ARTICLE: Talking books

Apart from running itself, there are few things more enjoyable to me than a good book. I have a long-standing agreement with myself always to have one non-running book and one running-book “on the go” so to keep things nuanced and not face academic oblivion and excessive single-mindedness by only focusing on running.

This, however, is a running Blog, so as I was filling up our new bookshelf which Aoife purchased for the house in Glendalough, it was hard not to think of a “Best of Running” books as my collection of these books filled a full shelf until the wood started creaking...

Best Running Books

You need categories even within the subgenre of running books to compare apples with apples (or at least fruit with fruit): On the one hand you have the “story books” (not usually fiction, although they could be) such as “Feet in the Clouds” and “Running with the Buffaloes” and on the other the actual training books (such as “Lore of Running” and “The Competitive Runners Handbook”).

Best Stories

While this always changes, my current top 5 would include:

  1. Born to Run: The current rave but the characters are unusually hilarious, the pages turn non-stop and the story is well-written
  2. Feet in the Clouds – A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession: My first “love” between running books and still the best fell-running book out there
  3. Running with the Buffaloes: Although marred by bad language and some poor writing, I was captivated by the life of the CU cross-country team
  4. From Last to First: The story of Charlie Spedding is written in a simple no-nonsense way but takes you through a runner’s life like few other books
  5. Survival of the Fittest: A remarkable tour-de-force across science, the world, and the limits of human endeavour

Books that fell short for me but deserve mention:

  1. Joss: As a runner I would have liked more about the runner and less about the man. But the production and writing are of the finest quality.
  2. Arthur Lydiard – Master Coach: A Lydiard-followers must-read. Interesting and illuminating yet leaves you wanting more
  3. The Perfect Distance: Who thought track could be this scintillating. A great tale about a great rivalry, yet devoid of a climax
  4. Barefoot Runner: The true story of Abebe Bekele may stray from the running genre for long spells but the serious tale of Ethiopia’s troubled past is brought to life well
  5. Ultra-marathon Man: While being a skeptic regarding the magnitude of Karnazes’ achievements, the prose is abrasive and funny, the story interesting throughout

Books, I’d struggle to read again:

  1. Haile – The Greatest: One long praise of the admittedly great man. Repetitive and superficial and missing Haile’s marathon career
  2. Wild Trails and Far Horizons: A unique view into some unique ultra-challenges but the prose is too rich and the narrative structure too chaotic
  3. Duel in the Sun: The Boston Marathon duel is a fantastic story but the non-running sections plod along
  4. Paula – My Story So Far: Great runner and great tales but more of a gossip-tale than a running book. A women’s favourite allegedly!
  5. Running High – Hugh Symonds traverse stands as one of the greatest ultra fell running feats but lack of concision kills the experience in this mammoth tale
There are more books worthy of mention here that didn't make either list for different reasons. Every Irishman deserves to read "The Irishman that Run for England" about the strong-minded Olympic medallist Jim Cregan (known as Hogan or the "Mad Irishman"). Crusaders would want to get Ronnie Delaney's "Staying the Distance". Eamonn Coghlan's "Master of the Mile, Chairman of the Boards" apparently is one to avoid, but let's talk future books in later instalments...

Join me again tomorrow for a look at training books…

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