Want to start running or already logging miles? These are the best books about running for when you need a motivation boost.

By Amanda Parrish Morgan
Updated October 31, 2018
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In those golden weeks when the oppressive humidity of summer has lifted but the temperature hasn’t yet dipped below freezing, runners seem to come out of hibernation, taking to the streets logging miles in preparations for local 5ks or major marathons in cities from Chicago to New York. With its simultaneous technical simplicity (even non-runners have run) and figurative richness, long distance running is an iconic fall sport.

Whether you’re new to the sport or already regularly hitting the pavement, these five books about running are as varied in style and tone as runners are in speed. Read on for some motivation.

Cover of Late Air, by Jaclyn Gilbert
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon.com

Late Air, by Jaclyn Gilbert

Gilbert’s debut novel is the story of a marriage told from both the husband and wife’s perspectives. The husband is a collegiate cross country coach, dedicated to the point of obsession. As the novel unfolds, we see how the single-minded discipline so often associated with long-distance runners can both be a means of avoiding and ultimately confronting pain. Gilbert herself ran NCAA Division I cross country and the novel is the most accurate to the sport we’ve read, yet is so much more emotionally complex.

To buy: $15, amazon.com.

Cover of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon.com

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe

This novel has become a sort of informal mantra of introverted and socially awkward distance runners everywhere (it has even been the inspiration for a few indie rock songs), but the protagonist of his 1959 story is not the angsty, scrawny high school boy that the phrase brings to mind. The protagonist, Smith, finds running while enrolled at a British high school for delinquents as punishment for stealing. There, running becomes a means of both literal and figurative transformation.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

Cover of Running: A Love Story, by Jen A. Miller
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon.com

Running: A Love Story, by Jen A. Miller

Miller’s memoir details her evolving relationship with running from her first 5k to completing the New Jersey Marathon in 2013, the spring after Hurricane Sandy devastated her hometown on the shore. She uses that particular race to organize the book and intersperses reflection on that one race with broader reflection on the evolution of the central relationships of her 20s and 30s. Ultimately, she sees that her relationship with running has changed too: from something she viewed as punitive for a “bad” night of eating to something restorative and central to her identity.

To buy: $12, amazon.com.

Cover of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon.com

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

There’s something about fall that makes many of us long for the simple and repetitive nature of a solo long run. In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami blends reflection on writing, training, and purposefulness. This book is about running, of course, but it’s also about the ways that repeatedly committing to a physical act can change the way we think in a broader way. Murakami, a former smoker and Jazz club owner, writes about finding a way to a deeper writing life through the reflection and discipline running made possible.

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

Cover of Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon.com

Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor

Kastor is perhaps best known for her third-place finish in the 2004 Olympic Marathon, but she still holds a variety of national records in cross country, track, and road racing. Let Your Mind Run is in part, a sports memoir—the story of the training and racing that comprised her storied career—but it’s as much a reflection on cultivating gratitude in daily life. Kastor makes an interesting distinction between positive thinking and gratitude, and her memories of her career are imbued with the latter. She remembers learning to think of tired legs as a blessing that indicated she was getting stronger or a brutally windy training run as a reminder of nature’s beauty. Her desire to find and express gratitude is applicable to life well-beyond running.

To buy: $19, amazon.com.