The Best Books About Running: Training Plans, Science, and Stories

Whether you’re looking to learn how to train better, to understand the science behind exercise, or simply to be inspired, there are a ton of great books about running that you should check out.

On this page, I’m going to collect a list of all the books about running that I’ve read. I’ll share a quick snapshot of what it’s about. I’ll also let you know whether or not I think it’s worth reading. In some cases, I’ll link to longer blog posts or reviews that I’ve written.

Organizing My Running Bookshelf

I’m going to break these books down into three general categories.

The first category is books about training. These are your “how to” type books, along with any book that provides sample plans and direct advice.

The second category is books about the science of running and exercise. These offer insights into why we train the way that we do, but they don’t offer specific training plans or advice. In many cases, I find nuggets of wisdom in these books to inform my training, but the author is rarely explicit about giving this advice.

The third category is books with stories about running. These are inspirational stories, as well those that are simply amusing and enjoyable. They are light on science and training advice, but they will help pass the time while you’re resting after a run.

Running Books With Training Plans and Advice

First up, let’s take a look at books with specific training advice for runners.

Books by Jack Daniels

The first book I read about running was Jack Daniels Running Formula. It is a great introduction to the science behind running, and I summarized his key concepts here. He builds on a few key concepts to offer plans ranging from the mile up to the marathon. In the new 4th edition, he also includes plans for ultra running. I’ve followed his 2Q marathon program as well as his 5k-10k program, and both served me well.

If you’re looking for a place to get started – this is it.

Books by Pete Pfitzinger

The next book I read after Running Formula was Pete Pfitzinger’s Faster Road Racing. His approach to running is very similar to Jack Daniels, and I found the book to be a little more user friendly. Jack tends to get bogged down in the science a little too much, while Pete cuts to the chase. Faster Road Racing focuses on distances short of the marathon, but he also wrote a book specifically for marathon training – Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning.

The two books cover a lot of the same ground. I picked up Advanced Marathoning after Faster Road Racing, and I skimmed through much of the beginning because it was the same material. But Advanced Marathoning does have some specific advice about nutrition, and of course it has very popular marathon training plans.

I wrote about Pfitz’s half marathon training plans here, and I plan to write something about his marathon plans soon. While I personally prefer Daniels, Pfitz is a great choice too. You wouldn’t do yourself a disservice by choosing one of his plans.

Books By the Hanson Brothers

Another pair of popular books for training plans are Hanson’s Marathon Method and Hanson’s Half Marathon Method. Like Pfitz, the two books cover much of the same material but one has plans for a full marathon while the other focuses on the half. Hanson’s is a great intermediate plan. It’s far more challenging than any beginner plan, but it’s simpler and more approachable than the advanced plans from Pfitz and Daniels.

Books by Hal Higdon

If you are a beginner and you are intimidated by the likes of Daniels and Pfitz, you should check out Hal Higdon’s books. His Half Marathon Training and Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide are both great introductions to distance racing. He tells you what you need to know in an approachable way, but he won’t scare you off. Pfitz and Daniels are clearly aimed at more advanced runners, whereas Higdon is perfect for the everyman and everywoman.

That being said, intermediate runners shouldn’t scoff at the plans he presents, either. Even if you’ve finished a marathon before, his advanced plans will get you in good shape for a race. They might not help you reach your peak potential – but if you’ve struggled through a half or a marathon in the past, they will offer you a guide to getting across the finish line healthy and happy.

Higdon’s books are perfect for the novice and intermediate runner, but once you’ve run a race or two you may want to consider looking into the more advanced books. I’ve written about his half marathon plans here, and I plan to write about his marathon plans soon.

Marathon Training by Grete Waltz

Grete Waltz, a former women’s marathon record holder and a dominant marathoner throughout the 1980’s, wrote a book aimed directly at first time marathoners. Run Your First Marathon: Everything You Need to Know to Reach the Finish Line does exactly what it says on the cover. It’s a collection of running tips and a cogent introduction to marathoning for the novice runner, interspersed with Grete’s own experiences and the stories of some other runners.

It’s a great choice for a beginner who is looking for some guidance. You can read more about the training plan included in the book here.

Books on Lydiard Training

For a step back in time, check out Healthy Intelligent Training by Keith Livingstone. This book details the training principles of Arthur Lydiard. He revolutionized running in the mid-20th century with the concept of a high-volume base period leading into a more focused competition phase. There are a lot of misconceptions about Lydiard’s training methods, and this book does a decent job of helping set the record straight. There are also some interesting stories in here about runners that worked with Lydiard.

While this book doesn’t offer pre-written plans like many of the books above, it will help you understand the principles used in writing them.

Books on Diet and Nutrition

Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight is a good read for the serious runner. Unlike the previous books it doesn’t focus on the training, per se. It focuses on how to adapt your diet to reach an ideal racing weight. He includes a number of interesting stories about elite athletes, as well as a system to grade your own diet and help move yourself in the right direction.

While I never actually implemented his grading system, I do like his approach to evaluating foods. It’s helped me make some better decisions about my diet in general, and I think it will help me hone in on a lean racing weight for my fall marathon. When I first started running, I did so to lose weight – so I carefully tracked my food to make sure I kept dropping. Then, I started eating as much as I could to maintain my weight. I’m pretty happy fluctuating around 170 to 175, but I’m pretty sure if I follow Fitzgerald’s suggestions I can end up around a healthy 165 when I line up for my next race.

An open book with reading glasses on top of it, about the science of running.

Books About the Science of Running

Next, let’s take a look at some books that focus more broadly on the science of running and exercise.

Books by Steve Magness

For broader overview of the science behind running and exercise, you should definitely check out The Science of Running by Steve Magness. Be warned that this is a fairly dense book about exercise science and research. But Magness does a great job of organizing and reviewing the literature, so you can understand what we do and don’t know about the science of running.

He offers some plans in the book, but they are geared towards elite runners. For the mere humans among us, this is still an interesting read to get you thinking about how and why we make certain choices in training. It’s a lot if you’re just getting into running, but if you consider yourself an advanced runner you should definitely read it.

Books About Recovery

For something a little less science-y that’s still about the science of running, check out Christie Aschwanden’s Good to Go. Aschwanden is a journalist, so she is better at telling a story than many of the other authors listed here. But she also understands the underlying science, and this book is a fascinating look at the many ways athletes try to speed up their recovery.

You can read about my key take aways from the book here. But I think this is a really important read for any runner – as it will help you focus on what does work while avoiding wasting time on things that don’t.

Books About the Mental Side of Endurance

Endure by Alex Hutchinson is another really interesting book that give you a glimpse into exercise science. Like Aschwanden, he’s a journalist so he tells a better story than the likes of Steve Magness or Jack Daniels. The book focuses on the notion that our physical limits are governed on a psychological level – and not strictly a physiological one. The scientific term for this is the central governor model, something that Steve Magness talks about in his book.

But Hutchinson translates this complex scientific model into relatable and real examples. The book looks beyond running to the many ways in which humans push themselves to the limit – but it is definitely an interesting read as a runner.

A similar book by Alex Hutchinson is How Bad Do You Want It. It zeroes in on how the central governor model plays a role in elite endurance performance. In that, it’s a little more focused on racing and competition than Endure.

I finished reading How Bad Do You Want It just as I was getting ready to run a half marathon. Throughout the race, I was struck by how spot on some of his observations were. I plan to go back and write more in depth about my takeaways from this book, but suffice it to say that I would highly recommend it.

An open book, with a girl walking through the rain and a dog looking at her. It tells a story about running.

Running Books with Inspirational Stories

Finally, let’s take a look at some books that are simply enjoyable to read. They may not give you great training advice, but they’ll pass the time and leave you ready to run some more.

Born to Run

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is a fascinating book about ultra running. The narrative focus of the book is on a tribe of runners in central America, and it launched a fad around barefoot and minimalist running. While that fad is dying away, this book still stands the test of time. I was enthralled as I read it, and I enjoyed it very much.

If you’re looking for some inspiration around ultra running and trail running, look no further.

Books About Running in Africa

Recently, runners from Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated the international running scene. So it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of interest in how they train to compete.

Out of Thin Air by Michael Crawley is an inside look at a group of Ethiopian runners. It’s written by Michael Crawley, who is a Scottish anthropologist who also happens to be a runner. He lives and trains with a group of Ethiopian runners for a little over a year, and weaves an amazing story. While many of us can not hope to run as fast as the subjects of his writing – or the author himself, who has run a 2:20 marathon – it is inspiring nonetheless.

Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn is a similar kind of book. The author spends six months training in Kenya, trying to figure out why Kenyan runners have become so dominant in long distance running. I list it second here because I read it after Out of Thin Air, but Running with the Kenyans was published first by about a decade. In any case, it is a well told story and a good read. You get to know quite a few interesting characters, and you learn a little bit about running along the way.

Books About the History of Running

For something more historical and nostalgic, check out The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb. It follows the efforts of Roger Lannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee as they quest to become the first men to run a four minute mile. It is an interesting glimpse into the past, and how people used to train for competition. But it’s also a riveting account of their fierce competition to reach this milestone. Despite knowing how it ends, I wanted to keep reading to see how each little incident played out.

Memoirs About Running

It can also be fun to read runners themselves describe their own experiences in memoirs and autobiographies.

An Accidental Athlete by John Bingham is one such book. It is a quick and enjoyable read, and it’s most notable because the author is not some amazingly accomplished runner. He just decides to start running, and he plods along in the back of the pack. But he enjoys it nonetheless. It’s a reminder that we all have our own why – and if you’re only why is to win, you’re going to have problems.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami was another quick read. It follows the story of another mediocre runner who falls in love with running and wants to tell his story. There’s a philosophical element that appealed to me as well. It wasn’t a long book, but I enjoyed it. It’s a short listen if you’re into audiobooks, too.

In Choosing To Run: A Memoir, Des Linden tells the story of how she won the 2018 Boston Marathon. The story flips between her history and development as a runner, and a play by play of race day itself. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and as someone who is looking forward to running Boston one day I really enjoyed the description of the course and her race experience.

What Are Your Favorite Books About Running?

I will be updating this list over time as I add books to my running bookshelf.

I enjoy reading, and I try to mix things up between science fiction, fantasy, and non fiction. Lately, a lot of that non fiction stuff is running related. I love to learn, so the science oriented books really appeal to me. But the personal memoirs and inspirational stories are good, too.

So I’d love to hear about your favorite running-related books. What’s on your bookshelf that you’d recommend to a fellow runner?

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