Once a Runner

I’ve never participated in Literary Wednesday and I’m so glad to be able to this week.  When I received the most recent issue of Runners World, I was intrigued to find out that there was actually a fictional novel about running.  I’ve read instructional books and non fiction, but a novel?  Now that’s cool.  I read the synopsis and it sounded just like what I was in the mood for.  Then, I received a Border’s gift card in the mail and I was off to the store.

Most of the reviews you’ll find about Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr. are very, very positive.  I fall into that group.  I thought it was an excellent book.  I was thoroughly entertained and inspired.  That’s not to say the book is perfect.  The literary snobs will certainly find a few flaws.  For one, the story is a little disjointed.  It’s presented as a series of vignettes that are roughly in chronological order.  Certainly with a little more filler between vignettes, the story would be longer, but more boring I think.  Yes, every race and every training run could have been described, but I think Parker struck a nice balance between details and pace.

I read one review on amazon.com that described the book as “dated” and “chauvinistic”.  It is dated I guess, but only in the same way that American Graffiti or Grease is dated.  The book takes place in the early 70’s at a southern university (based on the University of Florida).  That’s an historical setting that has an effect on the characters of the book.  Is it chauvinistic?  Perhaps.  There are few (if any) strong female characters in the book.  Still, I think this is simply a reflection of the book’s time frame.  I don’t think the book advocates it, nor do I think it is central to the plot.  In fact, the most chauvinistic  and racist characters are the “villains” of the book.

Others complained that the book looks down on recreational runners.  I don’t think that is quite true either.  One passage reads,

“When they occasionally blew by a huffing fatty or an aging road runner, the automatically  toned down the banter to avoid overwhelming, to preclude the appearance of showboating (not that they slowed in the slightest).  They in fact respected these distant cousins of the spirit, who among all people, had some modicum of insight into their own milieu.”

I found Once a Runner to be a real page turner.  The climax of the book actually had my heart racing as though I was running alongside the main characters.  Is it a literary masterpiece?  Probably not, but it was thoroughly entertaining, thought provoking and inspiring.  That combination makes for a great book in my opinion.

My second favorite passage is this:

“A runner is a miser, spending the pennies of his energy with great stinginess, constantly wanting to know how much he has spent and how much longer he will be expected to pay.  He wants to be broke at precisely the moment he no longer needs his coin.”

I can’t reveal my favorite passage without ruining the book, but I highly recommend Once a Runner.  I’m very curious, however, to know if the female readers enjoy it as much as I do.  Though the main characters are male, I don’t think it’s too male focused.  I think a woman ought to be able to identify with the training and racing aspects of the book.  I’d love to hear your opinions, though.  It would make for great fireside discussion at running camp next year :).

On the training note, I skipped Tuesday morning because I felt like it. It was raining pretty hard when I got Alice from school and she was cold. So, we headed to the Sports Authority and picked up a long sleeved tech shirt on clearance for $11. We also got nylon socks, sunglasses and a wrist stopwatch for her. By the time we were done shopping ,we were right near the Pinellas Trail, so we took a two mile run on the trail. This portion of the trail contains two overpasses, so we were able to get some hill work in as well.

Today, I hit the gym for 9 miles on the bike, followed by a full body strength training session. In the afternoon, it was raining again, but Alice and I put in 4 miles anyway. Her new long sleeved shirt kept her warm and she finished the 4 miles in 39:25.


  1. After reading your review, including your second favorite passage, I’m intrigued by this novel. Is it bad that I take it as a challenge to read it, to give a female perspective?

    Regardless, I put a hold on it at my local public library….I’ll let you know how it goes!

    How cool that you were a competitive volleyball player in high school. I was as well, although I was in a league and didn’t play for my high school. Actually, I got cut from the h.s. team, and took up cross country, not having a clue what it was….and here I am today. I still love playing sand, though…you should get in a summer league if you can.

  2. i read this book in maybe 2 days. could not put it down! great review – it certainly isn’t a masterpiece as you mentioned, but it is a very good read all the same. it was hard to get a copy of! i still need to read the ‘sequel’ too. i’m curious as to what your fav passage was…

  3. Great. I was waiting for this review.

    You sold me.

    Also– thanks so much for your advice and help over the past few days and weeks.

    I’ll let you know how Sunday goes– once I am done downing all of the beers throughout the day!

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Wow marathon man, Are you still in the 35-pound
    bench press club? what a bunch of faggotty gobbledygook your blog is. you were always such a
    wuss. but at least less annoying than J. Lenes. That jerk-off never left the lab!
    How long will John J. keep him on his teat? Only time will tell. REd Tide prediction– guffaw! the only thing predictied in that place is Jason Lenes will be there again… next year…


    just kidding, Brian. I hope you and your family are happy and safe. And your blog is really great…

    for me to poop on.

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