Sunday, January 17, 2010

Once a Runner by John L. Parker

Once a Runner is the story of Quenton Cassady, a mile runner in college during the Vietnam War era. It was originally self-published by Parker, and copies were sold out in that initial run. Since then, they have been traded and passed along from one generation of runners to the next, achieving cult status along the way. It was just republished and is gaining, again, the acclaim it deserves as, perhaps, "The best novel ever written about running" as Runner's World called it.

The book reads like a race itself. It is well paced, interspersed with college hijinks, the seriousness of the era, and the back and forth of brothers in sports. It tells of Quenton's chase for a sub-4-minute mile, his obsessive training and the singular focus it takes to achieve one's goals.

To the non-runner, this book might seem arcane, with it's explanantions of training schedules and race strategies. To the runner, it might seem archaic, the brutality of his schedule in light of modern training techniques and things we now understand. Those caveats aside, it's a story worth reading, and I ended up cheering for Quenton just like when I ran track, cheering for his heart and his daring and his courage, for his willingness to accept any standard of greatness other than the one he defined for himself.

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