Once A Runner is written by John L. Parker and was originally published in 1978. Just about every running website or magazine has this book listed as a must-read if you’re a runner, but somehow I’d never gotten around to it until recently. A quote from Runner’s World on the back cover reads, “The best piece of running fiction around. Beg, borrow, or buy a copy, and you’ll never need another motivator.”
The story follows collegiate runner Quenton Cassidy as him and his teammates train for cross country, indoor track and the spring track season. It shows the devotion and effort it takes to be a competitive runner, and I think anyone who played sports in high school or college can relate to what it takes – particularly in individual sports.
Cassidy dislikes the cross country races and specializes in the mile. The story turns when he brings a petition from the student athletes complaining about athletic dress code and conduct issues that results in his suspension from the track team. It continues to follow Cassidy as he drops out of school and pursues Olympic goals with an unbelievably strong commitment to training.
I’ll be honest, it took me a little while to get into this book. The beginning came off as dated, (probably because I didn’t live in this era) and I didn’t really see how it related to running. Eventually I would see the tie in though, and as it focused more on Cassidy’s dogged pursuit to get faster climaxing in a one mile race against the fastest miler in the world, I was completely entranced. I couldn’t put it down and could not believe how motivating a fictional book could be.
One of my favorite parts of the book was during an interval workout Cassidy completed that perfectly sums up why runners (at least for me) keep going and keep training no matter how hard it is when they’re working towards a goal. I love this quote:
…just as each repetition made the next seem more and more impossible, he knew that without question he would do it. There was no refuge in injury, his body could not be injured in this way. There was no refuge in mercy, there was nothing to forgive and no one to issue dispensation. And at last he saw: there was no refuge in cowardice, because he was not afraid. There was no alternative, it just had to be done.”
If you like running and are looking for a quick read, this book is interesting, relatable and very motivating. Give it a read.