Book Review – Once A Runner
Name of the book – Once A Runner.
Author – John L. Parker, Jr.
Number of pages – 272.
ISBN 13 – 978-1-4165-9788-9.
Genre – Running, fiction.
Price – $24.
Year of publish – Originally self published in 1978.
About the author
John L. Parker, Jr., is an avid writer. He has written a number of books like Again to Carthage, Runners & Other Dreamers, Heart Monitor Training for the Complete Idiot and many more. He has also written for Outside, Runner’s World and many other magazines. He was an elite runner having won the South Eastern Conference Mile three times and Field Federation national steeplechase. He is a graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and College of Law.
About the book
The book is a work of fiction with mentions and mirror imaging of some real characters from the sport of running. The story is about the protagonist named Quenton Cassidy, a college going student and his tryst with four minute mile. The story revolves around how he trained to achieve sub 4 minute mile, his new found love, his suspension from the college track team and thereafter training for the race of his lifetime under the tutelage of Olympic gold medalist Bruce Denton.
The year is around 1969 when Quenton Cassidy was studying in the South Eastern University. He is a miler and training to achieve sub 4 minute mile. For a dress code regulation violation, Quenton is suspended from college and barred from participating in athletic meets. Thereafter, he goes in hermit retreat and begins training for University’s Annual Track Meet where major world class runners were coming to participate. It was supposed to be his race of a lifetime.
Bruce Denton decides to train Quenton. For months they train together. The book has couple of chapters of his training during his stay as a monk in a cabin in the woods. Bruce comes up with a bizarre plan of disguising Quenton as a Finnish runner to allow him to run in the Track meet. The book ends with a second by second detail of the race.
In between the story there are routine runs description, pranks played by Quenton and fellow athletes, his falling in love and life as a hermit.
The author has unnecessarily and heavily used synonyms in almost every sentence as if he was sitting with a thesaurus and to prove his writing prowess. But I will say it is a literary work. The descriptions are beautiful to read at some places like –
“…the form was sharply chiseled as if from sand-worn driftwood, fluted with oblique angles and long, tapering ridges, thin products of his care. Even now, as he stood perfectly still in the early morning glow, inverted-teardrop thighs and high bunched calves suggested only motion : smooth effortless speed.”
“…Or we can blaze! Become legends in our own time, strike fear in the heart of mediocre talent everywhere! We can scald dogs, put records out of reach! Make the stands gasp as we blow into an unearthly kick from three hundred yards out! We can become God’s own messengers delivering the dreaded scrolls! We can race dark Satan himself till he wheezes fiery cinders down the back straightaway….They’ll speak our names in hushed tones, ‘those guys are animals’ they’ll say! We can lay it on the line, bust a gut, show them a clean pair of heels. We can sprint the turn on a spring breeze and feel the winter leave our feet! We can, by God, let our demons loose and just wail on!”
“Then he sought out the neutrality that is the refuge, the contained wan comfort of the runner. He grooved his mind upon the thin platinum rail of his task, a line that stretched out in front of him and disappeared in the gloom, further than he could contemplate all at once, even if he had desire to, which he did not.”
It’s sheer poetry at places. According to Runner’s World, it is the best novel written about running. I couldn’t agree more.
The feelings, the highs and lows, the pains of a distance runner is a thing to relate to. For runners, this book can be a morale booster dose wherein one can go for a 10 miles easily after reading it.
I personally liked the book from starting to end. I read it more than once. It may not be a page turner and a difficult one to comprehend at start but it is definitely a pleasurable read. Especially when as a hermit when he performs the extremely grueling interval workout with Bruce Denton. Reading it, certainly, raised my resting heart rate. Also the race description was a perfect end to this novel.
I once gave this book to one of my friends, who is not a runner, with whom I share my love of reading. She read a couple of chapters and returned the book with a disappointing look. I understood then and also read some reviews by non runners that the book is terrible. Maybe they could not relate to the story of the passion of a runner but for runners this is a book to read. The book depicted variety of facets of a runner like pre race jitters, long runs, junk mileage, warm up, intervals sessions and sub conscious level thinking. If someone wants to comprehend the psyche of a runner, then this is the book.
Final verdict – a must read for every kind of a runner.