I have been asked countless times about "what it takes" to run an ultramarathon or about how one begins training for ultraraces. The answer to these questions can be either short or complex: the short answer is that you start running every day; the complex answer is filling in the details of what it takes to do so (nutrition, training plans, gear, etc.). Unless I have the urge to talk on end for hours (usually I don't have this urge and more often the listener would prefer a quick answer), I recommend books. I have done some searching on the web and have found that there is no catalogue that provides a list of ultrarunning books. I have found lists of running books, which include a wide variety of topics (many of which are not at all focused on ultrarunning), but have failed to locate a list of *purely* ultrarunning books. So, I thought that I might begin by starting a short list here. I'll try to locate books that are either purely descriptive (i.e. they provide the details to the above questions -- how to start training, fuel, gear, nutrition, etc.) or narrative (i.e. stories about ultrarunners that illuminate important aspects of the sport). I plan to revisit this post from time to time with updates, in the hopes that eventually this post will serve as a comprehensive list of the most helpful ultrarunning books.
1. Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner by Dean Karnazes. Dean's book came out in 2006 and has become hugely popular (and no less controversial, as is pointed out here) since. In the book, Dean details much of his road toward becoming a world-class distance runner.
2. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. This fascinating book is a masterpiece: McDougall combines the excruciating details of distance running with detailed explanations of human physiology, historical overviews and a thrilling storyline.
3. A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning by Don Allison. This book is called "the world of ultrarunning, captured in a single book." Allison gives advice on training and racing, discusses the biographies of ultra greats and classic races, and explains the physiology of endurance distance runners.
4. Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek (forthcoming in June 2012). I think this review says it all: "The surprise here isn't that Scott Jurek knows a lot about nutrition—I especially love his "Holy Moly Guacamole" recipe. Or that he ran prodigious mileage to prepare for his many ultramarathon victories. More impressively, we discover that Jurek studied many of the great philosophers, and used their lessons to focus his running. In pursuing the mental side of endurance, Jurek uncovers the most important secrets any runner can learn." —Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and author of The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life
5. The Extra Mile: One Woman's Personal Journey to Ultrarunning Greatness by Pam Reed. Pam Reed's passion for running jumps from the page in this autobiography by the woman who won the Badwater Ultramarathon in consecutive years.
...more coming soon!