Once a Runner

A Novel

Once a Runner

Originally self-published in 1978, Once a Runner captures the essence of competitive running—and of athletic competition in general—and has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever published.

Inspired by the author’s experience as a collegiate champion, the story focuses on Quenton Cassidy, a competitive runner at fictional Southeastern University whose lifelong dream is to run a four-minute mile. He is less than a second away when the turmoil of the Vietnam War era intrudes into the staid recesses of his school’s athletic department. After he becomes involved in an athletes’ protest, Cassidy is suspended from his track team. Under the tutelage of his friend and mentor, Bruce Denton, a graduate student and former Olympic gold medalist, Cassidy gives up his scholarship, his girlfriend, and possibly his future to withdraw to a monastic retreat in the countryside and begin training for the race of his life against the greatest miler in history.

A rare insider’s account of the incredibly intense lives of elite distance runners, Once a Runner is an inspiring, funny, and spot-on tale of one man’s quest to become a champion.
  • Scribner | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416597896 | 
  • April 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Once a Runner includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


A classic novel and a particular favorite among runners and track teams, Once a Runner is the story of Quenton Cassidy, a collegiate runner who specializes in the mile. When Quenton becomes involved with a petition protesting the athletic department's dress and conduct code, he is suspended from the track team and prohibited from competing in the university's annual track meet.

Following the advice of his Olympian mentor, Bruce Denton, Quenton give up his scholarship, his girlfriend and perhaps his future by taking a monastic retreat in the countryside to train. The seclusion and regimen brings Quenton to the very brink of his physical and mental capacities, but it all seems worth it when Denton suggests a plan that could allow him to compete against the best miler in the world. As a man who actually lived and trained with gold medalists and world record holders, John L. Parker presents a rare, insider's glimpse at the incredibly intense lives of elite distance runners.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1.) "Time see more

More Books from this Author

Racing the Rain
Again to Carthage

About the Author

John L. Parker Jr.
Photo Credit: Jack Gescheidt

John L. Parker Jr.

John L. Parker, Jr. has written for Outside, Runner’s World, and numerous other publications. A graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism as well as its College of Law, Parker has been a practicing attorney, a newspaper reporter and columnist, a speechwriter for then Governor Bob Graham, and editorial director of Running Times magazine. The author of Once a Runner, Again to Carthage, and Racing the Rain, he lives in Gainesville, Florida, and Bar Harbor, Maine.