Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Sunday, June 28, 2015

V 5 N. 61 24 Hour Relays? Are You Nuts?

Our friend David Baskwill posted this piece on the Penn State Track and Field Alumni and Golf Blog recently.      Penn State Track Alums and Golf Blog   Back in the day, some people actually did this kind of thing to themselves.    Nowdays we have suicide bombers, but then nobody was promising you a happier afterlife if you undertook such a venture.  If any of you ran in  a 24 hour relay and would like to share your memories, feel free to add to the comments section below this story.    It seems Runners' World was actually promoting such madness.  Where were the liability lawyers?  Rules were 10 runners on a team, each one ran one mile on a track and repeat the process for 24 hours.   If someone dropped out you had to run more frequently.   Note that David ran this thing in spikes he had been racing in for three years.  He also didn't eat , and drank very little water.   Does anyone know if these races still exist?  Reading through the piece you will note that David set the 'record' for best mile average ever for a high schooler, but alas within a week his future roommate at Penn State , the noted runner , Alan Scharsu, broke that record. If you look further down in the comments, Bruce Kritzler tells us there were some fanatics doing this with 5-man teams.

24 Hours in Hell: A Runner's World Relay

It all started with a letter. Yeah, an actual snail-mail letter in the Spring just as Track season ended. A York College miler wanted me to join others in mounting an attack on the Pennsylvania record in aRunner's World 24-Hour Relay. The ten-man team was to consist of mostly Division 2 and 3 alumni runners, with a few high schoolers thrown in. We had a pretty darn good bunch and a real shot at the record. I accepted without ever realizing what I was getting into. I would live to regret it. I even named our team the SPCA, short for Southern Pennsylvania Coalition of Athletes. The pun with the name was intentional, although I didn't realize how cruel it would become.

Runner's World had come up with a set of rules to torture runners who just couldn't get enough pain in their usual races. Ten men would alternate in succession, 1 mile at a time on a 1/4 mile track. If anyone missed a turn, they were out for good, and the team had to go on with just 9. This was more of a detriment than you would expect and it was actually counterproductive to ditch a slow runner to continue with just 9, as soon all 9 would slow more than the "slow" runner ever could.

The Relay in Fort Meade, MD had been run for several years and was one of Runner's World Premiere events. The organization was precise and meticulous. To keep times, each team had to have a representative at the start/finish line to record all the times. A man actually read the time of day out as every runner crossed the line for the 24 hours, and the team's rep had to write it down, add up the times and report to the main scorekeeper. Each and every runner at the event had all their times added up on a big scoreboard.

The event started at noon, and our team met at 11:00AM for a strategy session. We were up against the 2-time returning champions, the Alligator A team. There were probably 10 competitive teams and 30 or 40 teams made up mostly of Marines from Fort Meade. There was also a 50 mile race run concurrently, making the track very congested at all times. It turned out our "strategy" turned out to be running fast and winning, which fit right into my thoughts after a fairly good senior HS season. I was put in as our 3rd man, with the organizer leading off and a good friend and local coach as number 2.

At the noon gun, our lead-off man sprinted off into the lead, which we never relinquished. His 4:24 or so was the fastest mile of the whole event. I tied on my usual spikes, grabbed the baton and took off at a fairly good pace. My 4:47 or so was easy, and for the next 15 miles I put in consistent 4:51 to 4:53 miles, and with the error in the reading and recording of times, that meant they all were 4:52. I was very good at pace in those days, and always knew how fast I was running. I actually thought this was conservative at the time.

I never took my spikes off and had nothing to eat the whole 24 hours. I did drink ERG from a 2 quart ziplock bag I had mixed and sat on a lounge chair between miles. The 45 minutes between each one was getting shorter and shorter by this time, and I was now getting hounded by people asking who I was. I was too stupid to realize that others were looking at the big board and figuring out that a 17 year-old high school geek was in the lead for the event. The other teams were sending spies around to find out what was up. A runner form the Alligator A team started upping his pace and eventually overtook me. He was a runner from Auburn, who someone at the time told me was a sub-4 minute miler. (This turned out not to be true, but it made me feel better when I couldn't keep the lead.)

The first hint that something was wrong came on that 17th mile when the time was 4:59 with the same effort as all the others. It took longer to loosen up between each one and my times started sneaking above 5:00, despite increasing my effort. My ERG was gone, and I now started to drink whatever was around. I even thought about eating something, although I know that wouldn't have turned out well. I even dug into my bag for the Ben-Gay, which remarkably gave me one more sub-5:00 mile before the bottom gave out. Peeing red before the last couple of miles was creepy, but by then the way my legs felt, I didn't care.

At noon, the gun went off again, and everyone had to stop and wait for the measurement of the last 440 yds. Times and distances were added up and the SPCA were indeed the winners, with a total of 269 miles and 0 yards, (our last runner knew to stop right at the line so he wouldn't have to stand around for the measurements). I ended up 2nd in the individual race, with a big trophy and an average of 4:58 per mile for 27 miles. I was told by the organizers that this was a "world record for 17 year-olds", but I doubt this was true. Even if it was, six days later someone demolished it anyway with a 4:47 average, a 17 year-old in Ohio named Alan Scharsu. I found this out when we were roommates in 1980. Small world, I guess. Our Pennsylvania record was never recognized; we didn't realize we had to run it IN Pennsylvania.
The next day was the worst I ever felt after running. My whole body ached, but I still went out and slowly ran 15. The whole experience definitely took something out of me. I have always said I was never the same after it, but then it might all be in my head. People tell me that all the time!


Anonymous said...
Skwilli - I too got roped into one of those 24 hour marathons after my freshman year in HS and we shot for 5:10- 5:20 pace and I ended up with about 20 miles in that range and another 5-6 at about 6 minute pace as our team dwindled over the last couple hours and the shorter breaks KILLED your recovery!
skwilli said...
My last mile was "way over" 6:00 as we had an insurmountable lead and the team was celebrating. Only our ninth runner skipped his last mile, so we never had to run with reduced manpower. I know that would have really sucked though.
George Brose said...
I never got into one of those 24 hour jobs, thank God. Wayne Yarcho, a friend from the Kettering Striders , in his fifties at the time, ran one and was heard late in the day to comment, "You know, this is almost too much of a good thing." Wayne's other great quote was, "I'd knock my Mother down to finish one place higher."
skwilli said...
Warming down and warming up for the next one started to blend together even early into the event. And they probably will resurrect this event at some point. With Mud Runs, Zombie Runs and all the other extreme events around today, this is a more pure form of track running that is way worse than any of them. Particularly if there is a team of 10 really good runners going for a record. Someone could literally die if they drank as little as I did, didn't eat anything and wore the same spikes the entire time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

V 5 N. 60 Some Old Track Programs

No hard hitting editorials in this posting, just some neat old programs from track meets in the late 1960s in San Diego, CA , The San Diego Invitational  1966, 67, 68 and the Oklahoma City Invitational of 1969.  Maybe some of you saw these meets or ran in them.  Hope they bring back some good memories and some good stories if you care to share them.  We'll send each program in separate postings.  Thanks to Mike Solomon who sent them in to us.  I'm posting the covers and some of the inside pages.  If you want the page from a specific event, let me know.   I'll be mailing them back soon, Mike.

"Thanks George,
I never saw this program, which was the meet that I ran my first sub-4 finishing just ahead of Tim Danielson."

David Bailey

These programs bring back good memories of our sport we love so much. When people could hear the crunching of spikes on a cinder dirt track. The fans enjoyed watching the competition  as a pure athletic event, with no other interferences."

Phil Scott

V 11 N. 3 "Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher, a Book Review by Paul O'Shea

When we come across books to review, we know that there is a particular skill set needed to be fair and honest and at the same time literary...