Thursday, May 6, 2010

Once A Runner

Once a Runner, by John L Parker, Jr. is one of those books that has taken on a mythos of its own. Originally self-published by the author, and sold out of the trunk of his car at meets, it gained a cult following and tattered copies were passed from hand to hand. Out of print for years, Simon and Schuster has reprinted it as an introduction to Parker’s new book: Again to Carthage. My friend Tim, aka Book Dude at (there ya go, Tim!) who kindly lent me this copy, told me this was the one book he was unable to find for one of his customers who requested it. When he finally found a battered copy, the price tag was $237.00. So I’m sure this book is going to be greeted with jubilation in many circles.

The book is written by a man who clearly loves his sport and the discipline that goes into training. But the protagonist, Cassidy, is no mere jock. He and his cohorts address each other in a courtly manner, and engage in sophisticated pranks. This is a group of men who considers sports to be a “gentlemen’s” arena; there are rules of conduct; of, dare I say it? of sportsmanship. Running is a philosophical pursuit, as much as a physical one. It is a refreshing change in a day of overhyped, egomaniacal, commercial “products”.

As one quick glance at my physique will tell you, I am no runner. Yet I was completely caught up in this young man’s heroic struggle towards excellence. And that is how the author sees these athletes…as the decedents of the warrior/messengers of old. And they train like warriors. These are the elite runners, the milers, the two-milers who routinely run 18 miles a day, and measure success in a second shaved off their time over the course of a year.

“Why would anyone do that?” is, of course, the question. The pain; the schedule; the lack of social life; the single minded pursuit: all for a race that takes less than five minutes. This book gives us a glimpse into the reasons why, and they are beautiful. I will never look at a runner the same way again.  I await Again to Carthage with great pleasure.

Simon and Schuster, April 2010

IBSN 978-1-4165-9789-6

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