April 29, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Kristen Richards
Books about trail running are the guilty pleasure that I never feel guilty about. While some people go for fiction, fantasy, or crime, my first stop at a bookstore is the running section to discover any new titles I have yet to read. There are a variety of trail running books, from how-to guides on introducing trails to a road runner’s training regime to memoirs about ultramarathons and Fastest-Known-Time (FKT) attempts of the most famous long trails in the country.
“Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall is a book that I read over and over again, fascinated by the mix of running, history, and culture — and, of course, the endurance of ultrarunning. This book follows some of the most competitive ultrarunners and ultramarathon races and focuses particularly on the Tarahumara tribe of the Copper Canyon in northwestern Mexico.
One of the drawbacks of this book is that McDougall is a white male writing about the insights of the Tarahumara running tribe. McDougall takes some literary liberties in his descriptions of the tribe and the location where they live, most likely to cater the book to a white American audience. However, even with its flaws, this book is a story that made me fall in love with trail running and ultramarathon distances.
“North” by Scott Jurek and his partner, Jenny Jurek, from my own personal view, is a rather controversial book in the world of ultrarunning, fastpacking, and FKTs. Itis written about their experience while Scott Jurek is attempting a FKT route fastpacking on the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. Another book by Scott Jurek, “Eat and Run,”outlines ultrarunning and veganism. One thing that I would note about these books is that Jurek is a professional runner and sadly not all of the advice he shares throughout his books is something that every runner can relate to.
Jennifer Phar Davis’s “The Pursuit of Endurance”follows Davis’s own FKT attempt. It’s an excellent complement for “North.” Each book portrays different experiences of the same trail. Jurek is a well-established runner with the privileges of sponsorship, full support of a van carrying his supplies, and dozens of people along the way helping him through his journey.
Davis has similar support but does not have the fame that Jurek acquired from his years of ultrarunning. In my opinion, “The Pursuit of Endurance”is a humbling book and an incredible story. Don’t tell Jurek, but if I had to choose between “North” and “The Pursuit of Endurance,” I would pick Davis’s “The Pursuit of Endurance.”
“Let Your Mind Run” by Deen Kastor is an uplifting memoir about Kastor’s experience going from racing on a track to racing through the mountains and along a trail. This book focuses on mindfulness and the mental aspect of ultrarunning, something that is a prominent and crucial part of running long distances. Kastor uses her own experiences to outline how she trains mentally as well as physically.
There are dozens of other trail-running books that I have not read, though every time I visit Poor Richards or Tattered Cover, I hope for a new title on the running bookshelf. If you are hungry for more, look for “Spirit Run”by Noé Âlvarez or “Mud Sweat and Tears: An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery” by Moire O’Sullivan. Reading books about trail running is an experience of learning and moving with a variety of athletes and authors, and is, in itself, a kind of training.