Must Reads for Runners Who Don’t Care for Running Books

“Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor.” – Haruki MurakamiRite2Run

A writer new  to our workshop sat across the table from me last night. He was a thirtyish, lean, serious-looking guy. I looked at his sweatshirt and tapped the woman next to me and asked, “Ever hear of that race?” pointing to the Leadville 100 logo.

Leadville, Colorado - 10,200 ft elevation

Leadville, Colorado – 10,200 ft elevation

“No,” she said, which sent me into story-telling mode about the Leadville 100 and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. The further I got with the story, the more I could feel my excitement rising, and it reminded me of why I wrote about the book in Books That Speak to the Heart of a Runner. Nearly two years after I posted that blog, I now realize there are deeper reasons these books resonate with me, and here they are:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Marakumi: Marakumi’s story isn’t about an athlete nurtured in the routines and practices of running. In fact, he was a jazz club owner who smoked like a chimney until one day when he was in his thirties he was watching a professional baseball game in Japan and had an epiphany to write a novel. Since then he’s published over a dozen novels and become an international best-selling author. He started running because the writing life is a sedentary lifestyle. Marakumi has completed marathons and triathlons around the globe, and at sixty-four still runs a marathon each year.

I think the reason Marakumi’s story resonates in my bones is because I spent my early life working as a warehouseman and shipyard welder. Squalid waterfront pubs were no stranger to my environs. In those days I never dreamed I’d one day be a marathoner and writer.

On the trail at the Double Trouble Trail Run, French Creek State Park, PA

On the trail at the Double Trouble Trail Run, French Creek State Park, PA

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall: Most running books are predictable in their tone, terminology, and message. McDougall’s story about the obscure Tarahumara tribe in Copper Canyons of Mexico is anything but predictable. There is something sublime about the counterculture, offbeat and rebellious qualities that underly the trail running culture.

I ran my first marathon in 1981, and countless road races before I ran my first trail run in 2001. After twenty years on the road, I immediately detected a profound difference in the culture between the two. Trail runners wore their hair a bit longer, a few more faces were unshaven, and bare-chested runners were more common (male runners, of course.) The parking lot had more Jeeps and SUVs and less BMWs and Audis; and noticeably more bike and kayak racks, and off-beat and obscene bumper stickers. The crowd was more gregarious, less uptight and livelier after the race; they’d also been weaned from those tasteless light beers. I felt among my tribe with the trail runners.

Illustration - RunRunning & Being by George Sheehan: Dr. Sheehan, the guru, was a running traditionalist, but a free-thinker whose words are gospel, the essence of why we run. Running & Being was the first time I read the exact thoughts that had been going through my mind for decades while I was on a long run. Dr. Sheehan’s observations are perceptive, and his words enduring. I have yet to come across anyone who approaches his keen sense of what makes a runner tick. He professed that there is magic in taking an hour run, which was the genesis for his immortal words:

–  “Running is a runner’s work of art.”

–   “But then my fitness program was never a fitness program. It was a campaign, a revolution, a conversion. I was determined to find myself. And, in the process, found my body and the soul that went with it.”

–   “A runner runs because he has to.”

–    “True, running does not fill my day. But it influences the rest of what I do and how I do it. From it come my role and the style in which I play it. In it I find myself and my design. I start in play, use myself increasingly, and end in joy.”

I look for that feeling every time I lace up the running shoes, and aspire to get even a glimpse of what the guru saw on his hour run.Runner - Sketch


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
This entry was posted in Health, Running, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Must Reads for Runners Who Don’t Care for Running Books

  1. Sophie33 says:

    Thanks for thi lovely post, dear Jim! Yeah!


  2. LB says:

    Jim, what timing! I am reading Born To Run right now (my book group’s selection for the month). I am just at the part where Vigil is discovering what sets the Tarahumara apart … the joy of running! I’m really enjoying it!


  3. paigesato says:

    Murakami’s work resonated for me as he writes from the perspective of the “every man” (or woman, i guess, in my case). He’s a brilliant thinker and a beautiful writer, and just a good runner. Not an elite. So for me it was less intimidating to pick up his book than so many of the others from the ‘scary good’ runner category. And I loved every word of it.


    • Jim Brennan says:

      I like the ‘scary good’ runner category. Kind of reminds me of new runners who tell me they are intimidated to enter a race because of all the hype. I have to remind them that they’d been running since they let go the coffee table as toddlers. Good one!


  4. gorunjess says:

    Listened to “What I Talk About….” on audio book. It was great to “read” that way, beautiful imagery that I could enjoy while driving.


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Might be kind of odd that I’m a lifetime runner and not a big fan of running books, but these three struck a chord inside me. I found the book while I was researching titles on running, picked it up and couldn’t stop reading, so I bought it. I’ve loaned it to many family and friends. Glad you enjoyed.


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