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Once a Runner

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  12,946 ratings  ·  1,149 reviews

Originally self-published in 1978, Once a Runner captures the essence of competitive running—and of athletic competition in general—and has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever published..

Inspired by the author’s experience as a collegiate champion, the story focuses on Quenton Cassidy, a competitive runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong d

Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Scribner (first published 1978)
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Mike Fong Stories that feature the character Nick Adams, such as Big Two-Hearted River, found in the collection In Our Time. In fact, Bruce has loaned Cassidy a…moreStories that feature the character Nick Adams, such as Big Two-Hearted River, found in the collection In Our Time. In fact, Bruce has loaned Cassidy a copy of In Our Time and jokes upon arrival at the beginning of that chapter, greeting Cassidy, "Hey, Nick." (less)

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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  12,946 ratings  ·  1,149 reviews

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Aug 14, 2010 rated it liked it
I am not totally sure how I feel about this book as a whole - but I loved the last quarter of it.

The beginning nearly killed me with the author’s seemingly needful sense to try to impress us with his constant use of obscure words. It nearly handicapped the book as each sentence read as though he used a book of synonyms to replace simpler everyday language to build up his writing? I very nearly gave up and just walked away.

However, if you can plow through his obscure writing structure (and thoug
May 23, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was actually a really awful book. I was quite excited to dig into it after reading all the accolades: "The best piece of running fiction around"... "There are parts of "Once A Runner" that are pure poetry"... "So inspiring it could be banned as a performance-enhancing drug"...

Bullhonkey. This book read like a high school writing assignment. Belabored dialogue, cardboard characters, clunky prose. The two chapters on racing at the end were exciting and contained the true heart of the book, bu
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of my favorite novels. Very funny at times. This will really strike a chord for anyone who ran distance at the college level. Parker gets everything down from the dinnertime antics to the pre-race jitters and the absolute strangeness that goes along with identifying yourself as a long distance runner. A must read for anyone planning to run a marathon or who trains regularly. A great motivator for those days when you just can't seem to get out the door. Pick this up, read a chapter, and get o ...more
Lisa Dunckley
I get the feeling that this is one of those books that just don't hold up to the test of time. Like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, which was apparently a huge bestseller in the 70's but which, if you read it now, is laughable, I think this book probably had more impact in 1978 when it was first written, than it does now.

This book was one of Amazon's recommendations because I bought Born To Run (excellent!). It is fiction, the story of Quenton Cassidy, a college athlete whose dream is to run a fou
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: running, fiction
I'd heard of this book but never really had the urge to pick it up until I got a copy for free & figured "Eh, what the heck." 12 chapters in I was convinced it was about the stupidest book I'd ever read. The writing was cliche & forced, & the dialogue was unbelievable and frankly hard to follow (though I'm sure that's at least partly to do with the time period). I couldn't relate to the characters, and the jumpy, meandering style of storytelling made the main story line difficult to follow (or e ...more
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I am a runner. If you are not a runner, I'm honestly not sure that you will enjoy this book, because as a novel, it has a number of shortcomings. You know the ending from the start. The plot lags in a number of spots, and the rise to the climax is agonizingly slow. And I personally never fell in love with any of the characters, no matter how much I could or could not relate to them.

And yet.

I have never read anything that captures the experience of a competitive runner more accurately
Andy Miller
Mar 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
After reading this book written in 1978 I understand why it went from a small publisher to being sold out of trunks during track meets and runs to cult classic to now being regarded by many as the best book on running ever written.

But this is not just a runner's book. in fact it is now one of my all time favorite books period.

Set in an university during the 70's the book is about a nonconformist runner who loves to think for himself and loves to run. A sample early passage:
...the runners kept up
Feb 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I was looking for running inspiration for my two half marathons this year. I also needed to read this before the sequel on my shelves, Again to Carthage. After receiving it from interlibrary loan, I excitedly began reading. I was a little letdown. I believe the blurbs overhyped it a tad with the promises of "best novel ever written about running" and also that it could "inspire a couch potato to run". Both are lofty statements and didn't quite hit the mark for me.

I think this is relatable to
Jul 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: hardcore runners everywhere
Shelves: running
OK. It's not the best written book. But if you're a runner, you can't not like this book. Not all of it held my attention. I devoured the parts about running and training because they were so bang on and passionately written. I guess Parker wanted to round out the novel so that it wouldn't be a total runner's geekfest. But the side plots about love affairs and political drama were like junk miles to me and I found myself skimming over them.

Apparently this book has been a cult classic for years
Sep 01, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: incredibly-awful
How in the hell is the average rating for this book over 4 stars? Oh yeah, I know, the only people who would read this book are runners and they're probably really only interested because the main character in the book is a runner. Not that runners make bad writers (or readers, can there be a bad or good reader?), but runners are usually people obsessed with running over everything else, so a book about a runner is probably the coolest thing in the world for them. I thought the plot was ridiculo ...more
The history of this book is more interesting than its contents.

The former Dallas Baptist University cross country runner who loaned it to me said it was a "cult running book". I was eager to see what type of book runners would form a hidden fan base around.

Unfortunately, and quite predictably, the running enthusiast's choice of fiction is a book that enthuses about running. A book that describes running accurately and compares most everything in life to running, and features characters who run o
Thomas Wilson
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Different from your usual running book, while still raising some interesting ideas and being really quite funny at points. I liked it.
Jul 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good novel about elite racing (the main character is a competitive miler), but it is not about running casually or a love of running, or running for any reason other than to compete. It is mainly about how much a competitive athlete must sacrifice in order to dedicate his life to his sport. I didn't relate to a lot of that, and in fact the writer dismisses casual runners as unimportant:

"His daily toil was arduous; satisfying on the whole, but not the bounding, joyous nature romp descri
Garlan ✌
Wow! A great book about running, written by a runner who can write. I've known (heard) about this book for years, and finally got around to reading it. I wish I had read this when I was younger and was running strong. It inspires me to go out and hit the roads again today; I can only imagine how much it would have inspired me then.
This is a fictional account of a runner (loosely based upon the author's college experience), and his quest to break the magical 4-minute mile. Its full of wisdom,
Ann Brennan
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had read an excerpt of this book that was in the Runners Anthology and loved that. Reading the whole book though was incredible. It really was one that was hard to put down and when he goes into training (I won't spoil this part) but I will say that I devoured the book from that point on. Loved it. ...more
Jesse Kraai
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jesse by: Joshua Gutman
Shelves: 1970s
Two alternating themes that worked great together: >What running a four-minute mile means< and 1970s jock culture.

One film and one book to compare it to: "Everybodywantssome!!" that was funny too, but the baseball never became about anything real. And Krabbe's The Rider which also ends in a great race description yet ultimately refuses to tell us what riding hard is about.


Haha, it's completely ridiculous. But those of us who have
May 13, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel somewhat bad about not rating this book higher. I believe it was written with the ultra serious, highly competitive runner in mind. While I have run many 10k races in the past, it was more for the fun of it and just a tad bit of self-competition. The story centers around a group of college runners, a few of which were extremely good, wanting to break the 4 minute mile barrier. It takes the reader through their hard-to-conceive training regiments as well as their thirst for some college fu ...more
Cathy Douglas
To someone like me -- someone with widely ranging interests and abilities who isn't really “good” at anything – there's a horrible fascination in an all-out effort. Being able to tot up a bunch of numbers, run a marathon, keep marriage and family stable, and do a thousand other commonplace things without losing one's marbles makes life good. But life on that other side, the side of going for broke and putting all the eggs in in some basket that doesn't even come with a warranty, attracts me like ...more
Taylor Sutton
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once A Runner Review
It is not often that the emotions of the distance runner are described. These emotions remain hidden, out of sight for the average person. To dedicate themselves to something so hard, so burdening, would be a waste of their time. Few understand the unique breed that is the distance runner. I, a cross-country man myself, didn’t understand for nearly sixteen years. I once thought of running as a waste of time. I thought of it as cruel. I thought of it as unrewarding and unprod
Karen Klink
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read a review that said this is not a novel for non-runners.

I'm not a runner and never have been a runner, but I couldn't put the book down. I love to be immersed in a world about which I know nothing, and this book was a revelation. Reading it was probably the closest I'll ever get to knowing what it must be like to be an athlete in top condition. To have demons that "make you want to run through the jungle . . . cover countryside at a clip, slide by in the night like a scuttling cloud . . .
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the first quarter to third of this book slightly self-indulgent, but OMG, the last 30-40 pages are everything.

I do think this is one of those books that would be difficult to appreciate and connect with if you haven't raced competitively - just because there are so many small moments that bring back a rush of nostalgia (or pre-race terror :) ). But if you've run competitively, this is definitely one I'd highly recommend.
Yvonne Leutwyler
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inspiring... motivational... entertaining... for runners. If the same story was told about someone playing volleyball I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. The book reminded me why I run: To overcome the inner coward; to chase my demons; to savor the endorphins; because I have two legs and can. ...more
India M. Clamp
Egregious, especially defamatory references to Fiction right.
Ryan Fryer
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr is a very extensive look into one year of a collegiate runner’s carrier. Throughout the text, we learn about Quentin Cassidy, a college runner at Southeastern university in Florida, who wants to break 4 minutes for the mile. When Quentin gets kicked out of his school for protesting the athletic department, Quentin’s life flips upside down as he trains to run the mile of his life without his teammates. One of the highlights of the book was seeing the transformat ...more
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is absolutely the most relatable book I've ever read. It highlights so many aspects of running that only a runner can capture as accurately as Parker did. Some of the training programs and times run in races weren't relatable, but the experience is the same for every competitive runner, no matter what level. I highly recommend this book, especially for any runners. Cassidy's emotions, which run high leading up to races, and his near comic sluggishness after a race are captured perfectly, wh ...more
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an accurate story. I really looked forward to reading the last chapters after midnight on christmas eve. That much of a page-turner for me. It's awesome how the author combines the first and third perspective in the middle distance runner's life. The feeling of reaching a pinnacle in running, knowing that shape will never again be better, and looking back on it, knowing you didn't enjoy it (consciously) enough, really hit home. The dread from time to time, the mental battle during a hard wo ...more
Ben Gutierrez
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story is about Quentin Cassidy, a collegiate runner studying law, but mostly focusing on the 1 mile race. There is lots of wit and some regular human relationships, but it's largely a description of what it's like to compete in races that push the human will to the breaking point. It's an ode to the training spirit of an athlete and a sympathetic ear from someone who has learned to hold their running body to the flames of miles upon heartless miles. ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you run...and I mean really get it. This book hit home at a very formative time for me. I've had a singular focus on running for a while now as I pursue my own PR at the mile and it's always fun channeling my inner Quenton Cassidy on the trails. Pocketa-Pocketa.

I loved this book--it hit me the same way "The Alchemist" did. Perfect timing. Get yourself a copy cause chances are you're going to want to reread it someday.
Sarah Fountain
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lot of people describe this book as a cult classic, and it totally is. But I loved every sentence of it.

If you ran high school/college track, especially at the 1500m distance, you will love this. Lots of track drama, but loaded with track and field jargon. Great story, quick read.
I had to stop reading this book. The language is too much to handle I might comeback to it at another time but right now it’s too much
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John L. Parker Jr. has written for Outside, Runner’s World, and numerous other publications. He was the Southeastern Conference mile champion three times, and the United States Track and Field Federation national champion in the steeplechase, and was the teammate of Olympians Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, and Jeff Galloway on several championship cross-country teams. A graduate of the University o ...more

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“In mind's special processes, a ten-mile run takes far longer than the 60 minutes reported by a grandfather clock. Such time, in fact, hardly exists at all in the real world; it is all out on the trail somewhere, and you only go back to it when you are out there.” 31 likes
“You don't become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.” 30 likes
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