Again to Carthage: RBR Interview with John L. Parker, Jr., writer of Once a Runner, Again to Carthage (from RBR Archives 2010)

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Photo of author, John L. Parker, Jr.
Original post: October 16, 2010
repost: December 27, 2018
This is one of those books, and writers, you must have on your rborok shelf. John L. Parker, Jr. wrote the cult classic, Once a Runnerr and this is the followup. Find it, read it, pass it along.

John L. Parker, Jr. wrote the first booklet I ever read on running. The Frank Shorter Story was a RW book of the month that came out in 1973-74. I still have that copy. I have memorized it. Parker was able to capture much of Shorter and the runners of that era. His section on Shorter's marathon victory in Munich was how I entertained myself on fifteen miles (one mile loops) runs around a cemetery in college.

When I discovered Once A Runner, I found new friends. Quenton Cassidy, the would be miler, part time miscreant, and his mentor, the man who had been
there, Bruce Denton. The book went out of print in the late 70s, and became a huge hit twenty years later. That was a tribute to one of running's most important writers, John L. Parker, Jr.

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Parker writes it because he knows it. A Florida Track club member, Parker was a national class miler. There was no play acting then. When guys would line up on the track for 20 times a 400 meters with Barry Brown, Frank Shorter, Steve Foster, Marti Liquori Jeff Galloway (yes, the mellowest man in running today was the beast master. That southern drawl is all that hides a guy who ran his butt off making an Olympic team) and occasionally Jack Bacheler, an entomologist, who preferred set after set of 300 meter repeats, in between gentle running, and could make Shorter roll his eyes in the back of his head in a race, trying to stay with him.

A pack of guys would start out, and as those 100 meter jogs started dropping to 75 meters, then 50 meter runs, and Shorter and Galloway would be pounding by, as exhausted runners, actually running carcasses, lined the side of the track, dreams shattered, if not altered. No quarter given, none asked. Fast distance running was a dream of many, but only a few could do it very, very fast.

This was American distance running in the early seventies. These guys, who could put in 120-140 miles a week, work a full day, or go to school, drink a few beers after the weekend race and go home and mow the lawn. They were geeks, but they were our geeks.

Parker's writing is elegant when needed, and stark when necessary...truth can be painful. I had always wanted to interview John, who, I believe, I met on a couple of occasions. Thanks John and to his publicist, Katie Monaghan.

RBR, #1. What was your first experience in running?

John L. Parker, Jr: My truly first experience in running was as a child playing games in the yard, like tag and hide & seek. I can still remember the great feeling of running barefoot through the cool grass. It felt just as wonderful years later as a college track runner doing intervals barefoot around the football fields at the University of Florida.

RBR, #2. How was high school running for you?

John L. Parker, Jr: At first I ran track just to have something to do in the afternoons after basketball season ended. I wasn't even a runner at first, but a high jumper. Then, as it slowly dawned on me that I had some ability as a middle distance runner, I became more interested in it.

RBR, #3. Tell us about your college running experiences?

John L. Parker, Jr: At first I was still a basketball player. It was only after I realized that I would never get to play that I began to think about switching to my second sports love. At first I was devastated to leave basketball, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

RBR, #4. What was the difference between college and high school for you?

John L. Parker, Jr: In high school I really didn't know what I was doing, training-wise, and I was able to win most of the time by luck and innate ability. In college I was focused on training year-round, and though the competition was unbelievably better, I was much better prepared to deal with it.

RBR, #5. You ran for the Florida Track Club, when Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, Barry Brown, Jeff Galloway were all there. What was that like?

John L. Parker, Jr: I just remember having a great sense of pride in just being a part of team that had such incredibly talented runners on it. I think everyone could sense it. We knew we were part of something unusual and wonderful. I was constantly reminding myself to be aware of everything, because I knew I was unlikely to experience anything like it again in my life. And I was right.

RBR, #6. When did you start writing on running?

John L. Parker, Jr: I did a profile of Jack Bacheler when I was still an undergraduate, and it was bought and published by some little TV-listing magazine in Florida. I also wrote some newspaper pieces in the school newspaper under an assumed name. But I didn't write any fiction about running until I started working on *Once a Runner* around 1976. I had written some other unpublished fiction, but nothing about running until then.

RBR, #7. I still have your RW Book Club of the Month, on Frank Shorter, tell us about writing that booklet?

John L. Parker, Jr: All I remember is that it was right after Frank had won the gold medal in '72 and Runner's World called and wanted it in a hurry. So I put in some all-nighters and cranked it out in a few days. I understand it was one of their better selling booklets.

RBR, #8. Once a Runner became a cult classic. Tell us about Quenton Cassidy?

John L. Parker, Jr: I enjoyed creating the character of Quenton Cassidy. He was drawn mostly from my own life, but I was able to "improve" him when I wanted to, so that he ended up as a kind of idealized version of myself. He certainly wasn't perfect; far from it. But I think what draws you to him is that despite how impressive he is as an athlete and a personality, he was also very human and very vulnerable.

RBR, #9. It was nearly twenty years after you wrote, Once a Runner, when it went really crazy, did that surprise you?

John L. Parker, Jr: Not really. It was what I had dreamed could happen with the book if I would write it well enough. I might have come close to giving up a few times over the years, but I always maintained at least a glimmer of hope that it would eventually make it.

RBR, #10. Tell us about Again to Carthage? Has this book been working itself together since Once a Runner?

John L. Parker, Jr: If it was it was subconsciously. It wasn't until few years ago that I realized that I had something more to say about running.

RBR, #11. Do people have to have read Once a Runner to appreciate Again to Carthage?

John L. Parker, Jr: I've seen where many people have said that, but I certainly didn't write it that way. I intended for it to stand on its own. It's funny, but most of the people who make that remark read *Once a Runner* first, so how in the world can they truly make that judgement? I want to hear from some people who read them in reverse order and see what they say.

RBR, #12. What do you want readers and potential readers to know about Again to Carthage?

John L. Parker, Jr: I hope pretty much the whole thing is there between the covers. I don't think readers could possibly know (and they probably shouldn't care in the least) how difficult some sections were for me to write, emotionally.

RBR, #13. Any thoughts on where the sport of running is going now?

John L. Parker, Jr: From the way it looks, I doubt that native born American runners can truly be very competitive on an international basis again in our lifetimes. Our culture is simply not oriented in such a way as to produce good distance runners in the same way that the privileged classes are not oriented to produce boxers.

RBR, #14. Are you working on any writing projects now?

John L. Parker, Jr: I am working on a prequel to *Once a Runner.*

RBR, #15. Any favorite track athletes now?

John L. Parker, Jr: Hicham El Guerrouj of course. And the greatest all-around runner of all time is almost certainly Haile Gebrselassie. Well, not counting Quenton Cassidy and Bruce Denton, of course!

To learn more about Again to Carthage, please check out John L. Parker Jr.'s page (at Simon & Schuster):

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