The Running Muse
a cultural gymnasium for the curious runner
Here are RM's unabashed favourite books that set running in a cultural context:
1. Running in Literature by Roger Robinson (2003) - a delightful miscellany with an extensive range of references to running in the arts, peppered throughout with scholarly wit and amusing comment by a professor of English who was a serious runner himself.
2. The Runner's Literary Companion, ed. Garth Battista (1994) - an anthology of poetry, short stories and extended excerpts from novels.
3. Running and Philosophy, ed. Michael W. Austin (2007) - hugely stimulating, accessible and entertaining collection of essays by philosophers who run, with irresistible titles such as 'Existential Running', 'The Soul of the Runner' and 'Can We Experience Significance on a Treadmill?'
4. Running: A Global History by Thor Gotass (2008) - an extraordinarily broad and detailed narrative, full of surprising stories and delightful anecdotes from a cultural historian and folklorist.
5. The Race Against Time: Adventures in Late-Life Running by Richard Askwith (2023) - a brilliant, comprehensive and very well written chronicle of the responses of one man to the way age affects his running, whether physiologically, psychologically or philosophically: includes plenty of astounding stories of senior endeavour.
5. The Running Book by John Connell: a journey through memory, landscape and history - the author reels off his thoughts as he runs a marathon alone through the countryside in his native Ireland, all the while noticing every detail of the nature around him and mining an eclectic range of topics, including running itself.
6. Running Through the Ages by Edward S. Sears (2001) - an excellent history that includes pre-human and early human running, but otherwise covers much of the same ground as Gotass (see above), albeit rather more fleetingly.
7. Why We Run: A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich (2000) - an evolutionary perspective on the physiology behind our running capability and motivation. 'What animals can teach us about running and life' was the original subtitle of this lyrical account of the science underpinning the running experience.
8. The Olympic Odyssey by Phil Cousineau (2003) - an accessible, mythic approach to running as transformation, urging a return to the ancients' ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body with a healthy spirit, 'the inner gold'.
8. The Essential George Sheehan by George Sheehan (2013) - a greatest hits collection of the running pioneer's writing, including extracts from his seminal book, Running and Being. He was the first evangelist of modern running, emphasising its potential to enhance and transform our everyday lives.
10. Running with the Pack by Mark Rowlands (2013) - a philosopher's meditations while running, often in the company of beasts.
11. Running Throughout Time by Roger Robinson (2022) - vivid stories about running through the millennia, most of them true, all of them written in elegant prose by an elite runner and scholar.
12. The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions by Richard Stanton (2001) - a unique account of the 'race' for Olympic medals in the Fine Arts at the games from 1912 to 1948.
13. A Century of Olympic Posters by Margaret Timmers (1980) - a beautifully produced book by London's Victoria and Albert Museum, brimful of the images that established the distinctive feel of each of the modern Olympic Games.
14. Ancient Greek Athletics by Stephen G. Miller (2004) - the most comprehensive and authoritative account of the subject that I have come across, fully illustrated and sourced. A fascinating read that really takes you into the heart of the various kinds of festivals that hosted games, and then on into the details of the sports and the participants themselves.
15. The Ancient Olympic Games by Judith Swaddling (2008) - published by the British Museum, this lavishly illustrated book chronicles 1,000 years of the religious and sporting festival at Olympia, from the politics and scandal associated with it to the events themselves and the preparations of the athletes.
16. Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece by Waldo E. Sweet (1987) - this 'sourcebook with translations' looks at the evidence underpinning our understanding of ancient Greek sport, mostly athletics, but there are intriguing chapters on such diverse activities as mountaineering, music, dining, and, of course, running in the nude!