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Once a Runner

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  10,873 Ratings  ·  1,000 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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Community 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
Patti's Book Nook
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 a
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, running
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 ...more
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
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
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
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
Sep 01, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
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 wh
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.
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.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't tell if the runner in me is being biased, but that was a great book.
Helina Sommer
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the hardest books I've ever read, because there were words I had to translate. It took a lot of time to understand what I was reading. But I like it and I want to read it again in the future.
Eryk Banatt
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Which book," I once asked my friend, "has produced the biggest change in your life? Which is your favorite?"

"Once a Runner," he replied with no hesitation, "by a lot."

My friend, like so many fans of this book, was a serious runner. I always just thought he was insane, with his 4:10 mile time, with his 100+ mile weeks, with his 20 mile sundays. Whenever I talked to him about it, the speeds and distances he talked about seemed almost inhuman, like his heart had been replaced with a wind turbine,
Stephanie Bruck
First of all, I am a runner, not an elite runner, but currently marathon training and thought this book might give me some motivation. The first half of the book had me lost and confused. There were so many characters and different things going on that didn't ever seem to come back into the book. The last half had more of a story line and was easier to follow. The last few chapters about racing made the book worth reading because it was very exciting and I could connect to how he felt. If you're ...more
Billy Tucker
New years resolution to be more critical with my ratings. I definitely enjoyed it, but some of the pseudo science and wacky training philosophies were hard to look past. The relationship bit with Andrea was really dumb and didn't seem to contirbute to the story.
Aug 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! I cracked this book for the first time yesterday afternoon, and before I knew it I was 1/3 of the way through. I opened it again last night, and when I checked I was 2/3 of the way through. Then, this morning, the last 1/3 flew by and I made a beeline for the computer to post this couldn't wait!

I have been active most of my life...all kinds of sports, but mostly basketball and soccer, but about two years I started to run for exercise. I ran first on a treadmill and then on the
Jesse  Young
Oct 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I took up Once A Runner looking for a book like Chris McDougall's (nonfiction) Born to Run... something that could inspire me to go out and run, and maybe even improve my understanding of what often seems a terribly masochistic pastime.

I'm glad I read this book!

With plenty of wit, John Parker manages to describe all the ineffable little facets of running that make it wonderful, but also very confusing at times. It's a pleasure to read how Quentin, the protagonist, feels about 120 mile weeks, b
Eric Smith
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t think the author is a particularly gifted writer, but since I'm a former college distance runner, the novel held my interest--I couldn't put it down. The book is a must for any serious distance runner from the late sixties or early seventies. I enjoyed reading about the experience of “being a miler.” I ran a lot mile races—just not as fast as the protagonist. The author never ran that fast either. I also enjoyed reading about the workouts. I ran many similar interval workouts in college ...more
Feb 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loaned by Devin, this book touches the part of you that wants to go to the Olympics and thinks that, with a little more work, you can.

I am not a runner, but have been an athlete and can tell you the experience Parker relates transcends any particular sport, so you may resonate with this, whether a runner or not. I remember that feeling~! It was right after college, when Ron Wilkes proposed we work together on a pair. I felt very strong, agonized anticipating the work that would be required, fin
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Corinne by: Matt Brass
Shelves: favorites
This book was recommended to me by my cross country coach. It was written by a college runner and you could tell this guy knew what he was talking about. It was SO GOOD in so many ways. In some ways it was different than I expected it to be, but in other ways it was exactly what I expected. I really liked how Parker included other aspects of Cassidy's life in the story besides the running aspect. Those were fun to read. I especially loved the parts with Andrea (I love romance, what can I say?) B ...more
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: runners
I have been hearing about this book from fellow runners for about three years now, and everybody (plus or minus a few) say the same thing - that it's the best book about running they've ever read. Unfortunately, it was out of print at the time. On Amazon and Ebay copies were selling at over 100$, and my local library only had a copy for use in the library itself. (Apparently people would steal the book from libraries as they could sell it for more than the lost book fee.)

Needless to say, my expe
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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.” 29 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.” 25 likes
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