Thursday, June 11, 2015

V. 5 No. 55 Arjan Gelling , Dutch Canadian All-American

Arjan Gelling   Dutch Canadian All American

In 1967 with the Mexico City Olympics on the near horizon, the NCAA decided to experiment with high altitude distance running by scheduling the University Division Cross Country Championships at Laramie, WyomingLaramie is a chilly, desolate, windy place in late November with an altitude of 7165 feet, compared to Mexico City’s 7200 feet.  Most of the teams and individuals  came into Laramie cold turkey having done nothing to prepare for this new type of challenge.  Howcver a few schools were located in the Rockies and were bound to have some advantage with their runners living and training at 5000 feet or better.  It was no surprise that  Gerry Lindgren, the young fragile looking athlete from Washington State University  won the meet.  He had already beaten the Russians at 10,000 meters when he was in high school and then had run the 10,000 at the Tokyo Olympics though hobbled by a foot injury.  The very unexpected result was the second place finish by an unheralded Canadian, Arjan Gelling, who should not even have been in that meet.  His school, the University of North Dakota was considered small peanuts running in the other NCAA Division called the ‘College’ Division.  This was before the creation of Divisions I, II and  III.   The College Division was  bush league compared to NCAA elites such as Kansas, Cal, Stanford, and defending champion San Jose State.  
Arjan’s story begins in  Holland where he was born in 1946 in the town of Heemstede, about 20 Km from Amsterdam.  His father was a civil servant in the tax office and taught a fitness course to employees after work.  Arjan remembers watching people lumber around a soccer field when he was a young lad, and perhaps he ran along with them.  But before his running could go further on Dutch soil,   the family emigrated to Canada in 1958 settling in Port Arthur, Ontario now called Thunder Bay at the northern edge of Lake Superior.  Arjan’s English was limited to “Look , boy, there goes the rabbit.”  He was placed with children his age in school and handed a Sears catalogue and told to cut out pictures, paste them in a scrapbook , and learn the names of things.   His dad had already learned some English listening to the BBC in Holland.  Within the year he could manage to do his school work in the new language.  He had a paper route and would run to deliver his papers to get home earlier.  By the time he got into Lakeview High School and saw the track team working out one day, he thought he might be able to do that sport and approached the track coach.  In his first meet at age 16, he ran the mile in 4:56, an age group record for the school.
May 20, 1963,   Arjan Winning That First Big Race in Thunder Bay

Arjan went on to win the District meet in the mile.  But his real breakthrough came when he entered the Thunder Bay Legion Road Race, a ten miler, and won it as a 16 year old on May 20, 1963.  His time was 60 minutes and some change.  He would win it three more times over the next four years.   That race is one of Canada’s oldest having started in 1910.  It’s been discontinued twice during the World Wars, and wasn’t revived after the Second until that eventful race of 1963.  Arjan modestly admits that the only other runners that day were about 20 other high school kids and some teachers.  But in 2013 exactly 50 years to the day later at the age of 66 he established a new record for his age group.   Being a man of numbers as we shall see, Arjan told the organizer that he would try to run the race in 63:50.    Sixty-three minutes would be to commemorate that first year he ran, and fifty seconds for the fiftieth anniversary.   He ran  63:48.  There was another aspect to this performance to make it very significant.  At the time of that 2013 race, Arjan was in remission from a serious bout of prostate cancer.  He had been reduced to walking for months during the heavy duty radiation and  hormone treatments.  Yet he came back to record a world class time for his age group. 

“In September , 2006, I had a biospsy done at the suggestion of my urologist.  That biopsy revealed I had a Gleason 9 score, suggesting a very aggressive form of prostate cancer.  I was put on androgen deprivation therapy immediately.  In September and October, I had 37 sessions of radiation.  I stayed on the hormone treatment and was told that my cancer had gone into remission in December , 2008.”

But getting back to 1963,  Arjan would go on to record a 4:22 mile by his senior year in high school and was a strong cross country runner.   He began writing to colleges including the University of Oregon, and as he recalls, he may have had a small stipend offered by Coach Bowerman to become a Duck.  But the University of North Dakota got him for room and board,  part of which fell under a ‘foreign student academic scholarship’.  He thinks he really chose North Dakota over Oregon, because UND was less than a day’s drive from Thunder Bay

Arjan Gelling (2nd row left) with his Fighting Sioux Teammates
and coach Frank Zazula
As he was primarily a self coached runner, his UND coach Frank Zazula gave Arjan lots of leeway in setting his own workouts.  He didn’t cut corners, he loved to run, so he got plenty of mileage often 90-95 miles per week.  Anyone who trained in those days knows that this far exceeded most of the elite running programs in North  American colleges.  His philosophy was and is still to work harder than the competition.  Even if it wasn’t always true, he feels that believing it gives a runner an edge.  He’s not sure he would have thrived under the Bowerman program being told every step to run and taking forced days off, but he wonders about that to this day.  Maybe it might have made a difference.  At North Dakota he ran a 4:10.9 mile PR beating well known runner Van Nelson in a meet at Bemidji, Minnesota.  He remembers Nelson being ticked off about that and telling him he would not be anywhere near him in the three mile later that day.  Nelson was partially correct, defeating Arjan, but it wasn’t by much.   Gelling would go on to record a 9:07 two mile and a 29:21 six mile while running for North Dakota.  He has eight All Ameican medals on his trophy wall.  Cross country though was his first love.
Eight All American Awards

In 1967, the top 15 College Division runners were eligible to run in the Big Show, the University Division in Laramie.  Arjan feels that everything at Laramie was in his favor.  There was snow on the ground (he was a Canadian), it was flat (he hated hills), and the weather was miserable, 25 degrees F  or -7C (it’s what happens in Canada in November).  Everybody else was miserable, so his mental fitness really gave him the proverbial edge.

After another XC win on the UND campus
His friend and teammate Peter Hale who covered sports for the Grand Forks Herald wrote this:

Washington State’s Lindgren, who ran in the 1964 Olympics for the U.S. successfully defended his NCAA crown, turning back Gelling’s challenge at the four and one half mile mark and finishing with a 40 yard lead.

Lindgren’s time was 30:45.6 for the 6 mile course…..almost entirely over the fields outside the Laramie golf course.

Gelling’s time was 31:01, five seconds ahead of the Air Force Academy’s Mike Ryan and ten seconds better than Colorado’s Craig Runyan.

‘That last mile was the toughest I’ve ever run,’ Lindgren commented after the race.

Although he said the altitude bothered him quite a bit, the 5’6” Lindgren set a blistering pace from the beginning that left everyone in the 113 man field except Gelling, a virtual unknown, trailing out of reach.

Gelling moved up from 10th place after one mile to second at 2 miles, and stayed 10 to 30 yards behind Lindgren until the finishing mile and one half.
Gelling in third early on.  Note the head gear on the second  (San Jose State ?)runner.   Did he borrow this from his mother?
Then on a slight downhill slope, he pulled to within a yard of Lindgren,  ‘I knew he was working hard because I could see the sweat dripping down his neck’ said Gelling.

‘I  was really surprised when I realized I was running right behind Gerry Lindgren for the national championship.  I thought of a picture I have in a scrapbook at home of Lindgren beating the Russians in the 1964 U.S. Russia dual meet.’

Meanwhile Lindgren sped up, reopened his lead and sprinted in 40 yards ahead of Gelling.

Gelling who before the race was hoping for a spot on the 15 man major college All America team said ‘after two miles I thought I could get second.  I was really hurting, but I wanted to beat Lindgren.’

Gelling said he was quite satisfied with second.  He beat such nationally known distance stars as Ryan, Runyan, Big Ten champion Larry Wieczorck of Iowa (fifth) and Sam Bair of Kent State (ninth) – but added ‘There’s nothing like winning.’
The Track and Field News Dec. 1967 Cover.  Bottom picture Lindgren leading Gelling.
Note top article is penned by Bruce Kidd.
He finished first in seven of ten meets this season including national titles at the NCAA College Division and the U.S. Track and Field Federation championships.  Only St Cloud State’s Van Nelson and University of Alberta’s Ray Haswell, both prominent in the U.S. and Canada beat him before Monday.

Disappointment was to follow the next summer when Gelling went to the Canadian Olympic trials in Toronto.   He was entered in the 10,000 meters knowing that the top three could be selected to run at Mexico City.  The race was held at night in the CNE Stadium, but it was hot and humid. 
Of the three Olympic trials runners from Thunder Bay, only Dom Domansky would make the Canadian team in the 400 meters
“I was psyched out by that heat and just couldn’t handle it.  I finished seventh.  My summer job didn’t help much for training for the Olympic trials either.  I worked at a sawmill making telephone poles carrying the end cut offs away from the blade.  That was the summer between my sophomore and junior years at North Dakota.”

An NCAA Program of That Period
That Fall of 1968, Arjan returned ot the NCAA University Division meet having qualified with a 5th  place at the College Division meet.  This time he came up against the formidable Van Cortlandt Park cross country course in the Bronx, NY.  The steep sharp Cemetery Hill was  definitely not to his liking, and he finished a less than stellar 81st place in 31:11.  Mike Ryan,  from Air Force Academy who finished in third just behind Arjan the previous year won this time in a course record 29:16. 

Touring NYC prior to the 1968 NCAA in a somewhat Kerouacian pose

After university, Arjan put competitive running to the side for almost 7 years.  He had some nagging injuries including an IT Band problem.  He returned to Thunder Bay and enrolled at Lakehead University to get a teaching degree to be a high school geography teacher and track coach.  He was discouraged from that goal when his counselors told him there was no demand for high school teachers, and he should go into elementary school teaching.  He did run a couple of cross country races while at Lakehead, but after a semester of Kindergarten and 1st grade teacher training he threw in the towel.  He took a couple of dead end jobs in the area, then one day in 1974 he decided to buy a bus ticket to Vancouver, and he’s been on the West Coast ever since.

One of the first days in Vancouver he went to Stanley Park to watch a cross country race and met an old friend from Grand Forks, Brian McCalder who was then head of BC Athletics and still is.  They became roommates  and rented a house together.  In 1976 he began working as a mapmaker and geological draftsman for Archer Cathro Associates an exploration consulting company that specialized in the geology of the north.  For the next twenty-five years Arjan spent his summers walking through the Yukon collecting soil samples, taking measurements, doing gopher work for the bush crews and returning to Vancouver each winter to put everything down on paper.  He was able to retire at the age of 54.

Staying Fit in the Yukon
 After his first summer of hiking and backpacking through the North, Gelling feels he maintained fitness and rehabbed the IT Band problem, so that he was able to get back into running.  He eventually regained his running shape and has been very successful at the master’s level.  He had reduced his mileage considerably from his 90-95 per week.  When he was in Whitehorse  in the Yukon, instead of hanging out with  the crews in the evenings playing cards, he would put in the miles on the roads and trails.  One of the White Horse races offered up expenses for the winner to go to Boston for the Marathon.  He finished third, but the first two guys were outsiders, so the prize was then given to Arjan.  However when the organizers found out that he wasn’t living year round in the Yukon, he too was disqualified from getting the plane ticket.  Thus he never went to Boston.  His best marathon was Trails End in Seaside, Oregon, 2 hrs. 31 min. 9 sec.  He was doing 50 miles a week then at 6:30 per mile pace. 

On another occasion he went to Hawaii for two weeks to prepare for the Vancouver Marathon fully expecting to run around 2 hr. 22 min.  He went out with the leaders, but hit the wall and bagged a 2 hr. 47 min. race.  That was pretty much the end of his marathoning.
Arjan and his wife Jackie in their beautiful garden they've created over the years

When he retired, he moved to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and joined the Bastion Running Club and now enjoys the training and camraderie with the club members.  He holds course age group records on five of the eight courses in the Frontrunners Island Race Series, a winter racing series held on Vancouver Island.  His only regrets are not going to the Canadian Cross Country Championships in his younger days.

When I was in my forties and fifties I did not really consider myself a Master (few races, other than major events like the Vancouver Sun Run back then had results broken up into five year increments).  It was not until I resumed running in 2005 after a significant period of time off when I focused on house renovations and gardening/landscaping that I thought of myself as a Master runner.”

“In 2012 I ran the Comox Half Marthon in 1hr 24 min 2 sec. a new record in the 65-69 age group  That’s the only half I have ever run (other than the five marathons, but I have no idea as to what my times were at the half way mark of those races.”

“In December, 2008 I was told my cancer had gone into remission.  I resumed running very gradually and intermittently, competing in my first race in November, 2009 (Hershey Harriers Masters Only XC in Stanley Park where I finished 37th out of 86 runners and 4th    out of 9 in my age group.  I obviously was not yet ready to compete on hills!  Ran a few races in early 2010 but was still very much aware of a lack of strength due to the low testosterone level that was the result of the hormone treatment.  The first race in which I felt reasonably good was the Times Colonist 10K in Victoria on April 25th, 2010 where I ran 39:28 good for 2/129 in my 60-64 group.

In 2011 I ran ten races, including the Sun Run 39:32 and 2nd in my age group and the Oasis 10K in Toronto (39:52  1st in my age group).  In 2012 I competed in 13 events.  My best races  included an 18:44  5K at the Bazan Bay Race in Sidney,  a 38:25 10K at Cobble Hill and a first in the 65-69 Age Group at the Canadian National XC Championships, 8K in 31:19.

The highlight of 2013 was definitely the Firefighters 10 Mile Road Race in Thunder Bay.  That’s the one I won exactly fifity years earlier in 1963.  It was a world class performance in the 65-69 Age Group, and it ranks as one of the most satisfying races of my life..  It is definitely a time I am very happy with considering my health issues. 

Still Another Challenge
Currently Arjan is in one of his toughest races that makes that altitude run in Laramie seem like a stroll in the park.  He’s in his second bout with prostate cancer which has now metastasized into his bones.

“I began my second round of hormone treatment in October, 2013, but regular blood tests suggested the cancer had come back some time in late 2012.”

That indicates that when Arjan ran his 63:48 ten mile in May, 2013 at Thunder Bay, his cancer had already come back at least six months earlier.

This has naturally slowed Arjan down, but he can still go out for ‘easy runs’ on good days.  I asked him if running didn’t increase the risk of breaking his legs.  He replied quite casually that it is a risk, and that patients in his condition can break an ankle stepping off a curb.  He acknowledges that his many, many days and years of training have clearly helped him to endure the challenges of cancer, and without that background he is certain he would be in a much more serious condition.  When he was diagnosed in 2006, the odds were that he would not be alive in five years.  It has now been nine years.  Arjan concluded that “All  my doctors are runners, and their goal is to keep me on the roads and trails



1.A Numbers Man
I mentioned earlier that Arjan like many runners is a man of numbers and times.  He has taken this to a level I have never seen before.  His running distances are charted meticulously, using his graphic and draughtsman skills to cover weekly, monthly, and yearly workouts and races.  He has the thoroughness of a forensic accountant.
Looking over his mileage for 1977 through 1979

Events shown at the bottom of graph.
Each of the seven rectangular blocks at the bottom of each weekly column represents a day of the week.  The day at the very bottom is a Monday, and if I ran that day the bottom rectangle is completely filled in Orange.  White means no workout that day.  If I had a second workout that day the right half of the rectangle will be black.  If I had a race that week, there would be a slightly thicker  rectangle in solid black above the seven rectangles representing the days of the week. 

Events shown at the top of the graph
The first number at the top of each weekly column (and at an angle) is the total mileage that week.  Following that number and also at an angle is the accumulated mileage for the calendar year.  And above that, written in vertical as opposed to the angle is the total miles run over the previous ten weeks.  That number  divided by ten is represented by the heavier dark line running through the weekly columns.  That is the line that I consider to be a true reflection of my “current” training level.  The lighter line is a reflection of my average weekly mileage as measured over the entire calendar year. 

 The whole thing may seem quite complex, but I have always considered my chart as a great incentive to get out and run on days when I might have passed on a workout.  The chart never lies!  And I can’t cheat on those numbers either.   

2. In talking to Arjan about his world class race at Thunder Bay in 2013, he told me about the website of the  Association of Road Racing Statisticians.   They cover times in road races from 3,000 meters and longer.   If you are into this kind of thing, you can spend weeks on their site.  
Consider yourself warned, and enter at your own risk.

3. In the article above I hesitated to refer to the University of North Dakota sports teams by the name the Fighting Sioux and found that this has become a very controversial situation in the state and at the university over what many native people consider a sign of disrespect for their tribe.  See the article below.

I was catching up on your articles and enjoyed the Gelling story. One facet that bears mentioning is that his 67'USTFF win in Fort Collins was only 48hrs prior to the Laramie race; Lindgren was "fresh" compared to Gelling and Ryan!              Rick Lower


Anonymous said...

Arjan is my uncle and one of the strongest and most dedicated person I know. I love reading these articles and learning all the different accomplishments he has made over the years. I am lucky to be his nephew. Thank you for writing this article.


Belinda Gornall said...

I am his wife's cousin and have been fascinated to read this detailed account. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great story. I remember that 1087 NCAA race, I re read Sports Illustrated's article recently and did a search to see if tehre was anything about Arjan and Mike Ryan and was pleased to see he'd stayed in the sport. Best of luck to him woith his health.

Anonymous said...

I just found out about Arjan's passing.
I knew him as the Dutch Kid down the street that liked to run. Hisaccomplishments at UND inspired me to become a life long distance runner. I'm sorry I never had the chance to say "Thank-you"

V8 N. 70 Phil Scott R.I.P.

November 24, 2018 Phil Scott Steve and Roy and I lost a dear friend last night, Phil Scott.  Phil was the epitome of a total track n...