Saturday, February 13, 2010

Once a Runner, by John Parker

While driving to and from Hunstville for Rocky Racoon, I listend to John Parker's Once a Runner, which Runner's World calls the "best novel ever written about running." Well, I don't know how many novels have been written about running, but this is definitely a good one. Perhaps the best thing about Once a Runner is the legendary cult following around it. Parker self published the novel in the late 1970s and famously sold it out the trunk of his car at running events. It eventually gained a following and good reviews in the running world. After catching some high prices on the used book market, it was finally reprinted last year.

Once a Runner is best enjoyed by competitive runners. It follows Quenton Cassidy's quest for a four minute mile and Olympic glory. As a captain of a college track team and an aspiring lawyer, the other guys solicit his help with a petition protesting new haircut and dress code policies imposed by the athletic director, who's also head football coach. In the interest of quieting the upstarts, Cassidy is banned from the team and the campus. He retreats to his mentor's country house, where he trains for his big comeback.

The appeal of Once a Runner reaches well beyond runners. With the details about training and racing, the non-runner might skip over some passages, but mostly this is a novel about college life in the 1970s, and one young man's determination to follow his dreams. But even a non-runner will get caught up in Cassidy's climactic race, feeling his heart beating right along with the runner's.

Of course, I have to mention a brief endorsement of barefoot running. When Denton, trying to convince Cassidy to move out to the country house to train, describes the setting, says, "Move out here, Quenton, and train. . . . There are great trails out here and a little grassy field for intervals. You can run barefoot on it the way you like to. It'd be ideal, a runner's paradise." Great trails, grassy fields; runner's paradise indeed!

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