Reflections from an Olympian who unexpectedly qualified for the US Olympic Team

-Jeff Galloway-

Training for the Olympics is stressful, time consuming, full of unexpected downturns—with the possibility of a few exhilarating moments.  In my era, the 1970’s, there was almost no possibility of making a living off of one’s competitive career. So when I took on the 2 year challenge to the Munich Olympic Trials I was self-coached, earning my master’s degree at Florida State and working part time jobs to pay the rent and the food bill for my high mileage training.   But I gladly accepted this challenge with the primary goal of becoming the best runner I could be. 

Twenty Three months later I had suffered through over 20 injuries, including 4 that nearly terminated my quest:  qualifying to compete in the US Olympic Trials in Eugene OR, in late June 1972. I had logged over 14,000 miles, and had improved my national ranking from over 100 to about 20.  I was proud of my progress but realized that only the top 3 finishers in the Olympic Trials race, went to Munich. It didn’t matter that the odds were against me—I was finding hidden strength inside which was empowering.

I had qualified for the marathon trials in February but was 90 seconds short of qualifying for the 10K trials race..  Thanks to my Florida Track Club teammate Frank Shorter, who had secured low cost housing in Vail CO, I trained with him and Jack Bacheler at high altitude for 8 weeks before my last chance to make the 10K standard: the National Track & Field Championships–about 2 weeks before the trials. 

I was averaging a bit over 140 miles a week.   Here was my basic schedule during my two years in Tallahassee.

  •         Sunday: Alternating a long run of 26-30 miles one week and on the next Sunday, an easy morning 10 miler and race pace 10 miler in the afternoon.  Races would usually be scheduled on the third week—usually on a Saturday.
  •         Monday: Easy 10 mi in the morning.  Afternoon: 10 mile scenic or social run with friends
  •         Tuesday: Easy 10 miles in the morning.  Afternoon: Interval speed workout, 5-6 miles, 1 mile of drills and 4 miles of warm up and warm down.
  •         Wednesday: Easy 10 miles in the morning.  Afternoon: 10 mile scenic or social run with friends
  •         Thursday: Easy 10 miles in the morning.  Afternoon 10 miler: a mixture of hills, form drills, and race pace runs. 
  •         Friday: Easy 10 mile morning run.  Afternoon: easy 10 miles
  •         Saturday: Easy 10 mile morning run.  Easy 10 miles in the afternoon

I didn’t race while at Vail—so every day was for training.  Long runs were paced 2-3 min/mi slower than current marathon pace.  Other easy days were slow to allow for recovery from the tough workouts—about 7 min per mile. 

During my almost 2 years in Tallahassee (before Vail) I ran my speed workouts mostly on the track.  Vail didn’t have a track, so we ran our speedwork on the only golf course—9 holes. I hung on to Jack and Frank during each of these workouts and was huffing and puffing as never before—in contrast to the respiration rate of my teammates.  I knew that this was due to the 8200 foot altitude and that I was running with the top two ranked distance runners in the US. It was my hope that these extreme efforts would elevate my fitness without leaving me exhausted for the National Championships.  While I had my share of exhaustion, the recovery was often only 2 days. But when I felt unusually tired or an orthopedic unit was “complaining”, I ran the warmup with Jack and Frank and jogged back to my residence.   

My last long run in Vail (26 miles) was 8 days before the Nationals and 4 weeks before the Munich marathon trial.  I ran comfortably at a pace that was about 2 minutes per mile slower than my recent marathon race pace and felt so strong that I picked up the pace during the last 6 miles—which could have been a mistake.   But the next morning I was out the door on my “taper” toward the Nationals and then the Munich Trials. I felt really good. 

In saving resources for the big races ahead, I continued to run twice a day, but cut the mileage to 5-7 miles on each run.  It felt like I was on vacation. I didn’t run any speed workouts but loved doing 4-8 of my acceleration-glider drills about every other day.

During my last week in Vail I was on my own—Shorter and Bacheler were getting settled in Eugene and Seattle for the next few weeks.  I ran my farewell tour on loops through the town and packed just about all of my earthly belongings into my 1963 Volvo, I called “Mobley”. Every day I studied the collection of maps I had acquired in past trips and calculated driving time to be about 20 hours. 

I planned to wake up about 4am and arrive at athlete housing at the University of Washington dorms about midnight the night before my 10K race.  This would allow for a good night’s sleep for the 10K race the following afternoon. 

I went to bed early but could not sleep.  I was excited, but nervous as to whether my 2 months of tough altitude training  would pay off as dozens of thoughts circled and pinged me. Wide awake at midnight, I jogged for 20 minutes through the quiet village, cranked up Mobley and headed West. 

It was 4 weeks before my best event: the Munich marathon trial.  I sensed that I was ready for a good performance–but would not have believed the series of successes I was about to experience.

Next week: 3 weeks to go and good news!

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1 Comment

  1. Good read. Nice cliffhanger. Look forward to reading the rest of the story…

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