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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 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.
Published: Scribner on Apr 7, 2009
ISBN: 9781416597919
List price: $10.99
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My brother Bob, a huge runner from when running wasn't cool, gave me this book. It was written back in 1978 and is recently back in print.It is novel about running and runners written back during the days of "no pain, no gain" and "pain is what weakness feels like as it leaves the body," and "sweat is just your fat cells crying." The plot doesn't really matter, it is about running by real runners.The book starts our really slow. One problem is that the author seems to have gotten a brand new thesaurus and is really giving it a workout plus he is pulling the stops on every simile, metaphor, adjective, and adverb he has ever heard about. About halfway through the book though the author starts writing in a more natural style and the story grabs you and pulls you through to the end.The book is about obsession, dedication, and hard work and has the best description of running a race I've ever read (not that I would know a thing about running a race.)Buy this book (or get it from your library), and read it. You'll like it.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The quaking of your mattress upon waking in the morning, driven by the slow pumping of your supercharged heart muscle. The harsh forms of retribution imposed on upstart "workout heroes" by track team veterans. The nearly intolerable psychological contortions required to rev up the psyche in those eternal moments before a big race. The sheer torture experienced by the middle-distance runner as the will to win clashes with a body in the throes of anaerobic respiration. And, most of all, the obsession and single-minded focus required to become a champion. By finding the right words to capture these kinds of experiences, "Once a Runner" has rightfully earned its cult status as the classic running novel. The basic plot is simple and unadorned: Quentin Cassidy, a senior at Southeastern University, embarks on a quest to become the best four-lap runner he can be. Everything else in his life be damned, as it must be, for distance running is the ultimate jealous mistress. "Once a Runner" creates the archetypal runner hero and uses him to convey the inner world of the competitive distance runner like nothing I've ever read, but it unfortunately suffers from a number of literary shortfalls. Much of the conflict between Cassidy and the monsters who populate the university's athletic department comes across as contrived. The portions of the novel that depict this secondary conflict tend to drag and detract from the power of the passages focused on the primary and more convincing conflict (Cassidy versus himself). And the editing of the novel is sub par, with a number of jarring typographical errors breaking the narrative flow. Shortcomings aside, though, this is a must read for anyone who would like to relive what it was like to lay it all on the line as a competitive runner or for anyone who's considering making the enormous sacrifices necessary to do so in the future. -Kevin Joseph, author of "The Champion Maker"read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Once a Runner is a fictional account of a college track athlete, Quenton Cassisdy, who sacrifices just about everything to be his best at running the mile. The story is classified as fiction, but the characters have so much life it is hard to perceive this as anything but a biography of a runner. The mental and physical mechanics of running are described with such authentic detail that you will find your pulse quickening with every step of your vicarious hitchhiking exepedition with Quenton Cassidy on his 1600 meter journey to greatness. If you are looking for an inspirational story about running, I highly recommend this book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
"What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials."read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Even though it was a little hard to get through with the cliches and typos, it is a must-read for every competitive runner. I think it's slightly rare--my public library didn't have it, so I bought a copy--I remember it was a little pricey.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I loved this book. I discovered running at a much later stage in my life than Quentin Cassidy, the main protagonist of Once a Runner. However, I can completely understand and respect the life of a competitive, elite, collegiate long distance runner.The book flows really well. The prose is excellent. You really begin to understand what makes these guys tick. It's a great fictional way to get insight into a world that few people get exposed to.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If you are a runner, even if you can't fathom a four minute mile and 140 mile weeks, this novel is for you. In it you will find feelings and mannerisms you can relate to even if you are not elite. If you have a running goal; 5K, 10K, half or full marathon, you will see yourself in Quenton's struggles right from the first page.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
At this point there are many reviews of this book and I have read most of them. It would be difficult for me to add any new insightful look into this review process; or should I call it an almost discussion. I do feel that Andrew, in this review of September 30, 2004, which was sometime ago, probably pretty well hit the nail on the head with this one. But reviews are reviews and I might as well put in my little bit.I have to agree with many of the reviewers here that this is probably the best novel addressing running ever written. I have been aware of this work for a number of years now via friends and in fact have had several discussions now and then over different aspects of Parker’s work. This book was first published in the middle of my “running days” which lasted from the early 1960s through the early 1980s. (I still jog, but my days of competitive running are over, alas). John L. Parker , Jr. has captured perfectly, and I might say almost poetically, the essence of running; no actually the obsession for running that many have. While never being able to compete at the level the main character in this book, I never the less was almost as driven as he was. Running can indeed become a central part of a person’s life and indeed, can at times, become the absolute most important thing. In some ways this is good, in some ways this is bad…it just depends on how you look at it. For me it was great but for my wife and family…well they have a different opinion.This work is highly motivational. The story is rather low key to some extent and to be honest I think you would almost have to be a competitive runnier, or at least an extremely dedicated running to appreciate the full impact of this work. The weekend jogger can certainly enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but to truly understand what the books is actually about, the reader must have “been there and done that.” This work might also be quite useful to all those “running widows” and ‘running widowers” who might have trouble understanding just what drives their somewhat irrational mate. I love Parker’s writing style. It is clear and concise. He has the ability to capture the moment and has the ability to look into the soul of his characters. Reading the author’s own history it is easy to understand why his writing in relationship to running is so insightful; he has not only talked the talk, but he has walked the walk.I must say that I enjoyed ever page, every word of this book and it is one that I will most assuredly give multiple reads. I may be to old now to do what I want in the area of running, but I am able to remember and dream.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book, originally published in the later '70's, became something of the holy grail of running. Copies were sold out of people's trunks at races. Runners passed it around to members of their running clubs. And it's easy to see why. Although a work of fiction, Quenton Cassidy's struggle to become The Best miler is inspiring.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr. is a story about a cometitive collegiate distance runner named Quenton Cassidy. Quenton specializes in the mile for "Southeastern University" (a fictional university based on the University of Florida), but ends up being kicked off the team for opposing a dress and conduct code impressed upon athletes. The main storyline of the book revolves around Quenton's quest to run a sub 4 minute mile. Once kicked off the team he is coached by friend and former Olympic athlete Bruce Denton and trains exclusively for months leading up to a one mile race that he is entered in under a fake name and a fake university. The climax is the detailed description of the 4 lap race. The other storylines involve his relationship with a girlfriend and his relationship with the school athletic authorities. There are times when the storyline involving the school seems to drag a bit, and it is a story that may not appeal to those who are not competitive runners, but otherwise I have nothing negative to say about this novel. It completely captures the thoughts and feelings associated with the trials and triumphs of competitive running. There are not many fictional stories about running. There are nonfiction stories that read like fiction, such as Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear, but nothing in the fictional realm even comes close to Once a Runner. The language is practically poetic at times, and the suspense Parker builds throughout the book and especially while describing the four laps of the mile race at the end of the book is fantastic. As a competitive runner myself, I can relate to the descriptions of training and racing and I am so thankful Parker was able to find the perfect words. I would recommend this book to any competitive runner, or anyone interested in the world of competitive running.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

My brother Bob, a huge runner from when running wasn't cool, gave me this book. It was written back in 1978 and is recently back in print.It is novel about running and runners written back during the days of "no pain, no gain" and "pain is what weakness feels like as it leaves the body," and "sweat is just your fat cells crying." The plot doesn't really matter, it is about running by real runners.The book starts our really slow. One problem is that the author seems to have gotten a brand new thesaurus and is really giving it a workout plus he is pulling the stops on every simile, metaphor, adjective, and adverb he has ever heard about. About halfway through the book though the author starts writing in a more natural style and the story grabs you and pulls you through to the end.The book is about obsession, dedication, and hard work and has the best description of running a race I've ever read (not that I would know a thing about running a race.)Buy this book (or get it from your library), and read it. You'll like it.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The quaking of your mattress upon waking in the morning, driven by the slow pumping of your supercharged heart muscle. The harsh forms of retribution imposed on upstart "workout heroes" by track team veterans. The nearly intolerable psychological contortions required to rev up the psyche in those eternal moments before a big race. The sheer torture experienced by the middle-distance runner as the will to win clashes with a body in the throes of anaerobic respiration. And, most of all, the obsession and single-minded focus required to become a champion. By finding the right words to capture these kinds of experiences, "Once a Runner" has rightfully earned its cult status as the classic running novel. The basic plot is simple and unadorned: Quentin Cassidy, a senior at Southeastern University, embarks on a quest to become the best four-lap runner he can be. Everything else in his life be damned, as it must be, for distance running is the ultimate jealous mistress. "Once a Runner" creates the archetypal runner hero and uses him to convey the inner world of the competitive distance runner like nothing I've ever read, but it unfortunately suffers from a number of literary shortfalls. Much of the conflict between Cassidy and the monsters who populate the university's athletic department comes across as contrived. The portions of the novel that depict this secondary conflict tend to drag and detract from the power of the passages focused on the primary and more convincing conflict (Cassidy versus himself). And the editing of the novel is sub par, with a number of jarring typographical errors breaking the narrative flow. Shortcomings aside, though, this is a must read for anyone who would like to relive what it was like to lay it all on the line as a competitive runner or for anyone who's considering making the enormous sacrifices necessary to do so in the future. -Kevin Joseph, author of "The Champion Maker"
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Once a Runner is a fictional account of a college track athlete, Quenton Cassisdy, who sacrifices just about everything to be his best at running the mile. The story is classified as fiction, but the characters have so much life it is hard to perceive this as anything but a biography of a runner. The mental and physical mechanics of running are described with such authentic detail that you will find your pulse quickening with every step of your vicarious hitchhiking exepedition with Quenton Cassidy on his 1600 meter journey to greatness. If you are looking for an inspirational story about running, I highly recommend this book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
"What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials."
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Even though it was a little hard to get through with the cliches and typos, it is a must-read for every competitive runner. I think it's slightly rare--my public library didn't have it, so I bought a copy--I remember it was a little pricey.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I loved this book. I discovered running at a much later stage in my life than Quentin Cassidy, the main protagonist of Once a Runner. However, I can completely understand and respect the life of a competitive, elite, collegiate long distance runner.The book flows really well. The prose is excellent. You really begin to understand what makes these guys tick. It's a great fictional way to get insight into a world that few people get exposed to.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If you are a runner, even if you can't fathom a four minute mile and 140 mile weeks, this novel is for you. In it you will find feelings and mannerisms you can relate to even if you are not elite. If you have a running goal; 5K, 10K, half or full marathon, you will see yourself in Quenton's struggles right from the first page.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
At this point there are many reviews of this book and I have read most of them. It would be difficult for me to add any new insightful look into this review process; or should I call it an almost discussion. I do feel that Andrew, in this review of September 30, 2004, which was sometime ago, probably pretty well hit the nail on the head with this one. But reviews are reviews and I might as well put in my little bit.I have to agree with many of the reviewers here that this is probably the best novel addressing running ever written. I have been aware of this work for a number of years now via friends and in fact have had several discussions now and then over different aspects of Parker’s work. This book was first published in the middle of my “running days” which lasted from the early 1960s through the early 1980s. (I still jog, but my days of competitive running are over, alas). John L. Parker , Jr. has captured perfectly, and I might say almost poetically, the essence of running; no actually the obsession for running that many have. While never being able to compete at the level the main character in this book, I never the less was almost as driven as he was. Running can indeed become a central part of a person’s life and indeed, can at times, become the absolute most important thing. In some ways this is good, in some ways this is bad…it just depends on how you look at it. For me it was great but for my wife and family…well they have a different opinion.This work is highly motivational. The story is rather low key to some extent and to be honest I think you would almost have to be a competitive runnier, or at least an extremely dedicated running to appreciate the full impact of this work. The weekend jogger can certainly enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but to truly understand what the books is actually about, the reader must have “been there and done that.” This work might also be quite useful to all those “running widows” and ‘running widowers” who might have trouble understanding just what drives their somewhat irrational mate. I love Parker’s writing style. It is clear and concise. He has the ability to capture the moment and has the ability to look into the soul of his characters. Reading the author’s own history it is easy to understand why his writing in relationship to running is so insightful; he has not only talked the talk, but he has walked the walk.I must say that I enjoyed ever page, every word of this book and it is one that I will most assuredly give multiple reads. I may be to old now to do what I want in the area of running, but I am able to remember and dream.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book, originally published in the later '70's, became something of the holy grail of running. Copies were sold out of people's trunks at races. Runners passed it around to members of their running clubs. And it's easy to see why. Although a work of fiction, Quenton Cassidy's struggle to become The Best miler is inspiring.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr. is a story about a cometitive collegiate distance runner named Quenton Cassidy. Quenton specializes in the mile for "Southeastern University" (a fictional university based on the University of Florida), but ends up being kicked off the team for opposing a dress and conduct code impressed upon athletes. The main storyline of the book revolves around Quenton's quest to run a sub 4 minute mile. Once kicked off the team he is coached by friend and former Olympic athlete Bruce Denton and trains exclusively for months leading up to a one mile race that he is entered in under a fake name and a fake university. The climax is the detailed description of the 4 lap race. The other storylines involve his relationship with a girlfriend and his relationship with the school athletic authorities. There are times when the storyline involving the school seems to drag a bit, and it is a story that may not appeal to those who are not competitive runners, but otherwise I have nothing negative to say about this novel. It completely captures the thoughts and feelings associated with the trials and triumphs of competitive running. There are not many fictional stories about running. There are nonfiction stories that read like fiction, such as Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear, but nothing in the fictional realm even comes close to Once a Runner. The language is practically poetic at times, and the suspense Parker builds throughout the book and especially while describing the four laps of the mile race at the end of the book is fantastic. As a competitive runner myself, I can relate to the descriptions of training and racing and I am so thankful Parker was able to find the perfect words. I would recommend this book to any competitive runner, or anyone interested in the world of competitive running.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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