I have a love-hate relationship with running. It can be dreadfully boring when you’re pounding away on the treadmill but can also be euphoric when you cross the finishing line of a race. I like that it helps me keep fit but I hate the feeling of my lungs bursting when I sprint.
One good way to motivate myself to run is to read books about running. They can be novels or autobiographies but I found that autobiographies are more inspiring for me because they are about what people can do in the real world. When you read about people doing ultra marathons (Scott Jurek), my 5 km run seems pathetic in contrast.
The first running novel I read was Once a Runner by John L. Parker.
Synopsis: This novel is about Quenton Cassidy, a competitive runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong dream is to run a four-minute mile. He is less than a second away when the turmoil of the Vietnam War era intrudes into the staid recesses of his school’s athletic department. After he becomes involved in an athletes’ protest, Cassidy is suspended from his track team.
Under the tutelage of his friend and mentor, Bruce Denton, a graduate student and former Olympic gold medalist, Cassidy gives up his scholarship, his girlfriend, and possibly his future to withdraw to a monastic retreat in the countryside and begin training for the race of his life against the greatest miler in history.
I then went on to read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which is a book that sparked the barefoot running trend and made me switch from thick running shoes to Vibrams.
Synopsis: Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practised techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence.
It was this novel that first introduced me to ultra marathoner Scott Jurek, whom I realised had his own autobiography as well called Eat and Run: My unlikely journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. An ultra marathon can range from anything from 50 km to 160 km (100 miles), which makes me feel like my 5 km races are nothing in comparison. In this book, there was also a lot of interesting discussion about nutrition and how eating unprocessed food and being vegan have helped the author’s performance.
Synopsis: For nearly two decades, Scott Jurek has been a dominant force—and darling—in the grueling and growing sport of ultrarunning. Until recently he held the American 24-hour record and he was one of the elite runners profiled in the runaway bestseller Born to Run.
In Eat and Run, Jurek opens up about his life and career as a champion athlete with a plant-based diet and inspires runners at every level. From his Midwestern childhood hunting, fishing, and cooking for his meat-and-potatoes family to his slow transition to ultrarunning and veganism, Scott’s story shows the power of an iron will and blows apart the stereotypes of what athletes should eat to fuel optimal performance.
Rich Roll’s book Finding Ultra is about triathlons – swimming, running and cycling – and the similarity between him and Scott Jurek is that both of them are vegans. I find that Rich has quite a paleo mindset in that he doesn’t take processed food and is quite aware that there are issues with soy and he avoids eating too much fruit because of the sugar content.
Synopsis: On the eve of his 40th birthday, Rich Roll was in bad shape. His days were filled with work, stress, and junk food, and his nights were spent on the couch, remote in hand. Taking out the trash was the closest he came to exercise, and, at 50 pounds overweight, a walk up the stairs left him winded. He decided it was time to make a change. After undergoing a diet detox, adopting a vegan lifestyle, and pushing his fitness regimen to undreamed-of heights, he was profiled by Men’s Fitness as one of the world’s 25 fittest men. Among Roll’s many jaw-dropping athletic feats: he completed the unprecedented “Epic 5”–five back-to-back Ironman-distance triathlons on five different Hawaiian islands in under a week–an achievement many said was impossible. This is the story of that remarkable transformation, a complete physical and spiritual rejuvenation that proves that anyone can “find ultra” if they know how.
Because I’m a girl, I really enjoy reading books from a female perspective. This led me to the autobiography of Moire O’Sullivan, who wrote Mud, Sweat, and Tears: An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery. This book is interesting because it’s written about mountain racing in the UK. Not only do we get beautiful writing about the joys (and pain) of running, there is also incredible description about the terrain and weather, which makes me really want to visit Ireland and spend a few days camping outdoors.
Synopsis: In July 2008, Moire O’Sullivan made a solo attempt on the Wicklow Round, a gruelling endurance run spanning a hundred kilometres over twenty six of Ireland’s remotest mountain peaks. After twenty one and a half hours she collapsed, two summits from the end. Battered and bruised, yet undeterred, she returned a year later to become the first person ever to complete the Round in less than twenty four hours. “Mud, Sweat, and Tears” is the first book to tell one woman’s story about her passion for mountain running, a passion that has brought her to the heights of some of Ireland’s most impressive mountains and to the depths of her own human limitations.
These are the books I’ve read so far about running and each one of them is excellent. My favourite so far would be Moire O’Sullivan’s book, largely because it’s from a female perspective and also because I fully sympathise with her lack of ability to navigate! Not only do I want to get off my couch and go for a run now, I really want to hike across Irish mountains and spend days in the wilderness.
The next book I plan to read is Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley. I’ve read the preview on Amazon and it looks pretty good. It’s from the point of view of a 30-something woman and isn’t as extreme or competitive as the other books I’ve mentioned. It’s about a sedentary woman getting off the couch and running a few marathons. Yes, it’s less extreme, but it’s also more running than I’ve ever done.
In the end, what I can say is this, in order to feel any joy in running, it’s almost a necessity to get out of the gym and onto the pavement or grass.
There, we run free.