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.]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

First Olympics

(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 1968.)

OLYMPIANS EARN their way to the Games. Journalists and tourists pay their way, or find someone to pay it for them. I joined the latter group in traveling to the Mexico City Olympics.

Now I was on assignment to write a “Mexican Diary” for Track & Field News. This writing, plus coverage of a few events, was part of my double-duty here – and the lesser part.

T&FN’s more senior writers (and I was second to the bottom in seniority on this staff) could have handled the wordsmithing. What really allowed me to come here was agreeing to act as a tour guide.

The company had booked Olympic tours since Helsinki in 1952. With these latest Games sitting so close to the States, this tour group was the largest yet at more than 1000. With tour director Ed Fox, I arrived a week before Opening Ceremonies to check the housing, collect the tickets and greet early arrivals.

Early in this Olympic visit I learned the tricks and advantages of pretending to be an Olympic athlete. At 25 and with a younger-looking face, I could act the part even if my legs couldn’t have given a convincing performance.

I’d been told, “Walk up to any guarded gate and act like you know where you’re going. If challenged, say you forgot your badge and keep walking. You can go almost anywhere this way.”

My first morning in Mexico City a guard at the overflow Village stopped me and pointed to my chest, where a credential should have hung. I shrugged and said approximately the Spanish word for “forgot.”

He waved me through. Inside I met Hal Higdon, who’d also faked his right to enter.

I’d known Hal since 1960, as both a runner and writer. I had thought of him as an old runner before, and now he’d aged to 37. He stood talking with an even older man (all of 50, I’d learn later) – weathered of skin, graying of hair and wiry of body.

Hal introduced him only as “George.” This meeting, which would go unnoted in the published diary, would be the most important event of this Olympics for me.

None of us could have guessed that this chance meeting, in a place where we didn’t belong, brought together a trio who would become the most prolific authors in our sport’s history. George Sheehan would be the widest-read and most-quoted of all.


MY MOST memorable race from these Olympics was the 1500-meter final. By then I’d touched the two main protagonists. By chance I’d shaken hands with both of them outside the competitive arena.

Jim Ryun’s future wife Anne, along with other family members, came to Mexico City with the Track & Field News tour. Jim made a practice of running over to our housing complex to visit them.

I’d never even seen him in person until that morning when he stood before my apartment waiting for someone, anyone, to join him. When he spotted three of us leaving to run, he asked, “Can I join you?”

I told him we’d slow him down. He said, “Not at all. It’s just an easy 30-minute run today.”

He knew the territory better than we did, having been here longer. “Let’s go to Azteca,” he said of the soccer stadium about two miles away.

The locked, spike-edged gate didn’t stop him. He crawled right over with the rest of us to have a look inside. If he had slipped, I could see the headlines: “Ryun Spiked While Breaking into Stadium – Out of Games – Track Writer to Blame.”

Safely back outside the spikes, Ryun said, “I’m going to pick up the pace a bit.” He shook hands all around.

Soon he was just a dot in the distance, but none of us would ever forget how we’d stayed with Jim Ryun for as long as we had. Not many runners could say that.

Later I became a regular visitor the athletes’ Village. And soon after that I was hopping onto buses labeled “Atletas” that took them to the stadium.

One afternoon I walked into the bus behind someone with “Kenya” on his back. He took an empty seat, and I grabbed one beside him. Only then did I look him in the face and see this was Kip Keino.

We made small-talk during the short ride, Keino answering in precise Swahili- and British-accented English. I didn’t confess to being a journalist.

At the stadium, where he was about to run a 1500-meter heat, I wished him luck. “And to you as well,” he said, thinking that only an athlete would ride this bus.

Kip Keino and Jim Ryun met later in one of the most anticipated races of these Games. It would be one of the best finishes of any Games, for both of them even though Ryun’s performance was widely panned in his county’s second-place-is-first-loser media.

Despite the breath-taking altitude, Keino set an Olympic record that would stand for another four Olympiads. Without benefit of an altitude birth or much training there, Ryun ran a time that would have won him all previous Olympics but one and would still have put him on the U.S. team 40 years later. This is failure?


Photo: Jim Ryun ran one of the greatest races of his career at Mexico City, though he received little credit for “only a silver” behind Kip Keino.


[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 11, 2017

First Boston

(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 1967.)

GO OR NO-GO decisions either open the gate to a good long run or lock it, at least until later. I almost made the wrong choice in early 1967, which would have delayed or blocked my entry into marathoning.

While moving from Iowa to California and settling in there, I quit training for the Boston Marathon. Three days before the race I told new boss Dick Drake about being entered but not going because I’d earned no vacation time for this midweek trip.
                                                     
“Not going!” he said. “You have to go. You can’t miss a chance like this, because you might never get another. Take two days off, then come back and work the weekend.”

Boston wasn’t then the Monday race that it would become later, but was whenever April 19th happened to fall, which was a Wednesday that year. I would spend less than 24 hours in marathon city.

I erased most of my savings account for my first coast-to-coast plane ticket. Two friends from Iowa, fellow first-time marathoner Tom Murphy and Boston vet John Clarke who’d come east to watch this race, let me crowd into their hotel room at the Lenox.

A short night’s sleep, a light breakfast, and I boarded a bus for the start in Hopkinton. So much had happened so quickly that I didn’t leave time to worry about never having gone this far before and not having trained long enough lately.

That isn’t to say I was calm. Pre-race concerns always send me looking for a restroom, often repeatedly. This search led to my first meeting with a man who didn’t know how famous (or infamous, depending on who’s commenting) he would become that same day.

I ducked into a locker room at Hopkinton High School. A dozen extremely fit and serious-looking runners sat on benches or the floor. They glanced up as if asking themselves, “Who’s this one?” then retreated back into themselves.

Suddenly a wild-eyed little man burst through the door. “What are you doing here?” he shouted. “This room is for top runners, not bums like you!”

I stammered, “But… but… just need a bathroom.”

He shoved my shoulder while yelling, “Use one out there. Wait in line like everybody else. Out! Out! Out!”

A little later we met again. This time I stood too close to his starting line. “You again!” he roared. “If you give me any more trouble, I’ll pull your number. I don’t want rule-breakers in my race.”

With the race about to start, he shoved me back into the crowd where I belonged. His race was how Jock Semple viewed the Boston Marathon in those years. It was his greatest source of pride and frustration.

At the time this race was his year-round passion, and its storms usually centered on him. In 1967, Semple made international news for a momentous shove.

He would later argue that he didn’t jump from a bus that day to rip off a Kathrine Switzer’s number because he thought that women shouldn’t run marathons. He would say he did it because she had entered illegally, and he would have done the same if a man had given him cause.

He and Switzer would forever disagree on his motive. But both would come to realize that he gave women’s running its first great push forward.


HAVING A GOOD time is just as important as running one. In the long run the times had are more memorable than the times run. Boston Marathon 1967 brought me both.

My time ambitions were modest: to average the eight-minute miles needed to sneak in under 3:30. This had been the pace of my longest run of 20 miles. Now I hoped somehow to squeeze out another half-dozen miles at that same pace.

Neither the watches (which still had hands) nor Boston’s checkpoint distances (Boston took them at traditional crossroads such as 6¾ and 13½ miles) were reliable back then. The few times I heard along the course either meant nothing to me or sounded too fast to be trusted.

Roughly halfway at a sub-three-hour marathon pace? Impossible.

About then, passing the midpoint in Wellesley, I basked briefly in the roar that rolled along with every Bostonian’s hero Old Johnny Kelley. I almost topped Heartbreak Hill before knowing this was it.

Too soon, it seemed, the Prudential tower loomed in the near distance. The race would finish there in another couple of miles.

My watch said, and an occasional building clock confirmed, that nowhere near three hours had passed since the start. Could this be happening?

I can’t say those final miles were easy. Marathon finishes never are. But neither were those miles slow.

Coming down the homestretch, I saw no time displayed. (Digital clocks wouldn’t appear at finish lines until the 1970s.)

Confirmation that I wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating finally came from my Iowa friend John Clarke. As I walked away from the finish line, he rushed up, thrust his stopwatch into my face and shouted, “You broke 2:50 – by 12 seconds!”

I couldn’t bask in any of this on that Patriots Day afternoon. With work to do the next morning in California, I fled the finish line for the airport.

I would never better the clock time run that day. But I would keep coming back to repeat the good times had on my first day as a marathoner.


Photo: One of the most iconic shots in running history shows Jock Semple trying (and failing) to pull Kathrine Switzer from the Boston Marathon course.


[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.]