Book Review: Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running

The Complete Book of Women's Running
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A book about women and running? Seems right down a Salty Running’s alley, right?

Well, maybe.

I just finished the Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running by Dagny Scott Barrios and while I think the book had some excellent information and insight, the word “complete” in the title was a bit of a stretch. I think, at best, the book portrays one viewpoint of running and could be a great resource for beginning runners.  Follow the jump to see my review!

What I liked:

  • The book has good information about choosing running “gear,” including shoes, but it neglects to mention how critical it is to get fitted for your first pair of running shoes. A critical missed point, according to us at Salty Running. Oh, and Dagny says that cotton shirts will get us through most runs?! I wish.
  • Chapter Three is full of awesome FAQs for beginning runners (including my personal favorite, “Can I walk?”).  And the entire book includes excellent questions that I remember being too intimidated to ask in my newbie running days.
  • “Not meeting a goal is not failure.” This is a quote that I need to write on my mirror. This and other great quotes throughout the book are motivational and great to hear. Love that.
  • Great links to resources, such as for running groups and camps. It even inspired me to do some camp-related research.
  • Great women-specific running topics: running when pregnant, running while on your period (it’s good for us), and injuries like acne… (Okay, maybe the acne inclusion was a stretch). But good overview overall.

What I didn’t like:

  • Recommends running 30 minutes a day, five days a week to maximize the benefits of running. What? It wasn’t until I ran an hour that I started to understand what the “runner’s high” was and until I started racing that I understood the life benefits that come from making and meeting a physical goal. Running 30 minutes a day is great, but I don’t think that it maximizes the benefits of running by a long shot.*
  • At points, it felt like Dagny was saying that running long distances was bad for us, which is so 1950. Nowadays, we get to run and keep our uterus. I think she was trying to make the point that running is hard on our bodies and to take recovery seriously, but it came across as “Running is Dangerous! Beware!”
  • The book seemed to me to be anti-long distances, and it says that anyone under 18 should not run a marathon. I think Winter Vinecki and Alana Hadley would have something to say about that.
  • Promotes some information I disagree with, such as advocating a maximum of a two week taper for all races (Mint, our resident marathon expert, has perfected the art of the taper and generally tapers for three weeks), and buying running gear like shoes online (Only after going into a real store and getting fitted/trying out the gear first!). And seriously, I’m still stuck on the cotton shirt thing. Really? Do cotton shirts work for you?

*Editor’s note from Cinnamon: Common medical practice tends to tell us that running more than 30 minutes a day is too much, but we just keep hearing about runners who prove them wrong.  Call us biased, but we aren’t sure enough research has been done to draw these conclusions.

What was missing:

To be a truly complete book, this should have included:

  • Information about racing in general (pacing, fuel, and more training plans).
  • General running nutrition and long-run fuel
  • Recovery (including ice/heat, massage, foam rolling, etc)
  • More information about “serious” running, instead of saying only that it is dangerous.  Running more than 3 1/2 hours is not only unadvisable, but crazy, apparently.  I don’t agree, and I imagine none of you who have marathoned more than once would either.

Overall, the book had some great information for beginner runners and inspirational quotes for all runners. Pick it up if you’re a newbie runner and want information getting started, running gear, and some basic workouts to build up for your first races (even up to marathon).  But if you’re really looking for a complete book on running, I recommend Lore of Running by Tim Noakes.  It’s big, but it’s certainly complete; perfect for the obsessive runner in your life.

Have your read The Complete Book of Women’s Running? What did you think? What “complete” books would you recommend?

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. If this book was just marketed as a book of information for women who never ran before who want to pick up the sport then it sounds like it would be great. The word “complete” in the title just makes it insulting.

    And yes, cotton shirts are fine for 2.5 hours of easy running a week. I sometimes wear a cotton long sleeve (over a tech shirt) in the winter for a little cozier feeling 🙂

  2. I read the competitive runners handbook a few months ago and felt it was a pretty good comprehensive book and really gave a lot of good information. There were some things I didn’t really like (too much emphasis on racing frequently) but overall I felt it gave a good overview of how to train.

  3. Sounds like if they worked on the title and description a bit they’d have a less misleading book marketed for the right newer running audience 🙂 I would think when training for “any” distance one would definitely get into that realm of dangerous training over 30 minutes a day 😉

    Thanks for the review, sounds like this is a book I don’t need to read to beef up my running knowledge.

      1. What really bothers me is that it puts a limit on what women “should” do as runners and that limit is super low. This kind of stuff is depressingly lame!

  4. Sounds okay but not enough to inspire me to buy it. I liked ‘Run like a Mother’…thought that was an excellent intro to womens’ running!

    Talking of camps, there is an amazing running camp near me next month that I would LOVE to do but it’s out my price range. Gutted. Maybe I should do my own one 🙂

      1. It’s an introduction – I’m very much the hobby runner and I knew most it – but it’s very charming. And YES please to the Salty Running Camp!

  5. That books sucks, a lot. I read it years ago, and haven’t touched it since. Cilantro, you’re not alone on the cotton clothing bit although I get more eye roll-y when they advise cotton socks (4 months to 4 hour marathon, I’m looking at you). Was this the book where she started out running in place?

    As far as a complete women’s running book, I thought Claire Kowalchik’s “The Complete Book Of Running For Women” was much better. I referenced the pregnancy section during both pregnancies. It is a little out of date now, though.

    I tend to agree that girls should not run marathons until they are 18, or at least not until they are done growing. I just think that’s a lot of stress to put on a growing body.

    1. I also really like Claire Kowalchik’s book. I use it often, skimming the parts that are a bit out dated, but use the rest. I even like the zero to 5K plan better than the C25k that’s super popular.

        1. I thumbed through it yesterday, thanks to this post. It’s really just the gear section that’s out of date – published in 1999, it’s pre-GPS, running skirt, compression, etc. The advice that’s given isn’t bad, just doesn’t include the current stuff.