The book was first published in 1978 by Cedarwinds. In Once a Runner, Parker illustrates the hard work and dedication that is required of an elite runner. Since its publication, the novel has become a cult classic for competitive runners of all abilities. A sequel was recently published titled Again to Carthage.

Quenton Cassidy is a collegiate runner at fictional Southeastern University based on the University of Florida. He is a distance runner who specializes in the Mile. After writing a petition for the college's football team protesting a dress and conduct code, Quenton is suspended from the university and prohibited from competing in the university's annual track meet. Cassidy moves to a cabin in the woods and submits himself to a brutal training regimen. He is under the coaching of fictional gold medalist Olympian Bruce Denton. His plan is to compete at the Southeastern Relays against the best miler in the world (John Walton) and Denton comes up with a diguise to get him into the meet.

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