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27 Books All Athletes Should Read
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With stay-at-home measures in place, many of us are finding ourselves with extra downtime on our hands. We tapped our staff and some of our friends to hear what’s on their reading lists right now. These books are filled with stories that will have you fighting to keep up your fitness routine, and maybe even signing up for fall marathons, too.
No matter their year of publication, no matter which sport they embrace — surfing, running, hiking, mountain biking, weightlifting and more — the feeling we get is the same: inspired.
The Incomplete Book of Running, Peter Sagal
Peter Sagal is the host of the popular NPR podcast, Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and his latest book weaves a narrative about how running can help with survival — not just from a run-faster perspective, but rather from a personal and mental health perspective. Sagal was sedentary for most of his life and didn’t pick up running until just before he turned 40. The Incomplete Book of Running is a humorous read for self-proclaimed runners, those who want to get into the sport and even those who want nothing to do with it.
Good to Go, Christie Aschwanden
Recovery has been the buzzword in the health and fitness world for the past couple of years due to an uptick in awareness around foam rolling, stretching, napping and more. In this book, Aschwanden takes a closer look at what works and what doesn’t — and topics range from drinks, shakes, compression sleeves, sleep trackers and more. From real world testing to digestible scientific studies, Aschwanden makes it easy to know what you should add to your fitness routine.
Running Home, Katie Arnold
Writer and reporter Katie Arnold’s first book, about how running helped her heal from her father’s death, will inspire you to hit the trails and churn your legs no matter your burdens. An adventurer at heart, Arnold shares how over the course of three years, she pushed herself to run longer and longer distances, past the point of pain and into acceptance.
Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport, Yvon Chouinard
When was the last time you read a coffee table book? Sure, the images in Chouinard’s tome alone are worth its heft — outdoor adventures always seem to look so much better in grainy retro photos — but don’t ignore the words between them. The book is organized as a collection of letters, articles and journal entries written by Patagonia’s founder. Between moments from a life lived on mountain flanks and surf breaks are anecdotes that color in the gaps (including a run-in with the Guatemalan Army, for example).
26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career, Meb Keflezighi
After 26 marathons, four trips to the Olympics and thousands of miles, Meb Keflezighi retired with the 2017 New York City marathon. He’s won the Boston and New York marathons in addition to having a reputation in the running world as one of the kindest and hardest-working souls. This powerful book tells Keflezighi’s story but makes it a quick read. Keflezighi shares what he learned from each of those 26 marathons (one for each mile in a marathon — 26.2), including life lessons that apply to everyone.
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, David Epstein
If you’ve ever wondered what Serena Williams, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps have in common, Epstein explores the limits of biology and what training can do for your body. The Sports Gene looks at the nature vs. nurture debate and also features interviews with Olympians about the quality of their training. Is there a gene that determines how good you’ll be at sports? Epstein strives to find out.
Liferider: Heart, Body, Soul, and Life Beyond the Ocean, Laird Hamilton
Laird Hamilton’s name now extends past the surfing world into the world of fitness thanks to his ability to seemingly never age, a modeling career and his first book. This book goes beyond just pure fitness and surfing and looks at how everything is connected — from death and fear to your heart, body and soul. Hamilton shares his viewpoint on life and everything that comes with it, from relationships to business to risk-taking.
The Glory Game, Hunter Davies
Before sports got so damn big, official Beatles biographer Hunter Davies spent an entire season with London’s Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Hanging with the players from the field to the locker room to their homes, he penned what was an unflinching exposé of English soccer in 1972 — and is a charming time capsule today.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
Finnegan’s recent memoir begins with a childhood colored by after-school fights and learning to surf before turning to a rambling journey around the world and an account of what it’s like to be a surfer living in New York City. Finnegan doesn’t shy from technical descriptions of surfing, but any athlete, surfer or not, will understand his tale of how a singular passion can shape an entire life.
Shoe Dog, Phil Knight
Knight’s account of Nike’s founding offers a peek behind the curtain of the most successful sports brand in the world. How did he go from selling shoes out of the back of his car to earning $30 billion annually? In true athletic fashion, the answer can be only one word: determination. One Gear Patrol staffer sums it up succinctly: “It’s a Nike ad, but nonetheless, a quick and enjoyable read.”
Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier, Scott Douglas
If you ask a runner why they go out running for hours on end, you’re likely to get a variety of answers, but seeking calm is one of the most common ones. Running builds muscle and is a good exercise for your heart, but science now shows it’s also great for your brain. Douglas uses studies and personal experience to document the therapeutic benefits of running. But even if you’re not a runner, this book is worth picking up.
The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, Kobe Bryant
The late Kobe Bryant was a pillar of excellence in his field — he built a reputation for himself by merely playing and excelling at what he does. His first book, perhaps more poignant than ever after his untimely death, gives fans an insight into how he got himself amped before every game and how he pushed the boundaries of sport. For those who remember every play he made over the past two decades, you’re in luck, as Bryant dissects those as well. You’ll want to display this book on your coffee table after you’re done — the images are stunning and present on nearly every page.
The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive, Jim Afremow
If you’re looking for an edge to help you hit that new deadlift weight or mile time or lead the softball team to victory in the upcoming tournament, this book is for you. The Champion’s Mind explores how elite, Division 1 and recreational athletes get in the zone before a big game or competition, in addition to individualized paths to progress. No matter what your goals are, this book will help you get to the next level.
Let Your Mind Run, Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton
“If you’re interested in the power of positive thinking, give this a read. It’s an intimate look inside the mind of an elite runner, Deena Kastor, as she transforms her running career by transforming her mind and her way of thinking. Simple examples like ‘So I decided to approach the hill playfully. Hill, today, you’re mine’ made each practice more positive and made Deena a stronger person and athlete. I think every runner, from beginner to elite, can find a positive takeaway from Deena to incorporate into their daily practice.” — Jes Woods, Nike Run Coach
The Game, Ken Dryden
Hall of Fame NHL goaltender Ken Dryden illustrates what life on the ice and beyond is like for a pro hockey player in this account of the Montreal Canadiens and their Stanley Cup-winning 1978-1979 season. The Game is almost always referred to as the best book about ice hockey of all time and in Canada, it’s considered a national treasure.
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown
The aftershocks of The Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler blend together to create the backdrop for a story about a sport you might not know you’re interested in: rowing. Brown follows the story of the University of Washington’s team as they upend rowing’s class-based institution and seek Olympic success. The story is enough to keep the pages turning, but the archival photos will have you flipping ahead.
Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance, Dr. Kelly Starrett
Laugh it up, non-supple leopards. This is a book about moving more efficiently — whether that movement takes place in a squat rack or walking the dog. Because it’s written by a physiotherapist and laid out like a textbook, it is not a book one reads leisurely or for fun, but it genuinely does make days spent entirely inside a house or apartment much better.
How Bad Do You Want It?, Matt Fitzgerald
“Continuing the theme of mental training, [this book] is all about mental toughness. We all have different coping styles and not one method is the ideal recipe to greatness, so Matt explores a dozen pivotal races and what gives these elite athletes an edge, mentally. There are countless quotable moments in this book, but the following is my favorite and helped me through my last race: ‘Sweet disgust is really the opposite of defeat. It is the determination to fight back, something that is hard to do effectively without anger.’ I think it’s fascinating to learn how mental fortitude can help you win over physically stronger competitors and [can be] used as your secret weapon out on the course.” — Jes Woods, Nike Run Coach
Finding Ultra, Rich Roll
“I love Rich’s podcast, and I think his story is so interesting. Finding Ultra follows his life: from all-star swimmer, turned lawyer, turned raging alcoholic to what he is now, an ultra runner, podcaster, dad, vegan advocate and so much more. I loved reading Finding Ultra, particularly in the height of my marathon training where the humidity was one thousand percent and runs felt like crap. Even though an ultra is much harder than anything I could imagine, hearing him talk about the ‘pain cave’ that is running was helpful for me.” — Lindsey Clayton, Barry’s Bootcamp Instructor
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
“I love this book because it’s a beautiful account of one man’s love and obsession with his two favorite things: running and writing. It’s vivid, and it brings the reader into his world. The way he writes about running is so eloquent; it’s almost like he writes about running the way you wish you could explain it, but can’t find the words.” — Lindsey Clayton, ran this year’s NYC Marathon
Essentialism, Greg McKeown
“This is the quintessential burnout survival book. In my experience, runners are often the Type-A, overly-ambitious, competitive types who are far more likely to take on more than they can chew at work and in relationships. This book really helped me slow down and create strict guidelines about how I choose to spend my time.” — Gabriella Kelly, Head of Brand at Satisfy Running
A Race Like No Other, Liz Robbins
“This is an epic book that I am so glad I read before my first marathon. It gave me an understanding of what to expect as I ran the NYC marathon: the crowds, what you’ll be seeing. And despite all this, it still didn’t prepare me fully for the day ahead!” — Dan Churchill, Chef of Under Armour and Co-Founder of Charley St
Two Hours, Ed Caesar
“Part history lesson, part compelling narrative, part discussion of physiology, geography and culture, and part commentary on the current challenges the sport of running is facing, this is the compelling true story of Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, one of the most dominating marathoners of our modern time and his pursuit of the 2-hour marathon. It’s educational, inspirational, aspirational and a must-read, whether you’re a passionate fan of the sport or not.” — Mario Fraioli, Running Coach and Founder of The Morning Shakeout
Hypoventilation Training, Push Your Limits, Xavier Woorons
“The one for the nerds. The first thing we do in life is breathe and the last thing we do is breathe. Don’t tell me that how we are breathing is not important. One of the things I concentrate the most on when I am running races is to get the air all the way down my stomach and not just in my lungs.” — Lars C. Pedersen, founder of Saysky
Endure, Alex Hutchinson
“Why — and how — do we keep going when every fiber of our being is telling us to stop? This is the great paradox of endurance sports and a question any runner, regardless of experience or ability level, is forced to confront. In short: Read it.” — Mario Fraioli, Running Coach and Founder of The Morning Shakeout
Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
“This provides a firsthand insight into the natural state of running. It takes into account the runners of a native Mexican tribe and how their ancestors have been running epic distances for years, yet don’t get injured like we see today. This goes along with my own philosophy on minimizing, both when it comes to food, your routine and your lifestyle.” — Dan Churchill, Chef of Under Armour and Co-Founder of Charley St
Meditations From the Breakdown Lane: Running Across America, James E. Shapiro
“[This is] for the ‘Burningman’ runner. Shapiro’s account of running across the US in the 1980s is kind of like the running biography version of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, capturing the ‘zen’ of long distance running with interjections of the weirdness that comes along with it.” — Gabriella Kelly, Head of Brand at Satisfy Running
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