Once A Runner follows the collegiate years of talented and manic runner, Quenton Cassidy. Cassidy is a miler whose obsession in life is to run a sub-four minute mile.
Cassidy attends fictional Southeastern University in Florida, and finds himself expelled after publicly speaking out against the strict dress code being imposed upon the athletes by the conservative administration led by the conservative football coach. Cassidy’s chances to break the four-minute barrier seem dashed until former gold medalist Bruce Denton takes him under his wing. Denton moves Cassidy into a remote cabin on the outskirts of town where he can focus solely on his running.
“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” -Once A Runner, John L. Parker, Jr.
Cassidy’s love of running jeopardizes his relationship with Andrea, his other love. The emotional conflicts portrayed throughout the book are universal to all readers, but it’s the detailed descriptions of the running that make it a memorable read. Quenton’s last track meet against the famed New Zealand Olympian, John Walton will be forever etched in your mind.
“Cassidy’s heart tried to leap out through his taught skin and hop into his wet hands. But outwardly it was all very calm, very serene, just as always, and it seemed to last a tiny forever, just like that, a snapshot of them all on the curved parabola of a starting line, eight giant hearts attached to eight pairs of bellows-like lungs mounted on eight pairs of supercharged stilts. They were poised on the edge of some howling vortex they had run 10,000 miles to get to. Now they had to run one more.”-Once A Runner, John L. Parker, Jr.
Parker’s writing is poetic and beautiful in places, while at other times a bit obtuse. Competitive runners and former track athletes, will likely identify with the masculine writing style and character of Quenton Cassidy. However, it will off-putting to some, as there are moments in the story when the tone is dismissive of casual or non-competitive runners.
Overall, I recommend this book. It has attracted a cult following among the running crowd for good reason. It helped me progress through marathon training and reminded me that as hard as training can be, someone is always working harder. Enjoy!