The Book Every Runner Should Read

“In mastering my fear of suffering in races, I acquired a greater level of respect for myself, a sense of inner strength that has helped me tackle other challenges, both inside and outside sports.” — Matt Fitzgerald, author of How Bad Do You Want It?

As Thursday evening wound down, a feeling of uncertainty overcome my thoughts.

Four weeks earlier, with life’s pressures ready to swallow me up, I wanted to race the Fargo Marathon with reckless abandon. Somehow, though, I needed to “flip the switch,” finding a singular purpose and commitment to channel my focus and energy. It wasn’t until moments before the race, as I readied to enter the starting chute, that I knew it would be a good day. It was my time to seek redemption for the unsatisfying feeling left from the Los Angeles Marathon.

In the weeks following Fargo, training went well, but motivation was lacking with Grandma’s less than 36 hours away. What would prompt me to drive 5 hours across Minnesota, under the threat of thunderstorms, and push myself to the brink?

I found 2 motivational factors. After Fargo, I wanted to run under 3:20 for the fifth time. And I wanted to strengthen my mental fitness, in an ongoing experiment of one, to reinforce a belief that toughness can be a mindset and determine the outcome of a race.

Before drifting off to sleep, I downloaded a book by Matt Fitzgerald, a respected endurance sports performance author, for listening on the drive. I’ve read several of his books that were excellent — Racing Weight, Iron War and Performance Nutrition for Runners among them — and abandoned one that I struggled to read (Brain Training for Runners).

How Bad Do You Want It? was released last fall and takes a deep dive into the struggles and champion mindset of several endurance athletes across numerous disciplines. It is a must read for any endurance athlete looking to improve performance as it explores the relationship between pain and accomplishment. Of all the books I’ve read, this is the one every runner should read to capitalize on his or her potential, particularly on race day.


Standing with friends before the start of Grandma’s Marathon, I couldn’t help but notice the sweat starting to bead on my skin. Ninety-three percent humidity, even at 68 degrees, can do that, especially under a clear sky and no wind.

Many of the runners were adjusting their expectations for the race.

Not me.

When a friend asked for my goal, I didn’t waiver: 3:20.

I talked with a couple of Wisconsin runners. They didn’t know each other, but in the 15 minutes standing in line for the bathrooms, we learned a lot about each other. Neither had run Grandma’s before, so I shared a few tips. They were planning to adjust their race plans.

For me, there would be no changes in expectations — either burn up, burn out or breakthrough. No matter what, I had decided, I would leave knowing that I couldn’t have done anything more. The only question, one beyond my control, would be the physiological effect of running in the heat.

As much as I love to run, my intention wasn’t to simply finish. My goal, as in all races, was to push myself. To find a better version of myself. Anything less, at least to me, would be unsatisfying — and why my best performances are based on how I feel about the experience.

Going through the motions wouldn’t satisfy me.

By the end of the race, my body was running on fumes. Over the final few miles, I wanted — more than anything — to be done. Making a final push, I limped my overheated body across the finish line. Drenched in sweat, a satisfaction washed over me — goal accomplished and a finisher’s medal around my neck.



2 Responses

  1. Andrew

    Good for you Steve! You definitely seem to be running with good fitness. 3:20 is nothing to scoff at.

    After reading the third edition of Jack Daniel’s running formula last year, I’m dipping in to the second edition of Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning. I found it an easier read than Daniel’s book. I’m trying out his 12/55 plan for a marathon in September.

    My favorite running-related book is “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami. My second favorite would be “Duel In The Sun” by John Brant. It’s likely that you’ve read both.

    1. Andrew, thanks for the note. I’ve read a lot of running books, and there are some good ones. Jack Daniels has some great stuff, but it can be a bit tough in spots to read, and I’ve only skimmed Advanced Marathoning and Murakami’s book. I tend to go through cycles — reading books for performance and others for entertainment (recently completed John L. Parker’s trilogy again).

      Hope you have a great summer for running. Thanks for reading the blog, and I hope to squeeze in time to write about a few other great books to read. Keep on running,

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