It’s a bit of a job hazard – academicians can’t run very far from bibliographies. I have never found a reason to venture to the ‘Sports’ section of a bookstore, until I started to take an interest in running during my training for Mt Kinabalu. Since then, I have had to make space on my bookshelves for a small but growing collection of books on the joys, perils, to-do’s and do-not’s of long-distance running. No Harvard or APA-style referencing here, just good ol’ straightforward photos of the books and how I found them to be worthy reads! Here are a few gems that tell great stories. If you’re looking for something more of an instructional nature, you may be interested in these instead.
Born To Run
by Christopher McDougall (2009)
In 2010, I spotted a recommendation of this book via social media, and it caught my attention because here was a book which synopsis promised a gripping narrative of incredible events coupled with a history of human locomotion and insights into the science of running. I promptly purchased a copy. And so it all began – an intriguing (albeit somewhat romanticised?) story, an exposition to the barefoot-running movement and the larger-than-life world of ultrarunning; Scott Jurek, and chia seeds. The book has had much publicity since, amongst running circles and also more general audiences. Despite what could be considered a cliched title, it’s altogether inspirational enough for anyone finding a reason to lace up and head out the front door. 2013 marks four years since the book made waves in the running world, and this article talks about why McDougall’s bestseller has had a considerable impact on the running world. Did you know that there is a movie in the pipeline for 2014 (called, well, ‘Born To Run’!) based on the book?
by Haruki Murakami (2007)
I was in a conversation about a play based on Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle I attended at the Edinburgh International Festival (there was an academic conference there at the time), when a runner colleague mentioned, in passing, this little volume by the same writer of critical acclaim, who is probably more well-known for novels such as Norwegian Wood, and more recently, 1Q84. The book is part memoir, part training-diary of sorts, and its unassuming style is a refreshing change from often not-so-subtly narcissistic autobiographies. Rather unexpectedly, the seemingly random narrative of how running is interwoven into the author’s personal and professional life does make for quite enjoyable reading. I do wonder though (as I wonder with Murakami’s work in general) how it would have come across if read from the original Japanese text.
Mountains of the Mind
This gem of a book, published during the 50th anniversary of climbing Mount Everest, is (as you would have guessed) not on running, but I feel deserves mention here given its exceedingly well-written account of the evolution of the spirit of adventure and mankind’s obsessions with superlatives – in this case, the allure of high adventure in high places, or why man has been drawn to the conquering of mountains despite the obvious dangers. Long-distance running could very well be considered an adventure; it certainly has its place in the realm of superlatives, and could indeed be seen as an obsession for many who return again and again to the marathon course. If you can find it in a bookstore, get yourself a copy of this book even if you don’t think you will ever find yourself signing up for anything involving great heights and geological features. The carefully structured prose, interspersed with photos of glaciers and snow-capped plateaus, will be enough to at least grant you an escape from day-to-day urban bustle. Some insights to the book can be found in The Guardian’s interview with the author when the book won the Guardian First Book Award in 2003.
by Phil Hewitt (2012)
In the past, I have started the odd blog and have been undecided whether I would write about running, or about my research at work (legal research? boring!), or running. This book finally spurred me on to start blogging as Legally On The Run. Most books by runners will have mentions of participations in international marathons, and their significance in the authors’ running careers. However, you don’t find many books that actually bring you through the marathon courses in vivid detail – you feel as if you were running alongside Phil Hewitt as he regales you with a light-hearted, and honest, narrative of his runs, and what goes on in his mind whilst the legs are pounding out the miles. No running partner or coach could have the time (or patience) to match the experience offered on this front. A useful reference for when I do get myself to the stage where I would be signing up to run 42.195 kilometres (or 26.2 miles)!