Marathon and Beyond


25 Books Every Marathoner Should Own

by Scott Hubbard

A library that will enhance the marathoning experience while broadening its focus.

© 2001 42K(+) Press, Inc.

Compiling this list was fun but frustrating. While not every book is directly related to marathoning, every marathoner would benefit from reading these selections. My list is a mixture of autobiography, history, instruction, fiction, and expository nonfiction. It pained me to trim many great titles from the list, and you may question some of my choices. That's fine. I used just one rule: one book per author.

My thanks to those who sent in nominations. I hope you'll be inspired, informed, and amused as you live events through the eyes of this diverse set of exciting authors. Enjoy!

1.†Four-Minute Mile (Roger Bannister)
Who better to write about what is regarded as the single greatest running accomplishment, the first sub-4-minute mile, than the man who achieved the feat, Sir Roger Bannister? Although his record was monumental, Bannister thought records were the bare bones of athletics and, "unless given a human touch, they have no life, no appeal." Dr. Bannister, who became an internist of some renown, describes his evolving interest in running, the 1952 Olympic Games, culminating in the historic 3:59.4 and the Empire Games, where he beat new world record holder, John Landy, in the mile. A light trainer with a keen eye for details, Bannister's literary work is equal to his groundbreaking mile. (Lyons & Burford, 1981)

2.†Running Tide (Joan Benoit)
I remember my angst when I heard Joan Benoit had just had knee surgery 17 days before the first Women's Olympic Trials Marathon in 1984. Fast forward to the finish chute in Olympia, Washington, where I stood 10 feet from Joan as she stooped to put her hands on her knees after completing what seemed the impossible just days before—winning the race. Her subsequent Olympic Marathon victory added to her legend. Tide describes how Joan turned to running in high school, her training, her rivals, and how much she treasures the simple things in her life. It's a story about her supportive family, pressures of the public and media, and mostly about her burning desire to excel. (Knopf, 1987)

3.†The Death Valley 300 (Richard Benyo)
It's not possible to imagine the difficulties you might encounter running through Death Valley and up the side of a 14,494-foot mountain. Between the lowest (-282 feet) point in California's Death Valley and the highest, Mt. Whitney, the author provides a detailed look at preparation, suffering, and coping, as well as some history of the area. The world's toughest endurance test requires planning for the penetrating, sapping heat and sun and the oxygen depriving effects of altitude. It's a story of blisters, deteriorating physical states, fluids, sweet rest, flagging spirits and, above all, perseverance. It's a travelogue that will enchant and impress even hardened runners. (Specific Publications, 1991)

4.†Corbitt (John Chodes)
At the age of 50, Ted Corbitt set an age group record for 50 miles, running 5:34:01. In 1964, he wrote a pamphlet describing the procedures to measure running courses. In 1958, the New York physical therapist ran the Boston Marathon in 2:43 despite failing the prerace physical. In 1952, Ted ran in the Helsinki Olympic Marathon for the United States. In the late 1950s, Ted was instrumental in the conception and organization of the Road Runners Club of America. Ted remains durable, active, and accomplished several decades later. John tells Ted's story with detail and feeling; each page draws you in deeper. (Tafnews 1978)

5.†Daniels' Running Formula (Jack Daniels)
Responsible for much of the research into running exercise physiology in the last 30 years, Daniels is deservedly regarded as the foremost authority in his field. The book provides programs, principles, and examples designed to answer the questions of runners of all abilities. Great care was taken to anticipate and answer all questions related to training, from shoe choice to altitude training, time off/rest, determining an appropriate training program, weather factors, and everything in between. Daniels interprets the science of running into workable, plain English. (Human Kinetics, 1998)

6.†Self-Made Olympian (Ron Daws)
Before Sinatra was singing, "I did it my way," Daws was busy studying training methods and other factors affecting racing success. The lessons he learned eventually led this man of average talent to American records and a spot on the 1968 U.S. Olympic marathon team. The Minnesota man learned that what works for one person may not work for another. He leaned heavily on the words of Arthur Lydiard and recognized the importance of determination, persistence, and ingenuity. Daws was a shoe cobbler/tinkerer, wore heavy clothes in hot weather to prepare for the heat, and understood, very well indeed, how altitude affected race strategy. (World Publications, 1977)

7.†Marathon (Clarence DeMar)
Published in 1937, Marathon is the autobiography of Clarence DeMar, who between 1911 and 1930, won the Boston Marathon seven times and finished second twice. Also a three-time Olympic marathoner, DeMar gives page after page about his further races and accomplishments. DeMar prided himself on his family, job, and work with young people. "One point of my philosophy of life has been never to let running interfere with my daily work," he wrote. Marathon is a simple, honest reflection of DeMar's outlook on life and a mixture of running history and insight. So many years later, we can still learn and be inspired by DeMar's example. (Stephen Daye Press, 1937)

8.†Boston Marathon (Tom Derderian)
A massive and absorbing narrative, Boston Marathon is the much-praised effort of Derderian, himself a top runner and authority on the world's premier footrace. Twice a winner at Boston, Joan Benoit had this to say about Derderian's book: "Derderian's knack for describing competitors' personalities, styles, and careers is extraordinary." The book is divided by decades with comments about events surrounding the times with the annual race descriptions following. Boston is about the people, passions, changing ideas about training, women in running, and professionalism. This book is an epic piece of work. (2nd edition, Human Kinetics, 1996)

9.†Galloway's Book on Running (Jeff Galloway)
This is the bestselling book on running of all time because in its 275 pages there's something for every level runner. Jeff delivers his instruction in a conversational "you can do it" style. To say it's a thorough how-to text isn't enough; the self-tested tips and info are fundamental building blocks that can serve as reference points, motivation, or measured experimenting. With each recommendation is the explanation behind it. The programs and concepts Jeff advances are designed to help all runners with emphasis on keeping running in perspective, pain at a minimum, and gradual improvements coming on a regular basis. Nothing is outdated in this book, which was first published in 1984. (Shelter Publications, 1984)

10.†The Olympian (Brian Glanville)
Published in 1969, this tale is of the intense and evolving relationship between a drifting, mediocre athlete, Ike Low, and a veteran, odd-yet-conscientious coach, Sam Dee. Set in England, this is a story as much about the rich details of athletics as it is about perseverance, working through discomfort, and success with all of its trappings and excess. The fictional account traces the reactions and thoughts of its characters in intimate detail on every page. We feel as they do, experience their pain and indecision, the tensions, and the efforts. Intertwined with the track theme is symbolism that raises the level of writing to exceptional general literature. (Coward, McCann & Coeghegan, 1969)

11.†The Long Run Solution (Joe Henderson)
There are any number of deserving books to pick from this prolific Runner's World columnist. I've selected his eighth book to recommend for its devotion to our theme: running long. "What is important about the marathon is that it's a goal which changes people's lives. Other long runs don't have the power to do that." Joe explores the questions of how much, when, where, and why with ample examples and illustrations drawn from his experience and the experiences of others. His style is deft and clear, his vision broad and revealing. The beauties and benefits of running receive royal treatment at his hands. (World Publications, 1976)

12.†On the Run From Dogs and People (Hal Higdon)
The author is a well-traveled runner and speaker with loads of awards, titles, and fast times to his credit spread out over 50 years. The book was first published in 1971, a rare nugget of insight into distance running in those days. Revised in 1979 (and again in 1995 by his own Roadrunner Press), Higdon devotes 17 chapters to topics as diverse as a runner ticketed for jayrunning, an examination of enigmatic dogs, marathon frustration and success, extraordinary University of Chicago Track Club man Ted Haydon, running with a son, racewalking, and how to become a hometown hero. Hal has been a writer for Runner's World since its inception and has also written for Sports Illustrated and The Runner. At times lighthearted, other times poignant and enlightening, Dogs is a longtime favorite of mine. (Henry Regnery Co., 1971)

13.†Thirty Phone Booths From Boston (Don Kardong)
Drawing on his experiences as a top level runner and 1976 Olympic marathoner (4th place), Kardong moves with ease from describing the world of elite athletes to comparing his different running experiences to an old Buick and a crab toilet seat. Like Mark Twain, whom Don has been compared to, Kardong writes with a light touch yet probing style, casting his characters and topics in ways that reveal strengths and weaknesses, serious and funny sides, and irreverent and moving anecdotes. Every chapter has a terrific quote, but none is better than "without ice cream there would be chaos and darkness." The title refers to the time Don called 30 phone booths along the Boston Marathon route in an attempt to keep up with the progress of the race. (McMillan, 1979)

14.†Young At Heart (Fred Lewis)
We can't separate Johnny A. Kelley's spirit from his odds-defying staying power or his growing legend from his athletic prowess bridging six decades. Now past 90, Kelley remains the crowd favorite at the Boston Marathon, a race he won twice (1935 and 1945) and where he took second place an amazing seven times between 1934 and 1946. The story picks up in high school, detailing the difficult conditions of the Depression era and following Johnny's fleet feet through the Army and WWII, the 1948 U.S. Olympic Marathon, and his epic 60th Boston Marathon in 1991. Look no further than this tale for inspiration, history, and an appreciation for Irish pluck and longevity. (WRS Publishing, 1992)

15.†Run to the Top (Arthur Lydiard)
Published in 1962, this book on training has been recommended and praised by many influential followers of the sport. A fine runner in New Zealand, Lydiard experimented with different training methods, essentially learning by doing in his mid-20s. Two important ingredients fueled his tests and trials: he loved to run and he wanted to improve. Others tried out his new ideas and found success. Both coach Lydiard and his athletes carried out the evolving and demanding workouts, refining ideas over time. A good number of Lydiard-coached runners competed in and medaled at Olympic Games. His basic principles have stood the test of time and remain influential today. (Jenkins, 1962)

16.†The Olympic Marathon (David Martin and Roger Gynn)
Hats off to Martin and Gynn, the acknowledged experts in the field of marathon history, for authoring such a compelling text on the Olympic Marathon. Readers are treated to details of every race since its 1896 inception, including bios, race stories, illustrations, and the politics that shaped each one. Sidebars featuring miscellaneous info, highlights, course maps, and rare photos add color and perspective, and all-important innovations and trends are noted with each race chapter. The event that epitomizes the Olympic spirit best is thoroughly captured here. (Human Kinetics, 2000)

17.†Best Efforts (Kenny Moore)
It does say a lot to call this the best book ever written on running, runners, and racing, but who would argue? A former two-time U.S. Olympic marathoner, Moore does an exquisite job of putting his topics in perspective with insightful comments and well-crafted visuals. Efforts contains 19 chapters about some of the sport's biggest names and events over 10 years (starting in 1972). Every story is told eloquently with an eye for the story behind the surface. We are lucky that Moore has been a Sports Illustrated staff writer since 1981—he pours care and passion into his subjects. (Doubleday, 1982)

18.†A Cold, Clear Day (Frank Murphy)
In the early 1960s, the American public knew little about distance running or the marathon. In 1960, Buddy Edelen traveled to Finland in search of a 10K qualifying time to make the U.S. Olympic team. That plan fell through, but Edelen remained in England to take a teaching job. The former Big Ten star joined a local club and resumed his training and racing career. Buddy employed Fred Wilt (former U.S. national champion) as a coach, and in 1963 set a world record in England for the marathon in 2:14. Tough and talented, Edelen's injuries curtailed greater things. Little known in the United States, he remains a rare American marathon world record holder. (Wild Spring Press, 1992)

19.†Lore of Running (Tim Noakes)
Checking in at just over 700 pages, Lore is the most comprehensive of all books on running. We see the work of a scientist, as Noakes is, on every page with chapters devoted to physiology, training, history, and health and medical considerations. Even the introduction runs long and adds measurably to what follows. Where other training books may leave off, Lore fills in the gaps with plenty of illustrations and examples. Of interest are 100 pages on the training of elite athletes covering 125 years—with 20 pages given to the underappreciated contributions of Arthur Newton. (3rd edition, Human Kinetics, 1991)

20.†Ultramarathoning (Tom Osler and Ed Dodd)
The first 164 pages (written by Dodd) are an extensive, exhaustive look at six-day races held at the turn of the century. Curious and intrigued by accounts of these early "pedestrian" events, the authors present the characters, views, and details peculiar to the times. The second 112 pages (written by Osler) are given to the training methods for races beyond marathon in distance. A master at learning by doing, Osler overcame a seven-year layoff following his first 50-mile race to achieve successful and less taxing completion of numerous ultras. Before Galloway popularized mixing walking breaks with running, Osler had discovered its physiological benefits. (World Publications, 1978)

21.†Once A Runner (John Parker)
Parker's book is the standard by which all other books on running fiction are measured. A fine runner in his own right, Parker accurately describes what motivates a focused runner while knitting together a nice story around the main character, Quenton Cassidy. Many of the names mentioned are drawn from real life, and several of the other characters suspiciously resemble contemporaries of Parker. We're introduced to a variety of people who influence Cassidy, including a love interest, who keeps the story flowing and hard to put down. A quick glimpse: "Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free." (Cedarwinds Publishing, 1978)

22.†Heroes and Sparrows (Roger Robinson)
Drawing on a 30-year career where he represented both England and New Zealand internationally, Robinson, a professor of English literature in New Zealand, eloquently shares his views on 32 topics all over the running landscape. The title piece makes the vital and simple point that "winners have no monopoly on incentive or satisfaction, and runners know better than anyone that the heroes and the sparrows are really equal." There's a fun piece on "sausage" training, a refreshing look at masters running that balances experience, perspective, and impressions both personal and historical. This is running literature at its best. (Southwestern Publishing, 1986)

23.†Running With the Legends (Michael Sandrock).
A book describing the training and exploits of 21 of the greatest-ever runners would be dry reading if it didn't also capture some of the human frailties, concerns, and conditions that everybody can relate to and which helped shape the athletes Sandrock knows well and writes about. A snippet from Olympic marathoner Kenny Moore's foreword: "Here is compelling inspiration, ferocious racing, vital history, fascinating personality, and essential training lore." We're introduced to unique sides of athletes like Keino, Shorter, Waitz, Coe, de Castella, Benoit-Samuelson, and Pippig. Here is insight and detail that breathes life into the headline names. (Human Kinetics, 1996)

24.†Meditations From the Breakdown Lane (James Shapiro)
Many have walked, raced, and run across the United States, and a few have kept journals or written books on their adventures, but none share their views with as discerning an eye as Shapiro. Little escapes the New York ultramarathoner's gaze as he takes 80 days to cover the 3,026 miles from California to New York in 1980. Except for Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming, the 34-year-old ran solo, carrying what he needed, sleeping where he could. More than a book about things seen, it's also about things felt: fatigue, boredom, physical pain, and loneliness. Meditations is a superb travelogue. (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)

25.†Dr. Sheehan on Running (George Sheehan)
I'd be smart to fill this space with George's quotes, comments, and observations because he describes so well the things runners experience. This was his first book, which followed a return to running in his mid-40s and several years writing medical/training columns for his hometown newspaper and Runner's World. George knew his medicine, felt athletes knew more about their aches and problems than doctors did, and was the greatest of modern-day running philosophers. A sample: " . . . sport is not a test but a therapy, not a trial but a reward, not a question but an answer." George got us thinking and examining our sport, enlightening us as he went. (World Publications, 1975)

So, there they are: 25 best bets for runners who like to read. I encourage you to check these books out for their sheer entertainment quality, inspiration, and insights into our favorite subject. Once you get reading, let me know which ones you like. You can reach me at runningshorts@aol.com.

Note: I'd especially like to thank Ed Kozloff of the Motor City Striders for access to his exceptional library of running books.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2001 issue of Marathon & Beyond. For information about reprinting or excerpting this article or any other M & B article, contact Jan Seeley via email or at 217-359-9345.


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Last update: January 30, 2001
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