to prevent achilles tendonitis (or rather, tendinopathy) and I was impressed with his common-sense and informed views on how to stay healthy and treat injuries. To me, buying his book is a no-brainer.Hansons Marathon Method

Hanson’s Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon by Luke Humphrey, Keith Hanson, and Kevin Hanson. What kind of running nerd would I be if I didn’t read the Hanson’s book on marathon training?

I don’t know much about the Hanson’s running philosophy, but I’ve had several runners that I coach mention that my ideas are very similar. I’d like to know what parallels are between us – and more importantly, where we differ in our coaching philosophies.

What’s Your Favorite Running Book?

I haven’t read everything out there yet – and that’s where you come in!

Which running book did you read first and which one is your favorite? Leave a comment below and share your favorite running or health books!

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  1. Without a doubt “Born to Run” would be on the top of my list. However, I just recently finished “Eat to Run” by Scott Jurek and it was excellent. Now some of that may have to do with my current tendencies to be leaning towards vegetarian/vegan; but even with those biases aside, it is a well written look inside Scott’s personal and professional life. Besides, to finish the Western States would be fanatastic, to win it would be amazing, but to win seven times in a row – that is legend!

    • Woops – Got typing a little fast there; it is “Eat and Run” even though Eat to Run” would have been a cool title too!

  2. Phil Maffetone’s Big Book of Endurance Training has helped me improve my times dramatically. I also loved Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes.

  3. Premshree Pillai says:

    While not directly training related, two of my favorite running-related fiction books are: Once a Runner; and Again to Carthage. Every runner should read the first!

  4. I have read Hanson’s Marathon Method several times and loved it, though I still prefer the 20+ long runs over the 16 (max) they like to see for average (non-elite) runners. The book is filled with easy to understand logic with just enough description of the science behind their methods to make sense without overwhelming you with too much detail. Except for the long runs and the pace tempos should be done at, the weekly routines are structured a lot like your programs with a big focus on doing recovery days properly.

  5. They also believe in spreading out the mileage throughout the week, not just dumping it all into the long run, so it’s typical to have 2 runs mid week (that are 10-14 milers). Sounds familiar to me!

  6. The Hansons favor consistent volume without too much stress at either end of the spectrum. That is, your speed work isn’t terribly fast, nor your long runs terribly long. The idea is that it’s consistency that yields results, rather than hammering epic workouts. It’s also very Daniel’s inspired, so you’ve probably got a good idea of what to expect.

    Other books I like: Little Red Book of Running, Scott Douglas; What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami; Eat and Run, Scott Jurek; The Perfect Mile, Neal Bascomb

    • great description of Hanson’s method, plus “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is another great book I loved.

  7. For anyone that is a fan of Running With the Buffaloes, I would highly recommend An Honorable Run by Matt McCue. Matt was inspired by Running With the Buffaloes to do anything he could to follow his dream of running for Colorado. An Honorable Run documents his struggles in a way that every runner can identify with.

  8. Rich Roll’s “Finding Ultra”, Chrissie Wellington’s “A Life without Limits”. I second “Eat & Run” and “Born to Run”.

  9. the book that continues to stick out in my memory right now is adharanand finn’s “running with the kenyans”. it’s a great read on what he observed (having transplanted his entire family to kenya for a time) on what makes the best kenyan/kalenjin runners tick, and revealed to me why i will never truly be able to run like a kenyan.

  10. Check out “Once a Runner” by Charles L Parker. Great read with intense running descriptions and fun story.

  11. Just wondering how people feel about Matt Fitzgerald (=o) as an author. His Racing Weight and The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition look very enticing.

    anyone read/ reviewed them yet?

    • I have read several of his and liked some, but not all. Racing Weight was a little on the dull side, but still useful information, just not one of my favorites. Brain Training was very interesting, as was Run by Feel. Sorry so vague. It’s been a while since I’ve read those three.

  12. I just Matt Fitzgerald’s Run – The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel and it was fantastic.

    I also really enjoyed The Perfect Mile (can’t remember the author), which tells the story of the quest to break the 4 minute mile (following Roger Bannister, John Landy & Wes Santee) in amazing, dramatic detail.


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