For long road trips my husband and I like to get audiobooks to help pass the time. For our recent cross-country Christmas trip we picked up Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. Our selection on our last trip was full of misses, but Once a Runner was definitely a hit.
Originally self-published in 1978, Parker tells the story of a miler, Quenton Cassidy, hoping to break the 4-minute mark. Cassidy is a student at the fictional Southeastern University where he is on the track and field team. As a compelling protagonist, he is surrounded by other great characters. Of particular note is his friend and mentor, Bruce Denton, a graduate student at Southeastern and a former Olympic gold medalist.
As a musician, I’ve frequently heard the sentiment, “If you only want to be good, you’ll never be great.” This novel is the story of Cassidy’s pursuit of greatness. Inspired by Denton, Cassidy realizes he dreams only of being acknowledged as a great collegiate runner by breaking the 4-minute mile mark. Once he realizes this is the extent of his ambition, he decides to pursue something more. After getting suspended from the track team for being a part of athletic protests on campus, Cassidy moves to a running retreat where he is able to dedicate his time entirely to training. He is able to experience at a whole new depth of the “trial of miles” and the “miles of trials,” as he prepares for the race of a lifetime: a race against the world-record holder for the mile.
The story is exciting and compelling. Parker’s narrative really captures the sheer brutality of Cassidy’s training regimen, both in the details of the workouts but also the emotional and physical toll they take on the body. As a runner, I’m pretty much only competitive with myself and it shows in the way I typically run, but Cassidy’s story challenges me to push myself further, make myself uncomfortable, and find some new PRs.
The audiobook version, read by Patrick Lawlor, was well produced as well. The narrator was excellent and the quality of the recording was good. Let me know if you decide to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what is described as the “Best novel ever written about running.”