Yesterday I took a survey for Runner’s World, and one of the questions was about the survey-taker’s favorite running book.
At first I was excited because, yay books! But as I surveyed the list of books to choose from, my book-nerd excitement drooped a bit.
Where were all the books by women?
And then I wondered…are there even any running books by women?
I’m not talking about, say, “The Complete Book of Running for Women” or “Kara Goucher’s Running for Women” (although I do think I’d like to read that one very much, if only because it was written by my Number 1 Running Girl Crush).
I’m talking about books that are about running that are written by women or about women.
Here’s the list that was on the Runner’s World survey:
- “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall
- “Duel in the Sun” by John Brant
- “The Four Minute Mile” by Roger Bannister
- “Once a Runner” by John L. Parker
- “Pre” by Tom Jordan
- “The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life” by Amby Burfoot
- “Running with the Buffaloes” by Chris Lear
- “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes
These aren’t how-to books. No one reads Roger Bannister’s book to learn how to run a four-minute mile. They read it to catch a glimpse of how it feels to run a four-minute mile. These are memoirs, non-fiction recountings, biographies, even a novel. And the ones I’ve read of these have been fantastic, the kind of books that make your feet itch with the desire to run as long and as fast as you possibly can.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tiny bit sad that there are no books by women that rated making this list.
So I decided to go in search of running books written by women, if only to balance this out a little bit. Here’s what I found:
- “Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports” by Kathrine Switzer
- “Paula: My Story So Far” by Paula Radcliffe
- “Women Who Run” by Shanti Sosienski
- “Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running” by Jennifer Lin and Susan Warner
- “Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run” by Kristin Armstrong
- “Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives” by Mina Samuels
- “The Extra Mile: One Woman’s Personal Journey to Ultrarunning Greatness” by Pam Reed
- “Women Who Run: Female Athletes on Being the Best” by Lisa Taggart
I’m definitely interested in reading the majority of these. (Although I have to confess, I am not the hugest fan of Kristin Armstrong. I’ve read her RW column and her blog and I find her too “you go girl!” and sentimental for my tastes, like a hot-pink Precious Moments figurine in running shoes. But people seem to love her, so what do I know?)
But – and it may not be fair of me to make this judgment based on synopses and not actual readings – it seems like a lot of these books are sadly not quite up to the literary standards of, say, “The Four Minute Mile.”
I mean, it’s great that we’ve got books that are all about inspiring women to get out and run, but we need more memoirs, more epics, more books that depict women who run as warriors instead of resorting to self-help “girl power” rah-rah type storytelling.
But like I said, maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I should actually reserve judgment until I read the books? And what exactly is so bad about self-help “girl power” rah-rah type storytelling? Am I just expecting more because I secretly wish I could be Joan Didion when I grow up?
I suppose there is good news, which is that any lady who wants to write a beautiful piece of literature about running has a wide open field all to herself.