Ultrarunning and other endurance sports is not just your physical preparedness for a tough day out, but your mental strength to help you endure and even thrive under challenging circumstances. Having read a number of excellent survival books and true stories of mental toughness and physical endurance, in this post I am excited to share my favorite books on this topic, which I consider to be the best survival books out there (with no doomsday survival or mountaineering books mentioned).
Boost Your Mental Game
My selection criteria are as follows: did I LEARN FROM, AND ENJOY, the book? Whether or not I did is a combination of these three:
- Inspiration – Did the tales of endurance and mental toughness inspire me to channel more mental strength when I’m out running? And… did the story / stories inspire me to grow and develop as a person in not just my ‘running’ life, but my entire outlook on life?
- Perspective – did the survival book help me put my own (relatively trivial) issues into perspective? For example: the author broke their leg and got frostbite, survived. I suffered a minor blister and complained about it?!
- Practical advice – do I feel that I learned some practical tips on how to manage the situation if I find myself in a survival situation, for example if I get lost or suffer an injury in a remote location?
The Best Survival Books to Improve Mental Strength for Ultra Running and Endurance
Mind of a Survivor: What the wild has taught me about survival and success
8 used from $26.51
Megan’s book focuses on this very thing: the mental, rather than physical, aspects, by examining the human ability and instinct for survival. There are plenty of ‘how-to’ survival books out there. What makes Mind of a Survivor different and why I enjoyed it so much is that it is more of an inspirational book full of advice on how to handle certain situations, as well as true stories, rather than a book of instructions.
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
$14.49 in stock
31 used from $8.46
Deep Survival explores what attributes or behaviors contribute to determine who lives, who dies and why. Gonzales refers to many true stories of people surviving against the odds, and those who did not make it. It's a fascinating read exploring the impact of mindset on an individual's prospect of survival.
Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea
$13.19 in stock
132 used from $1.49
You can learn SO MUCH from Steven Callahan's tale of survival (his experience is also discussed in Deep Survival). He survived almost two months alone at sea, fighting for his life in an inflatable raft after his small yacht capsized only six days out. This guy knows how to endure, and shows remarkable mental strength in his ability to get through this ordeal.
The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion's 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life
$15.03 in stock
38 used from $1.40
This list on mental strength and survival wouldn't be complete without including The Ultra Mindset! Ultra-endurance athlete Travis Macy shares what he calls the "Ultra Mindset," principles for daily life that are neither mysterious nor the sole province of ascetics or elite athletes: embrace fear, rewrite stories we tell ourselves, and master the art of seeking help, among others.
Alone in Antarctica
14 used from $5.00
Felicity Aston took two months off from all human contact as she became the first woman and the third person in history to ski across the entire continent of Antarctica alone (without the aids used by her prededecessors, each of whom employed either parasails or kites). It is so inspiring reading how she pushed at the extremes of mental endurance and physical strength to complete this epic challenge. It certainly puts the ultra running races I've attempted into perspective!
BONUS – Natural Navigation Skills
I really enjoyed this book and believe what I learned from it has made me more aware of, and confident in, my environment, when out on the trails, whether in forests, hills or mountains.
The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs: Use Outdoor Clues
$13.28 in stock
27 used from $7.90
Gooley's book contains practical details on how to use nature to navigate. This is particularly important in helping you keep your head and stay calm in situations such as when you need to work out your way (say, if you're lost!), predict the weather, locate water, etc - all things that are valuable when out trail running and spending time in the mountains and other wild places.
Why Not Try Audible Instead: A word about using Audible to read/listen as Audiobooks
If you’ve never tried Audible or haven’t got into audiobooks before, I highly recommend signing up for a free trial! The biggest advantages of using Audible to listen to books, rather than reading them, are that:
- Get a FREE book. When you sign up for a free trial of Audible, you get 1 free audiobook + 2 free Audible Originals to get you started. After 30 days of your free trial, you get 1 audiobook and 2 Audible Originals each month for $14.95/mo. If you decide to cancel online at anytime, you get to keep all your audiobooks.
- Listening to someone narrate the book can be more impactful than reading written words, especially for books in the self-help genre that may need some verbal emphasis to bring the key points to the forefront
- You can listen to audiobooks and get your fix of motivational self-improvement books while doing other things – boring things that don’t otherwise enhance your life, such as commuting, and doing household chores. This has the double-impact of firstly inspiring you to make changes to your life, and secondly reminding you that perhaps you could be doing less commuting, cleaning, etc if you followed through on some of the life-changing ideas you may be sitting on rather than acting on them
- You can consume information quickly. If you like to consume information fast, you can actually playback the audiobooks faster than just 1x speed. The faster you play them back, the more the narrator will sound like a chipmunk, but the benefit is you can absorb more information SO much faster than reading a book, or even listening to one at normal speed for that matter.
- Audible is always with you… If you have your phone with you, you have your audiobooks with you, no need to carry a book or bigger device around.
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