The Woodstock Of Running Was A Gathering Of Eagles

A gathering of eagles, the 1979 Nike/OTC Marathon was The Woodstock of Running.  Far as I am concerned. – JDW

Recently got down to my marathon PR weight.  One-sixty-nine.  Felt proud enough to dig out my 1979 running diary.

Imagine my disappointment – turns out memory not so good – to learn I had actually weighed one-sixty back in the day.  160 lbs.  Just as I started carbo-loading for the big race.  The Nike/OTC Marathon.

And, of course, a trip down memory vain.

Actual true real notes.

Thursday, September 6 –  Arrived in Eugene.  Very busy.  Dinner, clinics, press reception, drinking, etc.

Friday, September 7 – 5 p.m.  Six miles alone on the bike path along McKenzie River.  “Easy” run.  Feel terrible.

Saturday, September 8 –  Six miles.  Ran Pre’s Trail with Don Kardong, Herm Atkins, Tom Wysocki & Bob Maplestone.  A little faster and a little farther than I cared to run, but the company made up for it.

Sunday, September 9 – Race day.  Nice day.  0800.  62-65 degrees.  NIKE!  First mile – 6:17.  5K – 19:17.  Rest of 5K splits about twenty minutes or faster.  10k = 38:32?  15K = 58:28.  1:18:30?

Surged a little at 23-24 kilometers.  1:38+ at 25K.  Thirty kilometers in 1:58:54.  I think.

Then I really started to push.  Next five kilometers in 19-19:15.  And the next (35-40) in 18+.

Weakened a little but pushed hard to the finish.

I tried very hard.  Very hard.

2:46:07.

My first personal best at any distance since my left knee fell apart two and a half years ago.

PR by 3:16.  Feeling a little proud.  Super run!  Happy and surprised.

Wore Adidas Marathon 80s.  Feet blistered painfully at 30k.

Monday, September 10 – Sunriver, OR.  5 p.m.  Ran for twenty-five minutes with Benji Durden (2:13:47 PR Sunday) and Mark Anderson (2:15:33 PR Sunday)

Slowly.  Stiff.

Tuesday, September 11 – Sold Running magazine.

***********************************

Here’s the story.

Two-Forty-Six-Oh-Seven.
2:46:07. Two-forty-six-oh-seven. Two hours, forty-six minutes and seven seconds.
I ran the Nike/OTC Marathon in 2:46:07, and I am incredulous. I imagine those who have been victimized by my recent grumbling also have some difficulty believing it.

As you might remember, I have discussed – despondently – the injured, overweight, undertrained, wracked-with-pain body that burdened my soul. I was depressed, and I thought I had good reason. I hadn’t run for a week; I hadn’t run a real good race in 2½ years. I was a mess.

Well, thank you for the cards and letters, but you can stop now. Save the postage. I am reborn, revivified.

For a few short hours I became a runner again. I don’t really know how I did it. I was in 2:54 shape at best, aiming at 2:49:59 only because Messrs. Cloney and Semple demand it. I did – honest – dream about running 2:48:44, but that was just a dream.

We went past 5 kilometers in 19:17. We were already 3½ minutes behind the leaders and some 30 seconds ahead of our goal pace. (Okay, if Jeff Wells and Tony Sandoval want it that badly, let them have the win – we’re going to Boston.) We slowed.

We also maintained the pace. I think. I don’t know for sure because I was born in the we-don’t-do-metric USA, before New Math. By the time I divided 5 kilometers into 19:17 minutes, we were at 10k in 38:48. That’s 3.88 minutes per kilometer… there are 42.195 kilometers in a marathon.

You can imagine my dilemma. I began to sense symptoms of mathematical prostration. Could Steinmetz run this pace and do complicated equations? Could Einstein even?

At 26 kilometers I came upon a friend doing the only smart thing to do at a marathon – he was watching. I burst into song, a cappella, of course: “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road.”
I began to accelerate. If one can sing, one can run faster. (Isn’t that a line from a Mike Spino book?)

I was passing people now. My friend and sometime training partner John Frey – imagine Mr. Magoo, running 2:50 – said hello. Most of the rest just grunted. I was careful to express encouragement to the few people I truly enjoyed leaving behind. They knew, and I knew they knew.

They knew, too, I was a runner again. Even I was beginning to believe. Around 30k, I put the pedal to the metal. (If Bill Rodgers is a Ferrari, then I’m a ’72 Pontiac sedan. With a six-cylinder engine.)

I pushed. I hammered. I fought. I struggled, fought some more – a typical marathon.
At 40 kilometers, I began to hit The Wall. But I refused. I was running a personal best… I didn’t have time to slow down.

The digital clock above the finish line read 2:46:07. My wife had that “son-of-a-gun-you’ve-done-it-again” expression. And the pain lightened, falling away like a snake’s old skin.

Release washed over me as the dike of my concentration broke. I began to sob. I could stop running.

But I can’t stop now. I have reaffirmed my runnerness. I may not be the best, but I am better than I ever was. Finally.
That is enough.

For now at least. For now I am content. My legs still hurt. I still avoid hills, hard surfaces, speedwork, and talented training partners. But I am running.

No longer do local runners ask, “Didn’t you used to be a fairly good runner?” When queried about my marathon PR, I can now answer with different numbers.

Numbers, times. They don’t really mean much. Tony Sandoval (2:10:20 PR) and Dick Quax (2:11:13 PR) told me a couple days after the race that my personal best was every bit as valuable, as meaningful, as their own records. Perhaps as amazing, too. They saw little difference.

The numbers are different, but… it’s the feeling. Flying down towards that finish, seeing nothing, missing nothing. It’s THE FEELING, a sensation so intense, so consuming, so unlike any other that it defies my limited command of the English language.

The feeling that comes when your body, your mind, your very soul… the feeling of attempting more than you can possibly do, and then actually doing it.

The difference perhaps between living and being alive.

I hope you understand. 2:46:07. Damn.

Running, Winter 1979

The Quick In A Dead Heat

Jeff Wells and Tony Sandoval finished together to win the Nike Marathon, a race in which fifty runners went under the U.S. Olympic Trial qualifying standard

 BY KENNY MOORE  Sports Illustrated.  Originally Posted: September 17, 1979

Hear this, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter and Craig Virgin, the
early-book favorites to make up the 1980 U.S. Olympic marathon
team. It’s not going to be easy. That was the message that was
flashed from the ninth annual Nike/Oregon Track Club marathon last
Sunday in Eugene, where Tony Sandoval and Jeff Wells, both of the
hometown Athletics West Club, cruised to a mutual victory in
2:10:20, ahead of teammate John Lodwick’s courageous 2:10:54 and
Dick Quax’ first-ever marathon of 2:11:13. Yes, Rodgers, Shorter
and Virgin, as you prepare for next month’s New York Marathon, lend
an ear to this emphatic communique from the Northwest.

It was a race marked by perfect conditions and elated, eager
running. A fine mist was falling through 56º air as the field,
sternly limited to 1,000, left the start. Up front at once was
Lodwick, who has been Wells’ roommate, first at Rice, then at the
Dallas Theological Seminary and now in Eugene, where both are
assistant pastors of Calvary Baptist Church. “I didn’t plan on
leading,” said Lodwick later. “I ran with the same effort as I did
in previous marathons.” But once he and Bernie Rose, a South
African who had entered under an assumed name of Bernard Randall to
circumvent the AAU ban against his countrymen, drew away from the
pack at five miles, the 6′ 4″ Lodwick decided he had better stay
ahead. “I’ve been a windbreak for a lot guys in past races,” he
said, “and there is a certain anxiety to being closely followed.”

There seemed to be none at all to dropping Rose and running freely
to a full minute’s lead by the halfway point. His right palm was
blue from his having written his expected checkpoint times there.
He soon stopped consulting it. “That was because after eight miles
I was running personal records all the way,” he said.

Behind him ran a pack of five relatively patient men. Wells, the
race record holder (2:13:15 in 1977) was feeling at peace with the
world. “I was just thinking, `This is what I love, running on a
good day with good runners.’ I was just filled with the joy of it.
It didn’t seem too upsetting that John was so far ahead. Once I
even hoped he’d go on to a 2:08 world record.”

Herm Atkins, of Seattle’s Club Northwest, went along, knowing he
had only to stay with these rivals to continue the remarkable
transition he has made from a runner known only for his early foot
to a world-class marathoner and consistent finisher.

Sandoval, 25, who is a third-year medical student at the University
of Colorado, followed a few yards behind, concentrating on an even
flow of effort. “I kept thinking this is a long race,” he said.
“Just let all the work you’ve done carry you.” That work included a
glorious month this summer running with Welis and Lodwick in the
high country near Los Alamos and Truchas, N. Mex., Sandoval’s
hometown. On trails 10,000 feet up Guaje Canyon in the Jemez Range.
Sandoval ran with elks, “played in the meadows” and now has
returned to competition five pounds lighter–he’s 5′ 8″, 112
pounds–stocked with boundless emotional reserves.

Quax, as would be expected of the 1976 Olympic silver medalist at
5,000 meters, was having no trouble with the pace, but there are
experiences on many levels in a marathon. “I got excited, even
euphoric,” the New Zealander said. “It was a feeling you never have
on the track. On the road, competitors hand around sponges. In a
5,000 all that they give you are elbows.”

Thus moved, by 18 miles Quax had broken away from Sandoval, Wells
and Atkins and was going after Lodwick. But his charge was too
early and too hard.

“It was inexperience,” Quax said. Quickly he cut Lodwick’s margin
to 30 seconds, then 15. But there he hung.

At 22 miles, in sudden sunshine, Sandoval and Wells passed Quax and
strode lightly on after Lodwick. They had exchanged small words of
encouragement all along. Now there was no need to talk. “We knew
what was happening,” said Sandoval. “There was power exuding from
us.” They caught Lodwick with 2 1/2 miles to go. “I knew they were
coming,” Lodwick said. “I tried to prepare myself not to get
discouraged as they went by. We hit 40 kilometers in under 2:04. I
knew what that meant. Hang on!”

As Sandoval ran with Wells over the footbridge across the
Willamette River, he was aware that there was less than a mile to
go, and he began reliving the 1976 Olympic Trials. It was at this
spot that he had been left by Don Kardong and had lost the last
spot on the team. But now he felt strong and jubilant.

Wells is a magnificent finisher who has never given quarter at the
end of a race. Sandoval is a 1:49.5 800-meter runner who can sprint
with anyone. They looked at each other and decided to finish in a
tie. “We had run so far together, had helped each other so much,”
said Wells, “that we couldn’t have done anything else. We found out
all we had to know–for now.”

By not sprinting, Wells gave up the opportunity to break his
personal record of 2:10:15. Hand in hand the two crossed the line
and then turned to embrace Lodwick and Quax. The four, remarkably
fresh, danced a giddy victory lap around Hayward Field: two
ministers, a doctor and a salesman for a New Zealand radio station,
proving, as Shorter and Rodgers have done before, that in
marathoning nice guys can finish first.

Quax’ time of 2:11:13 confirmed him as a great talent at the
distance should he continue marathoning. There is doubt of that
only because New Zealand’s selection system demands he break
2:13:30 twice to be considered for the Olympic team. “They don’t
want a good runner,” he said. “They want a superman.”

All an American need do to make the Olympic marathon is run 2:21:54
to qualify for–and then place in the top three–at the Olympic
Trials next May in Buffalo. Fifty men ran under the Trials standard
in Eugene, and 34 of them recorded personal bests, testament to a
grand day and a continuing surge of excellence in U.S. marathoning.
Atkins’ fifth-place time was a splendid 2:11:52, and the depth of
field was best illustrated by 36-year-old Olympic-steeple-chaser
Mike Manley, who ran 2:16:45 but finished 19th.

As his three runners celebrated their unprecedented team sweep of a
major marathon, Athletics West Coach Harry Johnson admitted to some
astonishment. “I thought they’d do well,” he said, “but that their
next race after this one–the Olympic Trials–would be the real
eye-opener. I still believe that.”

If so, that race in May will really be something to behold.

***

Of course, I had a song track.  And….

It’s all right.  Once you get past the pain.

 

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