11 Books To Race Through During Marathon Training

by Victoria Hills

Sticking to a marathon training schedule is hard enough when you aren’t stuck inside during one of the snowiest winters in, oh, FOREVER. When you're ankle-deep in slush or stumbling into snowbanks, when cold numbs your face and a blizzard blinds you, it's maybe time to take a half-step back.

What's that? Did you say forge ahead and damn the elements? It's hard to hear you through the shrill whistling of the wind...

Okay, I repent. I'm not kidding about the unconscionable running conditions, but I am kidding about giving up and limping away. True, where I live in Boston, this record-break winter has put a couple kinks in my marathon training — I'm planning on running my first marathon this summer — but I prefer to throw my hands up in victory, not defeat.

It's always going to be too cold or too hot, and I'm always going to be too tired or cranky or busy. Fortunately, the solution to these marathon training woes is simple: a book list, obviously.

Whether the pain is in your head or your feet, these books offer a balm for every ache. Some of the following picks are inspirational, uplifting, or motivational. Others are about reminding you that you probably have it pretty easy. And every one of them touches on the key themes inscribed in every marathoner's heart: tenacity, courage, self-reliance, and pure mulish obstinacy.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Longtime runner and world-famous author Haruki Murakami might be beloved for his bizarre stories and magical realism, but his memoir — slender, forthright, and pragmatic — is anything but. Included: playlist suggestions (The Lovin' Spoonful); training tips (run six days per week; don't skimp); life advice (do what you enjoy, do it well, and appreciate it); and suggestions for how to become an internationally bestselling author.

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The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Oh, so you're having a rough day? Not sure if you're up for slogging through six or 10 miles when your head's pounding and your ankle's acting up again? Consider this: at least you're not being forced to run, whipped and bitten and driven across hundreds of miles of frozen wasteland despite malnourishment and torn paws (er, feet). Jack London's famous novel about a sled dog's trials and tribulations is always worth reading — but it's especially poignant when you're partway through your marathon training schedule and considering taking a candlelit bath in lighter fluid. Buck up, buckle down, and keep on keepin' on.

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Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand’s other biography, Unbroken, might be about an actual human runner, but Seabiscuit contains my all-time favorite sports writing. Who doesn't love a good underdog story, especially when it's recounted with Hillenbrand's compassion, intelligence, and pristine pacing? Seabiscuit will remind you that it's never too late for a second chance, that even the unlikeliest runners can triumph, and that you never really outgrow a childhood yearning for your own horse.

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The Long Walk by Stephen King

Stephen King is great at reminding us that no matter how brutal and grueling our lives are, they could be a hundred times more painful and a thousand times more terrifying. In The Long Walk , citizens of a futuristic United States enter a twisted sort of marathon, the winner of which receives whatever he wants for the rest of his life. True, you probably won't fulfill your wildest dreams if you do well in your marathon — but at least you won't be shot dead if your pace slows too much...

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Born To Run by Chris McDougall

A megahit bestseller that prompted millions of people to rethink their assumptions about running, Born To Run is part memoir, part close examination of the science and history of running. McDougall's travels to Mexico, training experiments, and conversations with some of the world’s toughest and unlikeliest runners all culminate in one stunning message: human beings were born to run. Revisit this book whenever that pain in your knee or crazy work commitments threaten to keep you off the road.

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The Martian by Andy Weir

No one can run your marathon for you; there are no time outs. Beyond their physical demands, marathons are psychologically punishing. If you're craving an engrossing novel that explores the limits of mental endurance, look no further: The Martian is for you. After he's accidentally stranded on Mars, Mark Watney has to survive, alone, with limited resources and few distractions, for years. Watney's story is a testament to the extraordinary strength of the human mind and spirit — the same strength you'll need to run 26.2 miles in just a few hours.

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Eat And Run by Scott Jurek

In 2012, Scott Jurek — a central character in Born To Run and one of the most successful ultramarathoners in history — published the extraordinary account of his "unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness." The memoir is a terrific tribute to running, but it also contains wise reflections on sportsmanship, relationships, training, and perseverance. Bonus: Dozens of healthy recipes to sustain you through your own marathon preparation.

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Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon might be better known for his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but Gentlemen of the Road is the infinitely funnier, stranger, and (best of all) shorter novel. The story follows two oddball adventurers — brothers-in-arms despite their skin-deep dissimilarities — as they're caught up in a plot to reclaim a lost throne, circa 950 A.D. Gentlemen of the Road will remind you how much you need the people who support your insane marathon plans, as well as how delightful and life-changing new journeys can be.

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My Best Race by Chris Cooper

Tellingly subtitled 50 Runners and the Finish Line They’ll Never Forget , this collection delivers a series of stories about runners of all kinds and the one race that has had the greatest impact on them. Some of the featured runners are casual joggers, some are former or aspiring Olympians, and every one will remind you of why you wanted to run a marathon in the first place: to accomplish something amazing, to prove something to yourself, and to be able to say, years and many miles later, "I did this thing and I am proud."

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Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

After an awful breakup, Alexandra Heminsley, a total non-runner, decides to take up running. She expects instant gratification and is instead beset with sluggishness, exhaustion, blisters, and poorly-fitted bras. Heminsley's account of her slow but deeply rewarding transition from novice jogger to marathon runner is witty and wonderfully relatable, and will remind you both of how far you've come and how much is waiting for you on the other side of that finish line.

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The Great Grete Waitz by The Editors of Runner’s World

This brief e-book is a riveting and moving compilation of Runner's World's best writing on Grete Waitz, the legendary marathon runner and former world record holder. Waitz, who won the New York City Marathon more times than anyone else in history, also devoted substantial effort to encouraging other women toward long-distance running. The Great Grete Waitz is a fitting tribute to this pioneering figure, and highlights her best and most aspirational characteristics — especially her courage, humility, and doggedness.

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Candide by Voltaire

Candide is a crazy little book and if you haven't read it yet then I am so jealous, what are you even doing, go read it immediately! Voltaire thinly disguised his rollicking tale of travel, mischief, murder, and mayhem as a philosophical treatise, but he's not fooling any of us — we know he just wanted to write this freaky lil novel. Candide will remind you that all geographical journeys (even forgettable journeys of 26.2 miles) are inherently journeys of self-discovery, too. What will your marathon teach you about yourself?

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