Book Review: Once a Runner

Tuesday night I finished reading John L. Parker, Jr.’s Once a Runner. This is a book I’m certain I bought two years ago in one of my massive book buying binges, but was hiding someplace in box in New Jersey.  So, I took a walk over to the Brookline Booksmith and picked up another copy. I had started this the weekend of my sister’s wedding, read a good chunk of it on the plane back home and this weekend.  My initial impression within the first few chapters of this novel was that it was the runner’s This Side of Paradise.  And, in a way – it is.  The novel follows a young, mostly egotistical, and truly gifted runner named Quenton Cassidy as he goes through his self proclaimed “Miles of Trials, Trial of Miles”.  Primarily set on and around the fictional campus of Southeastern University in somewhere Florida, the storyline revolves around Cassidy coming to terms with his own identity and maturity both as an individual and as a runner.  Due to some outrageous circumstances, Cassidy is expelled from school and barred from running in its preeminent running event.  With the aid of a former Olympian, Cassidy becomes aware of himself and his abilities and pushes his mind and body to the edge of his limits.

Overall, this is a fun read that often borders on poetic in its observations and generally insightful into a world of running that most of us will never know.   Though I deem myself a runner, I will never know the mind-altering obsession with running a sub-four minute mile.  Anyone who has run can understand the physical aspects this novel touches upon.  And anyone who has competed in any sport (especially ex-track athletes) can appreciate the mindset delved into.  The author himself mentions that he wrote this novel primarily because when he was a runner with an obsession like his protagonist, he was unable to find a book that captured the emotion and feeling he himself had. In that regard, this book exceeds its goal as its easy, capable, and insightful writing lends itself to a broader readership than solely elite distance runners.

My only qualm is with the cover.   I know better than to judge a book by the cover — in fact, the cover was one of the things that first kept drawing me to the book.  But, there is a lengthy tangent in one of the first few chapters that rails against running on beaches.  Irony.

Other than that, I’ve settled into a nice routine this last week and a half.  Running both weekend days, one day being a longer distance day than the other, going to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with my friend Scott (who, if he’s reading this, and he should be!, should also come on runs with me) and then running Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On, those weekdays, I’ve been running the same loop from my apartment, around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and back.  At the end of each run, I’ve been doing something different so that it isn’t entirely routine.  On my commute to the T every morning I’ve walked passed Winchester Path.  It’s a very ancient stair path that runs from Winchester to the street above in Brookline.


On Tuesday I ran down to the path and then ran up and down the stairs ten times.  Today, towards the tail end of my run, the rain that had been threatening all evening finally started to fall.  Thankfully, the rain cut the humidity to a point where I didn’t really feel like stopping.  I dropped off my shoes at my apartment, and then did another 1.5 mile loop barefoot in the rain.  Some people may call this crazy, especially on the streets of Brookline and Allston.  However, it felt great!  In high school, I used to do independent workouts barefoot at the track after regular practice.  I feel as though my form is more natural this way, much more flowing.  My legs are constantly in motion, and I feel less impact on my knees and less torque on my ankle.  Finding the proper breathing rhythm is the only aspect I’m working on with this whole barefoot experiment.  To cut the craziness, I’m toying with the notion of buying Vibram Bikilas.  Which would look less crazy, bare feet or Vibrams?

Song Stuck in My Head:  Ça Plane Pour Moi – Plastic Bertrand


About Graham Runs Boston

Bostonian running around Boston. Team RaceMenu distance runner. Oyster appreciator, beer lover, outside all the time when I can, loosely pursuing a BQ
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