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The Best New Running Books of 2020

To celebrate National Read A Book Day – an annual event to promote reading – we've taken a look at some of the latest running books out in 2020 to shortlist our favourites.

Running the Dream - Matt Fitzgerald

Inspired by running the last mile of the 1983 Boston Marathon with his father, Matt Fitzgerald is a mid 40s year old amateur runner who has written a number of excellent running books.  He gets a one off chance to train with an elite group of runners one summer in Arizona. 

The book is written as a 90 day countdown to the Chicago marathon.  It's an interesting read for those who want to know how elites train and live.  One of Fitzgerald's first sessions is an 18 x 300 meter interval session.  No wonder then that he protests he's never done 18 x anything.  The training gets more intense as the weeks pass and he's regularly clocking up 85 miles per week.

We also get to live through Fitzgerald's ups and downs when he develops a serious groin injury, threatening his sub 2:40 target in Chicago.

Not surprisingly however old you are, if you train intensively for a 3 month period, you are going to see big improvements.  So if you feel your PB (personal best) days are behind you, think again.  You just need to find the coach to take you on!

The Best New Running Books for 2020

Why Running Matters - Ian Mortimer

There are a number of books out there which attempt to answer the question "Why running matters" but I'd say that this one gets closer than most of the others.  It's up there with Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running."

Ahead of his fiftieth birthday, the book chronicles historian, Ian Mortimer's 2017 year, in which he attempts 5 half marathons and 45 Parkruns (often with his two sons).  His running is intertwined with life lessons, inspired or revealed by some aspect of a run.  There are 42 chapters covering a different life lessons.  My personal favourites are benevolent competitiveness and the inspiration to be inspirational.

Benevolent competitiveness - This is about being competitive oneself, but also appreciating the excellence of others and sharing in their joy when they do well.  Benevolent competitiveness is so much more powerful than competitiveness for oneself alone.

The inspiration to be inspirational - At the start of the book Mortimer believes that running is mainly about bringing us meaning and self-respect but he concludes it is more than that.  Running is about our relationship with other people - about inspiring people to be their very best selves. This is why he is such a huge fan of Parkrun.  In Mortimer's words Paul Sinton-Hewitt (the founder of Parkrun) "inspired people to be inspirational themselves".  

By the end of the book Mortimer is closer than ever to his two sons.  Running has cemented their bond.  He no longer "sees gaps between runners where there used to be sons."  He and his older son are competitive but still want the best for each other.  He has inspired them - they have inspired him.  It's a brilliant read - a real page turner.

The Best New Running Books of 2020

Running Wild - Bobby O'Donnell

Reading “Running Wild”, which is essentially a running and travel book, seemed strange and almost nostalgic during lockdown, describing another world of air travel and organised races.

Bobby O’Donnell was only 19 when he ran the 2013 Boston Marathon, and was minutes from the end when the bombs went off. His near-miss, and fear for his family waiting for him at the finish line, left him with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome that took him a long while to even acknowledge.

The book charts his long road to recovery through the challenge of running marathons in all seven continents. He writes about the small details all runners will recognise, for example, he takes foolish kit errors to a new level when he runs the Antarctic Marathon in normal road running shoes! However, he also writes from a very personal perspective about the healing power of running, particularly in remote wilderness areas, and the importance of living in the moment.

One slight gripe is that the book feels at times like an extended gap year, with long passages where O’Donnell goes diving or trekking. Overall though “Running Wild” is an engaging and optimistic read.

The Best New Running Books of 2020

  

The Russian Affair - David Walsh

Rumours circulated for years that systematic doping was rife in Russian athletics. Eventually the rumours were proven true, and they were banned from international athletics. But what of the whistleblowers who exposed the Russian doping scandal? 

From the man who broke the Lance Armstrong story, The Russian Affair tells the story of the unlikely couple who toppled the Russian state-sponsored doping program. Unlikely because one was an ardent employee of Russia’s anti-doping agency looking to keep sport clean; and the other an international 800m runner representing Russia and partaking in the country’s state-sponsored doping programme.

To no surprise at all, Walsh's book is a riveting read from start to finish. It’s a true-crime story, combined with a spy thriller woven into a twisted love story. This eclectic mix made the book near impossible to put down!

 

The Best New Running Books of 2020

If you've read any new running books this year, please let us know by emailing claire@iffleyroad.com. We'd love to add them to our blog.