Once a Runner

Once a Runner

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, reading the book became a rite of passage for many runners,...

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Title:Once a Runner
Author:John L. Parker Jr.
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Once a Runner Reviews

  • Matt

    One of my favorite novels. Very funny at times. This will really strike a chord for anyone who ran distance at the college level. Parker gets everything down from the dinnertime antics to the pre-race jitters and the absolute strangeness that goes along with identifying yourself as a long distance runner. A must read for anyone planning to run a marathon or who trains regularly. A great motivator for those days when you just can't seem to get out the door. Pick this up, read a chapter, and get o

    One of my favorite novels. Very funny at times. This will really strike a chord for anyone who ran distance at the college level. Parker gets everything down from the dinnertime antics to the pre-race jitters and the absolute strangeness that goes along with identifying yourself as a long distance runner. A must read for anyone planning to run a marathon or who trains regularly. A great motivator for those days when you just can't seem to get out the door. Pick this up, read a chapter, and get out there!

  • Andy Miller

    After reading this book written in 1978 I understand why it went from a small publisher to being sold out of trunks during track meets and runs to cult classic to now being regarded by many as the best book on running ever written.

    But this is not just a runner's book. in fact it is now one of my all time favorite books period.

    Set in an university during the 70's the book is about a nonconformist runner who loves to think for himself and loves to run. A sample early passage:

    ...the runners kept up

    After reading this book written in 1978 I understand why it went from a small publisher to being sold out of trunks during track meets and runs to cult classic to now being regarded by many as the best book on running ever written.

    But this is not just a runner's book. in fact it is now one of my all time favorite books period.

    Set in an university during the 70's the book is about a nonconformist runner who loves to think for himself and loves to run. A sample early passage:

    ...the runners kept up all matter of chatter and horseplay. When they occasionally blew by a huffing fatty or an aging road runner they automatically toned down the banter to avoid overwhelming, to preclude the appearance of showboating(not that they slowed in the slightest). They in fact respected these distant cousins of the spirit, who among all people, had some modicum of insight into their own milieu. But these runners resembled them only in the sense that a puma resembles a pussycat. It is the difference between stretching lazily on the carpet and prowling the jungle for fresh red meat."

    An in depth review would contain too many spoiler alerts, I will say that the climax, a mile race, is one of the most suspenseful descriptions of a sporting event I have ever read.

    This book is a great read and I recommend to all without reservation

  • Burd

    OK. It's not the best written book. But if you're a runner, you can't not like this book. Not all of it held my attention. I devoured the parts about running and training because they were so bang on and passionately written. I guess Parker wanted to round out the novel so that it wouldn't be a total runner's geekfest. But the side plots about love affairs and political drama were like junk miles to me and I found myself skimming over them.

    Apparently this book has been a cult classic for years

    OK. It's not the best written book. But if you're a runner, you can't not like this book. Not all of it held my attention. I devoured the parts about running and training because they were so bang on and passionately written. I guess Parker wanted to round out the novel so that it wouldn't be a total runner's geekfest. But the side plots about love affairs and political drama were like junk miles to me and I found myself skimming over them.

    Apparently this book has been a cult classic for years amongst elite runners and track and field enthusiasts. I gotta say, just reading about Quentin Cassidy's determination and drive as a competitive miler made me want to go out and do some repeats.

    I really don't think a non-runner would get this. But if you love to run, check it out. In fact, I'd say it's required reading for people who do speed training!!

    Yep, it's passages like that that send shivers up my spine.

  • Allison

    Disclaimer: I am a runner. If you are not a runner, I'm honestly not sure that you will enjoy this book, because as a novel, it has a number of shortcomings. You know the ending from the start. The plot lags in a number of spots, and the rise to the climax is agonizingly slow. And I personally never fell in love with any of the characters, no matter how much I could or could not relate to them.

    And yet.

    I have never read anything that captures the experience of a competitive runner more accurately

    Disclaimer: I am a runner. If you are not a runner, I'm honestly not sure that you will enjoy this book, because as a novel, it has a number of shortcomings. You know the ending from the start. The plot lags in a number of spots, and the rise to the climax is agonizingly slow. And I personally never fell in love with any of the characters, no matter how much I could or could not relate to them.

    And yet.

    I have never read anything that captures the experience of a competitive runner more accurately than some of the passages in this book. I have never read anything that makes me want to get out there and

    like this book does. I have never read a book that I know, with absolute certainty, that I will read again and again at different points in my life for very specific reasons.

    is all of these things. It's like having a friend who "really gets it" when you talk about your love/hate relationship with the sport of running. It's the only chance you'll ever have to climb inside the head of another runner and truly know that they feel just as shitty and just as elated as you've felt.

    For these reasons, I loved the book. And I will read it again. And again. And again.

  • Matthew

    The history of this book is more interesting than its contents.

    The former Dallas Baptist University cross country runner who loaned it to me said it was a "cult running book". I was eager to see what type of book runners would form a hidden fan base around.

    Unfortunately, and quite predictably, the running enthusiast's choice of fiction is a book that enthuses about running. A book that describes running accurately and compares most everything in life to running, and features characters who run o

    The history of this book is more interesting than its contents.

    The former Dallas Baptist University cross country runner who loaned it to me said it was a "cult running book". I was eager to see what type of book runners would form a hidden fan base around.

    Unfortunately, and quite predictably, the running enthusiast's choice of fiction is a book that enthuses about running. A book that describes running accurately and compares most everything in life to running, and features characters who run often.

    I do a little distance running, and I found the descriptions of the act quite accurate, as will most who have run before, but I did not find it new, strange, exciting, funny, or frightening.

    Unfortunately the characters act and sound like the corny youths seen in the movie "Sleepaway Camp".

    Runner's World declares this book "The best book ever written about running." A limited distinction similar to "The best book written about pickled vegetables." or "The best book written about toenail clipper manufacturing."

    Still, I'm thrilled that a "cult running book" exists, even if it is boring. There is something about this slow-building success that is simultaneously encouraging and amusing. In fact, it's publishing success is like the triumph of a patient distance runner. See what I did there?

  • Rebecca

    I am not totally sure how I feel about this book as a whole - but I loved the last quarter of it.

    The beginning nearly killed me with the author’s seemingly needful sense to try to impress us with his constant use of obscure words. It nearly handicapped the book as each sentence read as though he used a book of synonyms to replace simpler everyday language to build up his writing? I very nearly gave up and just walked away.

    However, if you can plow through his obscure writing structure (and thoug

    I am not totally sure how I feel about this book as a whole - but I loved the last quarter of it.

    The beginning nearly killed me with the author’s seemingly needful sense to try to impress us with his constant use of obscure words. It nearly handicapped the book as each sentence read as though he used a book of synonyms to replace simpler everyday language to build up his writing? I very nearly gave up and just walked away.

    However, if you can plow through his obscure writing structure (and thoughts) and get a few of the nuggets he gives in the first 3/4 of the book and combine them with the nuggets given in the last quarter, the ending is worth the pain. If you've ever been a runner or desire to know the insanity behind those who go the extreme in this sport - this book gives a very clear picture of that psyche.

    The book is inspiring but I find the current "Born to Run" more so (though let me reiterate, the last quarter of this book is amazing!) and of course I love the reference in this book to barefoot running.

    The 3 stars is because his writing is so terrible!

  • Patti's Book Nook

    I was looking for running inspiration for my two half marathons this year. I also needed to read this before the sequel on my shelves, Again to Carthage. After receiving it from interlibrary loan, I excitedly began reading. I was a little letdown. I believe the blurbs overhyped it a tad with the promises of "best novel ever written about running" and also that it could "inspire a couch potato to run". Both are lofty statements and didn't quite hit the mark for me.

    I think this is relatable to a

    I was looking for running inspiration for my two half marathons this year. I also needed to read this before the sequel on my shelves, Again to Carthage. After receiving it from interlibrary loan, I excitedly began reading. I was a little letdown. I believe the blurbs overhyped it a tad with the promises of "best novel ever written about running" and also that it could "inspire a couch potato to run". Both are lofty statements and didn't quite hit the mark for me.

    I think this is relatable to a small group of super elite competitive runners who are all-consumed with achieving excellence in this field. The anecdotes of eccentric characters, the breaking down phenomenon, the runner's high, and self-care were interesting from an outsider perspective, but most was truly insider baseball (perfectly phrased by David's The Poptimist's review on Goodreads). I love the feeling and joy that comes after a long run, and I also love a challenge. I was looking forward to vicariously experiencing the power of feet pounding the pavement, and not as interested in the reading about seconds shaved off a mile. I understand this is just a reader preference, and not a fault of the book. This was more technical training, male group dynamics, and commentary on the good ol' boy network of a college campus in the 1970's.

    Parker was discussing odd behaviors and personalities that can occasionally come with people who have a singular pursuit, but the style was slightly snarky and show off-y. I tried really hard to connect to the runners and their endeavors, but there seemed to be a wall I couldn't get past (like Andrea, Cassidy's girlfriend in the book!) I'm going to give this three stars because I do think it has value to a select few, but not for this amateur runner. I would definitely be curious to hear what regular marathoners and ultra-marathoners think of this work.

  • Maria

    This was actually a really awful book. I was quite excited to dig into it after reading all the accolades: "The best piece of running fiction around"... "There are parts of "Once A Runner" that are pure poetry"... "So inspiring it could be banned as a performance-enhancing drug"...

    Bullhonkey. This book read like a high school writing assignment. Belabored dialogue, cardboard characters, clunky prose. The two chapters on racing at the end were exciting and contained the true heart of the book, bu

    This was actually a really awful book. I was quite excited to dig into it after reading all the accolades: "The best piece of running fiction around"... "There are parts of "Once A Runner" that are pure poetry"... "So inspiring it could be banned as a performance-enhancing drug"...

    Bullhonkey. This book read like a high school writing assignment. Belabored dialogue, cardboard characters, clunky prose. The two chapters on racing at the end were exciting and contained the true heart of the book, but sheesh! What a god-awful warm-up to get there. Like running uphill on loose gravel, dodging potholes. In the rain. All I can think is that the above-quoted reviewers skimmed the first 7/10ths of the book and only read the last bit, where it finally got interesting and really did have something to say about what goes on in a runner's mind during extreme effort.

    To be fair, there were also two excerpts that rang true to me in a pleasing way, just over halfway through:

    "They knew it was psychologically easier to run a familiar course than a new one, so contrary to the advice in the magazines and jogger manuals, they seldom went exploring for changes of scenery."

    "Though the toil was arduous, they rarely spoke of the discomfort of training or racing in terms of pain; they knew that what gave pain its truly fearful dimension was a certain lack of familiarity... these were sensations they knew very well."

    ~ both excerpts from page 158 in the 2009 reprint

  • Angela

    I'd heard of this book but never really had the urge to pick it up until I got a copy for free & figured "Eh, what the heck." 12 chapters in I was convinced it was about the stupidest book I'd ever read. The writing was cliche & forced, & the dialogue was unbelievable and frankly hard to follow (though I'm sure that's at least partly to do with the time period). I couldn't relate to the characters, and the jumpy, meandering style of storytelling made the main story line difficult to

    I'd heard of this book but never really had the urge to pick it up until I got a copy for free & figured "Eh, what the heck." 12 chapters in I was convinced it was about the stupidest book I'd ever read. The writing was cliche & forced, & the dialogue was unbelievable and frankly hard to follow (though I'm sure that's at least partly to do with the time period). I couldn't relate to the characters, and the jumpy, meandering style of storytelling made the main story line difficult to follow (or even detect) for the first half the book. I spent probably half the scenes going "What does this have to do with anything??" It it wasn't so short I probably would have given it up there.

    The second half (once he ditched most of the side characters) was more coherent and actually had a narrative arc to it, and although as a runner I have never been anywhere *near* the caliber of Mr. Quenton Cassidy, there were actually a lot of parts I

    able to relate to on some level. (It also brought back all the most painful, most horrific parts of running track, which sort of sucked, but I guess that's kind of the point.) It's when Parker is actually writing about running and training and racing that it's not too bad, and there were definitely a few sections near the end where I found myself thinking, "OMG, it is/was *totally* just like that," so he gets an extra star for that. On the other hand, I doubt anyone who hasn't had the experience of running track at least semi-competitively will really "get" those parts.

    So yeah. If you are or have been a super competitive male college track star, this book *might* be for you. If you're a distance runner in the sense of, "Meh, I run marathons & half-marathons occasionally for fun/health/thrillz," you can probably just skip it without missing much.

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