Three Good Books About Running

Here are three books that have been instrumental in helping me understand what running is and what it can be.

Running and Being: The Total Experience, by George Sheehan

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In 1980, when I started running, this book was my bible. It was first published in 1978, and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Joe Henderson of Runner’s World once said of it, “George set the standard… a genuine classic.This should be mandatory reading for any athlete looking for answers to the game of life.”

Sheehan isn’t very popular now. His writing is deep, introspective, and philosophical, and doesn’t lend itself well to the current passions for personal bests and running by the numbers. Not that Sheehan wasn’t competitive – in fact, he often seems elitist and driven to me. I don’t think he was an easy man to live with – he often comes across as old-fashioned and curmudgeonly – but he was a deep thinker and a really good writer.

“Running and Being’ is full of searching reflections on the human condition and full of elegant observations of what Sheehan called “the world the other side of sweat,” a space where, if we look honestly at what we’re doing, we’re able to discover who we really are.

It’s almost impossible to find “Running and Being” in bookstores these days, so you’ll have to order it online here.

Slow Burn : Burn Fat Faster by Exercising Slower, by Stuart Mittleman

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“Slow Burn” is all about running slowly. It details specific training, food choices, and mindset strategies that maximize energy, performance, and the ability to remain alert, focused, and productive for extended periods of time. Mittlreman extols the virtues of training one’s body to burn fat, thereby reducing the body’s acidity and toxicity. It’s got a lot of good insights for anyone who’s into (or wants to get into) endurance running.

Mittleman is also a disciple of Anthony Robbins, though, so there’s some annoying (to me, anyway) “rah, rah, I want you to be the best you can be” guff in the book. You may get off on that. I don’t, so I simply let it go by.

Mittleman’s endurance running cred is good. In 1986, he set a world record for the 1,000 mile run of 11 days and 20 hours. In 1994, he became the first and only American ever to win the prestigious 6-day race in La Rochelle, France. In 2000, Mittleman ran 3,000 miles, from San Diego to New York City, in 56 days.

I found this book really helpful in teaching me about the roles of glucose and fats in fueling endurance running. Mittleman also offers some very useful visualization exercises for long distance runs. His writing style can be a bit of chore, especially compared to the literary mastery of George Sheehan.

You can find “Slow Burn” in most chain and independent bookstores, or here.

Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall

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A remarkable book! It’s a good enough adventure story that even non-runners should read it, but it’s a “must read” for all runners and aspiring runners. Without a word of exaggeration, this book will likely change the way you think of running.

“Why does my foot hurt?” Christopher McDougall started with that simple question, and found the answer among Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians. They, and a motley crew of other fascinating characters, helped McDougall learn why everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

It’s a great read, partly because McDougall’s a really good writer. He is, after all, a former war correspondent for the Associated Press, and is now a contributing editor for Men’s Health magazine. He’s a three-time National Magazine Award finalist, and he’s written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Men’s Journal, and New York. But it’s also a great read because it makes you think about running, about why you run and – even more importantly – how you run.

Be warned! This is one of those books that might change your life. Literally.

Thank heaven, “Born to Run” is easy to find. Any decent bookstore should have it in stock.

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2 comments

  1. I want to add a book Alan – it’s called Duel in the Sun which covers two basic subjects. The famous 1982 Boston Marathon battle between Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar and also the lives of each and the profound centerpiece that the race played in each man’s life. I loved Born to Run – but I loved this book even more (read it two already and I’m sure I’ll be back for a third).

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