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Great running books

Updated on March 31, 2013

Here are some reviews of the best books you'll find on running.

With so many great books available on the subject of running, it's hard to decide which one you want to read first. In this lens, I'm going to write in depth reviews of some of the most popular running books currently in print and let you decide where to begin reading. You can even vote in our poll as to which book is number one!

I'll be adding new books as time goes on so be sure to check back regularly for more reviews.

Once a Runner

John L. Parker

Once a Runner is a classic novel written by John L. Parker.

Parker is an accomplished runner himself, having run a 4:06 mile and competing for the Florida track club with luminaries such as Olympic marathon gold and silver medallist Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, Marty Liquori and others.

Once a Runner tells the story of Quenton Cassidy, a talented collegiate miler who falls under the wing of Bruce Denton, an Olympic gold medallist. Through Denton, Cassidy begins to realize what it takes to go from a solid college runner to a world class performer. The price of success takes a toll on Cassidy both physically, mentally and in his relationships.

Just as he begins to show promise, Cassidy's world collapses around him as he is suspended from the college track team and loses his relationship with Andrea, a fellow college student who is his love interest and confidant. With his world seemingly in tatters, Cassidy considers hanging it up until Denton challenges him to leave his life behind and move out to a cabin in the woods to train full time and once and for all find out if he has what it takes.

The genius in this book is not so much in the narrative itself, it is in the periodic vignettes that describe Cassidy's experiences and feelings as a runner trying to approach the sport at the highest possible level. As Kenny Moore, Olympic marathoner and writer for Sports Illustrated put it, Once a Runner is, "By far the most accurate fictional portrayal of the world of the serious runner." Parker does an outstanding job of getting inside the head of a competitive runner and expressing the thoughts and feelings that are universal to those who strive to compete at the highest level.

Once a Runner is a must read for serious runners. I wish I had read it when I was competing in university track and cross country.

Running with the Legends

MIchael Sandrock

Running with the Legends tells the stories of 21 legendary figures in the world of distance running.

Each chapter in the book begins with a start to finish biography of the runner's career, from their first races as a youngster, to their final competitive battles in the twilight of their career. In Running with the Legends, you learn what motivates these Olympic champion and world record holding runners, learn how they trained, and how they felt about the key races in their careers.

Sandrock includes biographical information on each runner, as well as a host of action photos and commentary from some of the most influential people in the sport. In addition to the 21 featured athletes, Sandrock includes a sample week of training for each runner and several one page biographies of their rivals and contemporaries.

The runners featured in the book include Emil Zatopek, KIp Keino, Priscilla Welch, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Lasse Viren, Alberto Juantorena, Grete Waitz, Steve Jones, Lorraine Moller, Seb Coe, Ingrid Kristiansen, Toshihiko Seko, Rob de Castella, JUma Ikangaa, Joan Samuelson, Said Auoita, Rosa Mota, Arturo Barrios, Uta Pippig and Noureddinne Morceli.

Advanced Marathoning

Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas

Two time Olympic marathoner and exercise physiologist Pete Pfitzinger and noted running author Scott Douglas combine for this informative and insighful book on getting the best out of yourself in the marathon.

Pfitzinger starts out by identifying the relevant physiological characteristics of good marathoners, such as a high aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, the ability to store large amounts of glycogen and the ability to handle a large amount of running while still recovering well between workouts. He then devotes sections on how to train to increase these factors optimally.

Pfitzinger devotes chapters to nutrition and hydration, balancing training and recovery, tracking your progess and race day strategy. Finally, he provides day by day training schedules for runners at various levels. The schedules are a little bit different than you might expect, replacing most of the interval training that many runners do with longer, steady runs that are more suited to developing the endurance and stamina necessary to go the distance on race day.

Interspersed with the individual chapters are short biographies of many of the top US and World marathon runners of the late 1990s with descriptions of their training and philosophy. The foreward is written by former American marathon record holder Bill Rodgers, who is also the subject of a brief biography.

This book is an excellent read for the serious marathoner.

Again to Carthage

John L. Parker

Again to Carthage is John L. Parker's long awaited sequel to his classic novel, Once a Runner.

Again to Carthage takes place several years after Once a Runner has concluded and follows Quenton Cassidy in his new life as a lawyer. Cassidy is preoccupied with living the good life, enjoying a robust social life with few responsibilities or committments. As time goes on, however, a series of people near and dear to him (including one very prominent character from Once a Runner) die from various causes forcing Cassidy to come to grips with his own mortality.

Realizing that his time as an athlete is coming to a close, Cassidy consults with Bruce Denton to attempt one final comeback to make the Olympic team in the marathon. Despite some initial resevations, Denton agrees to coach Cassidy once again in the hopes of generating enough magic for one final shot at glory.

Though the book is a little slow off the mark, the second half of the book provides the nuggets of writing that made Once a Runner such a great hit. Parker weaves in tales of Cassidy's training that provide a hint into Parker's own training system while providing a few hilarious anecdotal stories of training with a group of runners that any serious runner will not only enjoy but recognize in some way in his own experience.

When the time finally comes for the Olympic trials, Cassidy faces a devastating twist the night before the race, putting it all in jeopardy. The resolution is bittersweet, but authentic, as is Cassidy's reunion with Andrea, his (now married) love interest from Once a Runner.

Interspersed among the dialogue are some spot commentaries on growing older and the place of sports on one's life. Parker is at his philosophical best speaking of the decline of a runner's performance with age and facing the inevitable with dignity and grace, if not whole hearted acceptance.

Despite the slow first half of the novel, I really enjoyed the book overall, particularly since I read it at a time in my life when I was going through a similar phase with my running as Cassidy does in the book. I highly recommend this book to runners of all ages and especially those of us now in the masters running ranks.

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other - Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Running

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other - Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Running is a compilation of my thoughts on training, racing and finding ways to make your running better and more enjoyable. The book includes revised and expanded articles from this blog as well as some of my other writings on the subject of running over the past couple of years.

When I put this book together, I decided to focus on what, in corporate-speak, might be called the "soft-skills" of running. Things like building your confidence, mental toughness, dealing with rivals, race tactics and the like. You'll also find sections on interval and hill training, dealing with injuries, and how to be at your best when you need it most.

The book is 78 pages and comes in both ebook and paperback versions.

Here are the Chapter Titles:


1. Consistency is the Key

2. Who Needs a Coach?

3. Covering all the Bases

4. Balancing Hard and Easy Runs

5. How Easy is Easy?

6. Heart Rate Training

7. Multi-pace Training

8. Miles Make Champions

9. Interval Training

10. Hill Running

11. Post Run Recovery

12. Dealing with Injuries

13. Periodization

14. Mental Toughness

15. Building your Confidence as a Runner

16. Race Tactics

17. How to Improve your Finishing Kick

18. Rivals

19. The Runner's Training Life Cycle

20. Enjoying your Running

Which book is Number 1?

Marathon running
Marathon running

Which of these books is your favourite?

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Do you agree with these reviews? Disagree? Let's hear it!

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    • Joebeducci profile image


      5 years ago

      To be honest I didn't know all of these books, which one would you recommend most? Greets, Joebeducci

    • agoofyidea profile image


      6 years ago

      I like any book by Dean Karnazes and Born to Run. I haven't read any of these books so I'll have to check them out. Great lens.


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