Motivational Running Reads

She is too fond of books, and it has turned he...
Today we’ll help you find some great running reads in the big ol’ pile o’ books!  (Photo credit: discoluxxx)

After a heavy week and a half or so of discussing Hurricane Sandy and the New York Marathon and now in the wake of the presidential election, I say it’s the perfect time to discuss something a little lighter. That’s why I’m focusing on the running books that I think are the most motivational. These books are great not only because they will inspire you to get out and run and really go for it, but also to become better people all around. Who doesn’t need to read something like that?! All the books that made my list make me want to go out and accomplish things – anything, really – just to grab life by the horns and DO IT!

So without further ado, Cilantro’s Top 6 Motivational Running Reads!

Cover of "Paula: My Story So Far"
Cover of Paula: My Story So Far

1. Paula: My Story So Far by Paula Radcliffe

Paula is one of the greatest female runners of our time, and her autobiography is authentic and motivating – she tells about her life, beginning with her childhood, and she tells about disappointments, injuries, and sucesses, all without sounding self-aggrandizing or self-pitying. Totally amazing.

2. Second Wind by Cami Ostman

I adored this book – Cami details her journey after her divorce towards self-discovery and learning how to love and be herself. Running is part of that journey, but I found myself identifying with her about so much – I think we all have a struggle at some point in our life to live authentically, and Second Wind details Cami’s journey. It motivated me to run (at whatever speed I was comfortable running) but also to pursue my dreams!

Buy it on

3. Running For Women by Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher at the 2009 Boston Marathon.
Kara Goucher at the 2009 Boston Marathon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I loved this book – not just because I think Goucher is an amazing woman and runner, but because it was a super-easy read. The book flows naturally, integrating running tips and “how-to’s” including race training plans with Kara’s story! She talks about injury (candidly and how she responded by eating boxes of cereal, to which I totally related) – and has “Quotes I Love” sections in every chapter that introduced me to some other runners as well. Kara is honest and seems totally approachable and normal, other then the whole being able to run super fast for a long time thing.

4. Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes

I was pretty determined NOT to like Dean Karnazes and Ultramarathon Man, but as I read about Dean and his determination and honesty and devotion to his family, I was totally inspired. So inspired that I also purchased and read his second and third books. Dean might come across as arrogant in interviews, but in his books he seems sincere, hard-working, and remarkable. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be as fit as Dean, but I can honestly say that he motivated me to do an Ultra – something that all the other “Ultra” marathoner biographies haven’t been able to do.

5. The Long Run by Matt Long

This story details Long’s journey back from a biking accident (he was literally run over by a bus) to complete the New York City marathon. His injuries were so severe that he couldn’t walk, his pelvis was shattered and one leg is shorter than the other now. Completely and brutally honest at times, I felt like I could overcome anything. Worth a read – I read it in two days!

[pullquote]Sometimes we get all caught up in things that, although at the time are extremely important for us, in the big scheme of things really aren’t so important. That film [Schindler’s List] reminded me of all the very harrowing and traumatic times that people have fought and lived through; I really had to much in my life to be grateful for, what I was going through was not that big of a deal. – Paula p. 84 [/pullquote]

6. First Marathons by Gail Waesche Kislevitz

This is a collection of stories about first marathons – from legends to “regular people” like me. I don’t usually like collections of stories, but I enjoyed every single one – plus, they served as a great “initiate” for my first marathon. It is the ultimate of marathon motivators – I usually read on the Kindle, but I think I want a physical copy of this one, to re-read the stories, or bring it with me to my first (in less then three weeks)! (For a little about some of the Salty Bloggers’ first marathons, check out this post.)

I love to read and I love to run. Combining the two is like the perfect recreation activity.

What are your favorite running books? 

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Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. What an excellent post. I love to read running and other motivational books. Ultramarathon man was actually the first running book I’d ever read and I wasn’t a runner (hadn’t run in more than 15 years and then never over 1/4 mile). I had never heard of ultra and was just amazed that anyone ever runs over a marathon. I do not like his other books as well but I find this book quite amazing.

    I was also quite touched by Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love for his Son by Dick Hoyt.

    And just to amuse you (it amused me), as I usually do when reading book recommendations I pulled up a window to see if our local library had any of these books on downloadables or if they were available on booklending . com. When I searched for the first one, Paula Radcliffe’s book was not available but it did suggest Bristol Palin’s book which I suspect is very different.

  2. I really love ‘Mile Markers’ by Kristin Armstrong. I know she’s a little contentious at the moment but personally I love her writing and the way she combines God, motherhood and running – all of which are important to me. I found this book really inspiring as it shows how running mirrors and is a metaphor for all parts of our lives and the skills we learn from running (focus, determination, keeping going when exhausting, pacing ourselves etc) can apply to our lives as well. She also wrote the amazing chapter about ‘I don’t HAVE to run, I GET to run’….what a privilege it is to run and how we shouldn’t take it for granted. That idea has become really important to me as a runner and as a mother.

    1. I was coming here to recommend this book, too! I think Armstrong’s themes are pretty universal – you don’t have to be a mom to appreciate them (I’m not). She also talks a lot about the power of female friendship and how running strengthens those bonds. It’s a very good read!

  3. Great post! I loved Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer. It’s the story of both her running career and her fight for women’s running and marathoning to be recognized by various groups (the AAU, the Olympics, etc.)

  4. Definitely bookmarking this post for later! I’d like to add “Born to Run,” too. I know it makes appearances on nearly all the must-read lists for runners, but I really enjoyed it and my husband actually read more than a chapter (serious reading dedication for him, considering he usually falls asleep after a couple of pages). I think I’ll try to get “The Long Run” as an audiobook for our upcoming drive to VA… I think we’d both enjoy that one!

  5. If anyone is looking for a little running fiction, reader and Salty friend Mark Matthews has a fun novel with a female marathoner protagonist, called the Jade Rabbit. You can purchase it here:

    Also, another Salty friend and reader, Greg/Predawn Runner has a book called Running Ahead of the Sun that contains great tips for us every day runners trying to squeeze in training with the rest of our lives. You can get that one here:

  6. Thanks everyone for all the recommendations! I’ve been looking for a good “running” book to dig into. I feel like certain ones become insanely popular (like Born to Run, What I Talk about When I Talk About Running) and I read them and just think… eh, that was ok. I’m waiting for the running book that will change my life! Will I ever find it?

  7. Another great read:

    Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running is a gripping collection of stories that captures the inspirational heart of the women’s running. Authors Jennifer Lin and Susan Warner have interviewed women of all ages from all walks of life and all parts of the country. All of their subjects have one thing in common: Running has transformed them. There are both heartrending stories of grief and survival and lighthearted tales of friendship.