Once a runner
Back in college, I occasionally heard talk of John L. Parker’s cult-classic Once A Runner. Word on the street was that the book described the rituals and sacrifices of training in a way that serious runners could really identify with. Unfortunately for me, Once A Runner remained out-of-print and unavailable for less than $75 on-line. According to Bookfinder the novel was the most-searched for out-of-print fiction or literature book for 2007 and 2008. All of that changed in April, however, when Scribner re-printed the novel.
I got my hands on a copy this past spring and devoured the book within days. As someone who ran competitively in high school and college, this book really nails it on the head. The plot centers on Quenton Cassidy, a fictional miler at Southeastern University in Florida. Cassidy is on a quest to run a sub-4 minute mile, but his goal is jeopardized when he is suspended from athletics after butting heads with the University’s administration. However, (fictional) former-running great Bruce Denton takes the athlete under his wing and the duo continue to train and race. The author describes Quenton’s twice-a-day training, bottomless pit hunger, and social sacrifices in a way that both competitive and recreational runners can relate to.
This book is first and foremost about running, but it also has a solid plot that shows the many sides of the main character. The reader can easily empathize with Cassidy when he has to choose between his running goals and any semblance of a social life (i.e. his girlfriend). That being said, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recommend this novel to my non-running friends. After Cassidy completes a grueling 60 x 400 m interval workout (yes – 60 FAST quarter-mile repeats), he can barely make it home. Coach Denton has to feed the young athlete a liquid dinner and warns Cassidy that blood in his urine will be likely. Some of my friends think I’m crazy for doing long runs on Sundays, so something tells me that non-runners would be really freaked out by this.
Critics have charged Parker’s book with being elitist and exclusive. That may be true, but I think that runners of all abilities will find that they can relate to the book in some small way. Running is essentially a solitary sport – what you do or don’t do is up to you. The only person to congratulate or berate on race day is yourself. Whether you’re training for a sub-4 minute mile or your first 5K, I think that lesson will resonate. This book left me with a desire to train harder and run faster, even if my mile PR is minutes slower than the Cassidy’s.