I’m a person who does best with a project. Even when those projects become too big and completely overwhelming, I’d more often rather be doing something than not. I don’t rest very well. I rarely remain idle. I like time by myself to be sure, but I do best when that time is structured and productive. I’m really good at exhausting myself, and less good at doing nothing to recover.
So as I finished my last big endeavor, and people began to ask what I was going to do with my new-found “free time,” it perhaps surprised to no one that I began to share that I planned to train for a marathon. To be honest, this marathon might be a bad idea. The weather has not yet turned spring-like, and I will have to train in 1/2 the time that I did when I ran marathons in both 2013 and 2014. But I was asked to run by a friend who’s doing her bucket list, once in a lifetime marathon. And after some soul-searching, I realized I had that unshakeable reason that could see me through the 11 weeks, and eventual 26.2 miles I will need to endure. So, ill-advised or otherwise, the marathon is on.
The hardest part of a marathon is not the physical demand as much as it is the mental challenge of convincing your body that it can keep going. Training your brain is as important as training your body, though I think it’s often harder to train the brain because there isn’t a nice training schedule with intervals and miles and times to check off and measure the progress you’re making. Training the brain requires a shift in attitude and thinking. It requires the voice in your head to sometimes shut off and sometimes act as cheerleader.
A sports psychologist would probably have many different strategies and exercises to help facilitate this kind of mental fortitude, but in the absence of a psychologist, I take to reading what other runner’s have to say about running. There’s something about knowing that I’m not the only one that sometimes cheats on a long run, something about understanding how other runners push past the wall, something about learning why other runs do what they do and run how they run, that helps my mental capacity for training and, ultimately, endurance. When I first started running, I read books about runners to make me feel like part of the club. Now that I’ve been a runner for a while, I read books about running to keep me motivated, and better understand how to keep my drive alive. I revisit and reread my runner books probably more than any other books on my shelves, and the first thing I did when my friend decided to do her bucket list marathon, was send her the book that a friend sent me when I decided to run my first marathon.
Whether you’re a veteran runner looking to revel in the spirit of the sport, a newbie looking for some inspiration to get you going, or a casual observer who better wants to understand why anyone would go through all the effort to lace up their shoes and pound the pavement mile after mile, here’s my go-to runner’s reading list. From training tips to inspirational personal stories, there’s a little bit of everything to get you up off the couch, and moving towards your next (or first!) starting line!
What I talk about when I talk about running: A Memoir – Haruki Murakami
In the early 80s, after deciding to pursue writing full-time, Haruki Murakami began running for fitness, eventually completing the infamous route between Athens and Marathon in Greece. Years later, after dozens of races including marathons, triathlons and adventure courses, Murakami reflects on the influence running has had on his life, relationships, work, and writing. Part travelogue, part training account, part personal journal, his memoir focuses specifically on the four months he spent training for the 2005 New York City Marathon. Full of personal anecdotes that will appeal not only to runners, but also readers of Murakami’s other writing, What I talk about when I talk about running is a deeply personal look at the power of running to change the course of a life, and about finding oneself in the spirit of the sport!
To be a Runner: How racing up mountains, running with the bulls, or just taking on a 5K makes you a better person and the world a better place – Martin Dugard
If you’re already a runner and want to read a book cheerleading your efforts, this is your pick! I first read To be a Runner after my first half marathon, and it was like one giant pep talk winding me up to get to my next starting line. If you’ve been running for a while, there are likely some parts to Dugard’s story and experiences you’ll disagree with. For example, I’ve never liked his advice not to high-five the little kids that line the up the side of the road for marathons. Personally, I think that’s half the fun of it! However, as a lifelong runner and advocate for sport, Dugard does a lot to highlight the virtues of committing to training, pushing oneself to beat personal goals, and overcoming the mental hurdles that every person, let alone runner, comes up against. Full of heartwarming anecdotes from his experiences running and coaching To be a Runner will either make you feel good about the running you do, or feel good about lacing up those shoes for the first time.
The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer – David Whitsett
This was the book that a friend first sent to me when I said I was going to run my first marathon, and the book I sent to my friend who is running her bucket list race. Based on a college class designed to turn anyone into a marathon runner, the book includes a twenty week training plan, split into twenty chapters that talk through not only what the training should look like, but also what the physical and mental challenges of training will look and feel like at every stage. This was not the training plan I used for either of my marathons, but I did appreciate the other parts of the chapters, the stories that talked about other marathon runners getting past the challenges of training and tips on avoiding mental and physical pitfalls. Though my current marathon plan is only 11 weeks, I’ve gone back to this book for training perspective once again, and reassurance that the suffering is all worth it in the end.
The Non-Runner’s Marathon Guide for Women – Dawn Dais
Whereas David Whitsett’s book feels a bit heavy and “important,” Dawn Dais writes an honest and much more humorous account of what it’s like for a true couch to marathon runner to conquer 26.2 miles. This book has a training plan included in it as well, and though I personally can’t attest to its success rate, it looks pretty legitimate as far as the work and miles required to get you to the necessary race distance. More interesting is Dais’s perspective in changing her mindset from someone who avoided taking the stairs to someone who was going to run a marathon. Her story is raw and genuine, and she takes a no holds barred approach to revealing the nitty-gritty parts of marathon training she wishes someone would have shared with her: chafing, starving at all hours of the day, blisters, and sweat…everywhere sweat. This is probably the funniest running book I’ve ever read, and will entertain runners and non-runners alike!