Okay, so this was supposed to be a year-end post in 2018 where I reviewed the top books for runners I read last year. However, when your brother decides to push up his wedding and it requires a multi-day drive to arrive at the destination, things get pushed back. So here I sit, posting this a week later than intended but still chock full of information I hope you will all find useful. The ten books I am going to list are not all running books per se, but they are all books that can benefit or be of interest to runners.
Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
By far the best book I read in 2018. It is full of information on performance, recovery, establishing a proper mindset, and more and is applicable to running and life. I reworked almost all aspects of my training program to incorporate their suggestions. Stulberg is a former consultant at the elite McKinsey and Company and now coaches and writes about human performance. Magness is a coach to professional runners and the cross country coach at the University of Houston. Their twitter feeds are a plethora of great information and I highly recommend you follow them. Stulberg is @BStulberg and Magness is @stevemagness.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is one of the more important books I’ve read in the last five years. I still listen to the chapter on keystone habits five or six times a year. Duhigg covers the theory and science of habits and habit formation well and Clear builds on it with practical approaches to creating new habits, breaking bad ones, and advice on how to streamline the process. Anyone looking to start a new running routine or review their current running routines would be smart to give this book a read.
A mental health book may sound like a strange suggestion to runners but I think this book is a must-read tome for anyone. Freeman shares his own struggles with mental health (tales which showed me that I was not nearly as alone as I thought in my own struggles) and details an ongoing process people can utilize to handle their own mental health issues. One early strategy Freeman highlights is learning to identify and sit with your compulsions, rather than feeling the need to give in to them. His writing on compulsions made me realize how often I give in to compulsions, (cough checking my phone cough) even in the middle of workouts or between running and strength sessions. These habits have surely robbed me of some of the gains my workouts are designed to elicit and I have since begun to work on identifying my own compulsions and working to overcome them.
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson
I read this early last year and was captivated by the different stories Hutchinson (one of my favorite sports science writers) shares. He dives deep to help us understand the roles the physical and psychological play in our ability to push ourselves to and even beyond our perceived breaking points. I took my mantra for last year’s Cleveland Marathon, “pain is a privilege” directly from reading this book.
Dicharry is a physical therapist and running coach whose approach to strength training is to make sure runners are running with the proper muscles firing before they take on trying to lift heavy loads. Dicharry’s book clearly details the various ways that muscle imbalances and lack of mobility can compromise a runner and result in injury. A series of tests and corrective exercises seek to correct imbalances, early workouts establish dynamic core stability and glute and hip strength before later workouts work to develop more pure strength and power. After finally establishing the habit of regularly strength training last year, I am upping the ante and tackling Dicharry’s more progressive workouts in my lead up to the Cleveland Marathon in May.
I have long admired Goucher’s openness about her struggles with confidence. In this book Goucher further digs into this challenging part of her professional career and the ways she has developed confidence from the ground up. Moving beyond a simple biography, the book is also a workbook for the reader, inviting us to share our own insecurities and to use mantras, power words, and other confidence-building strategies to help us be our best. A great read that is applicable to running and life.
If you enjoy the professional side of running, this is a great book that digs into an earlier time period when the dominance of Americans Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar spurred the first running boom. Stracher does a wonderful job capturing the rises and falls of all three runners set against the establishment and earliest runnings of the Falmouth Road Race. At times I felt like I was standing in New England on the side of the road watching the three titans sprint by. I am not sure there is any practical information a runner can take from the reading, but for pure enjoyment of racing as a spectacle, this book does well to bring those old races directly into your living room.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
This is another book that takes the reader back into an earlier running era. I had no idea how close to disaster Knight was in the early days of Nike and how many times it could have gone sideways for him. I still have notes from reading this book about risks Knight had to take, small but important lessons he learned, and the psychology of going all in on an uncertain bet.
Not a running book in any sense. I read this during the Olympics last year. For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the Miracle on Ice. I have read everything I could on Herb Brooks and the methods he used to take 20 young men from different backgrounds and get them, not just to come together as a team, but to come together as a team capable of beating the best program in the world. The book details the backgrounds of each player and the months leading up to the games, all weaved together during a lengthy retelling of the game against the Soviets. I guess I like this book for runners because I run to compete: against myself, against the clock, and at times against others. This book beautifully captures the nuances of one of the greatest competitive sporting matches ever held.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Another book that is not a running book but that contains a central thesis that I think all runners can learn from, especially in this age of digital distraction. I cannot speak for any of you, but I will admit that my workouts are often interrupted by my devices. Sometimes it is because I am listening to music or have Netflix on in the background. Other times it is because a sporting event is going on during my workout and I return from my run to check and score, and then Twitter, and then other social media and now, dammit, I was supposed to start my strength training right after my run and that was 20 minutes ago and now I haven’t started and I need to eat and I’m getting hypoglycemic and I’m almost past the crucial 30-minute window to get in some nutrition after a run and… You get the point. Newport’s thesis is simple: In a world of distraction those who can stay focused will be valued commodities. In your running, your ability to keep the main thing the main thing, that is, your workout, will help you achieve stronger and faster progress than if you are constantly stopping mid-workout to take a picture or check your Twitter feed. This is a good book to help you understand the need to avoid distraction.