Friday, November 9, 2012

Once a Runner

  Admittedly, I'm not much of a reader. Definitely not a bookworm, per se. Never have been.

  I've always read out of necessity rather than enjoyment. While I do read my fair share of articles and the like, to stay informed and to learn about the pressing issues of the world, reading for fun is always one of the last things on my to-do list.

  I recently finished a book (that took me WAY too long to read) that I thought would be interesting to blog about. So here goes...

  The title gives it away. Yes, Once a Runner is a book about running. And runners. But it's about more than that.

  Really, it's about motivation. Dedication. And work ethic.

The Story
  Once a Runner is a novel by John L. Parker Jr. originally published in the late 1970s. The story follows the main character, Quenton Cassidy, an elite collegiate runner, through his mission to run a sub 4:00-mile. Through bumps and bruises, trials and tribulations, Cassidy pushes on.

  Eventually, Cassidy drops out of school, and moves into isolation to focus solely on running, and his training. He's training for one meet -- the climax of the book -- the Southeastern Relays where he'll be lining up against the world's fastest miler, John Walton.

  The story really ramps up the last few chapters when we reach the culmination of his training: the mile race.

  As Cassidy prepares for the starter's gun to fire, I was nervous. Maybe not as nervous as Cassidy himself, but my heart was thumping. It was as if I had gone through the training runs with him. I'd seen the sacrifices he made. I wanted him to do well, and couldn't wait for the race to start.

  But I won't spoil the ending. 

Running Equals Real Life

Half Marathon finish two summers ago, with my brother.
  Outside of the story, here are a few 'real life' lessons I came away with after reading Once a Runner. 

Believe in Your Training
  When the chips are down, you must rely on your training -- your habits. You have to believe in the things you have done hundreds, thousands, millions of times. Your training prepares you for the difficult times you are sure to encounter. You have to have faith in the work you have put in -- trust in yourself and your work, 100%.

  In the book, as the race is coming to a close, there's the final kick. The last dash to the finish line. It's when you're the most tired, and will attempt to run as fast as physically possible. Maybe you can't even feel your legs. It's at this time, your stride, your form, your habits, are that much more crucial.

  You cannot go away from your running form in hopes of stealing a few seconds. All that will result is flailing arms and bad form; two things that will surely lose the race for you.

  Trust your habits. Especially when the chips are down. 

  Even with months of training, there will be spur of the moment decisions to be made. Ones that you've never encountered. Go with your gut, and react. Once you've made your decision, you're in it 100%. No second guessing.

Believe it, Achieve it
  'If the mind believes it, the body achieves it' is a quote that can be related a great deal to running, to anything, to be honest. The body can do unimaginable things when you really put your mind to it. If you REALLY commit to it, and want it, you CAN achieve it.

  Cassidy quit school, and moved to the boonies, just to focus solely on his training. He sacrificed things socially and scholastically, just for the sake of being the best runner he could possibly be.

  I, for one, can't imagine the pain and the hurt elite runners endure. What Cassidy describes is nothing I've ever felt, nor want to feel (though, maybe my college days on the track can compare somewhat). But it's inspirational. If you want something bad enough, and you're willing to put in the work, your body will respond with near-miracles.

  The interval workout described near the end of the book, is a prime example. Cassidy runs 60 quarter miles, and literally runs himself into the ground. And for what? It was just a training run!

  It shows what can be accomplished when you wholeheartedly commit to something. 

Mo Farah crossing the finish line in the 2012 Olympics.
  The night before the meet, Cassidy goes out to the track, and walks through the entire race. Through visualization, he tries to conjure up the feelings, the emotions, the physical ailments he is sure to encounter during the race the following day. Whether you believe in visualization or not, it's been shown to be a useful tool in achieving successes, in and out of competition.  

Never Give Up

  Don't let up til you've passed the finish line. When human-beings are involved, you never know what can happen.

  Numerous times, Cassidy says the third lap (out of four) of the mile race is equivalent to life's tough times. 'The third lap was to be endured and endured and endured.' You just have to get through it, physically and mentally. You can't allow the third lap (and life's rough patches) drag you down, causing you to lose the race.

  He goes onto say that it's a time for the 'most intense concentration, the iciest resolve.' How does that NOT correlate to the bumps in the road we HAVE to endure in order to come out on top? You don't bow out, or balk when the payoff is just around the corner!

Self Confidence  
  Cassidy was a little uncertain of himself leading up to the mile race. Even though he'd put in an incredible amount of training, he had just the tiniest bit of doubt, wondering if he was ready. I've found this to be true for myself going into games as well (Have I done enough? Am I ready?). And I wonder if it's the same for every competitive athlete.

  I feel like that ounce of doubt, is what puts you over the edge, and allows you to focus that much more. When you're 100% confident, or maybe overconfident is a more-appropriate word, you're not as tight, not as focused as you should be. You're cocky. And it's then, that you might stumble. That TINY bit of doubt in your mind is what keeps you sharp, in my opinion.

  During the race, Cassidy thought Walton, his main opponent, was a machine. That he was unbeatable. In that moment, he was beaten. He had self doubt, and believed he couldn't overcome the strength of his opponent. But then he saw Walton falter down the stretch, just the slightest slip up. And that was enough motivation to give Cassidy life for one final kick.

Out for a jog a few summers back.
Free Therapy
  I find running to be peaceful. Mind clearing. Invigorating. Euphoric at times. Yes, it can be monotonous, boring, and difficult too. But I find the overall positives outweigh the downfalls.

  In the book, Cassidy deals with controlling his emotions and nerves going into the race. In order to be at his best, he must keep them under control. He reminds himself to breathe. The equivalent of dealing with life's stresses, no?

  Sure, Once a Runner is a book about running. And that might not excite a lot of people. But it offers so much more than that. I've found there's a lot that can be related to our lives, in general, from the characters and the story.

  Good story. Great motivator.

  If you have a chance, give it a read!


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