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For so many reasons, running and reading go hand in hand. A motivating book gets us pumped for the next race, a favorite novel helps us unwind after a training run, and that engrossing new audiobook keeps us going, mile after mile.
But maybe most importantly, reading can help us create a better running community—especially when it comes to understanding the experiences of runners who identify as BIPOC. It’s not just about recognizing how athletes of color might feel because they look different from typical recreational runners. It’s also about appreciating how the experiences of training, racing, and embracing the sport can be viewed very differently—and sometimes very similarly—through the many lenses that exist in the BIPOC community.
This sort of empathy inspires kindness, which Steve Siegle, a licensed professional counselor in behavioral health, says helps decrease blood pressure and stress hormones in our bodies. In an article he wrote for the Mayo Clinic Health System, Siegle further explains that kindness can boost neurotransmitters that give us feelings of well-being and can also encourage the brain to release endorphins. So, the more empathy we develop, the better we feel, both physically and mentally—and, best of all, the closer we get to a more connected and inclusive running community.
To start your journey, here are seven memoirs by BIPOC runners. Whether you read them in between training sessions or listen to their audio versions out on the trail, get ready to take a turn in someone else’s running shoes for a while.
There are a lot of reasons to lace up and run—many of them related to fitness and health. But when Noé Álvarez began running, it was because he wanted to labor on the land as a way to connect with his parents, immigrants from Mexico, who worked at an apple-picking plant while he was growing up.
Álvarez was the first in his family to attend college, but after struggling to find his footing there, he jumped at the opportunity to run a 6000-mile marathon organized by Peace and Dignity Journeys—a movement designed to unite Indigenous people and preserve Native American culture.
In Spirit Run, he writes about the four months he spent running from Canada to Guatemala, cultivating a new relationship with the land, and contemplating his parents’ migration experience as well as the possibilities for his own future in America.
Saving Myself One Step at a Time: A Running Memoir by T.J. Bryan
If you’ve ever turned to running during a difficult time, parts of T.J. Bryan’s story will resonate with you. At 64 years old, after years of climbing the professional ladder, Bryan found herself unemployed, just as she thought she’d reached the pinnacle of her career. Determined to lift herself out of her despair, Bryan decided to pursue distance running.
With no previous experience in the sport, Bryan experimented with different distances. The marathon soon became her favorite, even though, as an African American woman, she competed alongside very few women who looked like her. In this memoir, Bryan reflects on the highs and lows of her journey and how it’s inspired her to discover more about herself, the sport, and the running community around her.
How do you picture your life when you’re in your nineties? When Ida Keeling was in her nineties, she was setting world records on the track. Keeling, a 60-meter and 100-meter world record holder, was also a mother of four and a child of immigrants who lived through the Depression and Civil Rights Movement.
In this memoir, published when she was 104 years old, Keeling shares the experiences that helped shape the fiercely independent woman who ran her first race at age 67 and continued training for decades after that. Keeling opens up about growing up during the Depression, being a single mother, surviving the brutal murders of her sons, finding strength and healing through running, and staying resilient as the world around her changed.
26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career by Meb Keflezighi
If anyone knows about running marathons, it’s Meb Keflezighi. During a long and successful career that included winning both the Boston and New York City marathons as well as winning an Olympic marathon medal, Keflezighi ran exactly twenty-six marathons—one for each mile of the distance. He went on to capture the stories of each race in his memoir, 26 Marathons.
Not only does he reveal the rewards and the struggles behind each marathon, but he also shares what they taught him about life, identity, family, and faith. Keflezighi offers practical tips to readers about training and nutrition and encourages runners at all levels to apply the lessons he’s learned to their own lives—both on and off the course.
Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to The Olympic Games by Lopez Lomong
Most of us know Olympian Lopez Lomong for his blazing times on the track. But in this memoir, we learn about his full-circle journey: starting as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, going on to become the U.S. Olympic team captain, and finally devoting his time to philanthropic work helping other Lost Boys.
Kidnapped at the age of six, Lomong survived and then escaped from a prison refugee camp. With the help of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, Lopez eventually came to the U.S. Despite the harrowing circumstances of his young life, Lomong found great success on the track by relying on his diligence, resilience, and faith.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
For author Haruki Murakami, his passions for writing and running have always fed each other. In this memoir, Murakami writes about training for the 2005 New York City Marathon. Not only does he take readers along with him on his training runs in both Japan and the U.S., but he also reflects on how running has affected his life and his work. Along with sharing both his victories and his disappointments—including how age affects his race times—Murakami also reveals the moment he decided to become a writer, all through the lens of a devoted distance runner.
A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
Mirna Valerio has logged miles and miles all across the country, in all kinds of weather, on all types of terrain. Although Valerio is a fit, strong ultramarathoner, she looks nothing like the typical image of a skinny, white long-distance runner—something Valerio acknowledges and writes about in A Beautiful Work in Progress. As she takes readers through her running journey, from completing her first mile to crossing the finish of a 62-mile trail race, Valerio will have readers thinking, laughing, and inspired to find their own successes—no matter what they look like.