Once a Runner
By: John L. Parker, Jr.
I have to first tell you how I came to select this book. I was spending my lunch-hour browsing around Borders downtown. I had stopped in to pick up a specific book and then the comfort and expansiveness of Borders sucked me and I started lingering in the Fiction/Literature section (always my drug of choice). As I slowly walked from shelf to shelf reminiscing over previously read and much-loved books, and eyeing some new release here and there, a book on a shelf just above my head caught my eye and seemed to jump out at me. The cover had the outline of runner. I stopped. Reached up. And pulled down “Once a Runner.”
Not all that strange you say? Well, it just so happened that I was going through a little running rut at the time and had been struggling to force myself to get back into a running routine after my last marathon. The title described exactly how I felt: I was “once a runner,” but wasn’t so sure anymore. I felt that fate had placed that book in my line of sight, so I bought it.
I didn’t get around to reading it for quite some time, however. I think because I knew I’d feel a little guilty once I dove in. And I did. The narrator of the book, Quenton Cassidy is a collegiate runner at fictional Southeastern University and he is hard-core. Even my 20-mile pre-marathon training runs don’t stack up next to this runner’s training.
Admittedly, I felt like a lesser runner almost immediately. Chalk it up to my running rut circumstance or my less than speedy times, but it seemed that Quenton was there to show me what a real runner was—and that wasn’t me. I think this made me a little resistant to the book at first. But finally, about halfway through I dropped the jealousy and guilt and found myself gladly accompanying Quenton on his most difficult training runs.
And shockingly, I understood just how he felt on many of those runs. Parker was able to articulate those strange and intangible feelings that runners face on particularly trying runs and even on amazing runs. Soon I found myself wanting to put on my running shoes, sign up for a race and share in Quenton’s experience.
This book is considered a cult classic in the running world. It was originally rejected by many publishers and Parker took to selling it out of the back of his car at races and meets. But it was an instant hit with runners and a buzz began to develop. Eventually, it was picked up and printed officially by a publishing house.
I won’t say that this book changed my life or the way I look at running. I’ll just say that it renewed some excitement in me and reconfirmed that all the sweat and pain is really worth it in the end. Not just because I might set a new personal speed or distance record, but more importantly because of those wonderful indescribable feelings you have after you finish a run that takes you to the brink and back, and shows you exactly what kind of person you are on the inside.