Trail-Running Books for Your Reading List

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

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. Runner is 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.

In Nowhere 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 Bestseller Eat 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
Genre: Memoir
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 Leadville merges 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?

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada