Thursday, January 15, 2009

"once a runner: by john parker: book review

to balance yesterday's rant against "the loneliness of the long distance runner" i felt compelled to mention a great running book, "once a runner," by john l. parker. this write-up is also topical because i read (thanks to brooklyn running for posting the link) an article in slate that reported the long out-of-print (and insanely over-priced as a used book on the internet) cult classic will be reissued, in hardcover no less, this april!

once a runner, despite it's less than adequate prose, tells the story of quenton, an undergraduate track miler obsessed with, what else - running, and running very fast. the book details his trials and tribulations - but, most importantly, his training. more specifically, his obsession with an upcoming one mile race and the incredible interval work he grinds out to prepare for it. that's the bare bones of the story. i've conveniently left out the "drama" elements since they don't interest me too much (i.e. getting suspended from competition because of a petition, quitting school over it, moving to a cabin in the woods, sneaking into the competition - hopefully, that paints a picture).

both times i read the book, it was a borrowed copy! if you're a runner - of any size, shape, speed, distance - get the book. even though quention is a track miler, the story would appeal to road runners, xc, trail and, yes, even ultra runners. it should even appeal to non-runners who train for other sports and endeavors. the slate article, however, takes a different slant. i found the slate author's description of why the book has an incredibly narrow appeal insightful and hilarious:

"The paradoxical nature of the novel's popularity—it was the most-wanted book that not enough people wanted anymore—suggests an intense but narrow appeal. There's a reason Once a Runner has never managed to find a mainstream audience. It aggrandizes the insular world of running in a way that, with due respect to its new publisher, no nonrunner could possibly relate to. It is written for runners—and to keep nonrunners out. But it also nails the running life like no other novel ever has (my emphasis added)."

this book has such a cult-like following that it even spawned it's own entirely bogus "movie" rumor - complete with trailer (and publicity):

while there is no real life movie version of the book (at least not yet), it did generate a sequel, "again to carthage" - which was released last year. i caught sight of it at the nyc marathon expo last fall, but didn't pony up the cold hard cash for a copy. i still haven't read it, but will find a way to borrow a copy :D

i did, however, pre-order my copy of new "once a runner" from amazon.


Mark said...

excellent post!

Brooklyn Runner said...

Thanks for the shout out. One of the reasons I loved the book is that it reminded me of the zaniness of the high-level competition that I barely touched while back in high school some 25 years ago. Some of the best runners I've ever known have been some of the biggest space cadets, and willing to do some of the strangest things - and I'm not entirely sure that the two aren't related.

A much more down-to-earth tome, though also compelling, is "Running With the Buffaloes," - a look at a Colorado Univ. cross-country season, featuring, among other folk Adam Goucher (yeah, the guy who's married to Kara ... and a great runner in his own right).