Must-Read Books for Marathon Runners
To some people, jogging 26.2 miles for fun seems like a batty idea. But it's as popular as ever: Last year, close to 500,000 Americans finished marathons. Fall features some of the country’s most high-profile races, from the Chicago and Washington, D.C. Marine Corps marathons in October to the New York City marathon in November. Last year, Superstorm Sandy forced N.Y.C.’s organizers to cancel the five-borough run, which means this year’s runners are even more fired up to hit the road. Racing this season? For an extra dose of motivation, check out these great books. Trust us: Whether you’re a seasoned racer or a newbie looking to tick running 26.2 off your bucket list, there’s something here for you.
Wisdom from legends
In the early 1980s, Cuban-born Alberto Salazar was one of the most decorated athletes in marathoning: Between 1980 and 1984, he won three consecutive New York City Marathons, setting a world record in 1981. (Alas, his achievement was later disputed when that year's course was found short.) When he hung up his shoes, Salazar became a coach, mentoring top runners Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. Still fit at 48, he seemed like an unlikely candidate for a heart attack—but in 2007, Salazar collapsed on a Beaverton, Ore. practice field. Salazar recalls the experience, along with his storied running career, in 14 Minutes.
At a time when more than 40 percent of American marathon finishers are female, it’s hard to believe there was ever an era when women weren’t allowed to participate in the sport. But that was the scene in the 1960s, as Kathrine Switzer, the first woman ever to register for and complete the Boston Marathon, describes in her memoir, Marathon Woman. During her historic run in April 1967, Switzer was taunted, harassed—and even assaulted. “[Race official Jock Semple] grabbed me and screamed at me, ‘Get the hell out of my race,’” she told PBS. “I realized this was very important and it was probably going to change my life—and change women’s sports.”
While Switzer paved the way for female marathoners, Paula Radcliffe took women's marathon running to the next level: Ten years ago, the U.K. native and mom of two broke the tape at the London Marathon at 2:15:25, setting a world record that still stands today. That triumph aside, she's faced challenges in recent years: In 2004, she dropped out of the gold-medal race at the Athens summer Olympics with cramps. In her eponymous memoir, Paula, Radcliffe opens up about that crushing experience and more. Runners looking for Radcliffe’s tips on the track should also check out her detailed guide, How to Run.
With his blazing speed and hip persona, Bill Rodgers made marathon running cool in the swinging 1970s. He also racked up wins: Between 1975 and 1980, he won the Boston and New York City marathons four times each. Boston spectators took a particular shine to Rodgers, nicknaming him “Boston Billy.” Rodgers remembers Boston’s fans and the fabled course in Michael Connelly’s and John Kelly’s, 26 Miles to Boston, as well as his memoir, Marathon Man.
Whether you’re preparing for your first race or trying to improve your PR (personal record), Hal Higdon’s classic guide Marathon is a great place to start. One of the running world’s most beloved figures, Higdon—who’s finished a mind-blowing 111 marathons himself—has been disseminating running advice to pavement-hitters for decades. Featuring training plans for runners at every level, Marathon is one of the best resources around.
So you log 100 miles a week, have 10 pairs of running shoes and got 26.2 tattooed on your forearm: We get it! This isn’t your first rodeo. If you’re an old hand at long-distance running, Advanced Marathoning, by former Olympian Peter Pfitzinger, is the guide for you. Full of workout ideas, cross-training suggestions and nutrition advice, Pfitzinger’s popular book promises to make the fleetest-footed runners even faster. Follow this guide to shave a few seconds off your already speedy PR.
One of the other biggest names in marathon running, Jeff Galloway, who ran for the U.S. in the 1972 Olympics, offers his philosophy on training in Galloway’s Book on Running. Galloway's focus is to help injury-prone athletes stave off aches by taking staggered walking breaks throughout the run—not a bad idea for those attempting 26.2 for the very first time.
Former Olympian Jack Daniels identifies six key goals and five different training intensity levels in his guide. A little more complicated to follow but, as Daniels disciples would argue, very effective, Daniels’ Running Formula is another popular one to try if you’re deciding between training manuals this season.
Stories to keep you going
Okay, so this book isn’t so much about your standard 26.2-mile marathon as it is about training for a race that might seem bananas to your average casual runner: ultramarathons, extreme endurance courses that can traverse trails of more than 100 miles. In 2006, Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days and became the subject of a documentary entitled, Ultramarathon Man. The same year, he came out with a book by the same name about his derring-do—a fun read by a guy who truly tested the limits of his body and mind.
If you've ever read about father-son pair Dick and Rick Hoyt, you know how moving their story is. Born with cerebral palsy, Rick was never able to run on his own but loved the sensation of racing with his dad, who pushed Rick's road-fitted wheelchair. In 1981, the Holland, Mass. natives ran their first Boston Marathon—and they've done it every April since, completing 31 Bostons (this year would've been their 32nd finish, if not for the bombings that halted the race) and scores of other endurance events. In July, Dick, 73, and Rick, 51, were awarded a special ESPY award for their achievements. Dick tells their awe-inspiring story in Devoted.
He stirred hearts worldwide with his courage, determination and stamina. In 1980, 21-year-old amputee Terry Fox embarked on a cross-country trek through Canada to raise awareness about cancer--specifically, osteosarcoma, the disease that claimed his leg. Starting in Newfoundland, Fox ran about a marathon a day for 143 days, logging 3,339 miles before his cancer returned and he was forced to drop out. Before he died in 1981, Fox became a national hero. Leslie Scrivener recalls his extraordinary life in Terry Fox.
12.Born to Run
Writers who run
Injury-plagued runner and journalist Christopher McDougall wanted to know what he could do to improve his form and stop suffering so many race-induced aches and pains. So, he embedded with Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians, who can run hundreds of miles at a time, barefoot—without getting hurt. Incorporating first-hand dispatches from Mexico, interviews with Harvard researchers, and stories about top runners, McDougall crafts a riveting investigation into the science and art of running—a one-of-a-kind account any runner or reader will appreciate.
When he’s not writing quirky, beautiful novels, Haruki Murakami can be found pounding the pavement: A 20-time marathoner who completed a 62-mile ultramarathon in 1996, he's as avid a runner as he is a writer. The author reflects on the impact his healthy hobby has had on his craft in his memoir-slash-training guide, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
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