Once a Runner

( 88 )

Overview

Originally self-published in 1978, Once a Runner captures the essence of competitive running—and of athletic competition in general—and has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever published..

Inspired by the author’s experience as a collegiate champion, the story focuses on Quenton Cassidy, a competitive runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong dream is to run a four-minute mile. He is less than a second away when the turmoil of the Vietnam War era ...

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Once a Runner

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Overview

Originally self-published in 1978, Once a Runner captures the essence of competitive running—and of athletic competition in general—and has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever published..

Inspired by the author’s experience as a collegiate champion, the story focuses on Quenton Cassidy, a competitive runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong dream is to run a four-minute mile. He is less than a second away when the turmoil of the Vietnam War era intrudes into the staid recesses of his school’s athletic department. After he becomes involved in an athletes’ protest, Cassidy is suspended from his track team. Under the tutelage of his friend and mentor, Bruce Denton, a graduate student and former Olympic gold medalist, Cassidy gives up his scholarship, his girlfriend, and possibly his future to withdraw to a monastic retreat in the countryside and begin training for the race of his life against the greatest miler in history. .

A rare insider’s account of the incredibly intense lives of elite distance runners, Once a Runner is an inspiring, funny, and spot-on tale of one man’s quest to become a champion..

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Part training manual, part religious tract, part love story, and all about running, Once a Runner is so inspiring it could be banned as a performance-enhancing drug.” —Benjamin Cheever, author of Strides

“By far the most accurate fictional portrayal of the world of the serious runner…a marvelous description of the way it really is.” —Kenny Moore, Sports Illustrated

“The best piece of running fiction around. Beg, borrow, or buy a copy, and you’ll never need another motivator.” —Dave Langlais, Runner’s World

"The best novel ever written about running."—Runner's World

Kick!
A classic that belongs on the bookshelves of all of us who fancy ourselves runners....Looking for a little motivation in your running routine? Pick up this book.
Kick!
A classic that belongs on the bookshelves of all of us who fancy ourselves runners....Looking for a little motivation in your running routine? Pick up this book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416597896
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 4/6/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 102,403
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

John L. Parker, Jr. is the author of the highly acclaimed novel Once a Runner. He has written for Outside, Runner's World, Running Times, and numerous other publications. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and Bar Harbor, Maine.
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Read an Excerpt

Once a Runner

THE NIGHT JOGGERS were out as usual.

The young man could see dim figures on the track even in this pale light, slowly pounding round and round the most infinite of footpaths. There would be, he knew, plump, determined-looking women slogging along while fleshy knees quivered. They would occasionally brush damp hair fiercely from their eyes and dream of certain cruel and smiling emcees: bikinis, ribbon-cuttings, and the like. And then, of course, tennis with white-toothed males, wild tangos in the moonlight.

And men too of various ages and levels of dilapidation, perhaps also grinding out secret fantasies (did they picture themselves a Peter Snell held back only by fat or fear as they turned their ninety-second quarters?).

The young man stood outside the fence for a few moments while moths attacked the streetlight dustily, leaving him in a dim spotlight of swirling shadows. He loved early fall in Florida’s Panhandle. Leaves would be turning elsewhere but here the hot breath of summer held forth. In the moist warmth there was a slight edge, though, a faint promise of cooler air hanging in the treetops and close to the Spanish moss. He picked up his small travel bag and went in the gate, walking clockwise on the track toward the white starting post at the head of the first turn. The joggers ignored the stranger in street clothes and he likewise paid them no attention. They would always be there.

The high-jump pit had been rearranged, a new section of bleachers added, a water jump installed for the steeplechase. But mostly it looked the same as it did four years ago, the same as a four-hundred-and-forty-yard oval probably will always look to one who knows a quarter of a mile by the inches.

The Games were over for this time around. He knew quite well that for him they were over for good. Four years is a very long time in some circles; in actual time—real-world time, as that of shopkeepers, insurance sellers, compounders of interest, and so on—it is perhaps not long at all. But in his own mind Time reposed in peculiar receptacles; to him the passing of one minute took on all manner of rare meaning. A minute was one fourth of a four-minute mile, a coffee spoon of his days and ways.

As with many of the others, he had no idea what he would be doing now that it was all over. It was such a demanding thing, so final, so cathartic, that most of them simply never thought beyond it. They were scattered around the world now, he supposed, doing pretty much what he was doing at this moment: thinking everything over, tallying gains and losses.

He was going to have to pick up the thread of a normal life again and although he did not exactly know why, he had to start by coming back here, back to the greenhouse warmth of the Panhandle, back to this very quarter-mile oval that still held his long-dried sweat. Back to September, the month of promises.

He put his bag down by the pole-vault pit, looked uptrack to make sure no one was coming, and then walked up to the starting line. God, he thought, one more time on the line.

In lane one he stood very still, looking down at his street shoes (joggers now going around him with curious glances) and tried to conjure up the feeling. After a moment a trace of it came to him and he knew that was all there would be. You can remember it, he told himself, but you cannot experience it again like this. You have to be satisfied with the shadows. Then he thought about how it was in the second and third laps and decided that the shadows were sometimes quite enough.

He was twenty-six years, five months, and two days old, and though as he stood there on the starting line he felt quite a bit older than that, the muscles that rippled up and down inside his trouser leg could have only been the result, biologically speaking, of more thousands of miles than he cared to think about all at one time.

He tried to focus blurred emotions, a metaphysical photographer zeroing in on hard edges to align in the center square. What was this he was feeling now, nostalgia? Regret? His mind double-clutched, asked the musical question: Am...I...buhloooo?

He could not tell. He realized again how adept he had become at not being able to tell such things. His emotions had calluses like feet.

The starter would tell them to stand tall, so he stood tall for a moment there in the night. There would be the set command and then the gun. He took a deep breath and began walking into the turn in the familiar counterclockwise direction, the way of all races, and thought: the first lap is lost in a flash of adrenaline and pounding hooves...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 88 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(44)

4 Star

(12)

3 Star

(19)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 88 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Not the greatest book on running there is...

    I thought it was okay. I'm not sure why Runner's World is making this book out to be like its the greatest book on running ever to be published. The chapter on Interval training brought back a lot of memories from my competitive swimming days. It's not something I do a whole lot of as a runner - but the way its described in the book is the way I remember the intensity of when I was kid - particularly distance interval training. The writer is very adept at describing accurately what goes through an athlete's mind during all types of training and gruelling races.

    The plot was okay - I wasn't too fond of the main characters - they irritated me for some reason. Probably because none of them realized that there is much more to life than running a sub four minute mile. I guess its the difference between being 20 and 40. I always say I'm a 20 year old living in a 40 year old body. After reading this book I'm not so sure.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2011

    ok

    I was a bit let down by the book. It was at times slow moving and hard to follow. There are a few great places, but overall not what I was expecting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    Once A Runner

    I got this book because Runner's World said it was the best book about running ever. It may be, but that means that everything else is garbage! This book wasn't bad, but it was not even close to the best book I've ever read, and makes me not want to read any other book about running besides the monthly Runner's World. The writing style was hard to get accustomed to in my opinion, the characters and plot were too rushed and then too slow at times, but the ending was perfectly written. I wouldn't recommend this book for just casual reading. If you want to read a book about running, then you need to be driven to read this. It's got an interesting plotline, but like I said, seems to go too fast, and then too slow at times.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2005

    Runner's Cult Classic

    ONCE A RUNNER offers an insightful portrait of the competitive runner that remains as true and relevant today as it was when originally published, over thirty-five years ago. Non-runners may feel like outsiders when reading this, but any runner (recreational or competitive) will be spellbound.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2012

    Outstanding

    I challenge any endurance athlete to find a better description of what it takes to be at the top. Great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2011

    Always a Runner

    As a runner, the book Once a Runner captures my every stride. Written by John L. Parker, Jr. this fictional novel tells a story about one man's journey in competitive running. The author makes the book seem very realistic as he includes runners of the time. High prestige names combined with a fictional story line makes the book very interesting, a plausible story line. As an athlete in college, the author has a very good background in competitive running and is revealed throughout the book.
    Although the book takes a little bit to get going, the beginning provides a sense of suspense that something is going to go wrong. Once the book starts to pick up, I found it hard to put down as it kept leading me on to more happenings. The ending of the book, I found, was extraordinary. Well worth the wait.
    I found the book very interesting with a very memorable ending. I believe I found this book interesting mainly because I can relate to the main character as a runner. It also provided an interesting plot with solutions out of the box. Throughout the book, I didn't really spot any major opinions. I did, however, disagree with the solution to the problem but provided an interesting plot.
    The book had an impact on me. It showed me a side of that caliber of running that I have never experienced before. The intensity of the races and workouts really caught my attention and provided me with a new view of running. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, especially with an interest in running.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    Makes you want to run

    Fantastic book about running. For those who run, reading about his training runs and passion for the sport make you want to get out there and run the way you did when you were 20! It reminds you that running does feel good and can bring you that inner happiness you miss.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    Awesome

    Great book for anyone who enjoys running & a great story. A classic!!!!!

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  • Posted June 18, 2011

    A gold medal!

    A must read for runners who love fiction. A compelling story, beautifully written. Can't wait to read the sequel. Keith Donnelly, Author The Donald Youngblood Mystery Series

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  • Posted May 30, 2011

    Excellent

    Great read, even for those of us new to running and racing.

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  • Posted March 1, 2011

    HOLY COW! I've read this book 3 times!

    If you're even considering purchasing this book, don't think twice about it. JUST BUY IT! As a runner myself, I feel as though Quenton Cassidy could have been my best friend or teammate! If, after you finish the story you don't feel like busting your gut doing 60 quarter mile repeats, you're impossible to motivate. John Parker is a mindreader. It's as if he took every runner's pain and joy and put it on paper! At certan points he gets a little adjective-happy, but do yourself a favor and read this wonderful novel.

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  • Posted March 1, 2011

    you experience this book, not read it!

    Its so easy to identify with thr characters and moments in this book. if you have ever had dreams in competitive running, youll love once a runner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2010

    Awesome

    Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, is about Quenton Cassidy, a fictional and elite college miler who at the beginning of the book has a personal best of 4:00. Quenton ends up breaking 4:00, running 3:52 to beat the fictional world record holder in the book, New Zealander John Walton (based off John Walker). It's a great book for any elite level runner, but probably not anyone else. If you're not a dedicated runner, you're a new runner, or you're not very good at running, you probably won't like this book. If you don't run at all, and you're looking for a good read, you won't find it here. You'll have no idea what's going on, at all. In my opinion, Once a Runner is one of the best running based novels available. I finished it in three days, and the only times I put it down were to eat, sleep, run, or talk about running and the book. My team and I have had many conversations about the book, and how we relate to it. We compare our workouts to Cassidy's, we compare our races to his, and we compare ourselves to Cass himself. It's safe to say that my team, like many other distance teams across the world, have adopted this renowned "cult classic" for ourselves. Parker makes you want to put your shoes on and go for a nice five mile tempo when he describes Quenton's races and the build-up to the races. And when it illustrates him and [Bruce] Denton, his coach and running partner, running through the forest near Bruce's cabin you just want to go for a nice ten miler in the park. The book goes through different stages runners go through during their training, including breaking down and the pre-race feeling. Any and all competitive distance runners will think to themselves "I know exactly what he's going through." It just relates so much with any dedicated distance runner that if you are one it's impossible not to find this book one of the best pieces of literature you've ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    A Great Gift for the Runner in your Life

    I have a 17 year old nephew who runs cross country. I gave him this book as a gift and he said he read it in two days. Another friend's son who is now 25 and continues to run after attending college on a cross country scholarship told me he was inspired by Parker's story. I strongly recommend this book for any young person who has a passion for running.

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  • Posted December 24, 2009

    Triple-tasking

    "Once a Runner" has become a classic among serious runners. Not necessarily elite runners, but runners of any caliber who take their running seriously.

    It's a book that triple tasks. It's a superb novel with a strong story line: a young athlete sets a goal of achieving a record in the mile run.

    It's a training manual. In the story of the central character's training schedule, readers will learn how to train mentally and spiritually, as well as physically.

    And finally its a motivational tool. This book will make any couch potatoe want to run. And any runner proud to be a runner.

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  • Posted June 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A must read for all runners!

    I had heard and read alot about this book before I actually got around to reading it. I was pleasantly surprised that it totally lived up to all it's hype. Although I'm not an elite runner (most runners aren't), I thought Parker completely captured essence of running and training.

    There are beatiful passages in the book that capture the depth of character and desire that it takes to be a competitive runner. Any distance runner will immediately relate to the descriptions of training runs and rituals. Parker's perspective of an elite runner seems to be dead on.

    The last race scene near the end of the book is tremendously well written with a great detailed perspective from the competitor. He captures the thoughts of a runner beautifully while still moving the scene along and maintaining the suspense.

    Also his descriptions of college life in the 70's is accurate and hilarious!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2009

    Very well written

    If you run regularly, and are sort of hardcore, then you will absolutlely love this book. I cannot recommend it enough. I feel like when you read it, you almost become the charecter. I read it in honestly a day. It is so suspensful. It fits in extremely well with other stories about running. If you have ever watched "the four minute mile" (book the perfect mile) or any other stories like that- its a similar mindset.
    It may not have the most challenging or thought provoking charecter development, but honestly, I find that would not suit this kind of running novel well. Its more like you learn about the charecter, and how he reacts to the challenge imposed upon him and him fulfilling that challenge rather than a life long legacy. I read this book when I was injuried and couldnt run. It definitly made me feel better, because it was almost like I could run through the book. Its a silly idea, but if you read the book you will see what I mean.
    If you know a runner, who might be laid up because of an injury, or if its too crazy outside to run, and your feeling kind of down, consider picking up this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2008

    A must read for competitive runners.

    All runners must read this book!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2008

    Stunned

    Why on earth is this book out of print? I just read a copy from my campus library and I seriously thought about stealing it :) Perfect depiction of a race, set my adrenaline pumping so hard I had to stop and calm down before finishing, then went for a run.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2007

    Motivational

    HOW IS THIS OUT OF PRINT?!! I borrowed the book from my brother when I was having a slump in my training. It motivated me to get back out on the trails and PRed by nearly 2 minutes in my 5k time. Whenever I am struggling I think of Cassidy to push me past that wall he was forever tearing down. SOMEBODY PLEASE REPRINT THE BOOK!!!!

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