Here's my current introduction ("summary of content, themes, contexts, significance") for those of you who are interested. Feel free to comment, make suggestions, or proofread. A lot of the formatting details (such as italicized words) seem to get screwed up when I copy/paste, so keep that in mind.
The classic novel for runners since its first publication in June 1978, John L. Parker, Jr.?s Once A Runner covers the career of a collegiate distance runner named Quenton Cassidy. Cassidy, a miler at the imaginary ?Southeastern University? in Kernsville, Florida, begins the book as an aspiring sub-four minute miler and ends with an ascent to the uppermost echelon of the sport, earning a Silver Medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. John L. Parker completed an excellent running career of his own before creating Once a Runner. The author graduated from the University of Florida in 1970 with eight school records and personal bests of 4:05.2 in the mile, 8:51.0 in the two-mile, 13:47 in the three-mile, 8:51.4 in the 3000-meter steeplechase, and 2:33 in the marathon. The author also trained with Jack Bacheler and Frank Shorter, both legendary Olympians, on national champion cross-country teams. Parker said that he believed it took a runner to tell a runner?s story, therefore Once a Runner was actually an eight year project, ??seven years being a runner, and one year writing the book.?
Quenton Cassidy represents the archetypal miler, a runner with ample endurance and blazing speed. In Cassidy, Parker gives life to a character that the reader can both closely identify with and distantly admire, a regular runner, yet a true hero. Cassidy trains compulsively, ?about sixteen, eighteen miles a day? in his semi-casual terms (49), yet he also possesses a strange sense of humor, and a certain celebrity status at Southeastern which owes its origin to attributes unrelated to running ability. After an interval workout during the fall cross country season, Cassidy learns that John Walton, the mile world record holder from New Zealand, has agreed to run in the Southeastern University Relays in the spring. This fact indirectly launches the young prodigy?s ?Mission.? During the indoor track season that winter, Cassidy wins the Wannamaker Mile at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden, then runs a 4:00.1 mile in San Diego. But a few weeks later Cassidy, already in low spirits due to the intensity of his training and the subsequent ?breakdown? of his body and mind, receives news from his coach that he has been suspended due to his participation in a school petition. Even Bruce Denton, an Olympic Gold Medallist and the pride of Kernsville, cannot get the absurd punishment revoked. Denton, suffering from the severe stress-repetitive injuries caused by thousands of miles hammered on the roads, decides to coach Cassidy himself. He offers the miler a home at his country cabin. Quenton Cassidy retreats from school, his girlfriend Andrea, and all the trivialities of the world to live and train in isolation. Cassidy becomes the Thoreau of running, and Denton?s cabin the Walden Pond. Early that spring he runs a mile in 3:58.6, in a workout, by himself. Cassidy disguises himself as a Swedish runner named ?Seppo Kaitainen,? an international friend of Denton?s, at the Southeastern Relays where he shocks everyone and beats the great Walton. After this climactic victory, the tense shifts to the present with Cassidy cradling his Olympic Silver Medal. Once a Runner remains idealistic but realistic; guarantees do not exist in running.
Once a Runner means many things to many runners. The book remains a cult classic for those within a certain narrow niche, and a largely ignored work for those outside of it. Parker displays a remarkable ability to capture the essence of the running experience in his work. His prose passages mirror the encapsulation of effective poetry, allowing runners to relive their own pasts, live vicariously in the present through the characters of the novel, and imagine their own ideal futures. Nevertheless, Once a Runner receives its unequaled recognition due to the dearth of comparable books. Running novels are a rather rare breed, giving Parker a near monopoly on the genre. Once a Runner represents the one great story out there for runners at the moment. Not surprisingly, they latch on to the book and treasure it, for reasons ranging from the sheer entertainment of the story to the training inspiration it provides. The book excludes, and even insults on several occasions, the casual runner, the lowly ?jogger,? the fitness aficionado. For the non-runner, the plot probably feels flat and a tad predictable at times, the humor awkward, and the details too tedious. Yet serious runners celebrate Parker?s classic work almost without fail. Once a Runner is the competitive runner?s story.
Once a Runner has been out of print for several years. While rumors of an upcoming release have been floating around internet message-boards for months, old, used copies of the book frequently fetch over two-hundred dollars on eBay. In the past, a seller with the alias ?quentonc? (some suspect it?s Parker himself) regularly sold signed copies of the novel for no less than forty dollars on the aforementioned auction website. Though it frustrates runners to no end, perhaps a cheap paperback publication is not in the author?s best economic interest. The demand for Once a Runner, although a relatively concentrated phenomenon, far exceeds the current supply. Among runners the demand not only exists, but is quite intense, as seen in the steep prices. Urban legends abound of lucky runners walking into local book stores and finding Once a Runner neatly tucked right on the shelf, or hidden away in the used section and marked at three dollars. For now, one must either pay ridiculously well or wait very patiently in order to obtain Once a Runner. My copy only cost fifteen dollars, however it took four months of scrounging to find it at that price.