10 Non-Running Books for Your Athlete

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If you’re anything like me, you’ve been asked whether you’ve read / need to read / want to read / want to borrow the book Born to Run approximately one bajillion times in your running career.

Since then, a few other running books have come out with different takes, but still mostly how-to’s and memoirs. Inevitably, when a runner asks for a book recommendation on Facebook—even if he or she does not specify the genre—what immediately follows is a list of every running book ever published since cavemen learned to read.

Don’t get me wrong: many of these books are great. I’m writing an endurance book now, so far be it from me to steer you away from our favorite topic. But sometimes even I need a break. I don’t like writing and reading and practicing the exact same activity. It feels like too many gels at an aid station. So let’s shake things up a bit and explore some related-but-not-related topics.

With my authority as a giant nerd, I went ahead and read 125 books this year (and counting). Here are my favorites that were not about running, but that other runners should read.

I purposely left out any books that were given to me for promotional purposes, but don’t let that deter you from sending me more free stuff. In the end, I paid for all these books with my hard-earned credit.

Here we go:

  1. The Best American Sports Writing

Not getting away from Mr. Christopher McDougall just yet, he helped edit this one and wrote a kick-ass intro. The book itself is a collection of the best sport articles of the year, covering a wide range of topics and publications and personalities. These stories make me proud to be a writer though unfortunately I can take no credit for the actual content. This collection is published every year.

  1. Drop-Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

I’m a big fan of A.J.’s guinea pig journalism (the dude is an experiment of one). Hilarity ensues when A.J. attempts to become the healthiest man alive. His wife is pretty funny herself, yay-ing or nay-ing his antics and teasing freely. When we were driving through New York I tracked A.J. down and tried to make him have dinner with me. It didn’t work out… apparently not all starving writers are literally starving.

  1. Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America by Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine is the complete opposite of me. She isn’t particularly fond of new experiences, risky situations, or travel in general. She likes to be considered adventurous, as long as she can do it while lying on a beach somewhere. She is not even close to being a runner, but her account and descriptions of beautiful places are fascinating. I didn’t expect to like her, but she surprised me. She’ll surprise you too.

  1. As Good as Gold by Kathryn Bertine

Every good trail runner hates a triathlete, but no one will judge you for loving Kathryn. This is a story about Kathryn’s quest to get into the Beijing Summer Olympics in only two years. What follows is a dramatic and insightful look into the nitty-gritty politics of the Games, the various sports it celebrates, and Kathryn’s never-quit attitude. I cheered for her through every chapter and I’ve quoted her extensively in my next book. Kathryn, consider this your dinner invitation.

  1. Arctic Glass: Six Years of Adventures in Alaska and Beyond by Jill Homer

Jill Homer is Geoff Roes’ ex-girlfriend. I’m sure she loves it when people introduce her that way. She’s also a phenomenal writer with endless stories and three books. She shares more frequently than Goeff does, and for that I am grateful. Jill has done everything from long-distance mountain biking to completing the Iditarod in Alaska. Read all three of her books because I had trouble picking just one.

  1. Mud, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self Discovery by Moire O’Sullivan

This is the story of how one woman went from barely being able to read a map to navigating some of the toughest terrain in Ireland. Moire isn’t exceptionally brave, but she blew me away with how much she was willing to try. I’m the type of person who gets lost on a marked race course, so the in and outs of navigation were a foreign topic to me. Moire has inspired me to try and master these new skills.

  1. Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankfor

If you’ve been curious about the details and stories behind working as a ranger, this book is for you. I was shocked by many of Andrea’s experiences. She is brutally and refreshingly honest. Being a ranger is tough, yo! And the compensation isn’t that great either. I have an entirely new perspective now when I visit a national park.

  1. Elite Minds: Creating the Competitive Advantage by Dr. Stanley Beecham

This book is about how to harness the power of your mind to benefit you athletically. A lot of these points I had never heard of before. It’s not your sappy believe-you-can sort of stuff. The science of this book is legit. Brain science is one of my favorite topics, and this one focuses on sport. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year and highly practical.

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Chances are your runner has read or at least heard of Cheryl’s best-selling book (and now movie) Wild. This one is way better than that. I’d like to think I was a fan of Cheryl’s before she was so damn cool and IMHO: Wild was not even her best work. I mean this as a compliment. Read her other stuff and know the full extent of Cheryl’s awesomeness. Also: Cheryl and I are Facebook friends.

  1. Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl

If you want to read something that will make you feel like a wuss for running ultramarathons in the mountains, check out this book. Learn what it’s like to build trails, working with your hands all day on your feet and in the elements, carrying heavy shit. This job is no joke. As runners, we get the pretty sunrises and tingly endorphins. These guys get the thorns and bruises and scars. It’s the other side of nature: the side that’s trying to kill you. You’ll love reading about it.

There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book when it’s colder than a witch’s nipple out there. Happy Holidays.

You May Also Enjoy:

Trail Therapy: Why Movement Outdoors is a Game-Changer

How to Train for Your First Ultramarathon

Eat & Run Book Review

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Stay tuned for my next book: Daughters of Distance