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Once a Runner

Once a Runner

3.9 89
by John L. Parker

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Once a Runner captures the essence of what it means to be a competitive runner; to devote your entire existence to a single-minded pursuit of excellence. It has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever written.

Originally self-published in 1978 and sold at road races out of the trunk of the author's car, the book eventually found its way into the


Once a Runner captures the essence of what it means to be a competitive runner; to devote your entire existence to a single-minded pursuit of excellence. It has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever written.

Originally self-published in 1978 and sold at road races out of the trunk of the author's car, the book eventually found its way into the hands of high school, college, and postgraduate athletes all over the country. Reading it became a rite of passage on many teams, and tattered copies were handed down like sacred texts from generation to generation. It ranked as the number one most sought-after out-of-print book in the United States in 2007.

Once a Runner is the story of Quenton Cassidy, a collegiate runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong dream is to run a four-minute mile. He is less than a second away when the political and cultural 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: a head-to-head match with the greatest miler in history. This book is a rare insider's account of the incredibly intense lives of elite distance runners; an inspiring, funny, and spot-on tale of one man's quest to become a champion.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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

Product Details

Cedarwinds Publishing Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.49(w) x 8.49(h) x 0.72(d)

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…

Meet the Author

John L. Parker, Jr. has written for Outside, Runner’s World, and numerous other publications. A graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism as well as its College of Law, Parker has been a practicing attorney, a newspaper reporter and columnist, a speechwriter for then Governor Bob Graham, and editorial director of Running Times magazine. The author of Once a Runner, Again to Carthage, and Racing the Rain, he lives in Gainesville, Florida, and Bar Harbor, Maine.

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Once a Runner 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 89 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I challenge any endurance athlete to find a better description of what it takes to be at the top. Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Margaret Travis More than 1 year ago
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.
Duncan Sharrits More than 1 year ago
Great book for anyone who enjoys running & a great story. A classic!!!!!
BigE76 More than 1 year ago
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.
Dave_C More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. It reminds me of my days running track in North Florida. I saw most of the real people mentioned in this book run races at the University of Florida . I could not put this book down once I started it.
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Jenny Benton More than 1 year ago
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.
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youngblood More than 1 year ago
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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