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Once a Runner

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  9,335 Ratings  ·  906 Reviews

Once a Runner captures the essence of what it means to be a competitive runner; to devote your entire existence to a single-minded pursuit of excellence. It has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever written. Originally self-published in 1978 and sold at road races out of the trunk of the author’s car, reading the book became a rite of passage for many runners,

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Paperback, 226 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by Cedarwinds (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)

Community Reviews

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Rebecca
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
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Maria
May 23, 2009 Maria rated it it was ok
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
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Matt
Jan 27, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
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Angela
Feb 25, 2014 Angela rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Burd
Jul 11, 2011 Burd rated it really liked it
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
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Matthew
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
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Andy Miller
Mar 27, 2010 Andy Miller rated it it was amazing
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
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Allison
Dec 19, 2016 Allison 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
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Clint
Sep 01, 2009 Clint rated it did not like it
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
Tara
Jul 02, 2013 Tara rated it liked it
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
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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 Taylor Sutton rated it it was amazing
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
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Karen Klink
Oct 15, 2012 Karen Klink rated it really liked it
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 . . .
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Ann Brennan
Apr 21, 2011 Ann Brennan rated it it was amazing
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.
Yvonne Leutwyler
Mar 30, 2009 Yvonne Leutwyler rated it really liked it
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.
Billy Tucker
Jan 06, 2017 Billy Tucker rated it liked it
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.
Alan
Aug 09, 2010 Alan rated it really liked it
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 review...it 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
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Jesse Young
Oct 16, 2014 Jesse Young rated it really liked it
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
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Eric Smith
Jan 30, 2016 Eric Smith rated it really liked it
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
Mark
Feb 28, 2010 Mark rated it it was amazing
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
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AJ
Apr 21, 2009 AJ 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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Fryeday
Jun 26, 2015 Fryeday rated it really liked it
I knew this was supposed to be the all time best runner's book. I'm not a competitive runner so I can't speak for whether or not it delivered on that front. I will say that I enjoyed it a lot.
The main character, Quentin Cassidy (Cass), is super likable and I had a lot of respect for him. We meet him in college, his junior year I believe, where he's co-captain of the track team of a Florida school. He's disciplined, playful and well respected by his teammates, even looked up to. He's really seri
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Beth
Aug 25, 2010 Beth rated it liked it
I have had this book on the periphery for a few years now. Running seems to be in the spotlight for exercise and this book has been rediscovered by running enthusiasts all over.
Reading this book reminded me of stepping into my grandparents house and going to their limited bookshelf and finding the one book that was not written by some 1960s 1970s christian minister. The style of writing in this novel is very dated and it is amazing to see how literature and fiction can be identified with certai
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Courtney Foster
Jul 29, 2011 Courtney Foster rated it it was ok
The book was about a runner who runs in college and how running takes over his body. I loved reading about a world I know nothing about. The amount of running, the amount of pain and the amount of emotional work they put into being a runner. It really was amazing to read about a life that is so much more into runner than I ever will be.

Now as someone who isn't or wasn't ever competitive it was hard to understand. They don't always explain the details of something so you shake your head and just
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Katie
Jan 30, 2011 Katie rated it it was ok
I think I could only recommend this book to runners, and even then I'd have to qualify it by saying it is probably best enjoyed the way I read it--by listening to it as an audio book on my morning jogs. That definitely helped... listening to running tales while I was desperately trying to make it up the hill, or psyching myself up to finish the 8th and last mile (even though my 8-mile runs are seen as easy warm-ups by the Olympians in this book!).

The author is clearly more a passionate runner th
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Amy Moritz
Jun 11, 2011 Amy Moritz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since entering the running community a few years ago, I heard so much about this book. And yet, I started it without knowing much about it other than the amount of high praise it received. At first, I didn't get it. The first quarter or so of the book took some time for me to get into. Perhaps it's because it's a "guy's" book, I thought. The story lines depicting collegiate pranks from the 1970s just seemed to get in the way at first. Get to the running stuff, I thought. But as the story unfolde ...more
Elaine
Feb 08, 2010 Elaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could give it 3.5 stars, because it really picked up in the last third. The first two-thirds weren't my cup of tea (collegiate athletics), but the last third is pure poetry of human endurance and achievement. The first two-thirds kept putting me to sleep, the last third I couldn't put down.

The other thing I wasn't a fan of were all the weird unexplained, somewhat unnecessary asides the author threw in. Why was Mizner in the hospital? Who cares if Andrea has a twin? What do I care about
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Mitzi
Jan 07, 2010 Mitzi rated it really liked it
This was described as the "best novel about running", and I read an excerpt in Runners World that was pretty good. I admit I checked it out hoping to help my motivation but I took the "best novel about running" in stride--add enough adjectives and anything can be the "best". I will readily admit that it's not the best novel--some parts are confusing, the subplot about being kicked out of school isn't very developed and doesn't seem to make much sense--but it may very well be the best novel about ...more
Jo
Jan 02, 2012 Jo rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I listened to this book during my Christmas driving to and from work... And I loved it... People are always looking for "the secret" to success, the "sure bet" to make a winner... Or you hear people say - I wish I could play the piano like that, or sing like that, or whatever we dream... But they miss the answer - it's simply "the trial of miles, and the miles of trials"... It's working every day - with all your energy. We each are running our own race of one kind or another - and being a runner ...more
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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.” 23 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.” 18 likes
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