Friday, June 19, 2009

The Captain's Thoughts on Once A Runner

A friend gave me a copy of Again to Carthage, the follow up to John L. Parker’s Once a Runner. Though I have read Once a Runner before, it’s been fifteen years or so, so I thought I’d go back and read it again before starting the sequel. Is anyone else reading it, or has anyone read it recently? I’d like to share a few thoughts, for what they’re worth, and see what other people think.

Overall, I’d say Parker does a great job of capturing a lot about running, about being a runner. Reading the book, I quite often found myself relating to things the narrator or characters would say. So again, overall I think it’s good. I do have a few criticisms though, and I’m curious what others think; am I right? Am I way off base?

I think there’s definitely some elitism going on. I understand that the main characters are world and Olympic-caliber athletes, but I still found it annoying. In the first chapter, there’s a statement something to the effect that the chubby housewives and pudgy, middle-aged businessmen jogging at the track resembled Cassidy only in the way that a housecat resembles a lion. I find that type of stuff annoying. Some of my “fasthole” friends responded to this criticism by saying, “No dude, that’s exactly what it feels like.” These guys might be fast, but they’re not that fast- there are plenty of lions out there who could make them look like housecats. Later, there’s a mention of slower people being on the track with Cassidy and how his type would eat their type alive. Who decides the cut-off time/appearance between housecats and big cats of prey? This reminds me of that Pearl Izumi ad campaign (Run Like an Animal) and all the controversy around it. In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of elitist crap that keeps people from getting into the sport. On the other hand, I know there are some elitists out there who- though they may not say it in public- would be happy to go back to the way things used to be when runners “fit the bill” more. When runners were all bone-thin, running a marathon meant bleeding, losing toenails, and only the slowest of the slow dared take as long as four hours. When there were no charity runners, no walkers. When everyone thought you were crazy. But even these “elites” need to realize that in the grand scheme of things, they’re still housecats too.

I found myself relating to what Parker said about how once you’ve been a runner, you may quit running but you’ll never really stop being a runner. Even when I hadn’t been running for years and nothing about me resembled a runner, I still felt like one. I missed everything about it. So I was a little disappointed when, a few chapters later, he contradicted himself saying that there are those who start and then drift away because they were never really runners at all.

I also found The Breaking Down chapter interesting. All the things Cassidy was going through were classic symptoms of overtraining. If any of us went to a coach or trainer and said we were having those symptoms, he/she would tell us to back off. On the other hand, I’m not a world class athlete working toward the Olympics either, so who knows? I just found it interesting.

I kind of enjoyed the constant ragging on Runner’s World. I read it, but I don’t take it all that seriously. If I did, I’d probably never be able to run because apparently you’re not supposed to run without all the newest, sexiest, most expensive techie gear or ever run at all if you are sore or have the slightest ache or pain anywhere.

It’s an easy read, but I found myself getting tripped up occasionally on awkward sentences- especially the dialog. I think at times Parker was trying to hard to sound literary, and this was where he was weak. Where he shone was in capturing the running life- the running when you don’t want to, how good you feel after a run, the easy banter and camaraderie among runners, etc.

Before anyone shoots me for committing sacrilege against the great cult novel, let me say that I thought overall it was great and I enjoyed it, obviously enough to read it twice. I just had my few little criticisms and wanted to throw them out.

I’ve told you more than you ever wanted to know about what I think of the book; what about you?

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Sunrise over Little Tohama, from Ingraham Flats, 2007