The Best Running Books For Serious Runners

Step 1: read these books. Step 2: get pumped up. Step 3: smash your personal bests.

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I have always been disappointed by the lack of books for competitive runners. There are plenty of how-to books for beginner runners, but while there’s nothing wrong with those books, they just don’t apply to the lives of high school or college athletes or anyone who pursues the sport of track and field or cross country seriously.

The following list is one that I’ve been cultivating since I was 16 and began to realize this was a problem. There are books on this list about track, books about cross country, books for the running history buff, and books for the spiritual runner. They are motivating and inspiring, and will help you get pumped to put in a great season of training, whether it’s for a 5k or a marathon. And though I included a special category for the competitive athlete, the truth is that all of these books are relevant to the competitive athlete.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a a good place to start if you’re a serious runner looking for a book you can relate to.

  1. For Anyone and Everyone: Once A Runner, by John L. Parker Jr.

    Parker’s cult classic follows young protagonist Quenton Cassidy in his quest to run the mile faster than anybody else on earth. It’s been named by both Runner’s World and Competitor magazines as the best running book ever written, and for good reason: Parker’s narrative is beautifully written (and exceptionally quotable), and his depiction of an elite athlete’s day to day life is surprisingly easy to relate to. Warning: this book will make you want to go crush a run when you finish. Further warning: you may also want to marry Quenton Cassidy when you finish.

  2. For The History Buff: The Perfect Mile, by Neal Bascomb

    Bascomb takes his readers back to the year 1952, when three men on three separate continents – Englishman Roger Bannister, Australian John Landy and American Wes Santee – set out to defy the odds and run a mile faster than 4 minutes. At the time, the sub-4 minute mile was believed to be a myth; scientists theorized that it wasn’t humanly possible to run that fast for that long. Bascomb’s story of the men who set out to prove otherwise will make you believe in miracles – and if you love learning the backstories of a huge historical event, this will satisfy your history-loving heart.

  3. For The Fierce Females: First Ladies of Running, by Amby Burfoot

    This is a recent discovery of mine that hooked me from the moment I cracked it open and read the forward by Shalane Flanagan. It’s easy to forget just how far the sport of women’s running has come in recent years (especially for those of us that were born after the passage of Title IX), but Burfoot makes sure you’ll remember the heroic stories of the pioneers who paved the way. He chronicles the story of 22 women – some you’ve likely heard of, many you haven’t – who fought bravely for the right to compete, and does so in a way that will make you proud to be a woman.

  4. For The Cross Country Crazies: Running with the Buffaloes, by Chris Lear

    This is such a great book in so many ways. Lear spends a season with the 1998 men’s cross country team at the University of Colorado – guided by now legendary coach Mark Wetmore – as they pursue a national championship, and as Adam Goucher (yes, THAT Adam Goucher) pursues individual gold. The story is at once compelling, exciting, motivating, and touching; it is both triumphant and tragic. If nothing else, you will put down this book with a renewed appreciation for your team.

  5. For The Track Junkie: Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, by Kenny Moore

    Moore’s epic telling of Bill Bowerman’s story is not for the casual fan – at 480 pages, it is not a short read. But true track nerds and stat lovers will rejoice over the level of attention and detail Moore pays to Bowerman’s life and 24-year career at the University of Oregon. Nike fans will like this one, as the story of Bowerman’s waffle-iron shoes and the humble beginnings of the swoosh also make the cut.

  6. For The Galen Rupp Superfan: Duel in the Sun, by John Brant

    As Galen Rupp fans anxiously await his debut in the Olympic Marathon  -Rupp competed in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games, bringing home a silver medal in the 10,000 meters in the latter, but has never competed in the marathon before – they can occupy themselves with Brant’s account of the 1982 Boston Marathon, a down-to-the-wire slugfest between Dick Beardsley and Rupp’s coach, Alberto Salazar. The race is the star of the story, but the insight into Salazar is what makes it invaluable.

  7. For The Spiritual Runner: Running & Being, by Dr. George Sheehan

    Dr. Sheehan helped spark the  American running boom in the 1970’s with his fervent belief that exercise should be joyful, and that running should be as enjoyable as playing. This one is for your runner friend with tattoos of trees and mountains on their backs; the one who likes to commune with nature during their runs. They probably love Alexi Pappas, and they love to post artsy Instagram pictures of themselves running.* They will love Sheehan’s book, a 270-page celebration of running, the earth, and life.

  8. For The Competitive Athlete: How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald

    Though it was published just last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fitzgerald’s study of the “psychobiological” model of endurance performance eventually takes its place among the classics. The book is something of a hybrid; in some ways it’s a how-to manual for improved athletic performance, but it’s also a collection of stories featuring brilliant endurance athletes. It changed me as an athlete and inspired me. (Bonus: in most books, authors use “he” as a generic pronoun. Fitzgerald consistently, purposefully, uses “she” instead, and it made my little feminist heart very happy.)* I’m 100% this person, so please don’t think I’m making fun of you if this is you. I actually probably love you, and we should hang out and be friends.

Like I said, this list is by no means exhaustive – if you have favorites of your own, let me know in the comments section! Let’s create a resource so that we can all build our running book libraries together (and subsequently get PUMPED UP TO CRUSH OUR PRs!). In the meantime,

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5 Tips For Balancing Running With A Full Time Job

Get the most out of your training while still rocking your career.

 

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My first job out of college was not your typical 9-5. I did marketing (mainly social media) for a running specialty store, where I also worked on the sales floor. Running specialty is retail, but it’s like regular retail on steroids; you’re expected to not only stand for 8 hours while simultaneously organizing product, working with a customer, answering phones and covering the cash register, but you’re also expected to maintain an active lifestyle outside of the store so that you have the knowledge to supplement your sales skills. In that environment – where running everyday was literally in my job description – I was able to get in pretty consistent training when I was healthy.

Transitioning from a job environment that prioritized training and distance running to a desk job where frankly, no one cares whether I run or not, was a big adjustment for me. It turns out that it’s really hard to motivate yourself to take those first steps out the door after you’ve sat in meetings for 10 hours and you’re hungry and you’re sore from sitting (who even knew you could get sore from sitting!?). And turns out it’s even harder when you train by yourself, for yourself, with no coach or team to encourage you – which is how the majority of people train when they work full time.

After learning these lessons the hard way (the hard way for me was putting on almost 15 pounds in 3 months because I stopped doing any physical activity at all – oops), I eventually figured out some useful tips and tricks to get around them, and am happy to report that since learning how to balance my running with my full time job, I’ve been able to run a half marathon, lose most of the weight, and am back to putting in consistent 30-35 mile weeks.

Here’s what worked for me:

Workout Whenever The Heck You Want

There are morning exercisers, and there are evening exercisers. It’s totally up to you which one you are. I mean it! Instagram might make you feel like you’re only a true runner if you wake up at 5am to get your workout in, but that’s just not true. A runner is a runner no matter what time they run.

Some people actually function better when they can save their run for 6pm and run the stress of the day off. Other people function better if they knock it out first thing in the morning. There is no such thing as the right way to do it; there is only what is right for you. The real key there is to be honest with yourself about what that actually looks like and try not to force it either way, because you’ll only end up miserable by trying to force a big change.

Take Control Of Your Energy Levels

When I first started working a 9-5, I subsisted mostly on coffee, donuts, and takeout. I was working long hours, and I was exhausted by the time I got home at night. I ended up locked in a vicious cycle of eating refined, processed food because I was too tired to cook, and then feeling even more lethargic and sluggish from the steady diet of refined, processed food.

I think I knew that my nutrition at the time was a problem, but I didn’t understood how big of a difference it made until I fixed it. When I finally started cooking real food for myself, my energy levels literally soared. You don’t have to eat super clean to reap the benefits, either; just aim for protein, a vegetable or fruit, and a grain at every meal. Boom. Nutrition.

Use Caffeine

One of my friends is an elite runner for Asics GTC-Elite (Hi Kate!) and she turned me on to the 3 p.m. coffee. I always find myself lagging after lunch, and that little boost of caffeine a couple hours before I’m due to workout (I typically run at 6pm everyday) can be the difference between slogging home and falling asleep on the couch or getting myself out the door.

Similarly, when I know that I have to wake up and run at 5:30am, I’ll get up at 4:45 and drink a small cup of coffee. The caffeine not only makes me more focused and alert, my body has learned over time that the ritual of drinking my pre-run cup is a cue for it to start transitioning into run mode.

Take Care Of Your Feet

Dress shoes are the devil. High heels are the devil. Ballet flats are the devil. Any shoe without arch support is the devil and will leave your arch sore and fatigued by the end of an 8 hour workday. You should avoid wearing these for any period of time longer than 30 minutes, particularly if you’re standing or walking a lot.

“But Carolyn,” you say. “My office has a dress code!”

Well, then you need to get crafty. Here’s how:

Personally, I hide Oofos OOcloogs (which may be butt ugly but are actually the most comfortable shoes on the entire earth I swear to you) under my desk and wear them when I work at my computer. I have a second pair that I keep in my car and wear on my lunch break. The only time I wear dress shoes is on my way from the parking lot to my desk, or my desk to the bathroom.

An even sneakier option is Superfeet DELUX Dress Insoles, which are smaller support inserts made specifically for men’s and women’s dress shoes. I have a pair of these and it works in any narrow shoes – from boots to flats to Keds to Toms.

Once I started taking care of my feet during the day, my runs at night got much, much easier. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes in your overall health, too.

Keep a Journal

After not keeping any sort of record about my running for YEARS (outside of my brain, which was not always entirely accurate) I received a Believe Training Journal for Christmas one year, and have been hooked ever since. There’s something about writing down what I did (or didn’t do) every week that satisfies both my inner-Type-A and  ultra-competitive nature.

If you aren’t a journal person, there are also countless digital ways to accomplish the same thing, ranging from low tech (the notes app on your phone or a free website like RunningAhead.com) to high tech (programs like Training Peaks that cost money to join).


While I feel like I’ve established a pretty good routine for myself at this point, I’m always looking for ideas to improve my process! If you have any tips or tricks that have worked for you as you balance training with a full time job, comment below and let’s start a discussion! Until then,

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Race Against Racism 5k Recap (Post Grad PR!)

 

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Though the focus of my training so far has been developing my endurance to the point where contemplating a 13.1 mile race doesn’t make me want to cry/die, I always like to have secondary goals to keep myself accountable during the buildup to my main goal as well. I’m a liiiiiiitle competitive, and while I do enjoy immersing myself in the everyday grind of training, I’ve found that I tend to lose focus on the big picture unless I’m given a steady diet of intermediate challenges along the way.

Knowing this, I tried to schedule some races into the buildup to the NJ Half to keep myself motivated (and to try out my race outfit!). I ran the Ice Scraper 5k on March 13, finishing in a time of 22:26, and this past weekend in the Race Against Racism 5k I somehow took almost a minute and 15 seconds off that time to take the win (for the ladies side at least) in 21:13! This not only surpassed my goal of 22 minutes flat, it’s actually the fastest I’ve run since graduating college. I was so shocked I double checked my GPS watch, mapped it on RunKeeper, and asked the race director if he was SURE it was a full 5k. Verdict was yes, so ya girl ran a nice little post-grad PR! 😉

(Side note: my actual 5k PR is 18:32. I joked with my boyfriend after this race that I’ve never been so happy to run almost 3 minutes slower than my PR. HA.)

The race itself was kind of bizarre. It started at 9am, so I thought I was running late when I started my warm up at 8:30. At 8:55 I was hurriedly changing into my flats and wondering if I had time to get some strides in when the race director announced we would be hearing a talk on racism – which lasted 15-20 minutes. It was thought-provoking, and a great talk, and I get that that was the point of the whole race…but it was cold, I was wearing only shorts and a tank top, and all I could think about was how tight my legs were getting while we stood there listening. I think if I was the race director I would have maybe saved this talk for the post-race awards ceremony, but that’s just my opinion!

Weirdness aside, the race was a lot of fun. I figured I’d be stiff from standing, so my plan was to work into it then try and pick people off. I sat behind a bunch of guys for the first half mile while my legs got used to the shock of sprinting, then passed most of them when we hit the first hill and never really looked back. Though it was suuuuper windy and a fairly hilly course, I felt pretty strong and like I could have kicked it into another gear if I had to.

(Further sidenote: it was super trippy and fun to race on Kutztown’s campus. The whole time I was reminiscing about dumb things we did when we still lived in dorms and ate at the dining hall every night. I highly recommend doing this race if you went to Kutztown, it’s worth it for the #remthemems factor alone!)

This race was such a huge confidence booster for me, and with two weeks till the NJ Half, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m getting more and more excited to line up to run 13.1, and it’s looking more and more like my way-out-there goal of 8 minute pace might (if all goes well!) actually become a reality. I’m starting to actually believe, you guys, and it’s kind of scary!

Thanks to everyone that texted me to wish me luck or see how it went; I honestly woke up on Saturday NOT WANTING TO RACE AT ALL but you kept me accountable 🙂 Not sure if that makes you good or bad friends but either way…thanks!

PS- Above graphic was taken from Kutztown Race Against Racism Instagram page.

How to Become a Morning Runner When You Hate Waking Up Early

Tips and tricks for getting yourself out of bed and out the door.

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Waking up early is hard for me. Like, EMBARRASSINGLY hard. Like, I will literally set 10 alarms spaced one minute apart each with a different threatening message and combination of skull emojis and still ignore every single one of them to sleep for 6 more minutes.

And honestly, that used to be fine. I worked at a running store that didn’t open until 10; I could roll out of bed at 8, run, sit with my coffee and oatmeal for an hour, then do the work thing. The store was 5 minutes from my house, and most days I wore yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a pair of running sneakers to work (I know…#blessed).

But these days, I work an 8-5. I commute to my job. I have to wear real pants (!!). And sometimes I know that I have a very long, hectic day ahead of me, and that I won’t get home until very late. And at that point, I will want a pint of ice cream. And probably a drink.

On days like this, it’s in my best interest to run before work, even if it’s PAINFULLY early. So I did what every girl’s gotta do eventually: grow the HECK up and figure out ways to trick myself into doing something I desperately hate.

That said, here’s the 4 things that have worked for me:

1. Lay Everything Out the Night Before

Or, if you have to, sleep in your running clothes. The less thought you have to put into getting out the door, the more likely you will be to get out the door.

2. Find People That Will Hold You Accountable

For me, this means EVERYONE AND ANYONE. The night before I know I have to run at 5am, I tell all my friends that I’m going to do it. I tweet that I’m going to do it. I post on my Tumblr page that I’m going to do it. When that first alarm goes off, I picture having to answer all those “so, did you do it?” texts with “no, I’m a baby”, and the thought of that shame is usually enough to get me out the door.

3. Do it for the ‘Gram

Ok, this is kind of terrible, and I will obviously never be able to do this again because of personal shame, but COME ON, who doesn’t enjoy posting a perfectly filtered pic of the sunrise to their Instagram page and watching the likes roll in? Do it for the likes, guys. Do it for the likes.

4. Bribe Yourself

Step 1: Think of a delicious food. Step 2: Wake up and drive to a place that sells that breakfast food. Step 3: Start your run from there so that when you finish you can go right from “I hate my life” to “I love bagels” or “I love pancakes” or “I love donuts”. Or, in extreme cases, “I love Rita’s water ice, even at 8am.”


Honestly, waking up before the sun to get my run in is still a work in progress for me. So far I’ve learned that workouts are a no-go at 5am because they take so much time and mental preparation for me, and I just don’t have it in the morning yet.But I can knock out a 5-6 mile recovery run fairly easily, and that is a huge step in the right direction.

If you guys have any more tips, I’d love to hear them. A girl can only post so many ‘grams before all her friends hate her, so the more solutions I’ve got, the better. Let me know, and until then, happy training!