Once A Runner by John L. Parker.
For several years, I'd heard of Once a Runner and it's cult following in the running subculture. Being a runner for many years myself, I was excited when I learned that the novel would be released again.
The novel follows a protagonist named Quentin Cassidy during his running career in the 1970s at the fictional Southeastern University in Kernsville, Florida. (Based loosely on the University of Florida in Gainesville) Cassidy is one of the top milers in the nation with race times around 4:00 flat. In addition to his running adventures, we also follow his humorous escapades as a college student and ring leader of various mischief.
As a result of Cassidy's leadership role in an athlete uprising against unreasonable administration rules, he is banned from the track team and decides to drop out of school to pursue training exclusively while living in a cabin in the woods. During this training he further refines his mental and physical abilities to finely honed race condition. This training culminates in a race against the fastest miler in the world.
The book captures with extreme accuracy the many aspects of life as a competitive distance runner. It goes through the components of training including long runs, speed work, training logs, eating, sleeping, stretching, and race preparations among others. It additionally touches on the social nuances that runners experience in the football centric American sports culture. I found the pre-race rituals and description of nervousness as well as feelings and thoughts during the actual race to be right on target.
The book alternates between rambunctious tomfoolery college scenes and the more reflective passages of both group and individual training. The flow parallels running quite well. At times a runner will interact with the hustle and bustle of the non-running world and at times he or she will enter the separate world of running and introspective thinking.
The plot is exciting throughout with varying components of humor, drama, and heart pounding racing. Once A Runner will entertain and strike a nerve especially with the competitive runner. It's a great read for the casual runner or the person simply interested in a good sports story.
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