The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for failing to stick to your new fitness regime


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Failing to stick to your new fitness regime

Cure: Once a Runner by John L Parker Jr

Unless you are hell-bent on self-destruction – or already practise a monkish self-denial – your New Year's resolution will probably have involved a determination to consume less and exercise more, thus raising your chances of living beyond the age of 65. Most such resolutions, of course, fail even before January is out – something we put down to the mistaken reliance on the stick rather than the carrot as a motivational tool (carrots being scientifically proven to work better than sticks). To help you keep to your new fitness regime, therefore, we prescribe a literary carrot in the form of John L Parker Jr's paean to running, Once a Runner. Taken in doses of a chapter a week, it will fuel your resolutions – and encourage you to trade them in for a more ambitious regime altogether.

Taken up as a cult novel-manual by runners when the author self-published in 1978 – bibliotherapy at work in the world – Once a Runner tells the story of Quenton Cassidy, a member of a university track team being trained to run the mile.

Their trainer, Bruce Denton – himself an Olympic gold medallist – knows how to push them beyond their known limits and discover abilities they have no idea they possess. At one point, Cassidy is working his body so hard that he openly weeps and urinates blood, his "mahogany hard" legs pounding the track all the while. Yet, as he breathes space into every second to get the most out of time that he can, he becomes so "vital, so quick, so nearly immortal", that he knows he will never again be as alive.

Be inspired, like Cassidy, to discover new vistas – and new limits beyond which to push your body. Prepare to be amazed by what it can do. In the pursuit of your new goals, you'll find joy as well as pain. And you may even keep your resolution beyond the end of March.