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Trail-Running Books for Your Reading List

Trail-Running Books for Your Reading List

Whether you want history, inspiration or a good adventure story, there's something here for everyone.

[ Emily McIlroy ] August 16th, 2017

There is nothing like leaning back in a deck chair on a warm summer night dreaming about running. What will tomorrow's adventure bring? The only thing that makes that evening in a deck chair even better is a good book (and perhaps a cold beer).

[Whether you're looking for inspiration to jump out of bed and into your running shoes, or to learn about the history of our sport, there is a book for you.]

Mud, Sweat and Tears: An Irish Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery

by Moire O’Sullivan
Genre: Memoir
Great for: Inspiration to get out and run. It is also a great book for readers interested in trail running in Ireland.

Moire O'Sullivan was the first person to complete the Wicklow Round—a 100K linkup of 26 Irish peaks—in under 24 hours. Her first attempt in 2008 ended 21 hours in, two peaks from the finish.Mud Sweat and Tears[is a tale of defeat during her first attempt, followed by a comeback to a history-making run. Her story is an honest account that links her running to her personal life and reveals her inspiring determination.]  

Runner: A Short Story About a Long Run

By Lizzy Hawker
Genre: Memoir
Great for: Inspiration to bag some peaks.

Toeing the line of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, Lizzy Hawker had no idea that she was about to achieve a first-place finish that would begin an ultrarunning career. Hawker went on to win the UTMB five more times. She would also win the 100K World Championship, in 2006, and finish third overall at Greece’s Spartathlon, becoming the first woman to stand on the overall podium.Runneris the story of how Hawker grew from a child running through the streets of London to one of Britain’s greatest ultrarunners.

The book focuses on the story leading up to Hawker’s first race, and explores the challenges—mental, physical and emotional—that lay beyond the finish line.

Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures From the Back of the Pack

By Cory Reese
Genre: Autobiography
Great for: A quick and easy read, filled with humor.

InNowhere Near First,Cory Reese shares his perspective as a back-of-the-pack ultrarunner. He might not be out at the front but he has an ultrarunning resume. In 2014 he ran a 100 miler every month of the year and in 2015 he ran 205 miles at Across The Years 72 hour race.

The book is a collection of stories from Reese’s most memorable ultras along with a glance into his personal life, which involves juggling family life—he is a father of three, a husband and a loving dog owner to Little Debbie the Great Dane—and a job as a social worker, on top of training and racing. His stories are relatable to “normal” ultrarunners (i.e. the ones looking to finish, not necessarily to win).

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

By Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman
Genre: Memoir
Great for: Advice on running, health, diet and how the three intersect.

Scott Jurek is an ultrarunning legend. He has won the 153-mile Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, Badwater 135 and Western States 100 (seven times in a row). In 2010, at the 24-Hour World Championships, Jurek set a U.S. 24-hour distance record of 165.7 miles. He has also been a vegan since 1999.

His New York Times BestsellerEat and Run, which begins in[ Jurek’s childhood growing up with a strict father and a mother with multiple sclerosis, is an honest account of perseverance despite all odds. Jurek weaves his personal story in with nutritional advice for running on a plant-based diet, as well as recipes, race tips and thoughts on some of the philosophers that have guided the mental side of his running success.]  

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

By Dean Karnazes
Genre: Autobiography
Great for: An edge-of-your-seat read.

In 2005 Dean Karnazes ran for 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleep, covering 350 miles. In 2006, over the course of 50 consecutive days, he ran 50 marathons in 50 different states—likely his most well-known feat. It’s no secret why he earned the nickname “The Ultramarathon Man.”

[Karnazes’ eponymous book retells some of his epic adventures: trekking through California’s infamous Death Valley, running his first marathon to the South Pole and running in the canyons of California’s Sierra Nevada. But the book is about much more than ultra adventures; it is about how Karnazes used ultrarunning as an avenue for change at time when his life was at risk of falling apart.]

Run or Die

By Killian Jornet
Genre: Autobiography
Great for: Inspiration and a deeper look at one of trail running’s biggest stars.

Killian Jornet is easily the biggest name in trail ultrarunning today. Having broken records at Lake Tahoe, Western States 100, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and on Mount Kilimanjaro, Jornet has established himself as virtually unbeatable.Run or Die [is Jornet’s personal account of his races and notable runs. The book is a reflective piece that connects Jornet’s running career to his personal life and the mountainous environments in which he spends his time.]

Running Man

By Charlie Engle
Great for: A moving read of an extraordinary life.

Addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, Charlie Engle was spiralling down a rough path, until he found a new addiction: running. He went on to set a Fastest Known Time for the 4,500-mile run across Sahara Desert.Unjustly convicted of mortgage fraud, Engle served 16 months in a federal prison where he ran circles on the track. On the day of the 2011 Badwater 100, Engle toed his own imaginary Badwater startline on the jail track, where he ran 540 laps. [“Running Man” tells the story of how running brought Engle through the many challenges of his life and to many corners of the world.]

Running Beyond: Epic Ultra Trail and Skyrunning Races

By Ian Corless
Genre: Photojournalism
Great for: A coffee table centerpiece with awe-inspiring images and great accounts of ultrarunning from around the world.

[Ian Corless, an acclaimed photographer, writer and podcaster, highlights ultras from around the world, including photographs, descriptions and race maps. But racing isn’t the sole focus of this book. The pages are filled with photographs of a broad range of incredible running locations from the Grand Canyon, to the high peaks of the Italian Dolomites. ]

Feet in the Clouds : A Tale Of Fell Running and Obsession

By Richard Askwith
Genre: Journalistic-nonfiction
Great for:Readers who are interested in the history and culture of the grandfathers and grandmothers of modern-day trail running.

Fell running was the sport that preceded trail running as we know it today. The niche sport was born in the mountains known as “fells” in the Lakes District of Northern England—an area notorious for rain, fog and unmarked trails—where shepherds decided to race. The hills there may look small compared to the towering peaks of the alps, but the technical terrain and challenging weather make fell running a sport to be reckoned with.

Richard Askwith take the reader back through history to share the tales, troubles and triumphs of the tough-as-nails fell runners who are some of the best athletes Britain has ever seen, yet hardly anyone outside the Lakes District knows about. Throughout, Askwith weaves his own experiences suffering through four attempts on the notorious Bob Graham Round, alongside a wealth of factual information on the people, tall tales and cultural quirks that form the foundation of fell-running history.

Running to Leadville

By Brian Burk
Genre: Fiction
Great for: A touching love story about overcoming suffering.

Running to Leadvillemerges one of America’s toughest ultras—the Leadville Trail 100—with a story of love and divorce. Burk writes about a fictional character who uses running to cope with his parents divorce. That passion for running ultimately leads to him racing Leadville—a 100-mile race that takes place high in the Colorado Rockies. The story is fictional, though the heart ache (and leg ache) are all to relatable. 

For books specifically focussed on training and tips check out What’s the Best Ultrarunning Book for You?

What’s the Best Ultrarunning Book for You?

The low-down on 5 titles with training and other tips

Jade Belzberg November 30th, 2016

Looking for a book that will help you pick out the right trail-running shoe, explain why specificity in training is important or elaborate on the art of pooping in the woods? These tips (and many more) are included in the five ultrarunning how-to books we reviewed below. Whether you’re toeing the line at your first 50K or a veteran with more than one buckle on your belt, there’s something here for you.

Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

by Jason Koop with Jim Rutberg

Price: $21.95

What it is:A guide to preparing for ultramarathons.

Best for:Intermediate to advanced ultrarunners looking for science-driven information and in-depth explanations of training concepts.

Koop, who coaches a number of top ultrarunners including Dakota Jones, winner of 2016’s Squamish 50-Mile and Kaci Lickteig, winner of the 2016 Western States, draws on scientific research to explain why he coaches the way he does.

Koop’s techniques differ from those of many other ultrarunning coaches in the way he organizes and concentrates training workload and intensity. In the book, he covers advanced topics like “The Physiology of Building a Better Engine,” a demonstration of your body’s different energy systems and the need for specificity, and “The Technology of Ultrarunning,” which illustrates Koop’s methodology for comparing workloads and work rates from one day and one season to the next.

Additionally, everything from “fat as optimal fuel” to “why speed training is best utilized early in the season” is covered in this soon-to-become staple of all things ultrarunning.

While this book doesn’t include training plans for your first 50K, you will find the specific training plans that Koop’s athletes have used, like Dylan Bowman’s training leading up to the 2014 Western States (where he placed third). Readers will find these tables useful as they demonstrate how Koop schedules work on his clients’ strengths closer to the race and their weaknesses farther away.

Reader’s Tip: Koop’s done the hard work for you with his coaching guides to popular North American ultramarathons like Badwater 135, Hardrock 100 and Lake Sonoma 50, included in the book. These include specs like course records, cutoff times and total climbing, in addition to training and race-strategy tips (think where in the race you should be prepared to take it easy and where you should try to push).

The Ultra Mindset

by Travis Macy with John Hanc

Price: $16.99

What it is: Advice on how to achieve a postitive mindset through Macy’s years of experience as an adventure racer and ultramarathoner.

Best for: Beginner to advanced athletes looking to better their mental stamina (or pessimists who need a mindset reboot).

Those who know Travis as an athlete know his optimism is contagious, and this book is no different. Part autobiography, part self-help, The Ultra Mindset uses Travis’s experiences as an adventure racer and endurance athlete to explain a series of eight principles that allow success in sports, business and relationships.

You can’t help but grow fond of Travis as he explains how he’s learned to balance parenthood with training for races like Leadman and FKTs like the Zion Traverse. Each chapter opens with a story on how Travis developed his “mindset,” then continues with a section on how and why it worked. Activity sheets at the end of each chapter serve as starting points for readers interested in incorporating the mindset into their personal toolbox.

For anyone looking to become more optimistic—especially when the running gets tough—this is a must-read.

Reader’s Tip: The appendix summarizes all eight “ultra mindsets,” for easy reference long after you’ve finished the book. Mindset 7 (“Bad Stories, Good Stories: The Ones You Tell Yourself Make All The Difference”) is especially relevant to ultrarunning.

Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon from 50K to 100 Miles and Beyond

by Hal Koerner with Adam W. Chase

Price: $18.95

What it is: A handbook to training and running a successful 50K, 50-mile, 100K or 100-mile race.

Best for: Beginners, or any athletes who need a quick reference on “what if” situations.

Koerner—an ultrarunner with more than 90 podium places, the owner of Ashland, Oregon’s Rogue Valley Runners store and the race director of Pine to Palm 100—knows what he’s talking about. Topics include the basics of how to train, what to wear and how to fuel for an ultramrathon, but questions that aren’t covered in other guides are covered in detail here; “Should I Shave?”, “Pain Relievers” and “When You Have to Go–A Few Tips” are thoroughly discussed. Expert tips are scattered throughout, with most topics explained through Koerner’s own experience.

While the training plans at the end of the book aren’t as thorough as in some other books, his honest, personal take is helpful and approachable for beginner and intermediate ultrarunners. His book is best read by identifying an issue you’re concerned about and scanning the contents for the appropriate chapter.

Reader’s Tip: Dog-ear the “Top 10 Must Do’s on Race Day,” which include having more than one goal if your race goes awry.

The Sage Running Secret: A Guide to Speedy Ultras: How to run faster on any surface at any distance

by Sage Canaday with Sandi Nypaver

Price: $8.99 for eBook only; $24.99 for eBook with training plans for 50K and 50-mile to 100K goals.

What it is: A short eBook containing self-described “golden nuggets of training wisdom.”

Best for: Beginners and those wanting a quick read that discusses basic running terms and techniques from the pros.

Sage Canaday hurtled onto the ultrarunning scene following a successful stint as a collegiate and post-collegiate athlete, with several wins at the 50K, 50-mile and 100K distances. The Sage Running Secret uses Canaday’s years of personal experience as an athlete and coach to introduce terms like fartlek and tempo, then explain why ultrarunners should be adding speed work into their training.

Through a variety of metaphors (making a pizza, Prius vs. Mustang), Canaday shows readers that, with some tweaks, becoming a more efficient and powerful runner is possible.

The book, which explains the basics of terms like lactate threshold, periodization and VO2 max, is best suited for beginners because of its at times overly simplified explanations.

Favorite Advice: “You can’t have a perfect pizza that is ideal to eat all the time, and you can’t be in peak race shape for the entire year. Something always has to give.”

Running Your First Ultra: Customizable Training Plans for Your First 50K to 100-Mile Race

by Krissy Moehl

Price: $22.99

What it is: A comprehensive training guide, with training plans, for your first 50K to 100-mile race.

Best for: Beginners to advanced athletes, especially women.

Krissy Moehl’s book is almost coffee-table worthy, with its large format and stunning pictures, but there’s more-than-you’ve-bargained-for information here.

Personal anecdotes give meaning to subjects like “Body Care,” “Night Running” and “Race Mentality”, including sections on how to mentally prepare yourself for each phase of training. In a chapter titled “Run Like a Girl,” Moehl discusses women-specific gear, pregnancy and the menstrual cycle–topics that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in comparable trail- and ultrarunning books.

Several quizzes and goal-setting worksheets balance thorough and easy-to-fill-in training plans for 50K, 50-mile and 100-mile distances. A packing list for crew, fuel chart and race budget are just a few of the logs presented at the end. Plus, Moehl is a fan of strength work, so expect a host of core and full-body exercises to be incorporated into your training.

Favorite Advice: “You are your best teacher. Use this and other resources as your guides as you learn; tune in and listen to your body for the greatest lessons.”

Double runs are a staple of elite training programs. They might benefit trail runners, too.
  1. If you are volume limited, prioritize single long runs over shorter double runs.

Up to a certain point, sustained aerobic stimulus is likely better than multiple shorter runs. For most trail runners, a 10-mile run is better than two five-mile runs because of increased aerobic and musculoskeletal stress that spurs adaptations. So when designing your weekly training schedule, the first priority should be sustained aerobic stimulus.

  1. Never double on a long-run day.

Because the goals of long runs are specific adaptations for resilience and aerobic development that come from sustained work, doubling on a long-run day doesn’t help the primary training goal (and could detract from it by causing injury).

Get to the Starting Line Stress-Free

Tips for getting to the start of your next race without feeling frazzled.

Sarah Lavender Smith August 21st, 2017

This writing is excerpted from The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, From 5Ks to Ultras, by Trail Runner contributing editor Sarah Lavender Smith. The book offers extensive information on developing trail-specific skills, adapting your training for ultra distances and reaching goals on race day.


Getting to the start of a race can feel like getting to a departure gate in an airport. So much planning and preparation has to happen to get out the door with everything you need, and then you may struggle to arrive on time and make it through check-in. Did you forget to pack anything? What if there’s traffic along the way? How much time will it take to park, catch a shuttle and stand in lines?

I’ve heard many runners at starting lines express that they felt frazzled, forgetful, constipated or nauseous because of a harried morning. Good race-day planning, like good travel planning, helps minimize the stress and sets you off on the race poised to reach your goals.

First, you should book travel and lodging for a destination race far in advance. During the taper weeks, fine-tune your itinerary and confirm all your transportation plans, building in extra time to get to the starting line approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour before the start. That will give you ample time to park, stand in line for the bathroom and get ready to run, with wiggle room in case of delay on the way.

Study the race website, and look for emails from the race director, in the days leading up to the race. Sometimes eleventh-hour course reroutes happen due to weather or other unexpected circumstances. Make sure you understand both the directions to get to the starting line (along with parking or shuttle instructions), and the directions for the race route itself. Print out the directions to the start and a course map; carry the course map in a pocket during the race, folded in a plastic baggie, unless you are completely confident you know the route. Most trail races are clearly marked with directional signs or ribbons and chalk, but sometimes the markings are sparse or have been removed by vandals.

Use the following checklists to plan the 24 hours to the start.


Checklists for Race Day

The day before:

The morning of: