If you want to become a runner, don’t start running. Start reading.
Too many people never become runners because they start out by listening to well-meaning people who tell them about training and hill work, heart-rate monitors and fartleks, and the worst running term of all: miles.
To sedentary people, a mile is pretty much the distance to the moon and back: an unfathomable, terrifying expanse they could never cover on foot, unless they were on skates, being pulled by a team of sled dogs.
Running your first mile is daunting. Heck, for some people, so is running to the mailbox. And the sport of running is as much mental as it is physical, so please don’t try to become a runner by going outside and trying to run a mile, or ten.
First, curl up with some good books. (You can make it as far as the sofa, yes?)
Beginning a running program by reading about running is the best way is the way to infuse your brain and soul with the desire to run.
Without desire, you won’t get past your doormat.
With desire, you can run to the moon.
When I first started running 25 years ago, the book that got me out the door was Running and Being by Dr. George Sheehan. Sheehan was a cardiologist who started running in mid-life and then began writing about the existential aspects of the sport. As a columnist for Runner’s World magazine and in eight books, Sheehan came to be known as the foremost philosopher of running. He didn’t write so much about how to move one foot, and then another, to propel oneself down a road, but about the struggle, pain and euphoria of living … which just happens to correspond with the struggle, pain and euphoria of running.
Even now, 20 years after his death from prostate cancer, I can’t pick up one of Sheehan’s books and read a few pages without wanting to lace up my shoes and go for a run.
Sheehan began writing during the first “running boom,” the period in the 1970s in which the sport became mainstream, at least for skinny people, who took to the road in great numbers, wearing shorts and those ridiculous terrycloth headbands.
In the second running boom, which began 10 years ago, more people my size started running, and the number of books about running, likewise, increased. There will always be manuals on the “how-to” of the sport, descendants of Jim Fixx’s 1977 classic, “The Complete Book of Running.”
But the ones that keep us running are the “why-to” running books— authors who, like Sheehan, go beyond the mechanics of footstrike and breathing and aerobic thresholds, and talk about what motivates the human being to run at all, whether one mile or 26.2, seeing as we no longer have to capture our supper.
Books like these will do as much for your athletic progress as the actual training you do. You don’t need to read a book to learn how to run; any neurologically typical 2-year-old can do that. But a good running book will make you want to run. Your shadow may still look like a walrus, but your spirit will bound like a gazelle. And where the spirit goes, the body is sure to follow.
Here are the books I recommend for new runners, or anyone thinking about giving running a try:
- Running & Being: The Total Experience, Dr. George Sheehan
- Strides: Running Through History with an Unlikely Athlete, Benjamin Cheever
- Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, Dean Karnazes
- Personal Record, A Love Affair with Running, Rachel Toor
- The Lola Papers, Amy Marxkors
- The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life, Amby Burfoot
- An Accidental Athlete, John Bingham
- To Be a Runner, Martin Dugard
- Mile Markers, Kristin Armstrong
Join in! Leave a comment and let us know if any of these books have inspired you, or if there are others that have.
Jennifer Graham, the author of Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner (linked to the review and giveaway up tomorrow), has been running for 25 years without injury, arrest or involuntary committal. Her websites are http://www.jennifergraham.com and http://www.endierunners.com.
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Thanks for contributing this! I enjoyed your book, and I loved reading this — kind of an underhanded, yet apt approach, appealing to booklovers with books!
Thinking back on what helped me actually achieve some running goals, I do think that it was a book that did it: Run Your Butt Off!: A Breakthrough Plan to Lose Weight and Start Running (No Experience Necessary!) I had tried “couch to 5K” type plans, and they didn’t work. This book helped me, because in addition to giving me a plan, I got instruction and inspiration, as well as a look at people like me who were trying to make a go of it.
Jennifer Graham says
Thank you so much for your kind comments! And I totally understand your reservation about the title….. my grandmother was mortified. Back story: I’d always been told that a publisher would change your working title, and so I didn’t give it a lot of thought. But, behold, it stuck. For people who don’t understand the first line, it’s because when I first started running, I looked so unlike a runner that people would offer me a ride, thinking I’d run out of gas or something. I have solved that problem, not by losing weight, but by wearing an iPod!
I started running relatively recently and it was reading blogs that gave me the oomph. Since then I’ve quite enjoyed “Born to Run.” No, of course I’m no ultra-marathoner, but it inspired me and fascinated me!
I am interested in the reasons why people run. I don’t run and never have but this is intriguing.
Rea Tschetter says
I’ll have to look into some of these…I’m a ‘sometimes’ runner. Ran a lot when I was younger but gave it up due to knee issues. I started up again a few years ago, then took a break last summer. Still, there’s something about it that I love and I just can’t give it up for good…
For those of us who want to be runners but don’t want to RUN, you could include http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com/2013/01/happy-new-year-personality-leakage-ahead.html. My favorite lately!
Ha!! That sounds up my alley, though I have no interest in running a marathon at all (and am surprised that I even am sort of a runner now).
I am currently calling myself a runner, although I’m taking a little bit of a break. I’m at that point where I could benefit from some coaching, but as Jennifer says in her book, none of us really need to spend a ton of money to do something as natural as running 🙂
I picked up A Complete Guide to Running for Women from the fine folks at Runner’s World, and just like their magazine I’ve found it to be super helpful. They are so thorough in their approach to running, breaking it down to even the smallest details like “what do I wear?” and the more embarrassing “why do I always have to go number 2 after I start running.” I’m going to look at Running your Butt Off next. Still on the fence as to whether I’m going to cough up the money to train with a group.
What I like about Graham’s book is that it is more about the experiences connected to her running as opposed to being a “how to.” No matter your size, I think there is a lot all runners can identify with.