12 books every ultrarunner should read
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Make room on your shelf for these inspirational, tip-filled tomes for going the longer distance.
Whether you’re just taking your first tentative steps into the world of endurance running or you’ve been clocking up 100-milers for years, there’s always more you can learn about the rapidly growing sport.
There are plenty of inspirational reads on ultrarunning, so to help you narrow down the field, we’ve picked 12 of the best. Each one contains either life-affirming tales of eye-wateringly long runs, adventure-packed tales featuring tidbits of advice, stunning photography or practical guides on what races to run and how to train for them.
1. Sky Runner by Emelie Forsberg
Read it if… You just love to run, whatever the distance.
Emelie Forsberg is a high-achieving ultrarunner and sky runner, and her new book is a celebration of everything about the sport. The photos of Emelie running along precipitous mountain ridgelines – taken by her partner (the running god Kilian Jornet) – are enough inspiration on their own to get you Googling your nearest sky-running race. Her almost philosophical approach to running, and her training advice – such as different fartlek suggestions – is genuinely useful too.
2. Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
Read it if… You’re thinking of turning vegan.
Rich Roll is known for hosting one of the most popular fitness and wellness podcasts available – indeed, he was one of the pioneers of such podcasts, and over the years has interviewed everyone from free-soloist Alex Honnold to Hollywood A-lister Ed Norton. Roll is also a highly decorated endurance athlete, and this book charts his transformative journey from party-loving alcoholic to plant-based champion. It also serves as a manual on how to go vegan and includes a range of recipes to get you started.
3. Running Up That Hill by Vassos Alexander
Read it if… You’re not sure you can run an ultra.
After running a few marathons, radio presenter and Chris Evans’ pal Vassos Alexander was hooked. But he wanted to take things further, so figured the next step was an ultramarathon. In Running Up That Hill, he charts his blister-filled journey in a light-hearted and humorous writing style, building up to tackling the Spartathlon, the gruelling 250km race from Athens to Sparta. Along the way he enters many other ultras and is honest about his mindset and worries, while also interviewing famous runners, such as Scott Jurek and Jasmin Paris, about their experiences.
4. Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
Read it if… If you want an insight into one of the sport’s pioneers.
First published in 2005, this helped launch US runner Dean Karnazes as one of ultrarunning’s big names. He writes about how his ‘other life’ – his obsession with running long distances at night – gradually morphs into his actual life. He becomes fully immersed in the ultraworld, following a chance encounter with a bunch of runners who tell him about the Western States 100-miler. He enters, gets the bug and is soon chalking up some of the hardest races in the world, including Badwater and a marathon to the South Pole.
5. Beyond Impossible by Mimi Anderson
Read it if… You’ve lost your running mojo.
Another account of an inspirational runner – Mimi was 36 when she took up running, when she says she could barely manage 10 minutes of jogging. Since then she has broken a raft of ultra records, including the fastest women’s time for running John O’Groats to Land’s End. She intersperses the story of that run with other tales of her journey into running, including tackling the Marathon des Sables, Badwater and a multi-day race through the Arctic, as well as recovering from a long-term eating disorder.
6. Training Essentials For Ultrarunning by Jason Koop
Read it if… You want practical advice on how to complete your first ultra.
Jason Koop has worked with some of the biggest names in the ultrarunning world, including Dakota Jones, Kaci Lickteig and Dean Karnazes. As a result, he knows the sport and how to get more out of your training to make you a better, more efficient runner. His book is specifically for ultrarunners, as this is who he specialises in training. The years he’s spent extrapolating data and doing his own investigations into what works and what doesn’t pay off in his programmes – so if you’re looking for a training plan, this is a good place to start.
7. Just A Little Run Around The World by Rosie Swale Pope
Read it if… You want to plan an epic ultrarunning adventure.
Rosie Swales Pope was 57 when her husband died from prostate cancer. Her world collapsed around her and, as a way of grieving while spreading the message to get checked in the hope of saving at least one life, she set off on an adventure like no other – running 5,000 miles around the world, completely self-supported and on her own. She describes herself as “just an ordinary woman”, yet the journey she completes is one that almost no one else would ever consider making. Along the way, she encounters packs of wolves in Siberia and naked, axe-wielding men outside her tent.
8. North by Scott Jurek & Jenny Jurek
Read it if… You have a long-suffering running partner.
Scott Jurek is one the world’s most well-known ultrarunners, winning just about every major race there is. In 2015, he decided to have a go at breaking the record for running the 2,200-mile long Appalachian Trail. This is his personal account of the attempt, complete with entries from his support crew – AKA his wife Jenny – who provides an eye-opening insight into the pressure a record attempt such as this has on not just the runner but their partner too.
9. The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn
Read it if… You want to run your first ultra.
This is a gripping insight into what it’s like to train for and run one of the most famous ultramarathons in the world – the 106-mile Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc. A journalist and author of two other books on running (Running With The Kenyans and The Way Of The Runner), Finn had run plenty of marathons, but no races longer than 26.2. While charting his progress into this new world, he enters shorter ultras to build up the points required to enter the UTMB, and examines the growing appeal of the sport, culminating in an emotional account of his epic run.
10. There Is No Map In Hell by Steve Birkinshaw
Read it if… You are obsessed with running.
This is the ideal book for runners who have completed a few ultramarathons and are looking to step things up a level. The Wainwrights in the Lake District are 214 peaks, as listed by Alfred Wainwright in his popular Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, which hikers attempt to summit over a period of months, or even years. Steve decided to try to do it in seven days, in an extraordinary attempt at smashing Joss Naylor’s long-standing record (which Paul Tierney subsequently broke in 2019). This book follows his 300 miles of progress, complete with tales of blister-covered soles and falling asleep while running.
11. 50 Races To Run Before You Die by Tobias Mews
Read it if… You need inspiration for which race to run next.
A race bucket list in book-form, endurance adventurer Tobias Mews completed every event in this book, and as such it provides a mouth-watering range of global challenges – from the short (Westminster Mile) to the ultra-long (the multi-day Dragon’s Back Race). The photography adds to the drool factor, and Mews’ enthusiastic tone will ensure that the chances of you entering at least one of the races before you have finished the book are high.
12. Mud, Sweat And Tears by Moire O’Sullivan
Read it if… You think you can’t run an ultra.
This is the story of Moire O’Sullivan, who at the start of the book considers herself a runner, but in no way an ultrarunner of the kind that could tackle long, mountain trails. Following some cajoling, she’s persuaded to tackle some of the mountains around her new home in Dublin, and after falling in love with her new running landscape, decides she wants to be the first person to complete the Wicklow Round – running 100km across 26 mountain peaks in under 24 hours. Her account is unflinching, honest and shows that it’s possible for anyone to step up into the world of extreme ultras – as long you don’t mind embracing a little pain.