Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 33 The Bunion Derby a Review by Thomas Coyne

Sometimes doing this blog is just too easy.  This week Thomas Coyne took  us off the treadmill of life  and sent in a review of two books by the same author Charles B Kastner about the Bunion Derby, a footrace across America held twice in 1928 and 1929.   The story rang a bell for me, because I first heard of the races back in the mid 1950's when one of my father's "men's magazines"   True or was it Argosy  had a story about that race.  I remember a picture across the title page of some heavily  tanned runners lined up in the desert about to take off on muscled legs. Yet is seems they looked more like modern racewalkers than runners.    Thomas can tell the story better than I.  He's read the books.  I hope it sharpens your appetite to hobble out and buy a copy after reading this review.  The review was originally published in Tom's brother's blog " Peace Corps World Wide"   which covers writings by former Peace Corps Volunteers.  Kastner was a volunteer in the Seychelles from 1980-82.    I've culled a few pictures from Google Images and a couple of links to some film of the race and a separate article from the Seattle Post Intelligencer on Eddie Gardner an African American who ran both years.

"The Bunion Derby"
"Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace Across America"
Syracuse University Press
April , 2014
304 pages

Reviewed by Thomas E. Coyne

Would you run across the continental United States?

Would you run across the continental United States....twice?

You will notice that I did not ask if you COULD run across the country twice.  In his book, The 1929 Bunion Derby, author Charles Kastner makes it clear there were any number of men quite willing to put on their running shoes and try....willing, just not able.

Charles Kastner has written two books about C.C. Pyle's epic, but almost forgotten, International Trans-continental Foot Races in 1928 and 1929.  The first, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2007 grew out of a 2001 Kastner article in Marathon and Beyond magazine about Ed "the Sheik" Gardner, a legendary Seattle, Washington African American runner who completed the first Bunion Derby and was 1,536 miles into the second before leg injuries force him out.

The two books deserve reading together.  While they have much in common in  detailing the difficulties, agonies, courage, and almost criminal incompetence of C.C. (Cash and Carry) Pyle that characterized the two ultra-long distance running events, there are some significant differences.  In 1928, Pyle capitalized on both the endurance fads that were sweeping the country during the 1920's Golden Age of Sports and the opening of the first transcontinental highway, Route 66.  If men try six day bicycle racing, flagpole sitting and marathon dance contests, surely they could run across the United States from west to east.  Professional distance racing was second only to horse racing as a spectator sport in the 1880s Kastner points out.

However, the first trans-continental footrace was less a race than a survival contest.  Although Pyle had seeded his starting entry field of 199 men with some experienced European long distance racing champions the majority of contestants were working class men, many unemployed, captivated by the possibility of pulling themselves out of near or actual poverty just by placing in the money; with the $25,000.00 first prize as the ultimate gold ring to be captured.  Others were adventurers, men anxious  to revive careers though the publicity the race would bring or representatives of cities or organizations.  The 55 men who actually made it from Los Angeles to New York had, by run's end, forged themselves into distance runners in the crucible of extreme weather conditions, outrageous physical demands on their bodies and terrible living conditions for the majority.  The winner's gap of fifteen hours over the second place finisher was a triumph as much of planning and execution as it was of physical prowess.

In his 1929 Bunion Derby book, Kastner describes a real race.  How real it was is shown by the two minute and forty-seven second margin between first and second place.  Kastner provides a wealth of data about the race, this time heading west from New York to Los Angeles.  Notable was the difference in the starting fields from 199 in 1928 to 77 in 1929 with 19 men finishing in Los Angeles.  A surprising number of men who competed in the first race returned for the second and twelve of them completed both races.  The second time around, however, those veterans came, not  poor men clutching at straws, but as experienced long distance runners, confident in their abilities and prepared with trainers and support teams for almost any challenge.

Key to Kastner's book is the story of Johnny Salo, second in 1928 and winner the following year.  An immigrant from Finland, a World War I veteran and a blue collar worker Salo combined determination, physical stamina and the ability to learn and adapt.  He was both a survivor and a racer.

That the men were truly racing is also demonstrated by the drop in per mile time from Andy Payne's winning effort in 1928 at 10:04 pace per mile to the 8:53 per mile maintained by 1929 winner Salo and second place finisher Pete Gavuzzi.

Kastner tries and, to a large extent, succeeds in portraying the physical agonies of the race.    However, it is difficult to really describe to someone who has never been involved with distance running the mental and bodily struggles that take place in the sport.  Even those average or elite marathon runners who experience reluctant muscles on an early morning run will find it hard to comprehend starting out, day after day after day , each morning on distances that ranged from 21 to 79.9 miles with muscles that were not just reluctant but actively resisting.  Toss in weather from desert heat to winter winds and words fail actual understanding of what it was really like to compete in those races.

Kastner does well in this 1929 Bunion Derby account, and even better in his earlier book, in showing the appalling racial hatred existent in 1920's America.  The four Negro runners who competed in the first Bunion Derby deserve the most applause, not just for completing the race, but for doing so in the face of every injustice and obstacle short of violence.  That two of them returned in 1929 was a marvel and Philip Granville who completed both races quite probably benefited from the fact of his Jamaican origin and Canadian citizenship.

There is much more to tell of the pre-Depression United States, the abilities and failings of one of the great sports promoters in American history and of two truly astounding feats of human endurance.
But I'm not going to tell you.  I want you to buy this book and its predecessor as well.  You need to read what men can do when they refuse to give up.

A last word on.....Bunion Derby.  This nickname given by the press to an unheard of footrace has always struck me as a squeamish effort by men to trivialize what they themselves could not do.  What one cannot appreciate enough to honestly applaud is cloaked in a mean and petty manner.  As Kastner noted in his original book, that shrewd observer of the American scene, Will Rogers, had it right when he wrote  "You'll find it's the grit and heart that's doing this more than bunions".

There have been other, later , trans-continental runs.....and more power to them.  However the men who in 1928 and 1929 first attempted this feat brought to the starting line something special in the way of determination and resolve.  Their story is well told.

Thomas E. Coyne has been a runner since 1947.  In all that time he has never once felt the urge to run one step more than the 26.2 mile marathon distance.

More about this race came through a brief search on the web.

Johnny Salo
John Salo #107 was given a certificate of appointment to the police department of Passaic, New Jersey, as the Bunion Derby ran through his hometown. On October 6, 1931, only three years later, he was stuck on the head by a baseball in a sand lot game and died as a result of the injury. Salo finished the race in second place, earning $10,000.

Newsreel footage:



African American Viewpoint


Link to a documentary:  The Great American Footrace


Eddie Gardner   Seattle Post Intelligencer Article 2007


A brief account of Foyil, Oklahoma's favorite son  Andy Payne

Soon after Route 66 was completed, Lon Scott, a promoter for the newly formed Route 66 Association, came up with the idea of a transcontinental footrace. Calling it the “Bunion Derby,” the race followed the new highway from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago and then on to New York City. Running from California, across the desert of Arizona, the open lands in New Mexico, through the Panhandle of Texas and right through his own hometown; through sand storms, snow storms, rain and city traffic, Andy ran 3,423 miles into New York City and the finish line 84 days after the race began. He finished hours ahead of his nearest competitor to claim the $25,000 prize. Andy went home a hero with the American public comparing him to Charles Lindbergh and other famous icons. Will Rogers, a native of Oklahoma, said, “I kind of felt jealous when I read that someone had supplanted me as favorite son.” Andy came back to Foyil, used the prize money to pay off the mortgage on his parent’s farm and married Vivian, his former high school teacher who was just one year older than him. He retired after 38 years serving as the Oklahoma Supreme Court clerk and passed away peacefully in 1977.

A French website with the finish order and times of the 1928 race and other links to the race

Andy Payne Winner of the 1928 Bunion Derby

Two of the African American Runners

Andy Payne on Right

Eddie "The Sheik" Gardner

   When I was teaching history at Trotwood-Madison High School (Dayton, OH)  in the 1970s, some of our courses were mini-courses, invented during those contentious days to make the topics more interesting and to examine learning in a more innovative way.  Maybe that happened and maybe it didn't but such attempts were typical of the 1970s.  One of those courses was the 1920's-30s and in that course we studied extreme activities such as marathon dances, flagpole sitting and the Bunion Derby.  As the track coach I found it very interesting and ironically many of the students felt the same way although none of them thought it made much sense.  Shortly after that I read Bruce Tulloh's book about running across the US, Four Million Footsteps, which was also very interesting.  He made many comments on America but I remember one in particular where he thought that much of America looked very much the same and you could not always tell where you were without knowing. After his comments I started looking at America to see if he was right and realized that he was.  You cannot tell if miles of strip malls were in New Hampshire, Illinois, Utah or California.  They pretty much all look equally ugly.  However, the natural beauty of America continues to be much the same and very different and magnificent.     Bill Schnier

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 32 Tom Hulat, John Tarrant , and Alf Tupper , Some Not So Immortals

Richard Trace today sent an article from    BBC News (April 25, 2014)  by Mary Beard writing about Roger Bannister's historic race on the Iffley Road track in Oxford, the 60th anniversary of which will be commemorated soon (May 6, 2014).   Dr. Beard, historian, could not help pointing out one of the realities of the times, the distinction of class.  Most of the runners were Oxford and Cambridge students, but a single club runner, Tom Hulatt came from Derbyshire that day to compete with the gentlemen.   Tom Hulatt worked in a colliery (a coal yard or coal mine) and had a side business, that of rat catcher.  He finished third that day behind Chris Chataway, and ahead of the other university runners.  Beard also mentions a character  Alf Tupper, a comic strip character of the times who is s working class miler.  I looked up some of those cartoons and have posted them below.  Where else but England could milers become heroes of cartoon strips.   The Alf Tupper character has recently been revived in the British papers.   Alf always goes for his fish and chips.

The third bit in this piece is the discovery of a book   "The Ghost Runner"  by Bill Jones.  This is a biography of John Tarrant, another English working class runner of the 1950's who was banned for life having written in his application to be in a running club that he had received 17 Pounds expense money when he was an 'amateur' boxer prior to his running career.   The banning failed to stop Tarrant from jumping into races all over England.  At one time in his 'career' he set the world best times for 40 miles and 100 miles.   A review of the book from the site  The Iron You also appears in this posting.

Below, an excerpt from the BBC News piece on the first four minute mile:

But the most disconcerting side of the Iffley Road race is its glaring display of class division. Sport is well known to reflect, or to reinforce, social, cultural and political hierarchies. But the class stand-off was never better captured than in the Alf Tupper strip cartoons that appeared in British comics and papers between the 1950s and the 1990s. Alf was a brilliant miler, he was also a tough guy who worked as a welder, and was regularly insulted by his languid, upper-class fellow athletes - though Alf, of course, usually came out on top.
If we look a bit closer at the line-up on 6 May 1954, we'll glimpse just the same split: Alf against the rest. The mile event was part of a bigger competition between Oxford University and the national Amateur Athletics Association. Although we only ever see photographs of Bannister, Brasher and Chataway, there were six runners in all. Oxford had a team of two students who seem to have ended up fourth and fifth (though the crowding of the track at the end of the race made it hard to tell). They were supposed to have been a team of three, but - in a scatty undergraduate way - the third member turned up at the last minute to watch, not realising he was supposed be running, and hadn't brought his kit with him.

Tom Hulatt (far left), Bannister (third from left), Chataway, (second from left), Brasher (second from right)  Tom Hulatt (far left), Bannister (third from left), Chataway, (second from left), Brasher (second from right)
There were four members of the AAA squad - the three we know about, who had all studied at either Oxford or Cambridge, went on to glittering careers in sport, academia, politics and the BBC and earned two knighthoods and a CBE between them, and then Tom Hulatt, from a local athletics club in Derbyshire, who finished third behind Chataway. Hulatt worked in the local colliery near Tibshelf, and had a rat-catching business on the side. His training was largely running the five miles to and from work.
Hulatt may have had a great day in Oxford, but he was certainly the odd man out. Before the event Bannister came up to him and advised him to "run his own race" (it was probably a kindly gesture, but it could also have been telling him to stay out of their way). Afterwards, the Oxford students presumably went back to their colleges, the Bannister trio went celebrating and clubbing in London, Hulatt got his programme signed by Bannister, Brasher and Chataway and took the train back to Derbyshire.
I doubt that, outside his home village, Hulatt who died in 1990, will be a big part in our commemoration of the mile-record of 1954. Rightly, perhaps, the moment will belong to Bannister. But happily Alf Tupper is coming back into the limelight - in the sports magazine, Athletics Weekly, our wonderful working-class runner is just now starting a brand new cartoon series.

April 26, 2012

Book Review: The Ghost Runner - The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop

is one of those books you just can’t stop reading once you started. The story is
well written and I was so involved I stayed up into the night to finish it. I
liked it so much that I keep talking about it to everybody.

other words, if you really want to read a true inspiring story: that’s your

one of the most moving, engrossing, and tragic, tales in the history of
athletics I’ve ever heard of.

the story of John Tarrant. A young teenager living in post-war Buxton (a city
close to Manchester in the UK) who at 19 years old gave up amateur boxing (after
some disastrous fights) and decided that he had what it takes to become a
successful runner.

believing in his potential, he applied to join a running club, naively declaring
an insignificant £17 of expenses reimbursement he got paid during his short
lived boxing career.

result was a lifetime ban from all domestic and international competitions. Why?
Because according to the regulations in force, the expenses reimbursement meant
that Tarrant had competed for money and this violated the strict codes
concerning amateurism in British athletics.

Tarrant was far from giving up his hope of becoming a runner. And in August of
1956 in Liverpool, he jumped from the crowd into a field of high-profile
marathon runners and started running with them.

leading for 15 miles, he keeled over and had to be carried off in an ambulance.
However, the local paper had gone to press while he was still in the lead and
the national press soon picked up the story; w
the Daily Express coining the nickname which would become his alter ego:
ghost runner

the next two years, Tarrant gate crashed races all over the UK, always running
without a number.

at athletic meetings all over England became used to an extraordinary

tall man with unusually sunken eyes would hang around at the start dressed in a
long overcoat. As soon as the starting gun went, he would throw off his overcoat
and join in the race, despite the frantic efforts of stewards to stop him.

no number on his vest, he sped to the front of the field where he remained until
he either won, or - almost as often - collapsed from exhaustion.

by the nightmare of his ban, he ran at ever-longer distances, setting the world
record at 40 miles and then 100 miles. He fled to the USA and then South Africa,
where he ran as the only white in all-black road races ("a ghost in a nation of
ghosts") before cancer finally claimed him in 1975. He was aged just 42, and he
died unfulfilled and largely unknown.

ran up to 5,000 miles a year, always hoping he might prevent against the

the men who controlled British athletics regarded Tarrant with deep disapproval,
the public was fascinated by his exploits.

the kitchen of their Hereford council flat, his wife counted the pennies. Out on
the road, he merely totted up the miles. Always the outsider, even where history
was concerned.

was a man driven by resentment. Brought up in a particularly rough children’s
home in Kent, he was beaten and bullied almost from the moment he could walk.
Running, it seems, was the only way he could outpace his demons.

now the athletics world had moved on and Tarrant was a forgotten man. He might
have stayed that way had not Bill Jones been given a copy of a memoir Tarrant
wrote shortly before his death. Idly, Jones began to leaf through it, and was
promptly gripped. ‘
he writes, ‘
been haunting me ever since
bet you’ll be moved by the life and death of this incredible man.

this book, you will not be disappointed.

Iron You


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 30 Tim Danielson Will Use Modified 'Twinkie' Defense for Murder of His Ex-Wife

Tim Danielson, the second 4 minute high school miler, will use a modified 'Twinkie' defense, in response to the charge that he murdered his ex-wife.  San Diego ABC affiliate Channel 10 has been covering the story.  You may remember that the accused murderer of Harvey Milk, San Francisco city councilor, claimed that eating Twinkies caused a change in his blood chemistry that caused him to be violent, thus mitigating his killing of Milk and a second man.  That killer got a reduced sentence.    Californa no longer accepts that type of defense, and rather than accepting  diminished capacity due to use of a drug,  in Danileson's case, Chantix, a smoking cessation drug, he can only plea  'diminished actuality', whatever that means in legal mumbo jumbo.   Chances of that plea succeeding are very slim in the state.     Chantix side effects are listed as depression and violent behavior among others.  Pfizer the pharmcutical maker of the drug, claims that Danielson's blood tests showed there was no Chantix in his system.  How quick a washout time is listed is not mentioned.   Danielson has been sitting in the can for over two years  (speedy trial?) but considering he is facing 50 years to life if convicted, any defense plea may be worth a shot.  He hasn't denied shooting his ex.  They were divorced, separated, and she had moved back into his home and was dating other men.   Depression could have been well explained even without taking the drug.  As we hear more, we will keep you informed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 29 Some Musings and Random Thoughts about Boston, and Other Things

Well,  I got an eyeful of Boston yesterday.  Somehow being here in Canada (Vancouver Island)  makes certain sporting events more accessible on the tube.   I could watch the race from start to finish without having to listen to the talking heads on NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and the rest.  The day before we found reference to the 1964 documentary of the Boston Marathon and were able to compare those days to the present.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69nWnL2mxbs That documentary was made by Harvard film students and they used Eric Segal the author of Love Story and the lesser known  The Games, both starring Ryan O'Neal as an interviewee.  Segal had lots of detractors in his time, but he did bring the marathon to the attention of the uninitiated public.  He was even a color commentator for ABC Wild World of Sports at the Munich Olympics.   Can you remember his kneeling down on the Munich course where it became a gravel surface in a park, picking up a handful of stones, letting them fall through his fingers and stating something like,  "This is a  point of international controversy, running an Olympic marathon part way on a gravel surface."    Anyway that Harvard documentary starts with Segal driving over the Boston course the day before the race with his graduate student who would be running his first marathon.  Segal had 4 Bostons under his belt.  It's all a bit whimsical, but a lot of the stuff is the same sort of thing one would be saying the day before a major event in one's life.  Exaggeration mixed with minimization, caching fear and anticipation.    On race day the film cuts  to Segal and the grad student being driven out to Hopkinton and being in awe of the fact 400 runners had signed up.  That kind of crowd was simply unfathomable in those days.  And it was truly unfathomable for the organizers, considering they gave physicals to every  runner the morning of the race.  They couldn't get everyone to the line in time, so the start was delayed.   It was cold, snowing, just a total crap day.     Of note  the course was opened back up to traffic long before the tailenders arrived.  Some were asking the film crew which way the course went when they got downtown.   The race was centered around the Lenox Hotel, and it was the Lenox doormen in full uniform who were working the finish line.  Again even the finish line was shut down before everyone got in.  Today a Cub Scout troop could put on a bigger race. 

Now for yesterday's race.  A couple of things come to mind, and I have not studied the results in depth yet.   It was an incredible crowd of 38,000 runners.  The only way to get them out 26 miles from downtown to start on a two lane street was to release them in waves of about 9,000 at 30 minute intervals.  It is mind boggling to think of the logistics of moving all those people and getting their equipment bags back to the finish line.  Every school bus in the area must have  been in use on Patriots Day.

We Stand Corrected:

At the risk of saying, ‘I heard it on NPR…”
I heard on NPR last Friday that the runner’s equipment bags would not be returned to them and that all clothing would be donated to charity. - Apparently, this was a risk mitigation strategy in light of last year’s bombing.
So, next year, when my buddy Alan Parker toes the line in Hopkinton by virtue of running 3:14 in his first marathon a few days ago in Louisville at the age of 45, he’ll have to lose the sweats, literally. – Way to go Big Al.
Rapper  (David Rapp, Denver, CO) 

They divided the wheel chair runners, elite women, and elite men into separate starting groups as well. 

Shalane Flanagan must have been under incredible pressure to perform in this race, she being a native of the Boston area, one of the great world class female runners, the first anniversary of the bombings, subject of a 60 minutes piece, and with the presence of a super women's field.  The only thing worse worse would have been a Sports Illustrated cover story.   She took it out hard at record and personal best pace, but she seemed to be noticeably 'pressing' to do that, a slight over striding.  There were seven or eight African women right on her butt  who  seemed to be under striding.  They almost looked like it was just another day walking to market for them.  They could have been carrying baskets on their heads as is the fashion in Kenya.   The TV nabobs missed the breaking point for Shalane.  I think it was in the hills, but all of a sudden there were only four Africans in the picture.  To her credit, Shalane did not pack it in completely, and though she slowed a bit, she still hung on and got a PR at 2hrs 22 min.  Rita Jeptoo was devastating in the last miles even running a sub 5 minutes on one of them.  She was the class of the field, and it was probably in Flanagan's strategy to run some of that finish capability out of Jeptoo.  It simply didn't work, and most likely would not have worked even had Flanagan kept the pace going through the hills, because Jeptoo maintained the pace that Flanagan lost.   

In the men's race, an incredible array of talent stepped to the line.  Credentials were impeccable.  Therefore Meb Keflezighi was a wonderful surprise.   He went off in the front row of runners from the start.  I don't think he ever looked at anyone's derriere the whole way well maybe Hall's a bit.   When the Kenyans let him go around ten miles they must have thought that at 39 years his winning career was over and that he would come back to them.   At one time he had a 1 min. 21 sec. lead.  A few of them reeled him back in the closing stages of the race, but Meb had kept something in the bucket for that challenge, so five seconds was the closest they got to him and it was an 11 second margin at the end.   Here is the example of having a plan, sticking to it and finding that you have guessed right as to what would happen.  Flanagan also had a plan, however this day the plan was the wrong one to win. The city of  Boston must have felt some vindication that they got the race run off safely, that an American won,  that the hometown favorite did well even though coming up short.  Simply a great day for the sport.

Other thoughts today.    On his website Human Limits  http://www.drmichaeljoyner.com/  Dr. Michael Joyner has some interesting ideas about how many years, how far and how fast we can perform well  as a species.

Several examples are cited, including  Bernard Hopkins who recently consolidated the world light heavyweight boxing title at the age of 49.  Michael Phelps is now serious about trying to swim in a fifth Olympics.  Ashton Eaton ran the 400IH in 50.1 in his first try at Mt. Sac last weekend, and Steve Way  a 39 year old overweight 214 pound smoker got fit and ran a 2 hr. 16 min. marathon at London last week.  I'm sure many of you can think of examples of other aging athletes making comebacks, performing well into their Masters age years, or being discovered outside the ranks and coming up with great performances such as Steve Way.  My thoughts on  talent identification go to my friend Bill Blewett who never broke 5 minutes for the mile in high school but walked on at the University of Oklahoma and set three one mile pr's in his first cross country practice.  He eventually ran a 4:02 mile and a sub 14 minute 3 miles indoors after college.    His son, a minor league baseball pitcher, had two Tommy John surgeries and was able to throw 97mph after the second surgery.  Bill wrote an excellent book on pitching called  The Science of the Fastball  and is working on another on distance running which I predict will be a fascinating book for all of us to read. 

I've recently been in touch with Ricardo Romo who held the mile record at University of Texas for 41 years.  His is an inspiring and fascinating story which we'll bring to you in the near future.   So keep checking in on us.  If you would like to be notified when a new posting is made, please contact me at irathermediate@gmail.com .    Title the message   track blog notification, so I'll know it is not spam coming in .  
Best wishes,
George Brose

Friday, April 18, 2014

Vol 4 No. 28 Boston Marathon, Thoughts from Some of our Readers

April 18, 2014

The Boston AA will put on its 118th  marathon in three days.   If you have watched TV in the past week or two. you cannot have missed coverage of the memorials, the testimonies of victims of last year's  bombings, the triumph of many in their recoveries and the lingering grief of the families of those who did not survive.  Because of the bombing,  this year's race will have unprecedented coverage, that only a media craving  ratings could possibly wish to present to a public that has little fundamental knowledge or interest about the race up front.   In a normal year we would expect to see ten seconds of coverage showing the men's and women's winners.   This year we  will be inundated with human interest stories that will supplant what is going on with the race itself. 

Since this is a blog mainly about the past, I will put out to our readers some comments that came from John Bork and Orville Atkins.  John, an NCAA 880 champion, who never ran a marathon, and Orville, who was a top marathoner in Canada, and a fifth place finisher at Boston in 1962.  Both men found their way to California in the 1960s and are still there.   Both trained under Mihaly Igloi.  They are sages about our sport, and I expose you to some of their memories and wisdom.   Ernie Cunliffe was one of America's top 880 men in 1960, ran at the Rome Olympics, was on a 4x880 WR team, and set the 1000 yards world record indoors.   Steve Price was a top 100 finisher at Boston in the early sixties and coached many very good female distance runners.  Tom Coyne ran at Western Michigan and has contributed several articles to this tome.     I'll throw in a few of my own memories of Boston and hope that some of you might send in some of your memories and thoughts to add to this post.  Just write me at the address in our header.  Thanks , and enjoy our blog.  
George Brose

My Friend Tom Trumpler and I were having an e-cussion about the difficuty of the
Boston Marathon Course, as touted by the unknowing press..

I mentioned that I had seen a chart sometime in the past demonstrating that Boston actually had a gradual drop with "Heartbreak Hill" and a few others that came at just the wrong place in the course. It turns out that the Boston ccourse has the steepest down hill grade of any of the five
major marathons. 

So Tom, dug deep into his google search skills and came up with the site below (see Link below)

At least 3 of you guys, herewith have conquered this course, of course,:: Nick Kitt, Orville Atkins,
and Paul Bishop. Here's to you! Guys.

Monday is Patriots Day. So, go for a run in the early AM, then turn on the TV at 10AM PDT
and watch the marathon race(s) unfold.

60 Minutes did a great profile on Shalane Flanagan's quest to train for and win this year's women's
race. (She was 4th. last year!) She grew up in the Boston area and both her parents were good marathoners, I was told.

But, for me any 26 mile course is tougher than I care to imagine.
So, on Patriot's day my running buddy Paul Bishop and I will run our usual 3 miles
Happy Easter
Aka John Bork


Dear Ernie:

You are a better statistician than I.

I heard her parent's pedigree's on the 60 minutes profile but, could not remember them accurately like yourself.

Good to hear from you, Ernie.

Happy Easter,


Below are some great recollections and comments by my old buddy, Orville Atkins in Santa Monica, CA.
Orville's best finish was 5th. place at Boston in 1961 ?  Later I coached Orville for a year in about 1967.


Yep, Boston is an aided course.  I have written a lot on the message boards about THE race but haven't paid too much attention to it being aided.  I still consider it the best race of them all.  Massachusetts will be shut down Monday as it is every Patriots day.  Two of my neighbours, non runners, said they grew up in Boston and every year their family stood on the side of the road and watched the runners go by on Patriots day.  I was going to say flow by but when I first raced it in 1962 there were only 181 starters.  Families do that generation after generation  The race had no females no liquids or gels and only splits for the lead runner.  The leaders' times were given in each of the towns the race went through, so they were at odd distances.  When I started to lose the leaders about ten miles into the race an official ran back to me at ten and half miles and said I would not get any more splits unless I caught up.
I ran the race 4 more times after that first year, the last being in 1974.
Marathon courses were often not accurate in those days.  Culver City was labeled short for many of its years.  And in 1957 it was found that Boston had become 1,183 short so it was lengthened.
What I found the hardest on me in 1962 was the gently sloping downhill after heartbreak Hill resulting in my being unable to walk down stairs the next day.  A problem in Boston is that many start too fast.  The first 10 miles are rolling and basically downhill.  Your quads get pounded before the hills and the downhill slope
!81 starters and between 500,000 and a million spectators!
But now we look to the future.  The race will continue to change but it will always be the oldest and the greatest.

Many thanks for sending me Orville's blurb. Neat to hear what one of the "greats" describe what I thought only happened to us mere mortals.    Thanks


The Boston Course drops from a 462 foot elevation at Hopkinton to 20 feet at the finish.  The drop is fairly continuous.

However, from mile 16 to mile 22 (Lower Newton Falls to Cleveland Circle) there is a rise from 49 feet to 236 feet and
then a drop to 147 feet.  From the 147 foot level it goes gently down to the 20 foot level.

The Newton Hills from mile 16 on are killers but the long downhills probably impact the runners the most.

Take care,

Tom Coyne


I ran Boston in 1978, the year Bill Rodgers beat  Jeff Wells  from Dallas by a few seconds.  A Yugoslav expat carrying a placard almost interfered getting between them just before the finish line.   I went there hoping to do a sub 2hr 30 having had an easy 2hr 35min.  PR the previous October at Quebec City.  However as Orville stated the early downhills seem to pound your quads into submission by the end of the race.  Heartbreak Hill was not difficult.  Lots of spectators yelling and screaming after about 4 miles. No splits and no mile signs anywhere.    Many people had a list with names and numbers, and they were actually calling your name or the state you were from when they could find it quickly enough.  I do remember the down hill after Heartbreak becoming really bad and having to walk at that point and getting passed by the leader and eventual winner of the women's race, Gayle Barron from Atlanta.  She was very attractive.   Wonder if she is still doing television broadcasting which she was locally in Atlanta at that time.  I blew up pretty badly and ran 2HR. 51 min. 50sec.    and was 1259th by the time I crossed the line.  In those days you had to have a sub 2hr. 50 min to even get in the race.  And it wasn't very expensive.  Maybe $20 but I don't recall that number.     I finished one place behind  Tom Antczak from Wisconsin who had won some national level race that year, so I wasn't the only one having a bad day.    I went into the parking garage and lay down on a cot just to recover, and there was some poor soul moaning and groaning next to me and some doc or nurse was cutting away  blisters from his feet.  He was saying something like, "I can't stand pain."     I looked over and it was Bill Rodgers , the winner.  Thirty minutes earlier he had been on the victory stand.  Obviously he was being facetious.    A week later I had my best ever 6 miles   30:30.   I always tell people to try a moderately long race right after a marathon, I think because your endurance is really jacked up after a marathon if you didn't get hurt.    One other highlight for me was getting kicked out of the little high school gym dressing room in Hopkinton by Jock Semple.  Also got a great Boston  cussing out from him.  It was supposedly reserved for the elite runners.  There were no Porta Johns then, and people were doing their business all over the village green near the start.  Also a number of people were on the gym floor getting dressed, men and women completely starkers .  The things we remember.  George 

Here is a link to Gayle Barron who won in 1978 from the Atlanta Constitution.
Gayle Barron in the late 70's

Gayle in 2006 still looking great.  Guess Waffle House taken in moderation is not too debilitating. If you live out West or overseas you wouldn't understand this institution.  It's a diner much like a good bar.  You're only a stranger there once.
I'll have my hash browns smothered, covered, scattered, splattered,  slashed, bashed, hashed, and mashed

Gayle touts the Waffle House as a healthy place to eat if you can believe it.  Sounds like the Woody Allen film  "Take the Money and Run".   By the way ,  Woody was an alleged 2:06 half miler in high school.  Ok so he's gone somewhat astray since then. 
 Here is a composite of photos of the 1978 leaders taken by Mike Hewitt somewhere out on the course, possibly on Heartbreak Hill, but I can't be certain.   Mike, a 14.2 hurdler at Oklahoma  was my college roommate. He  lived in Winchester, Mass. and hosted me that weekend.   His wife Patty Mac was inspired by the events and started running after that, and she became a very good age group runner in the 80's until a knee problem forced her off the roads.
Top Row   (L) Bill Rodgers, Melrose, Mass., 1st 2:10:13   (2) Eda Tikkanen Finland 3rd 2:11:15
Middle Row (L) Frank Shorter, Boulder, CO 23rd 2:18:15 (M) Randy Thomas, Brighton, Mass. 5th 2:11:25  (R) Don Kardong, Spokane, 7th 2:14:07, Jeff Wells, Dallas, 2nd 2:10:15
Bottom  (L)  George Brose, Muncie, IN, 1259th, 2:51:50  (LC) Bob Hall  (RCenter) Yutaka Taketomi, Japan, 9th 2:14:34  (R) Tom Fleming, Bloomfield, NJ, 10th 2:14:44
Below are pages from the results book sent out to all finishers in 1978

Top 80 men 1978.  How many do you remember?  How many did you know?

Top 63 Women 1978

The following links appeared on Walt Murphy's blog This Day in Track and Field.  One is a recently discovered documentary on the Boston Marathon.

Walt Murphy!  Now there is a name from the very beginning.  More stirred up memories by George.  It was 1964 and I was moving to the US by way of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  Jim Snider and I arrived in Los Angeles the night before our plane to Tokyo.  We knew no one but Carl Reid had paved the way and we went to Dorsey High School where we met John Bork.  We slept on cots in the Bork living room and the next day started our trip.  We spent time in Honolulu and watched the Tokyo Opening Ceremonies on Television in the hotel. Also while there we ran in a short race.  And then came Tokyo. I still thk it was the best Olympics of the 7 I have seen.  I remember the pole vault final being on the 4th day of the games at one o'clock and going on and on as the competitors played chess.   Most of the spectators left, the lights were dimmed in most of the stadium and many of us moved so we were sitting in the area of the pole vault pit.  That is my first memory of Walt.  He was there too.  I have all the jumps and passes recorded in my "Official Programme"  Both Fred Hansen and Wolfgang Reinhardt missed twice at an Olympic record of 16 feet 8 and three-quarters.  The 2 vaulters each had one jump left and looked very lonely standing in the darkened stadium  contemplating that last chance.  Hansen was first and made it. Reinhardt then missed and the 9 hour competition ended.  I do not remember seeing Walt since that night of October 17, 1964 But I hear of him often  He is THE Track and Field expert.  
John Bork mentioned coaching me.  After my time with Coach Mihaly Igloi in 1966 John began to coach me and in 1967 I ran my best Boston Marathon time.
Those are happenings as I remember them now.
Oh,and I Also I vividly remember that on Heart Break Hill in '62 I was very tempted to drop out.  There was a head wind, it was raining and I was cold.  I remember repeating to myself  several times that I had blown.  Tempted to drop out I told myself that I could not drop out while in the top ten.

I just got through all your blogs and addenda(s) Some of my recollections included the all night bus ride back to Dayton, Ohio. My quads were so sore, 65' I think, that I had to go up and down the bus station(s) stairs backwards. After my second Boston, I drove the legendary Dick King part of the way back to Chicago. On the way there, we spent the night at Dick's sister's place somewhere in upstate New York. She, along with her mortician husband and kids lived on the second floor of a mortuary.

Dick, along with the equally legendary Arne Richards, never had a car but he and Arne had almost all of the bus and train schedules for the entire Mid-West. As was his custom, Dick often wore a white dress shirt to race in.    They are both gone to the big race in the sky and are missed. We need more eccentric, interesting people like Dick and Arne.

Steve Price
Steve,  thanks for that, and another eccentric to add to the list is  Claire Duckham, the race walker, bike racer, marathon runner who was an avid collector of cool stuff including his Ducatti motorcycle.  When Claire was in his sixties, he drove the bike from Dayton to Boston , over 500 miles, ran the race and drove home the next day.  As any biker knows, a five hundred mile  ride is a challenge under any conditions, but the day after running the Boston marathon and in your sixties? Holy crap. They don't make them like that anymore.    I remember just 8 or 9 years ago when Claire was well into his 90's, I saw an exotic car going down the road with two bicycles mounted on the roof.  As I passed the car to see who could juxtapose those two bikes on the roof of a hot sporting vehicle, it was Claire at the wheel and a pretty young lady in the passenger seat.   Remember when we went to his 80th birthday party and he had recently done a  200 mile bicycle ride, the double century?  Claire jokingly confided that the only problem he had was getting the bicycle seat out of his ass.   George


A Ride Over the Course Lasting 8 Minutes
Race morning here on Vancouver Island.   The women started at 6:30AM our time, men will go at 7:00am (10:00am Boston).
Women are off at 5:09 first mile men at 4:44 in the first.   Bright sunny but not warm. 
I'm blessed with Canadian tv and some sports channel which has the race from start to finish.  What a change after watching the 1964 documentary last night.  The organizers could barely handle a 400 runner race start. Today about 36,000.  

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