ONE WEEK+ TO GO—AND A LONG LONG WAY TO RUN
After 12 years of slow improvement, then 2 years of focused training with many ups and downs and 8 weeks of rigorous training at 8000 feet elevation, I was on a roll! During my first week after coming down from altitude training I had improved my 10K personal record by 2 minutes, qualified for the Olympic Trials, and a week later, in the Rose Festival 5K, I had run past some of the nation’s best 5K runners in their specialty and established a national ranking in that event. My unexpected performances had enrolled me in an exclusive club: those who had a chance to make the Olympic Team. But while other 10K runners were tapering off on their training I needed to run an ultra marathon.
An underlying anxiety was tied to my running history. From high school days, I had experienced an uncomfortable pattern of performance letdowns soon after major improvements. After such excitement and intensity, I sensed that I needed to relax, focus, and get ready for two big opportunities: the trial race in the 10K and the marathon trial, one week later. When a friend invited me to spend the next few days at a family cottage on the Oregon coast, it seemed to be just what I needed.
None of my friend’s family members ran, but I enjoyed this. In Eugene I was energized by running with my Florida Track Club teammates Jack and Frank, also with Pre and others. But there were so many friends to connect with, and so little time to sort things out. At the beach I had time to set priorities, get focused on what I needed to do–to prepare for my 10K Trials race and the Marathon in 2 weeks.
The day after the Rose Festival 5K, I just relaxed—which I had not done for months. On two short runs at the beach my conscious brain sorted through the experiences of the last week and the challenges ahead. Top priority now was my last long run before the marathon trials (which were 2 weeks away), and run this within the next 2 days! I had found during the last year that I needed a slow 30 mile run, 2-3 weeks before a key marathon to perform at my best. It wasn’t ideal to run so long, 7 days before such an important 10K race—but the marathon was still my best shot at going to Munich. The next morning I was running across the wide beach at Seaside OR and then north along the shoreline.
I loved running on the beach. The beach north of Seaside was a continuous strand ending at the South Jetty of the Columbia River as it entered the Pacific Ocean at Fort Stevens State Park. Locals told me that the distance was about 15 miles one way. It was a beautiful sunny day and lots of folks were enjoying the surf and sand. I was running slowly and was entertained by quirky views of the unique north Oregon beach communities and the aggressive seagulls.
This was a totally enjoyable run on the way to the Jetty and I didn’t even look at my watch. I usually ran 2 min/mi slower than my current marathon pace but this pace was about 3 min/mi slower at a 15 mile distance. I chalked this up to running in the sand and my recent races. Even in 1972 I believed that slower runs resulted in less fatigue and quicker recovery. About 5 miles from the beach house I suddenly felt really tired. I had forgotten that this section was in were in loose sand. There were a few places on my foot which stung and felt like blisters. So I took regular walk breaks back to the beach house. Surprise! When I calculated the distance on a topographical map of the area the distance was about 33 miles. I spent a good bit of time treating my blisters which, thankfully, were small.
The next day I was tired but had good running form on my slow morning run. Mentally I was ready to return to Eugene and prepare for the Trials. It was a long drive on mostly 2 lane roads which kept me from being worried that the long run would detract from my 10K race, now only a few days away. To fight back the negative hormones of the monkey brain I went over my past two amazing races, activating my human brain which overrides the ancient emotional brain—stopping the flow of those negative emotions for a while.
Each day during the Trials, to keep my mind off the upcoming races, I spend some time with my best friend Geoff Hollister who managed the Nike Eugene store. It was crazy busy and understaffed. My roles were greeting athletes, helping with errands and taking care of crucial tasks that weren’t getting done, such as cleaning the toilet!
Geoff was heavily into production of the first waffle sole shoe—which were manufactured in Eugene. I brought over supplies to the cobbler and brought a prototype to Bowerman. He wasn’t impressed with this hand-sewn model. I wanted to run at least one race in Geoff’s creation and tried it out on few short runs. But my gut told me to never run in a shoe in a race that has not been thoroughly tested on my feet—especially in the marathon (I used my trusty Nike Boston—a shoe I loved).
Jack, Frank and I ran at the track for a bit, each day and then ran a campus loop that Pre had shown me. The brilliant green vegetation lit by bright sunlight set off Hayward field and the beautiful University of Oregon campus. My legs weren’t 100% after my 33 miler, but as Jack said “when are a distance runner’s legs ever 100%”.
Olympic coach Bill Bowerman, who had trained dozens of national champions and Olympians, set up the trial schedule to mimic the Munich schedule. We ran a trial heat in the 10K as a formality, because only 2 runners did not go to the final. Each day the temperature rose and the predicted temps for the 10K final were over 90F.
Those of us from Florida knew that this would be tough. But we also knew that heat would give us an advantage in two areas: 1) we were heat adapted, and 2) we knew how to pace under hot conditions.
While both of these helped the Florida Track Club trio, it was #2 that allowed me to pull off a big surprise.
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