Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Major Injury

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1973.)

NO RUNNING injury is minor if it happens to you. None is minor if interferes with your running. None is minor it won’t go away.

Mine seemed minor only at its start, a normal after-effect of running long. One Saturday I took the two-hour run that was customary on non-race weekends. The next morning my left heel was sore.

That’s odd, I thought. This is my good heel, not the one that had been lumpy and tender to the touch since age 12.

Of course I didn’t let this latest injury stand in the way of continued running. Long runs often left me sore-footed. I thought it was a bruise that would disappear, as always, in a few days.

This problem stuck around. By late 1972 an ugly lump had formed on the upper back of the heel bone. This spot the size of a thumb tip glowed red from the irritation and inflammation inside.

My runs had shortened and slowed, and racing had disappeared. This was more than a bruise. But what, exactly, and what to do about it?

Then I found the right doctor – or rather, he found me first. Dr. Steve Subotnick, a podiatrist, called to ask if I’d be interested in hearing about his research on running injuries and their treatment.

He wanted to write about it for Runner’s World and invited me to visit his Saturday clinic for injured athletes. I wanted to talk about my injury, and he fit me in among a dozen other runners for an exam.

He quickly diagnosed my problem as a “rectocalcaneal exostosis.” A rectal what?

“That’s a bony growth on your heel bone,” he explained. “The bigger it grows, the more it irritates the surrounding tissue. You need to make some changes that will ease the irritation.”

Dr. Subotnick concluded that my injury had passed beyond the reach of conservative treatments (which I had tried). He mentioned surgery, which he promised would not mean the end of running but a new beginning.


YOU DON’T fully appreciate running until you’ve almost lost it. I would never again take it for granted after going almost a year without a pain-free run.

After many months of denial, then many more of trying treatments that didn’t work well enough, I had little left to lose. I chose the last hope for relief.

When I told Dr. Subotnick that “I’m ready for surgery,” he said, “How about next Tuesday?” That was four days away, which didn’t give my imagination much time to run wild.

Then he had to postpone the operation for several more days, which gave time for dread to erode the hope. What if the knife slipped? What if the expected month off my feet stretched to several months, or forever?

This was to be relatively minor surgery, without general anaesthesia, as a short-stay patient who’d go home the same day. The doctor would go in and chisel away the excess bone at the heel, then sew me up. Almost as simple as pulling an infected tooth.

But “minor surgery” is someone else’s. If Dr. Subotnick took a chunk out of my heel bone, that was major enough for me.

The doctor said I could be 99-percent sure of full recovery from this procedure – and that by hurting a lot for a little while I could avoid hurting a little for a long time. I placed my faith in his good judgment and firm hand. But even he couldn’t control the one-percent chance that something would go wrong and that I’d be stuck for life with a defective foot.

A shot at waist level deadened both legs. A drape blocked me from seeing the gory details down below.

Finally Dr. Subotnick told a student, “You can close it up now.” Then a nurse held up a clear plastic pill bottle and said, “Here’s the troublemaker.”

Floating in pink liquid were two rough-edged white chunks with stringy red thread attached. As recently as that morning these parts of me had sawed into soft tissue when I ran.

“Normally casts are optional in cases like this,” said Dr. Subotnick. “I put some patients into a walking boot right away.

“But I know you runners. You’re like hyperactive 13-year-olds. If I didn’t give you a hard cast, you’d be out trying to run in two days and would mess up the good work we’ve done on you here.”

He slapped on extra strips of plaster, “just to make sure you don’t try anything funny,” and ordered me onto crutches for the next week. “Then I’ll add a heel so you can walk on the cast. You’ll be out of it three weeks from now.”

“How long until I can run again?” I asked him. He said, “Don’t try until the stitches come out in another week.”

I tried running the same day he unstitched me, a month post-surgery. I lasted one lap of a high school track, shuffled it in five minutes as walkers passed me. Never had so little meant so much.


Photo: Dr. Steve Subotnick gave me back the running that I had almost lost to a long-lasting heel injury.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Munich Heroes

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1972.)

TO FEEL fully engaged with a spectator sporting event, you need to take it personally. You need to have a rooting interest in certain athletes. You need to think you know them, even when you’ve met only in passing, if at all.

I took the Munich Olympics more personally than any other because I knew more of the athletes. All but two of them, though, were Americans.

The exceptions came from teams very different from each other, from either side of the great Muslim-Jewish divide. Their stories personalize the events with which Munich would forever be identified.

Mohamed Gammoudi had American Reg Harris as a coach, and Reg knew Runner’s World writer Janet Newman. He asked if she would like to interview the Tunisian, and Janet let me tag along.

“Where are we meeting?” I asked her. “In the Village,” she said. “Don’t ask me how we get in without credentials, but Reg said we would make it.”

Olympic Village wasn’t the fortress it appeared to be from the outside. Getting inside was easy, too easy as it would turn out. We simply pretended to be athletes and walked through the gates unchallenged.

The athletes’ quarters looked like unfinished college dorms. Four bedrooms clustered around a common living room.

We knocked, but no one heard us over the Arab music. The door was ajar so we walked inside, startling the athlete listening to a cassette player.

We asked about Gammoudi. He motioned outside and pumped his arms running-style, then said, “Training.”

Harris returned first. We would learn that this Peace Corps volunteer planned most of Gammoudi’s training but that the country’s sports bigwigs wouldn’t let their top runner – gold medalist in the Mexico City 5000, silver and bronze in the last two 10,000s – say that a foreigner coached him.

Gammoudi arrived. His bright eyes and boyish smile, set in a round face, gave him the look of someone much younger than his 34 years. He shook hands with us, excused himself for a quick shower, then became a gracious interviewee – even as questions passed from English to French to his native Arabic and back again.

After giving us a full hour of his time, Gammoudi walked us to the door and apologized for not speaking our language. In that hour he’d said nothing about winning the 10,000 or breaking a world record.

Yet Harris had overheard a Tunisian coach telling Tunisian reporters, who’d barged into the room uninvited during our session, “Don’t worry. He says he will win and will probably beat the record.”

Reg Harris shook his head and said, “This is the kind of thing Mohamed has to deal with all the time. The press will report this now as if he himself said it.”


SHAUL LADANY was a second-hand acquaintance of mine. I cheered for him because his fans did.

A row of Israelis seated behind me had little to celebrate until Ladany reached the track to finish his 20K walk. They knew his story and shared some of it with us.

As a child he was swept up with his family and shipped to the Nazis’ Bergen-Belsen prison camp. He would have died there if American Jews hadn’t bought his release with a ransom payment.

Ladany grew up in the U.S., earning a Ph.D. there while learning to race-walk. He once held the world 50-mile record, so he belonged in the Olympics. But in Germany?

“I don’t say I have to hate Germans,” he told reporters before his race here. “Of course not the younger generation, but I have no special sympathy for the older generation who have been accused of what happened in the Nazi period.”

On his race day, each time a walker emerged from a tunnel onto the track the question went up and down the row behind me: “Ladany?” Finally their man appeared, and they cheered as if he were winning.

In a way he already had won. Floodlights gleamed off his bald head, and at age 36 he looked like a middle-aged accountant hurrying to catch a bus. Ladany walked so upright that he almost bent backward.

He later told reporters how he felt on this victory lap of sorts: “Arrogant because of what the Germans did to me, proud because I am a Jew.”


DURING THE off-day from track events invaders broke into the Israeli compound where Shaul Ladany was housed in Olympic Village. Eleven athletes and coaches from his Israeli team died that day. Ladany was spared, but scarred again when Jews became targets in Germany.

Mohamed Gammoudi didn’t complete his medal set in the 10,000 by taking the gold (to go with his silver from Tokyo and bronze from Mexico City). Lasse Viren fell in midrace, taking down Gammoudi with him. The Finn got up and won, in world-record time, while the Tunisian didn’t continue.

Gammoudi, along with all Arabic-speaking Muslims, was then drawn into events not of their making. After the terrorists with agendas other than athletic did their dirty work, many athletes from Arab countries were sent home early. The Tunisians chose to stay.

Gammoudi took the silver medal, behind Viren, in the 5000. By then the seats once occupied by fans from Israel sat empty.


Photo: “Arrogant and proud” Shaul Ladany race-walks at the Olympics where his fellow Israelis became targets.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Eugene Scene

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1971.)

YOU EXPECT so much from a mecca that anything less than perfection found there can mar your first impression. Eugene was already well established as a runner’s dreamland by the early 1970s, and I expected more from this city than it could deliver.

I created my own first disappointment by opposing in print the 2:59:59 time limit for entry into the National AAU Marathon here. I’d met the standard myself but had written that it violated the evolving spirit of the sport: everyone is welcome and there’s no stigma on being slow.

This editorial didn’t sit well in Eugene and brought spirited rebuttals from two of the city’s most prominent running citizens, Bill Bowerman and Kenny Moore. Before this debate flared up, I’d wavered about running this marathon (which would have been my third in six weeks and second in eight days).

Now I felt obliged to back my words with actions, and drove here from California with two other marathoners and my now-fiancee Janet. One runner was Jim Howell, who had married Janet’s sister and would qualify for the 1972 Olympic Trials. The other was Harold DeMoss, an airline pilot who chafed at the dawdling pace of our drive north.

On Saturday morning before Sunday afternoon’s race, an IHOP filled with runners. One noticed an empty spot at our table and drawled, “Mind if I join y’all?”

He introduced himself as Jeff Galloway and told how his drive, from Florida in a sports car he called Mobley, had dwarfed ours. Thus began a friendship with Jeff that would endure for decades.

My protest marathon on behalf of the excluded went all but unnoticed. An exception: While running through sister city Springfield, a kid critiqued my run with, “You’re so slow, why don’t you drop out?”

We had started on the Hayward Field track, running two laps there before reaching the road. I’d been last to leave the stadium and hadn’t advanced from there when the boy remarked on my pace.

“Slow” was relative, as I was averaging better than seven-minute miles. This pace would advance me only four spots by the end.

Place didn’t concern me, but time did. We had a deadline: reach the Hayward Field entrance before 3:00:00 and finish inside, before a track meet began; arrive later and detour to an alternate line outside. I passed through the gate with less than a minute to spare – but not before a gun fired and the full-house crowd roared for the milers.

Later I would tell how I “led” Steve Prefontaine up the backstretch. His crowd cheered his first lap on his track, while I ran unseen in the outside lane. Soon enough, he and the other milers raced past.

Too soon, Pre would run his last race at Hayward and at this same time of year, in 1975. This same meet would be renamed in his honor, as the Prefontaine Classic.

That evening we marathoners reconvened at the Eugene Hotel for a banquet. I happened to sit across from Frank Shorter, who’d debuted at this distance and finished second to Kenny Moore. Frank’s face was now pale and he wasn’t eating, as nausea kept him from enjoying what he’d done that afternoon.

Suddenly the distinctions between the nearly first and almost last vanished. The after-effects of the marathon brought the marathoners closer together that evening than their range of times had made them appear that afternoon.


“WE COULD live here,” I told Janet during this first visit to Eugene. She nodded agreement. We’d seen the city at its early summer best and couldn’t imagine its long and wet winters.

We weren’t yet married but were already casting about for a new home, away from the sprawling suburbs and soaring costs of the Bay Area. Ten years and two children after nominating Eugene as a future home, we moved here.

Our arrival coincided with a local financial crash and a spike in interest rates nationally. The motto of those times was, “Eugene is a great place to live – if you can make a living.”

All of my income came from elsewhere, so I imagined myself immune from the harsh economic times. I wasn’t.

The outside income declined, and the “bargain” house became too costly to keep and worth less in this dismal market than its loan. We sold at a big loss.

By then, though, Eugene was home. I found ways to make it a lasting one.

Since moving here, no one has ever taunted me again for being “too slow” – thought it, maybe, but never shouted it – even as I’ve slowed by a minute or more per mile per decade since 1971.

On that first visit we stayed at race headquarters, the Eugene Hotel. That same building now houses the Eugene Hotel Retirement Center, which could someday bring me full circle as the last place I’ll stay in this hometown.


Photo: Frank Shorter (left) and Kenny Moore ran their first marathon together in 1971, in Eugene. A year later they teamed up at the Munich Olympics, placing first and fourth.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Worlds

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1970.)

ERAS DON’T usually divide neatly into decades. In any year January 1st is normally just another day following December 31st. But by a pair of coincidences no two days ever marked greater turning points for me than the last of the 1960s and the first of the 1970s. The first came from Kansas, as Bob Anderson arrived on the new decade’s eve in a U-Haul truck that bore the entire operation of his magazine.

Bob had made his first-ever call to me that fall. His voice came low and slow over the phone as he said, “I’m looking to make a move and would like to check out your area. We have almost no races for out-of-school runners back here, and northern California sounds like paradise.”

I invited him out for a visit this fall, not suspecting that his plans for me went beyond continuing my writing for Distance Running News, which I had done since 1967. “The draft is after me,” he said right after we exchanged greetings. “I need someone to take over the magazine while I’m in the Army, and you’re the obvious choice. Interested?”

Of course I was. “But you realize,” I said, “that the Army has its hooks in me too. The Reserves could call me to active duty.”

He said, “That’s a chance we have to take.” And we took it, to the benefit of both.

Turns out the draft would adopt a lottery system and Bob would draw a lucky number that freed him from military service. I would never serve more than weekends and summer camps.

Now, as the 1970s began, I was about to leave Track & Field News to team up with Bob at his magazine. He would have an editor who could free him to run the business of his magazine, which would have been a fiasco in my hands.

The magazine had a new name: The Runner’s World. “World” sounded grandiose for an operation this small. But notice the apostrophe in “Runner’s.” We aimed to cover whatever touched the individual runner, and I outlined our reach in my first editorial for RW.

The main line there: “It’s less important to us for one person to break four minutes in the mile with 50,000 people watching than to have 50,000 running eight-minute miles with no one watching.” This would be my central theme as chief propagandist for the magazine: get people running and keep them running, no matter their pace.

Bob Anderson also signed this editorial, but the thoughts and words were mostly mine. He didn’t always agree with me, but didn’t censor me here and wouldn’t later.


ONE WAY to find what you’ve long sought is to stop looking for it, letting it come to you when the time and place are right. I’d gone so long without a girlfriend that I had all but given up ever finding one. I had many friends who were female, but they viewed me as a buddy or a brother, nothing more.

By happy happenstance this drought ended as the new decade began. I welcomed the 1970s at the Midnight 10K race, where a gunshot joined the fireworks to set us off in the first second of the new year.

No year ever started further out of character for me than this one: to be awake and alert hours past my usual bedtime, to be racing in the dark, to be blind-dating afterward, or maybe not.

My running pal Jim Howell had a girlfriend named Barbara Allardyce. She had a younger sister who was between boyfriends at the moment. Knowing I was unattached, Jim schemed to put me in the company of his future sister-in-law.

“Janet is coming to the race with us,” he said. “Afterward there’s a party at her parents’ place. You’re invited.”

If this was a date, it was an odd one. I didn’t call 20-year-old Janet to make any plans. Though we both knew of the matchmaking plot, we exchanged only the briefest of “nice to meet yous” before the race and “see you laters” afterward.

Driving her to the party would have been strange because she was going home. Instead I went to my home to shower, then drove out into first hours of the 1970s, to the address Jim Howell had given me.

When I arrived, Janet was playing hostess. She did no more than nod to me across the crowded room.

An hour passed before we found ourselves together in the kitchen and finally talked. By then it was four o’clock in the morning. I left without asking her phone number.

New Year’s Day, Jim Howell invited me to watch football and eat party leftovers with him and Barbara. She greeted me with, “Well, how did you like her?”

I confessed wanting to know her better but doubting that my awkwardness the night before had impressed her. “You never know,” said Barbara with the smile of already knowing what her sister thought.

“Call her. Here’s the number.”

That call set in motion a quick series of life-altering events. Before the year was out, Janet Allardyce and I would share a house with Jim and Barbara. Less than year after that we’d be married.


Photo: Gerry Lindgren (left) and Mike Ryan shared the first cover of the newly renamed, relocated and restaffed magazine. Gerry later signed this copy.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]