After years of being aware of this story, I finally got to read it. (Translation: after years of being too lazy to order an imported book from amazon.co.uk or go to the library, I finally found a copy online that I could read on my kindle.)
I liked it. I really liked it. You should read it, too. It's short; it won't take you long. Don't be lazy like me about getting it.
It's not a running book, per se. It's not Born to Run, it's not What I Talk about when I Talk about Running. Instead it's a short story about a young, blue collar kid in the 1950s. He's poor and sees no way out of his neighborhood, so he and a friend turn to petty theft. When he's caught and sentenced to time in Borstal (British juvie), the prison authorities notice his talent at cross-country running. The book then shows his struggle as he balances his love of running and the freedom he feels while doing it against his contempt for being used as a racing pawn by the prison authorities. Despite knowing that it will cost him a potential early release, he stops a few meters before the finish of the big race and allows another to win - one of the only expressions of his free will he is capable of within the system and the ultimate act of defiance.
Yes, I just ruined the plot for you. But it's not the plot of the story that makes it worth reading; it's the vivid description of the narrator's life and his helplessness and the glory of running. I don't care that I'm not an elite or even very good for that matter; reading this story, I felt how running is something personal that we as individuals do for us, for our own reasons, for our own benefit alone.
Might I also recommend the Belle and Sebastian song "Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner"? Yes, I have a soft spot for those twee Glasgowegians. I also have a soft spot for my former governor, Rod Blagojevich (you can tell I'm an Illinoisan: I can spell his name without looking it up). He cited the Sillitoe story as an analogy to his impeachment. One thing you've got to give the dude credit for: he runs and he's well versed in running. And literature. Sadly he's also corrupt, but it's Illinois, you know?
On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"