Helping A Friend Make The Olympic Team

By Jeff Galloway

Three of us from the Florida Track Club trained in Vail Colorado for 8 weeks before heading West to the 1972 Olympic Trials in Eugene OR.  The first qualifying race was the 10K where Frank Shorter and Jack Bacheler were expected to finish in the top 3.  As expected, Frank won.  Joyously unexpected was my coming from last place to finish second—and make the Munich team.  As Frank and I waited for Jack Bacheler at the finish line, the crowd was really getting behind another come from behind effort by hometown favorite Jon Anderson whose father was mayor of Eugene.  Coming off the curve, it was obvious that Jack was exhausted and weaving as he ran toward the finish.  Inspired by the crowd, John dug down and passed Jack right before the finish.  But controversy erupted when an official saw Jack make incidental contact as John went by and disqualified our teammate from the race.

All three of us were stunned.  Not only did Jack lose the race in the last few yards.  My best race was the marathon, held a week later.  I had a good chance to make the team and if so, would have dropped out of the 10K so Jack could move into my place.  This was no longer possible.  So we, the “Florida TC Trio” decided to talk over a strategy the next morning on a run from the runner’s mecca, Hayward Field.

Some of my most memorable runs have been early in the morning through the streets or parks of Eugene, feeling a bit chilly.  This was not the case when Jack, Frank and I started our recovery run, with temperatures in the high 70’s and rising.  The first topic of conversation came from complaints we had been hearing from runners, coaches and journalists about holding the marathon trials so close to the track trials.  This was based upon Olympic coach Bill Bowerman’s decision that the schedule of the trials, replicate exactly the format for Munich.  So the 10K trial race was only 7 days before the marathon.  Most marathoners felt that their trial should be separate from the track trials.  Other runners, coaches and journalists believed that the 3 runners selected according to Bowerman’s plan would not be as competitive as runners selected in a stand-alone marathon.

After a lively discussion, Frank got into the main topic of interest:  how can we help Jack finish 3rd and qualify for the Munich  marathon team, six days away. Knowing that the final long run distance before a marathon tends to be where one “hits the wall” in the race itself, I asked Jack what had been his longest training run in the past 4 weeks,.  I was hoping that he had run at least 20 miles, but he had only run 17.

Jack was focusing on the 10K and didn’t think he would have to run in the marathon.  So how were we going to keep Jack from hitting that wall in the trials?  Once one has hit that exhaustion point, the pace slows dramatically.   I volunteered what I had used as a race strategy when I had not run long enough on the last endurance workout before my first Boston Marathon:  I forced myself to back off the pace in the beginning to save resources and surprised everyone by finishing 11th.

Unfortunately, Jack tended to run too fast during the first miles of his marathons.  I felt confident that I could hold him back early.  My greatest competitive assets were starting conservatively and staying within a few seconds of the assigned pace mile after mile.  We had a lively discussion about what pace it would take to make the team—which was pure guesswork.  Each day we “edited” our guess, based upon the latest weather projections for race day.

Jack and Frank had run together, twice a day, for two and a half years.  I did not join them on daily jaunts until Vail, 10 weeks earlier.  I was impressed with the way that the two of them would break down a workout, a race, the competition, terrain, etc. into the details that could be managed.  Then came the strategy.  One of best benefits to me was the entertainment value of listening to two of the top 5 runners in the world and learning from every run.

While we knew that the near 90F temperatures predicted for the marathon trials would make the second half somewhat miserable, all three of us were heat-trained and totally committed to being able to suffer more than our competition.

We didn’t run much during the last 3 days before the marathon.  I spent my 2-3 hours a day as a volunteer at Nike’s Athletic Department retail store, helping my best friend Geoff Hollister, who was the manager.  He was overwhelmed in producing the first Nike waffle-sole racing flat.  I ran errands during the hot time of the day—and also received an education about how to manage (and how not to manage) a sports store.  This helped me when I opened my Phidippides store the following year.  I was most impressed with how Geoff would keep his energy and mental focus when the situation seemed chaotic.  He got the job done!

NOTE: In the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials, Nike offered to give each qualifier a pair of their state-of-the-art racing flat, the Alphafly .  Geoff Hollister set this precedent in 1972 by individually fitting each athlete and then producing them in local cobbler shops that he and Bill Bowerman had used to produce prototypes.

The big day was here and the weather forecasters were not wrong: it was over 90F during the afternoon.  But the marathon start was scheduled for 5pm and thermometers were dropping into the 80s as Jack and I left the Hollister’s house for our 26.2 mile trek, with the start/finish at Hayward Field, the home of University of Oregon track and field.

Frank joined us for a warmup and offered his usual advice, making it clear, to me, that I was responsible for keeping Jack from running too hard and yet still in range of 3rd place.  He left us to get on the front line with Kenny Moore.  They were at the top of US marathon rankings going into the Trials.

Jack’s motivation was usually rock solid before a race, but this day he was noticeably nervous.  Normally he did not admit weakness but confessed that he did not feel like a marathoner.  I told him that we were a team for this race.

I was very confident that I  could finish in the top 3 but was mentally focused on a more important mission: to help Jack run the best race and finish 3rd.  My strategy was to start  slower than our projected average pace, hold Jack to this pace, and keep him motivated during the latter stages when he would be exhausted and very hot.

The gun fired and Frank was off in the lead with Kenny right behind.  Jack started to  move up toward the lead pack and I quickly I told him we had to slow down.  He did.  About a mile into the race we were in a big mass of runners.  A friend who was watching the race did a rough count and told me that we were in about 100th place.  When Jack heard this, he started to pick up the pace and I grabbed the back of his singlet as a restraint.  This happened several times during the first 5 miles.  He gradually came to trust my pacing.

My tactic was to ask Jack to point out runners around us who had an interesting history or attracted gossip.  This took the edge off of his pushing the pace—and was good entertainment for me.

Meanwhile, our teammate Frank, and Kenny Moore (Eugene native)  had moved into the first row of the lead pack of 12, coming by 5 miles in 25:30.  The temperature was still in the 80’s and Frank was not slowing down.  Each mile, several from the lead group dropped back.  At 10 miles, only Mark Covert from Burbank CA was hanging on, as they recorded 51:27.   Mark is well known among distance runners to this day, as the second longest running “streaker” running at least 2 miles every day for 45 years.

I had agreed to shoot for a 5:16 per mile pace but told Jack that we needed to go slower for the first 5 miles due to 1) Jack’s lower mileage long run and 2) tendency to start too fast.  We came by the 5 mile mark in 26:48.  A friend yelled that we were in about 60th place.  Our mile pace was 5:22 and Jack was so comfortable that he wanted to pick it up.  I agreed to a gradual increase over the next 5 miles.

During the next 2 miles we caught a group of 15 runners, passing them 2-3 at a time.  Then we began moving through the next group of 21—which had been 42 seconds ahead of us at 5 miles.  Twenty-something males have a hard time running slower at the beginning of any race—especially the big ones.  In many cases the pace was appropriate for a 60F day—but it wasn’t sixty degrees.  By 10 miles we had passed all of that group and crossed in 52:43, in 20th place, averaging a 5:18/mile pace.  Jack wanted to pick up the pace but I resisted.

Frank and Kenny pulled away from Covert, coming through 15 miles in 1:16:55, with Covert 16 seconds behind.  Meanwhile, Jack and I were feeling really good between mile 10 and mile 15.  I should have kept the pace a bit slower but during the 15th mile let Jack take the lead of our pace group of 2.  I was shooting for a time of 1:19 at 15 miles—and we were 16 seconds too fast.  I hoped that this would not take too much out of Jack later.  We had moved into a tie for 5th place with two others who dropped back within the next mile.

About mile 16, I asked Jack how he felt and he said “OK”.  He wasn’t struggling and we were excited to see Covert in 3rd place, coming back to us!  It was hot but we were running strong and hung on to a 5:16/mile pace over the next 4 miles., passing another 2 runners and moving into 4th place at 20 miles with a time of 1:45:00.  We were closing in on Covert without great effort.  We passed him around the 21 mile mark and moved into 3rd place.  By 22 miles, Jack was feeling the lack of a long-enough long run and asked to slow the pace.

I felt great during the last 4 miles as Jack’s attitude waivered.  I gave him pep talks, assured him that no one was gaining on us and felt a great source of pride that my pacing was working!

Frank and Kenny crossed the finish together in 2:15:57.8 and we could hear the crowd cheering as we entered the Hayward Field track.  The packed stadium went wild: 2 runners and only one Olympic slot left.  It was an amazing feeling to be stride for stride with Jack, my teammate, helping him qualify for Munich.  At the finish line I dropped back so he would receive the official 3rd place.  The official time for both of us was 2:20:29.2.

Many have asked me if I had second thoughts about giving up my marathon slot on the team to Jack.  The answer is “never”.  Jack was the founding member of our Florida Track Club and the spiritual leader.  My mission was to pull him through with resources for the tough final 4 miles.   To help a friend who deserved to compete in Munich gave me a glow inside that has never gone away.

Olympic coaching duties were led by the head of the University of Oregon track program, Bill Bowerman.  He believed that the best way to see how athletes could handle the schedule of events in Munich was to follow the same schedule in the Trials.  But others disagreed.  Because 3 Florida guys finished in the top 4 positions on a hot day, athletes, coaches and journalists concluded that the marathon team could have been stronger when run separately from the track events, and in cooler temperatures.

They were wrong, and Bill was right.  The US marathon team finished better than any country has ever finished in the Olympics: 1st (Frank Shorter), 4th (Kenny Moore) and 9th (Jack Bacheler).

I am extremely proud to have had a role in this.

But as I took the long drive back to Atlanta before joining the team I had a vision.  How could I help others receive the benefits of running and fitness.  It changed my life and could change others.  But my next mission was to test myself against the best runners in the world.