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.]


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

First Book

(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 1969.)

YOU NEVER know when you adopt a practice if it will last long or end soon. Dozens of training plans had come and gone for me by the late 1960s, but finally I was well settled into a way of running that came to be known as LSD.

I was content with where these long slow distance runs were taking me. The previous year had been my best yet as a runner, with most of the many races resulting in PRs (some of which would become permanent).

I’d also settled into a dream job in a dream place, at Track & Field News in the San Francisco suburbs. One of the earliest articles under my byline talked about a chance meeting with a near-Olympian.  

This piece quickly set in motion a series of events that led to my becoming known – deservedly or not, for better or worse – as Mr. LSD. Here’s how that writing started:

The four of us fidgeted as we waited for Bob Deines to arrive. Each of us three-hourish marathoners, about to meet this 2:20 man, asked one way or another, “I wonder how fast he goes in training?”

This wasn’t intellectual curiosity speaking. It was personal concern.

None of us wanted to suffer so early on a Saturday morning, yet none wanted to miss this chance to run – at least a little bit, even too fast to talk – with this marathon prodigy. He was the alternate for last year’s U.S. Olympic team and placed sixth at Boston in both 1968 and 1969, all before his 22nd birthday and his college graduation.

Our worries began melting the minute Bob walked into Jeff Kroot’s living room. He complained, “I’m tired, I’m hungry, and my foot hurts.”

We started to relax in his company. But that question still hung over us: how fast? Bob hinted right away that we needn’t worry, that he was in no mood for speed this day.

His choice to join us this morning was practical. “The last thing I want to do is run,” he said, “but I’ve gotta do it. And it’s easier to do it with you guys than by myself.”

Trying to sound nonchalant, I finally asked, “How fast do you plan to go?” He said eight-minute pace, then added, “This is what I do almost every morning – two hours at about eight-minute pace.”

I asked, “So what do you do in the afternoon, after your slow morning run?”

He said, “Nothing. I never train more than once a day. I’d rather get in one solid long run a day than two short ones. Besides, all that showering and changing is a big waste of time.”

He added, “I may not have the greatest training method in the world, and I don’t claim that it is. But I enjoy it, it works for me, and I don’t get hurt.”

At age 22 he already was among the fastest U.S. marathoners, but his running sounded as simple and enjoyable as ours. He ran twice as much because his level of success required it, and raced a minute or two per mile faster because he could. Yet he trained even slower relative to his racing times than we did.


THE TRACK & FIELD NEWS article excerpted above spawned another for Distance Running News, titled “The Humane Way to Train.” (A typo made it “Human.”) It traced the roots and rationale of long slow distance.

LSD, a term I used for the first time there, wasn’t my coinage. Browning Ross introduced me to it in his magazine, Long Distance Log.

The practice of long slow distance wasn’t my invention either. I borrowed and blended ideas that Arthur Newton, Arthur Lydiard, Ernst van Aaken and Bill Bowerman had already promoted.

These two articles drew a few letters, asking to hear more. They caught the eye of T&FN publisher Bert Nelson.

He called me into his office and asked, “Could you flesh out your ideas enough to fill a book?” I would, and could, and did.

I wrote at home, nights and weekends – quickly, banging out the manuscript (on a small portable typewriter that danced across the kitchen counter as I composed) in less than a month. T&FN’s books back then were typically short, few of them reaching 100 pages. Mine was pegged at 64, and to fill that modest quota book editor Ed Fox needed to use large type, many photos and much white space.

I couldn’t really call this a book. LSD: The Humane Way to Train was a booklet, even a pamphlet, in size. But it would lay a foundation for much of what, and how, I’d write for a long time to come. I also would need to defend what I’d written about LSD – often to people who had never read the original.

Photo: Bob Deines helped set in motion the writing that led to my first book – LSD: The Humane Way to Train.


[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.]