The best books that describe the discovery & experience of running

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a runner for 50 years and a coach for 30 years. From 2001-2016 I was the coach of Team USA Minnesota Distance Training Center. During that time I coached 24 U.S. National Champions, including an Olympian & 2 USATF Running Circuit Champions, at 1500 meters, 3000 meters, and 10,000 meters on the track; the mile, 10k, 15k, 10 miles, half-marathon, 20k, 25k, and marathon on the road; 4k, 6k, 8k and 10k in cross country.  Athletes I coached qualified for 30 U.S. national teams competing in IAAF World Championships in cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, and road, and achieved 73 top-three finishes in U.S. Championships. 


I wrote...

The River Road: Becoming a Runner in 1972

By Dennis Barker,

Book cover of The River Road: Becoming a Runner in 1972

What is my book about?

The River Road is an evocative novel about becoming a runner in 1972. Filled with compelling stories of runners, running, history, the 1972 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials and the Munich Olympics, it brings to life an era in which the U.S. competed for gold in nearly every distance running event. As many of the sport’s icons dominate their events in Eugene and prepare for Munich, fifteen-year-old Lenny prepares for his first season of varsity cross country. Inspired by Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine, Lenny also learns that Olympic distance runners have come from Minnesota and trained on the same River Road on which he runs. A world of running lore that he never knew existed is opened to him and helps him begin to explore and realize his own ability to run.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Self-Made Olympian

Dennis Barker Why did I love this book?

Having quit running altogether because of a lack of improvement and a bad college experience, Ron Daws discovered a different way of running that brought him joy and success. Following the training of Arthur Lydiard, Daws began a road racing career that culminated in making the 1968 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon.

By Ron Daws,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Self-Made Olympian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In Alamosa Colorado, seven days before the '68 Olympic Trials, all the runners herded into the college dorm to watch the '64 Games film. During the marathon coverage, Abebe Bikila came into focus as he "floated" down the Japanese thoroughfare..."Bikila's expression was intense, not a frown but forever unsmiling as he patiently drew away from Ron Clarke and the rest of the world. He was immune to the noisy crowd, the other runners, his healing appendectomy...everything. His gaze on the road ahead never faltered and his cheeks and lips quivered with each stride as though he were counting. His determination…


Book cover of The Silence of Great Distance

Dennis Barker Why did I love this book?

Murphy writes about the early years of women’s distance running as women discover their desire and ability to run long, and push for acceptance to participate. It traces the experience of the first competitive female long-distance runners who laid the groundwork for the next generation of girls and women runners to begin to experience the benefits.

By Frank Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Silence of Great Distance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Silence of Great Distance is the story of the developing world of women's athletics, focused on long-distance runnning. With significant chapters on Doris Brown Heritage, the women of the Soviet Union, and Mary Decker Slaney, the primary narrative is carried by Stephanie Herbst, a nine-time all-American who competed for the University of Wisconsin between 1984 and 1988.


Book cover of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

Dennis Barker Why did I love this book?

A non-runner begins running in prison and discovers its therapeutic benefits that help him do his time and start him on a journey of self-discovery. Having been an early morning runner for many years, I appreciated the protagonist’s descriptions of frosty early morning runs, which I think are some of the best in literature.

By Alan Sillitoe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perhaps one of the most revered works of fiction in the twentieth-century, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a modern classic about integrity, courage, and bucking the system. Its title story recounts the story of a reform school cross-country runner who seizes the perfect opportunity to defy the authority that governs his life. It is a pure masterpiece. From there the collection expands even further from the touching “On Saturday Afternoon” to the rollicking “The Decline and Fall and Frankie Buller.” Beloved for its lean prose, unforgettable protagonists, and real-life wisdom, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner…


Book cover of A Cold Clear Day

Dennis Barker Why did I love this book?

At a low point in U.S. distance running, American Buddy Edelen travels overseas seeking to train with, and race, the best distance runners in the world. He discovers that their secret to success is not genetics but hard training. With the help of a top U.S. coach, he ramps up his training and discovers his ability to handle a large volume of intense training. The result is a world marathon record and stunning U.S. Olympic Trials win.

By Frank Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Cold Clear Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Presents a biography of the great American marathon runner.


Book cover of The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

Dennis Barker Why did I love this book?

Three runners on different continents simultaneously pursue the goal of running history’s first sub-four-minute mile. With little scientific research on distance running to guide them, they discover how to run fast and sustain it for four laps of a track through trial and error. While some of their training techniques have been discarded, others have since been validated by scientific research and are widely used today.

By Neal Bascomb,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Perfect Mile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Perfect Mile is the stirring account of their quest for sporting martyrdom, charting their journey through triumph and failure, along the way capturing the moment when Bannister broke the record in a monumental run at the Iffley Road cinder track in May 1954. It was a feat that became one of the most celebrated in the history of British sport. Far from bringing an end to the rivalry, this watershed moment turned out to be merely the prelude to a final climactic battle three months later -- the ultimate head-to-head between Bannister and Landy in what was dubbed 'the…


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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an impossible choice: betray the animals she’s fallen in love with—or give up her last chance at success and everything she thought she knew.

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…


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