This year I trained for and ran my first marathon. I learned some things. Firstly, sweat crystallises on my face like Maldon salt if I run over 10 miles. Secondly, runners don’t seem to have any concept of TMI (this loosely relates to point one, I suppose). And thirdly, I can run listening to music for only about 10 minutes. Once I’ve worked out that a song is roughly three minutes and I’ll be running for up to three hours, I become pretty unmotivated to move my legs. Audiobooks, on the other hand, trick my brain into thinking no time has passed at all. Lose yourself in the narrative of an audiobook, guided by a brilliant narrator and hey – you’ve completed a 20 mile training run!
Over my four months of training, here are some audiobooks that I've found to be particularly great listens.
Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley, narrated by Alexandra Heminsley
When I downloaded Running Like a Girl I thought it would be a good non-fiction book to learn from as I clocked up training miles. What I didn’t know was Alexandra Heminsley is a terrifically emotive writer, capable not only of imparting knowledge but entertaining and engaging at the same time. Alexandra makes you feel like part of a running club, even when you’re training on your own, which is special and needed in my case as I ran my (what felt like perpetually drizzly) training miles alone. Her anecdotes and insights were so valuable to me as a new runner with no experienced runner friends to answer my questions. It’s an excellent listen for learning and laughing on the run. PLUS it was from Running Like a Girl that I learned to put Vaseline on my feet before long runs – so thank you for that, Alexandra!
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, narrated by Elisa Donovan
Lean In isn’t a particularly long listen, coming in at just under six and a half hours, but if you’re looking for motivation distilled into an audiobook, this is the one for you. When listening to Lean In whilst training, expect thoughts like this: you’re training for a MARATHON, you can do whatever you want! You're capable! You're driven! You are a super person!
If you listen to Lean In on the run, you will find yourself pumping your arms as your jog, plotting your next achievement whether that's speaking in public, pushing for a promotion or just feeling confident and empowered enough to, in Sheryl's words, take a seat at the table. It’s an important book for all women, and men, to read and I would particularly recommend listening to it as you train – you’ll be left feeling uber capable and efficient.
The Ninth Rain: The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams, narrated by Jot Davies
I came across Jen Williams’ The Winnowing Flame trilogy on my hunt for fantasy books with familiars. I hadn’t come across Jen before or heard of The Ninth Rain but the chunky book length (at the point of listening, I was into 20 mile+ training runs at the weekend and needed something to get stuck into) and the cover sold me. The narrator, Jot Davies, initially shocked me with his verve (I had to turn my headphones down a fragment), but his energy is engaging and he handles the multiple character voices beautifully. Plus his vigorous narration makes sure you won't drift off and remember you're running. I actually listened to part of the second book in the trilogy, The Bitter Twins, as I ran my marathon. If you want to lose yourself in a world as your legs do their work, there are few better places to start, especially if you're a fan of Tolkien, Rowling or Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher series.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline narrated by Wil Wheaton
I made the readers’ faux pas of seeing the film before I listened to Ready Player One, but I think in this case it’s benefitted my experience of listening to the book. It’s heavily steeped in 80’s references (60% minimum I expect went over my head), so to have the film as another reference point before reading enabled me to stay engaged and on track. And I’m thrilled about that! Wil Wheaton is a skilled and entertaining narrator, as you’d expect, but the story line is immersive and consuming too. Line up sci-fi fans, this is one for you.
The Martian by Andy Weir narrated by R. C. Bray
A pattern’s emerging: I like to listen to sci-fi and fantasy as I run. But I suppose this isn’t surprising – if you can immerse yourself in another world you can forget you’re spending your Sunday morning pounding pavements rather than eating pancakes. If you’re new to sci-fri and fantasy but would like to dip your toe, The Martian audiobook is a great place to start. It’s not too chunky, coming in at under 11 hours, and R. C. Bray is renowned for his excellent narration skills and he really brings Mark Watney to life. Entertaining, high stakes and very funny. Also another book that you could listen to after watching the film, if that’s how you prefer to consume your audiobooks.
Everything I know About Love by Dolly Alderton, narrated by Dolly Alderton
For shorter runs I love to listen to podcasts, but over six or seven miles and I prefer getting stuck into an extended narrative. The High Low is one of my favourite podcasts to listen to, so downloading co-host Dolly’s book seemed like a very obvious choice. But it’s unfair to bill Everything I know About Love as an extended High Low episode, as Dolly is such a superb storyteller in her own right and this book is a special, unique piece.
Narrated by Dolly herself, it feels like a friend is sharing their beautifully written story with you. Indeed her narration is so tender and captivating you might find yourself, like me, choked up and gasping for air, in tears at mile 4 of a 6 mile morning run, completely heartbroken by a thread of her story. This is not ideal for pace keeping, but bloody brilliant for losing yourself in an audiobook. I’d highly recommend, as do a load of other young women.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne narrated by Stephen Hogan
If fantasy is not your thing but you’d like to get lost in an epic, then you must try The Heart’s Invisible Furies. This compelling, emotionally complex and immersive story comes from John Boyne, the genius, tender writer responsible for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It’s clever: telling the story of its protagonist in seven year intervals. It paints a picture of a lifetime without once becoming dull or slow-paced. I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did and I’m sure part of the reason was that is makes for such a superb listen. Stephen Hogan delivers an excellent narration and his fantastic Irish accent adds so much to the listening of this book.
If you’re new to audiobooks, these titles are as good a place to start as any. But I will always recommend listening to the Harry Potter books on audio because 1. Harry Potter, and 2. Stephen Fry is an inimitable narrator with a voice like honey. Anyone who says otherwise is a muggle.
Good luck with your running and happy listening.