John L Parker, Jr. spoke this evening at the Maine Running Company on Forest Ave in Portland. He is a very engaging speaker and if you ever have an opportunity to hear him, I recommend that you take it up. His presentation was around 95 or 100 minutes and covered a wide range of topics. There were 22 people there to listen to him speak, although the Run to Win running club stopped in for a few minutes when their workout ended.
The presentation began with a little of John’s history and how he came to Summer here in Maine. He used to help out at a running camp in the Bar Harbor area in the mid-80s, and was astonished by how boring some of the lectures were. To liven things up, he came up with a top 10 list each year that followed his progress as he aged. The first year, he spoke about the 10 things that you never hear a runner say. The year after that, he spoke about the 10 signs that you are not as competitive as you used to be. The third year, he spoke about 10 ways to tell that you are an injured runner. The sad part was, I could relate to at least one or two of the items from each of his lists! He included quite a few humorous anecdotes about different points as he went through them, and even shared a few letters that he received over the years.
A good part of his presentation dealt with my favorite running book that I have ever read (and one of the few fictional depictions of running that left me thoroughly satisfied,) Once a Runner. I had not realized that he had published the book himself after having trouble finding somebody to publish it for him. The book has been out of print for quite a while, and copies of it are going for around $50 to $100 on Amazon. Coinciding with the publication of the sequel, however, will be another printing of the novel which will allow people to purchase the book for a sensible amount. This is quite convenient, since I have already purchased the book twice and never had copies given back after lending them out.
The new book, which takes up around the point where Once a Runner left off, is called Again to Carthage. John read the first chapter to us, which is going to be published as an excerpt in a future issue of Runner’s World later this year. When John finished writing Once a Runner, he thought that he had put every possible bit of his running experience that could translate well to a story into the book. For the past 10 years, he has realized that he was wrong and has been working on writing the new book for the past 3 or 4 years.
Most of the question and answer period of John’s presentation dealt with the influences that real people had on some of the characters in his book, as well as which experiences were real and which ones he made up. The Honor Court scene, while seemingly the most preposterous, was a real practical joke that he had devised and which he has snapshots and tape recordings of to this day. I wish I could get my hands on them and listen. Apparently, the real-life gentleman that they did this to could not conceive that a practical joke could be so complex and could have spanned over the course of a few weeks to a month, and thought that the last twenty minutes of everybody laughing about it just meant that all of the people in the court room were very cruel and thought it was funny that he was being thrown out of school. John shared some other practical joke stories, which perhaps he will incorporate into a third book as it had not occurred to him to put them into the second one.
If you have not read Once a Runner, then I highly recommend that you get a copy and read it. As soon as it is republished, I plan on purchasing it again and this time keeping better track of who I lend it to. I also plan on purchasing Again to Carthage when it is available. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to John L Parker, Jr. speak in person, then I highly recommend that you take the opportunity.