I hated running at first. I always felt like I was dying. Even after spending months building up my endurance by using an elliptical daily in the gym, I had a lot to learn about pacing myself during a run so that I didn’t always give the all-out effort that made me feel so miserable within a matter of seconds.
I’ve been a runner since 2010. I started running because a co-worker advised it was a faster way to lose weight (I started my weight loss journey in May 2009 and was losing weight rapidly but wanted to keep it going).
Over the years, I’ve run so many races that I’ve lost count. I ran my first marathon in 2011 and another in 2012. After that, my focus was mostly on half-marathons and trail running (which is far different from road running) that both my partner and I could do together.
In 2017, I first vowed I would run an ultra marathon. I trained for it. I listened to some of the audiobooks I’ll mention in this post during those long trail runs. I never raced an ultra. I ended up running 30 miles on my treadmill on December 30, 2017 because I didn’t want to break a promise to myself. Less than 3 months later, I ran 35 miles on the treadmill to celebrate my 35th birthday. Those are technically ultra marathons since they are over 26.2 miles and they were very difficult for me, but aren’t races by any stretch of the imagination.
I put the goal of running an ultra on the back burner as I finished my college degree and needed to focus my energy on achieving high grades to get into grad school and running my business, Inspire Transformation.
In 2019, I found myself on a workout streak. I realized after a few weeks that I had worked out every day without taking a day off. I had never done that before… even at my most fit, I took rest days. But I started to realize I didn’t “need” them like I thought I did if I just exercised differently each day and didn’t always give that all-out effort. Before I knew it, I was at 100 days straight of working out, then 200. It was around this time that I started looking at the ultra goal again and knew it was something I could achieve.
When you set your mind to a goal, you might get obsessive about it like I do. I started back up with watching running documentaries and listening to running audiobooks when out on my long runs. I found the audiobooks helped pass the time, made me feel better about the struggle I was going through, offered inspiration and insight that only another long-distance runner would understand.
With that being said, I currently have 9 audiobooks I want to give a thoughtful review of. I really enjoyed most of them but I am still looking for “the one” that speaks to me and my own experience and history of running. And maybe I’ll never find it until I write it myself.
Overall, it is worth noting that ALL of these endurance athletes were physically active as children in some way… even Mirna. Most were even in competitive sports as kids. This was frustrating to me because my own childhood did not include any kind of sports of physical activity (other than being forced to do gymnastics, swimming, or kickball in school). I feel like when you were active as a child (when your brain and body are developing) your body and mind develops to enjoy physical activity in ways that inactive people struggle to understand. Same is true when you have parents and siblings who encourage athleticism. Needless to say, this gives them an advantage for endurance running. So, I did not find ANY of the stories as inspiring as they could have been if they would have started out, “I hated PE class. I wasn’t encouraged to play sports. And I refused to play tag.”
Also, it’s worth noting that every one of these athletes came to running as a way of escaping a problem. Or, they might say it was a solution to a problem. For some, it was running from addiction in the form of drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, working too much, sex… for others it was running away from a meaningless life and health crisis. I have yet to hear a story from an endurance athlete that doesn’t sound a little bit compulsive. Admittedly, Mirna’s story is the least motivated by achievement and addiction, and maybe we can conclude that’s why she’s not a “winner” of races like the other authors. With that being said, running isn’t about winning. For all of these runners, it’s about giving their best, challenging what their body is capable of, and experiencing life through running in a way that most people will never understand.
I am inspired daily by the fact that I can run long distances on my own two feet when just 10 years ago I was 300-pounds and huffing and puffing trying to just walk up a hill in my neighborhood. These audiobooks offer a bit of that inspiration, too. They are often like talking with a good friend who’s in the struggle with you on this running journey. They give you hope and sometimes a good laugh. I hope you find a desire to download at least one of these audiobooks and give it a listen on your next workout!
The Audiobook Reviews:
Running Man / Charlie Engle: Should You Read It? YES!
Hard to put down. Probably like any addiction. Charlie has an amazing life story full of twists and turns in his personal life and his professional life. Even when Charlie screws up and lets his ego take the wheel and drive, you can’t help but relate to him and root for him like your favorite underdog. I first learned about Charlie Engle back in 2012 when I watched his two running documentaries: Running the Sahara and Running America. He truly inspired me with his courage to not only think up wild and crazy adventures, but to take the risk of going after them. Like many people who get into endurance sports, Charlie was/is an addict and running was probably what saved his life from being an alcoholic crackhead. Even when you thought his story was going to turn out well, you find out, BAM! He ends up in prison! Another twist and turn for this celebrated ultra runner! Charlie’s book reminds me that we all are faced with limitations regardless if they are fair or not. What we do within that limitation is what keeps our spirit alive and gives us a reason to live. Charlie’s passion is contagious in this book and in his documentaries. He might seem like a hard-ass disciplinarian, but he really just has high expectations for himself and the people around him and excuses are to be overcome, not given into. By the way, Charlie recently ran for 27 hours straight to celebrate 27 years of sobriety— that’s fucking inspirational!
Finding Ultra / Rich Roll: Should You Read It? Heck No.
Originally, I listened to this audiobook a couple years ago, but re-listened recently hoping to give it a more fair review. First, you should know that Rich Roll narrates his own book and he’s as monotone as they come. That alone should send you screaming in the opposite direction. Secondly, he has a big ego (like many endurance athletes) and his self-righteousness comes through big time in recounting his experiences in this book (mostly in how other people don’t live up to the same standards as he does and his obsession with food purity and Veganism). There are a few nuggets of wisdom in the book, but they are nearly impossible to get to through the monotone narration. You can chance it and waste 8 hours listening for those nuggets or you can move on. From a psychological perspective, I think Rich’s story is one of the most unhealthy (mentally) and could aggravate a listener’s eating disorder or addictive personality if listened to his story for too long.
Life is A Marathon / Matt Fitzgerald: Should You Read It? Maybe…
Subtitle: A Memoir of Love and Endurance. I should have read the subtitle. This book was half about running and half about what it is like to live with a partner who has bipolar disorder. This was one of the most difficult audiobooks to stay focused with because there did not seem to be a timeline in which events happened (either with races, meeting other runners, or his wife’s bipolar episodes in which she often tried to kill him). The jumping back and forth in time without a clear indication of that’s what was happening was frustrating. The only way I made it through this audiobook was by telling myself that linear time doesn’t matter and just tried to focus on the individual vignettes that were overall very good, relatable, and often captivating (like when his wife was trying to murder him with a kitchen knife, for instance). They say that running is a sport for those with a strong mind and that running improves your ability to do boring things… so, you definitely need to be a runner to get through this book. Because the majority of this book is about running, this was a good audiobook to take out on a trail run because you could relate to the feeling of being lost in a race or feeling like you don’t have it in you to keep going until a stranger runs up next to you and provides that little bit of encouragement to keep you pushing forward. I also related to the humility Matt faced (about an hour and a half before the end of the book) when confronted with his role in his wife’s mental illness and outbursts. During the majority of the book, he makes you feel like he’s the victim and such a martyr for staying in the marriage with this “crazy” woman, but he played a key role in her decline in mental health by being hyper focused on athleticism that did not involve her. There was never a mention of couples therapy between the married couple (which completely normal people do, by the way)… only the hope that the right drugs would cure EVERYTHING. Matt likens his endurance for running to his endurance for his marriage— being able to stick with it when even when things look hopeless. I would have appreciated more introspection on his role in his marriage and wife’s mental health as it’s something that my partner and I also battle from time to time (not bipolar, but depression). Over all, the stories in the audiobook were good but the flow was down right awful.
A Beautiful Work In Progress / Mirna Valerio: Should You Read It? Maybe…
First off, Mirna has a gift for narration! She has so far been one of the best narrators of audiobooks I’ve ever heard. With that being said, it’s probably the only thing that saved this book for me and kept me listening when I was seriously debating giving it up half-way through. Even though the book starts out with Mirna struggling in a race, the book quickly takes a turn down memory lane and stays there for more than half the book. Mirna has lived a very cultured and academic life and she spent a good deal of time elaborating on her upbringing, family health scares, her own health scare and weight loss journey that led her to run, her career, and being a mother. All of which I did not find to be nearly as exciting as her journey with running. Mirna dedicated a lot of time to over-explaining things that probably were very meaningful to her, but did not add the captivating context that maybe she hoped it would. Don’t get me wrong, when Mirna actually got into her stories about training for races and running in races, her passion came through loud and clear and held my attention… I just had to wait a long time for this to happen. Mina’s running stories were incredibly relatable as a bigger girl myself. There’s always that fear of finishing a race DFL (dead fucking last) and what others may think of you based on your appearance. I related to her race stories, how running makes her feel, and the dedication and discipline she commits to her training. If you can tolerate the stories about her family members’ health problems, the Spanish-speaking portions, and what it’s like being a new mother, the book is well worth it for the running stories. However, I wouldn’t recommend this book as something to listen to while running, because half of it isn’t about running (or facing big challenges), and you might feel lost in the storyline if not entirely focused on where she is trying to take you.
Eat and Run / Scott Jurek: Should You Read It? YES!
Didn’t think I was going to enjoy this one due to the emphasis on a Vegan diet. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to his vegan recipes at the end of the audiobook. I think this book didn’t reflect it’s title very well, but that’s okay. Like many running memoirs, Scott focuses a lot of his story on his upbringing and how his motivation for running was fueled in different ways by his parents, his love for skiing, and his friend Dusty (we all need a Dusty in our lives, by the way). Scott’s story kept my mind entertained and busy on a few long-day training runs as I traversed on my own adventure. Scott is a champion among endurance athletes and he made sure you knew it in this audiobook. Scott did a decent job of marrying the lows and highs of running (and winning), but I secretly wished there was more emotion around failure and how he actually dealt with it. The mantra repeated throughout the book (taken from his dad): “Sometimes, you just do things” seemed to be the major reasoning for sticking it out when times got hard. Scott’s competitiveness and need to prove nay sayers wrong felt relatable at first, but after awhile, felt obsessive and perhaps indicative of mental health issues (probably thanks to his father’s harsh parenting). Even though Scott’s story is pretty ordinary over all (I mean, he wasn’t addicted to drugs, didn’t have a major financial crisis, didn’t have a physical limitation, didn’t introduce us to a major adversity to overcome), he did a good job of turning something ordinary into extraordinary. I also appreciated some of the athletic tips at the ends of the chapters. I took note of them and started implementing some of them into my own routine.
Ultra Marathon Man / Dean Karnazes: Should You Read It? YES!
All-time favorite running book, hands down. I first read this book when I got into running back in early 2010. I have since listened to this audiobook on multiple times on multiple long runs. Dean has a way of telling a story that takes you along for the ride and places you right there in the thick of it with him. His adventurous spirit is contagious and you can’t help but want that for yourself. His wit gives you the chuckles just when you need it and the depths of the struggle and pain make you glad to not be him. This audiobook is a great first read on running and the highs and lows it can bring to anyone fortunate enough to be able-bodied to run. This is my go-to audiobook when I’m on a long training run and need something to take my mind off the run because the majority of the book is about running. Even when Dean reflects on his upbringing or situations with his family members, he is able to weave it quickly into his running story. This is a classic that I will never tire of. Every time I listen to it, I feel like I hear something new.
Run! / Dean Karnazes: Should You Read It? YES!
Dean’s book Run! feels like it picks up where Ultra Marathon Man leaves off, only in a different format: 26.2 chapters of stories about running. Knowing ahead of time that these chapters are going to jump all over the place, it’s easy to mentally keep up with the narratives. Just as wild and crazy as Dean’s Ultra Marathon book, the stories in this book do not disappoint. I will say that one of the minor frustrations I had with this book were the sections that interviewed Dean’s family and friends. Some of it (the kids words mostly) were boring and using the same narrator for their “voices” felt weird to me. But I did appreciate their perspective on Dean and how he inspired them to live their best lives… even if their story telling wasn’t as well crafted as Dean’s. This is another good audiobook to bring on a long trail run.
Reborn on the Run / Catra Corbett: Should You Read It? Maybe…
I hoped to like this book a lot more than I did because I’ve been a fan of Catra’s since about 2011. She’s the first person to turn me on to Hoka One One running shoes (the shoe that saved my desire to run long distance) and the importance of running with a hydration vest. Like a few reviewers of her book mentioned, the narrative jumps around a lot in the second half of the book and it is often difficult to stay on track with her flow of thought / storytelling and you don’t have to be ADHD to say that. I know there could have been a better flow to the second half… it felt like maybe she was under pressure to finish writing and didn’t give it as much thought. However, I did admire Catra’s ability to call herself out on her own BS (using Veganism and ultra running as an excuse for her eating disorder), but also felt the story focused too much on past lovers and not enough on her experiences. As someone who has PTSD and struggles with disassociation, I think maybe Catra’s writing lacked the passion and emotion it could have had because she might disassociate (like me). She mentions several traumatizing things in her book that would lead someone to have PTSD and they were often told so “matter-of-factly” that I couldn’t empathize with her pain even though I wanted to. She tells you the facts of what happened, but the emotion just isn’t there. I stuck it out because I admire Catra, but haven’t done a great deal of recommending this book due to narrative issues. She has an amazing story hidden in there, but it didn’t come out and grab me the way it should have. I would love to see Catra take some time off from running and take a creative writing class so that she can follow this book up with a more informed, more passionate story of her life through running. Or, next time hire a better editor?
The Extra Mile / Pam Reed: Should You Read It? YES!
I like Pam, and I don’t know much about her (other than what I’ve read and heard in some of the other ultra marathon books). Pam seems like a no-nonsense kind of gal (like myself) and is passionate (if not fanatical) about running. Her story captivated me and had just enough controversy to make me question her running motives at times. This book was mostly about her running career, and I appreciated that because so many other “running” books end up being 2/3 personal memoir with some running stories peppered in. This was not the case with Pam— her book was difficult to put down and I finished it in record time. Like Catra Corbett, Pam Reed was anorexic. Unlike Catra, Pam spent a good deal of time trying to justify her eating disorder in the name of competitive running. It felt like she was trying to understand how the eating disorder came about, how it served her in her athletic life, and almost glorifying it. Although, mentioning many times that it was far from healthy and could have destroyed her running career. Pam credits running as her savior from her eating disorder. Like many people with addictive personalities, she traded one obsession for another. Because Pam has a long history with endurance running and I believe she is a very introspective person, she had a lot of interesting insights on the types of runners there are and what it takes (mentally) to push yourself during difficult races. I will say that Pam seems to be of the philosophy that being kind/compassionate with yourself is not for winners… that you need to always push your hardest if you’re going to win. I think this is a normal flaw in the thinking of someone with an addictive personality. Because I relate so much with Pam’s personality, I appreciated this running book more than many of the others. Like Scott Juke’s book, I felt like I learned a lot from her insights on ultra running that I can apply to my own journey.
Well, that’s it for now! Will there be another running audiobook review post in the future? Perhaps! I have a few weeks of training before my own ultra marathon race and I will undoubtedly be listening to during training and during the race. Stay tuned!
Did you appreciate these reviews? Pay it forward by donating to the causes I am running for!:
A New Way of Life is an organization that advances multi-dimensional solutions to the effects of incarceration. They provide housing and support to formerly incarcerated women for successful community re-entry, family reunification and individual healing. They work to restore the civil rights of formerly incarcerated people. They empower, organize and mobilize formerly incarcerated people as advocates for social change and personal transformation. Why A New Way of Life? Because if circumstances had been only slightly different, I could have found myself incarcerated too. Getting a second chance at life after incarceration is nearly impossible, but this organization can help. My goal is to raise $200 for this organization!
Girls on the Run is an organization that envisions a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams. They inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. The life skills taught by Girls on the Run have a stronger effect on girls than those taught by traditional sports or physical education programs and positively change girls during the 10-week program and beyond. Why Girls on the Run? If I had access to something like this as a youth, maybe I would have not have been tormented by bullies for my weight and I wouldn’t have given up on myself for so long. My goal is to raise $200 for this organization!
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