If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s my list of the best ultra running books. Many of these ultrarunning books have inspired me to push myself further, both in running and in life. Some I have read in paper form, others I have listened to whilst running on Audible. As always, please share your thoughts and any suggestions in the comments below.
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The Most Inspirational running books
Can’t Hurt Me
Author: David Goggins
Best For: Inspiring you to get out and train harder
Can’t Hurt Me is the incredible story of ex Navy Seal David Goggins. It’s a wonderfully inspirational memoir about overcoming the odds, perseverance and determination. Over the past few years, It is also the book I have most gifted from the best ultra running books list to my friends and family. Again, it’s not just a running book. Goggins outlines his drive to progress from a life of mediocrity and obscurity to a life of fulfilment and achievement, which can be applied to almost anything in life.
I first came across David Goggins in ‘Living with a Seal’, a book by Jesse Itzler. Jesse Itzler, an entrepreneur and ultra runner himself, hires Goggins to train him for 31 Days. His objective is to push himself outside his comfort zone. The result is an eye opening and sometimes hilarious regime designed by Goggins that takes Itzler way beyond his comfort zone. Goggins’ identity as the Navy Seal was shrouded in secrecy at the time, but was later revealed online.
NOTE: If you only read one of the books from my list, this is the one!
In Can’t Hurt Me, Goggins shares his life story, from a childhood of poverty and abuse to becoming the elite of the elite in the US Armed Forces, and later a top endurance ultra athlete.
Goggins highlights what is possible in life if we focus on a goal, push past pain, and reach for more. He instills that belief that I personally subscribe to that: ‘anything is possible if you put your mind to it’.
I challenge you to read this book and not get up the next day and run further, faster or harder.
Author: Phil Knight
Best For: Aspiring business owners
Shoe Dog is a memoir by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, and whilst it’s not not strictly a running book, it is a wonderful story, and makes it onto my most inspiring list.
Shoe Dog is the story of Phil Knight’s journey founding Nike. It is an honest and open account of the struggles and successes that he experienced along the way. From idea to forming a billion dollar company. This book provides a unique and insightful look into the inner workings of a successful startup business.
Knight’s memoir provides valuable lessons for entrepreneurs that I believe can be related to running, including the importance of hard work, perseverance, and risk-taking. He also offers a fascinating look at the early days of the sportswear industry, when he and his competitors were first starting to experiment with new technologies and marketing strategies.
If you’re starting your own company or are looking for some inspiration to motivate you on those long runs, it’s a very honest and revealing story of the passion, drive and determination required to start and successfully grow a global business.
Best Books for practical Running advice
Relentless Forward Progress
Author: Byron Powell
Best For: Training essentials and practical advice for long distance running
In Relentless Forward Progress veteran ultra runner Byron Powell includes training plans, strategies and practical advice on ultra running. As a newbie to ultra marathon running a more experienced friend advised it as a good catch all book.
Byron Powell created the trail running and ultra marathon site: iRunFar.com, and is an experienced ultra runner himself. Relentless Forward Progress is included in my best ultra running books list, as a great starting point for someone new to the sport, looking for simple and easy to digest advice. I found the training plans a little heavy on mileage and light on speed, but it’s a good introductory ultra marathon training book that can be adapted to suit your requirements.
For more tips on ultra running, read my ultra running race tips.
Sky Runner – Finding Strength, Happiness & Balance in your running
Author: Emelie Forsberg
Best For: Trail & Mountain Runners with practical advice on training, fitness, strength & nutrition
Emelie Forsberg is a world champion mountain runner. In Sky Runner, she tells her own story about how she got into trail running and became one of the world’s best mountain runners, and a four-time, back-to-back Sky Runner World Series champion.
The book is autobiographical, Forsberg is the ultimate adventure woman. She covers her upbringing and love for skiing and the mountains and shares some of the hard-earned wisdom she has acquired throughout her years of running. These include practical advise on: her training to maintain and improve her fitness, her diet and nutrition, how to recover from injury physically and mentally, and the exercises she undertakes every day to maintain and improve her strength. The hardback version is also visually stunning, with photos from ultra great: Kilian Jornet.
‘Run Often! Run Far! Run Short! Run Fast! Run Slow! But Never Run Away From the Joy of Running!’Emelie Forsberg
I haven’t met anyone who has read the book and not liked it. It is written with such passion and joy, making you feel like you are sitting in Forsberg’s apartment listening to her tell her stories.
Overall, Sky Runner is an excellent read for anyone who loves trail running and/or the outdoors. I would highly recommend it!
Best FOR Middle Age Transformation
Author: Rich Roll
Best For: Transformation, and moving to a plant based diet
Finding Ultra is the inspirational account of Rich Roll, that is as much about transformation as about becoming an ultra runner. The book follows Roll’s midlife transformation from an overweight, desk-based, alcoholic to becoming a clean living, plant eating super fit ultra athlete.
As someone on the wrong side of 40, it’s inspiring to read what is possible with focus and attention. What struck me most was Roll’s single minded pursuit of clean living, and has really made me question my diet. Now a successful podcaster, Roll is a huge advocate of eradicating processed food, in favour of a plant based diet. As he says, if you look at the label of the food you’re buying and you can’t pronounce the ingredients… you shouldn’t be putting it in your body. Now that’s food for thought.
Best for understanding the history of running & unearthing Your Inner Kenyan
The Rise of the Ultra Runners
Author: Adharanand Finn
Best For: Understanding the history of ultra endurance running
Adharanand Finn looks into the world of the ultra running world, in this excellent read, and makes his own personal journey from ultra novice to fully fledged endurance runner.
Once the reserve of hardcore ‘unhinged’ enthusiasts, ultra running is now one of the fastest growing participation sports. In The Rise of the Ultra Runners, Finn looks at the history of ultra running to the more mainstream mass events of today. In so doing, he meets some of the enthusiasts and top athletes, and participates in a number of the biggest ultra marathons.
I listened to the book on Audible during lockdown whilst running over the South Downs. It’s an excellent insight into this wonderful sport. If you’re into running, and have an inkling you might like to go further than 26.2 miles, it will most likely have you planning your first 50 miler by the end!
Born to Run
Author: Christopher McDougall
Best For: Transforming to minimalist running shoes
Originally published in 2009, Born to Run by Chris McDougall is a true story about the author’s adventures into Mexico to learn about the little known Tarahumara tribe. Famed for their super athletic prowess, the Tarahumara are able to cover incredible distances over multiple days on just a plant based diet, wearing nothing but sandals on their feet. They are able to do this thanks to their incredibly strong ligaments and tendons, which allow them to absorb the shock of running on hard surfaces for extended periods of time.
It was the first running book I can remember that seemed to take ultra running into a mainstream audience.
At the time, Born to Run courted controversy by linking cushioned Nike shoes to the heel strike running style, and related injuries, which in turn required more cushioning. McDougall also documented his own journey in converting to minimalist running shoes after seeing the amazing abilities of the Tarahumara.
As a result, the book led to an explosion of new minimalist running shoes, such as Vibram, and in my case an achilles problem. It turns out that the transformation from a cushioned sole to a minimalist shoe can’t be achieved overnight.
Running with the Kenyans
Author: Adharanand Finn
Best For: Understanding what it takes to be the best
Another book by Adharanand Finn, Running with the Kenyans focuses on exploring how Kenyan culture and history has lead to them dominating distance races not only across the world but also at the Olympics; winning gold medals, setting records and winning world titles.
It’s well-researched, mixing interviews, research and personal experiences to back up his claims. In the book he travels to Kenya to uncover the secrets of Kenya’s long distance running domination. Finn moves his family to the town of Iten for 6 months, immersing himself in the local Kenyan running scene; training, living and eating with aspiring elite athletes.
One of the main things that comes across throughout the book is just how much Kenya’s runners love running. From a young age, they are taught the importance of running and its benefits to both their health and their country. Even the poorest Kenyans will find ways to run; whether it’s dodging cars and buses on their way to school, running up hills or joining a club.
There’s a real sense of community among the runners too. Finn talks about how he was welcomed into the group and quickly made friends, who would help him with everything from training tips to where to find the best food.
If you’ve ever wondered why Kenya dominates long distance running, this book goes someway to uncovering the reasons.
Have I missed a classic? Does your list of look very different? Please share your thoughts on the above and include your own personal recommendations in the comments below. Happy running!