Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Sunday, November 27, 2016

V 6 N. 88 More on Stan Huntsman

Our little piece on Stan Huntsman's passing has brought in an outpouring of messages and memories about the man.  Apparently Stan had touched a lot of people in positive ways that they wish to make known, and we are happy to share those notes.    For that reason we are  putting out a second posting with these stories about Stan.  Included is a remarkable piece written by Stan himself that has been passed from David Milliman to Bruce Kritzler and on to us.  Thanks, Dave for sharing Stan's work. If more comments come into this blog, I'll place them on this particular posting/

Stan wrote the attached. For some time, he thought about writing a book. He entrusted his notes to me, and this was the result. This has continued to speak  to me over the years, and I introduce it to each and everyone I have ever coached and many runners I have known. He was one of Jimmy Carnes' closest friends. 

Stan was a great person. A great coach and a great man.

Jimmy, Sam and Stan are gone now. But NOT to be forgotten.

dave m.  

Dave Milliman
Managing Editor
Pace Running Magazine
Pace Running Shop
108 S. Main Street
Travelers Rest, SC 29690

The Fourth Dimension, by Stan Huntsman
"History is the expression of social, political and economic forces." -Theodore Gronert, History Professor, Wabash College (1953)
We can define the social, political and economic factors that affect history. These factors make sense to us as both readers of history, and as students of mankind. History can be seen to flow from these three factors as vectors of change. So too, can we analyze the body, mind and spirit of man.
      Man delights in defining the course of history in tangible form. Historians view vectors of change through the eyeglass of social, political and economic forces. We are at once students of history as well as students of mankind. As we read history, so too, do we read the soul of man. We analyze the factors of change as we analyze men. The three dimensional notions of Body, Mind and Spirit relate depth, width and height to our concepts of man and his place in history. As the words of the official seal of the University of Texas state in Latin: "Praesidium, Civitatis, Discipline.”  We triangularize the education of man, just as we study his history.
      Yet hidden in the cracks of this conception, is the non-transmittable, immutable process of life itself. The quality of life cannot be bottled and processed by the vectors of change, the idylls of academia. The forces of change cannot be pre-destined without the will of man, the joy of living, and the quality of the moment.
      It is this moment, this zest of life, (this process) which is the Fourth Dimension. This moment exemplifies the character of a true champion. In track & field, the champion actualizes his moment better than his competitor does. He controls the flow of awareness from the backlog of experience and participates in the moment of competition, in the hours of athleticism that brings him life. In this way, the champion controls his destiny.
      President Grant's success as a great general has been attributed to his fixity of purpose, but at least one historian has written that his "persona" was the trait that made the Union Army work. "Persona" is defined as a character trait. You can write the word down, but it is hard to define. You might see it now, but you cannot capture it in a bag and carry it home. As lightning in a bottle, it is only as alive as General Grant himself.
      Many historical figures have had this fixity of purpose, this aura of person power and conviction, this certainty of direction and the ability to inspire loyalty. I felt this in the presence of Darrell Royal, the legendary Texas football coach. When he was talking, the depth, and the truth of what he was saying overcame me. Moreover, he was saying it directly to me and to me alone. The rest of the group might as well have not been there at all. His words had a disproportionate affect on me, much more so than if he had written me a letter or called me on the phone. The Fourth Dimension of history was at work on that day as he was speaking to me. I imagine this was much the same as when General Grant was addressing his troops in another time and another place.
      Coach "Bear" Bryant had this sign on his desk: "Don't stand there, make something happen." This was Bryant's philosophy of life condensed into one sentence; these words reflect the key to the possibility of success. Use one's precious commodity of time to create something in the present, to capture the dynamic of the moment with diligence and with as much affect as possible.
      A great coach, teacher or athlete will exhibit the traits of greatness in every hour of his/her life. The flow of its execution will be natural, not forced. It will be exercised in an eased and matter of fact manner, relaxed and with a smile. Tension has no place in the act of winning. Intensity without relaxation is worthless.
      Two of the greatest athletes I have coached, David Patrick and Winthrop Graham, were great examples of the uninhibited flow of this winning philosophy in action. David Patrick was an intermediate hurdler who also was a National and World Champion. Graham was an Olympic Silver medallist. Each processed the ability to train like a champion, and to smile and take defeat graciously when it was asked of them. Two occasions that illustrate the character of these two men stand out in my mind.
One spring day I met with my Tennessee squad of 40 or so runners and asked them to warm up on their own and to meet me at the track for the workout. This was an informal, inspirational workout, as we had no major upcoming meets. Practice was to be a relaxed, no pressure exercise.  Unbeknownst to me, a heavy rainstorm was gathering and we were caught in a deluge that lasted for far more than that half hour.
I went to the track, thinking it likely that none of my athletes would show up. I stood in the storm for a minute or two, realizing the rain had destroyed my intention. Then I noticed a singular figure stretching in the cold, David Patrick. We were quite possibly the only two citizens of Knoxville crazy enough to be out in the rain. Nevertheless, no questions were raised, and no innuendos passed. Patrick did ten 300's in solitude, a champion in the making, the only team member who showed up that day.
      In 1985 I left Tennessee and took the head coaching position at the University of Texas. David Patrick also moved to Texas. On an unusually blustery day in the dead of winter in Austin, I was to meet Graham and Patrick at the grass intramural fields for 400 meter repeats. We had planned a hard workout. When we arrived, the sky was spitting rain whipped with a bitter wind. The air was full of static electricity as a Texas sized winter storm gathered around us. Yet, the boys were all smiles and full of run. Even during stretching and warm-ups, I could see this was to be a special day. The three of us stood on the hill in solitude, alone at the complex, facing the wind and the cold. But, I remember the smiles during the intervals, the laughter, the relaxation, the last run to exhaustion, and the feeling of invincibility. I knew then that these men would be champions.
      "Punctuality with an attitude" is a trait that radiated out from the champion athletes I have coached. They were most often the first to the locker room and the first to the field. They were anxious to get the show on the road. Even in the early morning hour of six a.m., the best would be ready to run with a smile. They were ready to get the day started, to prove themselves, to put in the miles they knew would lead them to success. This attitude has proven to be standard procedure with all the champions I have known.
      A coach spends a vast amount of time with his athletes. He shares their good moments and their bad. He takes part in their triumphs, he ushers them into their first life away from home. He learns of their closeted skeletons, he gives advice of the heart. He becomes their friend and confidant. And when the time comes, he steps away. He is both a father figure and a mentor, but he cannot win for them.
      Each man exposes his soul to the other. The process is a laboratory of scrutiny. The process builds character, for falsehoods will be magnified and exposed.  The phony will not pass muster, the insincere coach will be exposed. Neither the coach nor the athlete can fool himself lest failure ensue.
      It is easy to get cold feet in the decisive moment, as race day approaches. However, the champion athlete keeps his poise and his philosophy in place. Smiles of confidence are readily displayed and a cool calm composure is necessary. The mentor and the mentored will mirror this calm.
      The athlete who breaks down on game day undoubtedly has a flaw or weak link in his championship character. As the winnowing out process continues to shrink the competitive field, the world of the athlete becomes smaller. The practice field, the coach's house, the team meetings, the warm up track, the competitive arena; these all take on a new and more personal meaning. The athlete is alone against his competition, against his world. The same forces that guided the athlete must shrink and become one within him. The victor will embody this Fourth Dimension.
      Victory is the ultimate focus on the task. It is here that the athlete reveals himself, with his eyes. The eyes are the beacons, the focus of the will. In his eyes, the athlete exposes his intent. The "eyes of the tiger" solidify the effort and reveal the champion on the day of competition.
      David Patrick and Winthrop Graham processed these eyes. I only helped to bring them to focus. Patrick won the National Championship and the World Championship in the 400-meter hurdles in 1989 and 1992. He also was NCAA Champion in the 800 in 1982 and 1983. Graham was NCAA champion and won the Olympic silver medal in the 400 hurdles in the 1992.
      Both of these men won championships. Both knew how to rise to the occasion. Both knew that to win the championship was to explore the instant, the instant of now. This process is a way of life. This was my way of life.

From Phil Scott

I was recruited by Stan but chose Santa Barbara City College, warm weather and O.U. did not have indoor track. Stan was very nice to me. A very good coach and man, I think a Decathlete also.


Huntsman was a decathlete at Wabash College, IN.
Believe Wabash is the only "men only" college in US.
Think Dick Bowerman is best(?) track athlete to attend Wabash. Went on to run 28:30, 2:13 for Oregon TC. His daughter Laura ran for Florida State, now coaching at New Mexico.
Bruce Kritzler

 From: Bill Schnier

 Stan's father was the T&F coach at Wabash College but I thought Stan was a javelin thrower.  Maybe he was also a decathlete too.  I knew him first when he successfully recruited Lamar Preyor to Tennessee.  At that same time I opted to go to Indiana to work with Sam Bell, Jeff Dils went to Eastern Michigan to be coached by Bob Parks, and Gary Loe went to Wright State to train under Bob Schul.  All of us made very good decisions and were blessed by our mentors or college coaches.
   Stan was always so kind to me, but then he was the same way with everyone.  Tennessee got credit for having a coach with southern hospitality, but he actually brought that aura from his family and Crawfordsville, Indiana.  He always seemed to be smiling yet he was a tough competitor who brought out the best in the Bobcats, Volunteers, and Longhorns.  Each school reached its pinnacle in our sport during his tenure.  He knew the sport through and through but he mainly brought out the best in people.  He never big-timed anyone yet was always in charge.  He valued every event and was able to relate to the culture of each event area.  He was an absolute giant in the coaching profession.
   Sylvia came from Yorkville, Ohio, near Steubenville, and was just as gracious as Stan, if not more so.  Most wives are not especially known or remembered by their husband's coaching peers, but Sylvia was known by everyone, and with good reason.  She too made our lives better.  Each year they came to the national convention and were always surrounded by friends of long duration.  True to their spirit, they made each one of us feel as if we were the most important people in the building.  They also made each other feel the same way.  I cannot think of Stan and Sylvia Huntsman without thinking of Sam and Fran Bell.  The two coaches and their wives are inseparable in my mind.  

From Richard Bowerman

Stan and his brother Jerry  were tremendous athletes at Wabash College . Stan was a super football player - a fullback - Little All American - rushed for 259 yes against Ball State ! He was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL . He was a decathlete in track . His father J Owen Huntsman coached at Wabash for about 25 years . I had the good fortunate to be coached by J Owen . StanS parents were like grandparents to me . My son is named after him . I first meet Stan in 1970 when he was at Ohio . He was returning from Drake where his runner Bob  Bertleson had won the NCAA 6 mile championship . I was a sophomore at Wabash then . Stan had stopped by to see his parents . Stan called me up and had me go for a run win with Bertleson to talk training .!! That run drastically changed my approach to training !  Bertleson was doing such workouts as 32 x 400 at 5-10k pace with a 100m jog interval .  I then trained with Stan at Tennessee in 1975/76 . Stan incorporated some of my 10k training methods that I had  learned from Fred wilt into his UT regiment . The 1975/76 year was the best of my life . 

From  David L. Costill

Stan was my freshman swimming coach at Ohio University.  1954-55.  Drank a few beers 🍻 with him.

From:  John Bork

I appreciated your recollection of your "recruiting" trip to Ohio U where you met Stan Huntsman. At the time we dominated the MAC and I did not yet understand what a fine Coach Stan was. By the time he went on to Tenn & then Texas, I realized that he was one one the rare college coaches who "coached" and inspired his athletes.
Hey! I was at the Ohio Relays that weekend to. I remember Ralph Boston coming across the infield with an arm full of 5 Ohio
U sweat shirt awards. We were star struck but managed to ask Him "hey Ralph, what do you have, there? Too which he replied
"I've got 4 larges and an X-large for my wife!"
We thought it so cool that he would talk to us and have a great sense of humor, too!

From: John Bork's teammate Richard Mach

George -

Those were my sentiments exactly and the first thought that came to mind when I learned of Stan's passing.  How much I wanted him to have been the coach that I would have preferred to have trained under most of all.  He was real.   And he was competing with the personable Bob Parks, who was JV coach for my last two years at Western.  Stan hailed me at the Indoor Champs back in Detroit one winter and asked what I'd been doing and told him I was developing this magazine, The Racer's Edge, all about bring the latest of research in science, medicine and technology to the art of running faster.  He told me he'd heard of it -- he'd heard of the motor oil additive -- and asked if he could subscribe.  I was so surprised, flustered and pleased as it was hardly more than an idea, and was still in the midst off drafting its first article on Harvard's what I called 'Fastrack', but said sure and I saw in him  in that moment how much he was all about supporting athletes in their endeavors.  He was the charter, as in first, subscriber, to the magazine that had quite a short life, but was read by subscribers from 32 different countries before it's demise at the hands of someone with the business sense of .... well, pond algae ... if that.  


From: Bill Schnier

  What a fine article by Stan Huntsman.  Upon reading it was easy to picture Stan in the rain with those two champions.  Can the Fourth Dimension also be called the Holy Spirit?  I think so.  All of us are exposed to the same forces, but it seems as if only a few benefit completely.  I have always wondered if that competitive drive can be coached and improved or if it is only internal and ready made.  I still don't know but in a few I have seen it but the majority come up short.  It is very rare.        Bill Schnier

Ricardo Romo forwards the New York Times article on Stan

from Bruce Kritzler
Just read a thread on tfn that confirmed Stan Huntsman was 200 ft javelin guy, and competed in 1955 AAU  Decathlon

This piece came from the Austin American Statesman Dec. 4

This came today  (Dec. 11, 2016) from Gary Loe who transferred from Wright St. University to Tennessee when Stan was there.

Wilf, Terrific tribute to Stan. I know former Vol Marty Sonnenfeldt of Knoxville - who married longtime Kettering Strider and Lady Vol Betty Shell  - attended Stan's services in Austin. Many of Stan's athletes paid their respects, and I saw photos of a grateful Sylvia. She was a big part of the coaching management package at Tennessee. Always present at our meets, parties, and in church on campus with Stan every Sunday after our 8:15 a.m. 13 miler, which we sometimes ran in Cades Cove/Smoky Mountains. Sylvia also often joined Stan on weekdays when we met in the Carrick Hall foyer at 6:15 for our morning run, encouraging us out the door after a quick stretch. She knew us all by name, and showed much interest in our social lives. Their children, Stevie and Coni, were also always around. 

The winning atmosphere that Stan cultivated at the University of Tennessee, along with numerous training partners and the southern climate, attracted a stable-full of runners. You characterized him to a "T." He was kind, and extremely competitive. Only on a couple occasions did we see Stan deviate from his smiling, congenial persona into a firey motivator.

One of my first T&F team meetings after transferring from WSU was among the most memorable. It was winter, the week of the Southeastern Conference Indoor meet. Stan came into the large (Stokely Athletic Center football) team meeting room in his Vols coaching sweats, where a team of about 50 of us were seated. Looking more fullback than decathlete, which he was both at Wabash, he walked to the front of the room. Standing near a table that had a 3-foot-tall SEC runner-up trophy on it, Stan began speaking matter-of-factly about the task ahead, and of events we expected to win, and others we needed to place in, in order for us to return to UT's championship ways.

As he got further into his speech, I noticed he was becoming agitated, as he mentioned the disappointing outcome of the last conference meet. All of a sudden with his voice rising, Stan grabbed off the trophy table next to him what looked like a cut-off broom handle or billy club. And, out of nowhere - he unleashed a mighty swing, bashing the running figure right off the top of the shiny trophy, sending it sailing into the sidewall. He said the Vols would never again bring home another runner-up trophy, and that we all must make certain of that in the coming weekend. That was some pep talk.

He often talked about Tennessee T&F Tradition, and the importance of carrying that on. He seemed to treat UT athletes in my era fairly, following through on his word - importantly, when it came to scholarships. I know more than a few of us considered following the Huntsman's to Texas, after hearing about how they were enjoying life there. RIP  

Response from Bill Schnier:
   I had never heard that story of knocking off the figure atop the runner-up trophy, but that is no surprise coming in the Woody Hayes tradition of competitors.  When I look at the equipment shed at Tom Black Track, I believe Stan accomplished his goal of never getting second in an SEC championships, or at least it looked that way.  In fact, thanks to him, the SEC eventually became the best conference in the US.  He was one in a million.
Stan and Sylvia Huntsman

Stan with Gary Loe

Lamar Preyor
Vols Sprinter from Trotwood, Ohio

Elmore "Moe" Banton,  I think was  Stan's first NCAA champion,  winning the cross country title about 1966 and eventually becoming the head coach at Ohio U.  He must have learned something from Stan on that trophy assault.  Once one of Moe's women's teams had, in his way of thinking,   grossly underperformed at a meet and brought home a runner up trophy.  He thought the team was somewhat complacent about the 2nd place finish and on the following Monday brought  the trophy out to the track, took everyone to the top row of the football stadium at Athens and tossed the trophy into the parking lot.  George


Saturday, November 26, 2016

V 6 N. 87 Stan Huntsman R.I.P.

Stan Huntsman passed away at age 84 in Austin, TX where he finished his coaching career at the University of Texas.  He had also coached at Ohio University and University of Tennessee.
Stan Huntsman with cross country team members including Elmore Banton on left Robert Heller and Larry Smith

The Knoxville News  Sentinal remembers Stan in this article:
Stan Huntsman

In a similar article, The New York Times recalls that when Ohio U. dropped their men's track and cross country programs, Stan sent back his Masters Degree from the univesity and had his name taken out of their Hall of Fame.

I remember Stan as someone I wish I had been coached by at the end of my college career.  I was recruited by him and made a campus visit in the Spring of 1960.  It was my first trip away from home on my own where no familiar face would be waiting for me when I got off the bus. I was the only kid in my high school getting recruited for anything to do with sports at that time.  So no one  there could give me any idea what to expect.  To get to Athens in Southeast Ohio I travelled northeast from Dayton to Columbus, changed buses and headed back south.  I still  remember seeing a legless man in the Columbus bus station pushing himself along on a board  with small rollers.  He had what looked like an iron ring in each hand to propel himself along the ground, so his hands wouldn't be soiled on that station floor.  What was he expecting from me?  My world up to that time had been pretty narrow and protected.  Sixty years later I would see a man with a similar handicap directing the parking of buses in a station in Kigali, Rwanda.  How he kept from being crushed is anyone's guess, yet he was granted the dignity of being allowed to do so.

As the bus started getting into the beautiful hill country surrounding Athens I found the place enchanting.  Getting off the bus I asked  my way to Stan Huntsman's office and introduced myself.  I didn't know what to tell Stan or expect from him.  What should I say?  How much money am I worth?  I was just a junior and had had a reasonable sophmore year for those days 4;32 mile, 2:05 880. The state record then was about 4:29.   It was Spring and the track season was about to begin.  Stan really didn't seem to know what to say or ask either.  Certainly he was in no postion to be bargaining for my services.  I had two seasons ahead of me.  As it turned out, my junior year I barely improved on my times.  And I was probably not considered a good prospect after that stagnant third year.    I spent Friday afternoon and all day Saturday on campus and returned home on Sunday morning. Never visited a class, only talked to a couple team members for a few minutes.   That Saturday Ohio U. hosted the Ohio U. Relays.  It was coooold and blustery and even snowed during the meet.  But there were some outstanding talents there that day in the form of a young long jumper and hurdler named Ralph Boston from Tennessee A&I  and a very good 220 sprinter named Paul Drayton,  and oh yes a decent Ohio State boy named Glen Davis.    I shared a dorm room with another visitor Brad Hill,  a boy from Hamilton, Ontario  Talking to him opened another world to me, learning that people ran track in other countries and did things a little differently.  They ran in clubs for one.  They also had easy access to  purchase Adidas track shoes.    He told me of other Canadians who came down to the States to run, like Ergas Leps at Michigan.   What, you mean they come down here to run and go to college?  By the time I got on the bus, my planet was turning on a slightly different axis than it had when I left Dayton that Friday morning.  I would go on to have a very good senior year and got recruited by more far away places like Oklahoma.  Stan would get a couple of good high schoolers from the Akron and Cleveland area, Barry Sugden, Darnell Mitchell, and Elmore Banton and turned them into international class runners.  Might he have done that to me?  I'll never know and there are a lot of other things I'll never know about what might have been.  But I'm glad to say that I at least crossed paths with Stan Huntsman one time.
George Brose

Saturday, November 19, 2016

V 6 N. 86 Passing of a Bronco , A Sighting of Zatopek, and a MAC Publicity Photo

John Bork (NCAA 880 Champ 1961, 1:48.3)  informed us of the passing of his teammate Richard "Dick" Greene in Las Vegas this past week.  Greene was a stalwart on that herd of Broncos that dominated nationally under coach George Dales.     Those guys included Bork, Jared Ashmore, Richard Mach, Dick Pond, and a host of others.   As a high school senior in 1961 I witnessed Bork, Greene and Mach sweeping the Mid American Conference (MAC) 880, completely dominating the rest of the conference.  They also won the Drake Relays 4x 1 Mile during their careers.   Greene set the school record in the mile at 4:05 in the early 1960's. In life he went on to teach school and coach  in Las Vegas high schools.   His last years were in a tough struggle with Parkinsons Disease although he still walked with the aid of a walker up to his last days.


Thanks for the remembrance of Richard Greene.  Since I too live in Las Vegas, I  was able to visit Dick every week.  It as sad to see such a fine athlete go through the agony Parkinson's Disease.  It seems as if some  great athletes are predisposed to PD.  John Walker and Max Truex for two.  My former Residence Advisor at Georgetown, Dr. Jack Reilly is another.   In fact, Jack felt a connection with Dick, as t hey were both 1963 graduates of their respective schools, ran fast miles (4:01 for Jack), and both had PD.  For the past two years Jack was having Track and Field News delivered to Dick at his group home.  Jack is also famous for his anchor leg of the two mile relay at the Millrose Games in 1962.  I was present for that meet at MSG.  It was also the meet that John Uelses broke the 16 foot barrier in the pole vault for the first time. Jack's split was 1:47.9 for the half mile on an 11-lap per mile track.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc1yPzjkBGk  

Don Betowski

On another note,  I've been reading one of the three new biographies of Emil Zatopek,  "Quicksilver, The Mercurial Life of Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher.  It is filled with interviews with Zatopek and his contemporaries, and just a very knowledgeable piece of work.  Butcher himself was a decent runner and an outstanding journalist, so it more than gives credence to the man and his times.  During the Prague Spring in 1968 when the Czech government under Alexander Dubcek tried to forge its own path toward socialism, the Russians put tremendous pressure on the Czechoslovakians to toe the hardline.  The resistance put up by the Czechs led to  an invasion of the country two months before the Mexico City Olympics.  There was a lot of underground struggle going on and clandestine radio stations broadcasting support for Dubcek.  Zatopek was one of the most famous people in the country and he supported the resistance.   During the resistance  he was interviewed clandestinely by a French journalist in front of the cameras about his role.  In this clip he is speaking in an abbreviated French to the journalist.  I know many of you won't understand the interview, but the closeup of Zatopek more than reveals some of his character.  I think you will find it interesting.  He is rubbing his wrist and explaining while on manoeuvers with the army he fell out of a tree picking cherries.  He more or less downplays his role in the movement which makes some sense when one considers the consequences of acting openly against  the Russian occupiers.    Interestingly Zatopek and his wife Dana were allowed to travel to observe the Olympics that year, and  Vera Caslavska the Czech gymnast who actually won more medals than Zatopek, and who was more openly critical of the Russian invasion of their country was allowed to go and compete in Mexico City.  It is  remembered that she turned her back on the Russian flag twice during medal ceremonies. For this she was ostracized on her return.  Both the Zatopeks and Caslavska were offered asylum by western countries but they chose to return to their homeland.   It indeed was a heady year with the Tommie Smith , John Carlos events of that Olympics.   Zatopek for his deeds was gradually demoted out of the army where he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  He was sent to work in a uranium mine for ten years, possibly more. An equivalent to a prison term.  He eventually recanted his signing  of a letter that publicly supported the movement and was allowed to leave the mine.     This was not an uncommon thing in those days.  In 1947 the whole Czech ice hockey team was sent to the same mine after they had already won the World Championship.  They had gotten in an altercation in a bar with some secret police who were keeping an eye on them and as a result several cops got figuratively 'sent into the boards'.

Here's the interview.  Zatopek Interview   Note you have to wait about 5-10 seconds for it to start rolling.

And lastly Steve Price sent us this publicity photo from about 1971 of Bowling Green State University's great Steeplechaser, cross country, and 5000 runner Sid Sink.    Sid adds the comment below.

 "The gal next to me is Kathy Baumann, runner-up Miss America!  This picture was taken prior to the CCC  meet held at BGSU".  Sid

We're going to take a little hiatus with the blog, as I'm scheduled for some surgery on Monday and will be on the mend for a few weeks.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2016

V. 6 N. 85 Jay Birmingham, Story of an Ultimate Runner

This piece comes from  the blog "The History of 20th Century Running in Greater  Cincinnati'
written by old friend Bob Roncker.   I've met Jay Birmingham several times through mutual friend Steve Price.  Even ran a few miles once in West Central Ohio with Jay when he was on his attempt to run through every state.  Bob, you did a helluva job on this article.   GB

V.1 #46 Jay Birmingham - USA Transcontinental Run Record Holder

Jay Birmingham – Ultramarathon Man

In January of 2016 there was a gathering to honor Don Wahle.  Germinating from that evening was the idea for this history blog. Jay Birmingham was among the invited individuals. Since he lives in Florida, he was unable to attend. However, Jay wanted Don to know a couple of things. They were his feelings, for both Wahle and the Ohio Valley Track Club that Don started, plus how Don and the OVTC influenced Jay’s running career. 

This blog begins with the letter that Jay wanted to be read that evening. That’s followed by the story of his exploits as an ultramarathon runner.  Jay, our third of five individuals with local ties who performed extraordinary distance feats, certainly fits into the company of earlier mentioned Dan O’Leary and Ted Corbitt.  Most of the quotes in this story are from interviews Jay has given over the years. These include articles by Mark Woods and Mike Spence about the transcontinental run.

 I have a particular connection with Jay. In August of 1978 both of us were going to race up Pike’s Peak. He had a tent, which he shared with me the night before the ascent. At that time Jay had a running shop in Jacksonville. Talking with him about the store rekindled an interest that I previously had about starting my own running shop. Reconnecting with Jay that weekend directly led to what eventually became Bob Roncker’s Running Spot.

By Jay Birmingham
     Mounted on the wall of my bedroom is a shadowbox, housing a running singlet.  A genuine relic of my running past, the 50-year-old garment has survived college, grad school, two-dozen moves to six states, and half-a-dozen life changes. That it lasted to the present day is a minor miracle.
      It was discovered, as fossils often are, in a box of running t-shirts. Among the other treasures are shirts from six River Runs, the 1990 Pikes Peak Ascent, and the 1976 New York City Marathon.  A white singlet with blue piping, it says OHIO VALLEY TRACK CLUB.
     My wife, Debbie, rescued it from my Colorado cabin, washed it for the first time in probably 35 years, and mounted it in the box.  I glance at it every day now, and the memories come flooding back.  The OVTC was my first track club.
     In May of 1963, I was a freshly retired runner, my prep track days complete.  No one I knew raced after high school, and there was no adult running going on in Ohio, or so I thought.  By mid-summer, however, I missed running enough to go to Riverside Park in Dayton for an evening jog. It changed my life.
     Chaminade High School was a track dynasty at the time, producing bunches of crack milers whose times made me feel pedestrian, although I had experienced some success at rural Wilmington H.S.  There they were, a dozen of them, hammering across the grass, charging up a steep hill, and shouting at each other.  They were emaciated and tireless, excited over the results of their time trial.
     A week later, I returned, hoping to see them again.  I jogged around, warily, and was startled by a voice.
     “Would you like to run with us?”
     Thus began my return to running and my introduction to the sport of cross-country.
     By Labor Day the next year, 1964, I placed eighth in an open cross-country event in Cincinnati.  There I met Don Wahle, the founder and leader of the Ohio Valley Track Club.  Six feet, three inches tall, with Coke-bottle-bottom eyeglasses (I’m serious), Don was friendly and quite old - I think 32.  He and two other older guys wearing Ohio Valley TC uniforms came up to me.
     “Would you like to run with us?”
     Since I was not yet eligible to compete at my new college, I was game.
     The OVTC was solely a competitive group:  no meetings, no newsletter, and a roster that changed from week to week.  We converged on a parking lot in northern Cincinnati, piled into the largest car, and drove out to challenge the world.
     Barry Binkley was a stocky high school coach, famous for his 3:00-flat split for a ¾-mile leg of a distance medley relay while running for Bowling Green University.  Bob Roncker (former owner of several running specialty stores) was a Spanish teacher and a former standout at UC.  Don was the heart and soul of the club, a UC grad, who worked as a bookkeeper.  Jack Mahurin was an English teacher and Western Kentucky alumnus.  The five of us were joined by a half-dozen other locals, mostly post-collegians, who just couldn’t give up their running.
     We all trained hard and independently, and shared workouts and track articles with each other.  Don kept us connected through postal cards.  His large capital letters announced our next race.
     I don’t recall a time when fewer than five guys showed up.  We’d drive to the meet, run to exhaustion, grab a sandwich, and then drive back home.
     In the fall of 1965, led by Mahurin’s first place finish, we claimed the Kentucky AAU Cross Country Championship over 15 clubs and colleges.  I got to take the team trophy home for the week, a compliment for placing second man for the club.  Two weeks later, we captured third place in the Ohio AAU meet, behind Ohio State and Miami.
     I wore my OVTC singlet in my first marathon, Labor Day 1966, in Columbia, Missouri.  Later that fall, I won a one-hour run at the University of Kentucky, outsprinting club-mate Al Sewell during the final minute to prevail over a field of 17 guys, mostly collegians.
     I was—and I think most of us were—proud of our little club.  Although the singlet survives, my racing shorts are long gone.  Same goes for my dark blue warm-ups, which sported the initials, OVTC.
     Don said it stood for “Old and Very Tired Club.”  What a great couple of years for me, to race with those old, but not so very tired, runners.

Jay started running in middle school.  He graduated from Wilmington High School in 1963, where he ran the mile and 880.  Jay said that, “Had I not hooked up with the Ohio Valley Track Club near the end of my first year of college at the University of Dayton in 1964 and been exposed to road racing (which was not very popular back then), and cross-country, as well as track, I am certain that my running life would have been limited to a couple of years of track at Wilmington College.  Meeting Don Wahle and other serious post-collegiate runners from Cincinnati made all the difference.”  And what a difference it made.  Jay remained with the club through 1968.

At the suggestion of a club member, he ran the 1966 Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, Missouri. He finished in 2 hours, 51 minutes.

“I realized my future in running was going to be in the marathon,” Birmingham said. “I kind of became a marathon runner. I would run one or two a year because there weren’t many marathons back then. I thought I could break 2:30, 2:25 and qualify for the Olympic Trials.”

That never happened.

“My PR is 2:39, run in 1978 at Boston,” Birmingham said. “I trained really hard for 15 years and got good, but not really good.”

Birmingham understood his Olympic dream was not going to be realized, so he began dabbling in longer races like 24-hour runs and 100-kilometer races, and discovered he enjoyed it.

Jay started doing what he called “journey runs.” In 1967 he had his first successful long run of 51 miles around Clinton County.  In 1972 he went 166 miles from Cleveland to Grove City and in 1973 he did his first ultra race, the JFK 50-miler in Maryland.

In 1975 he did his first crossing of the Grand Canyon.  He said it “kicked my butt but I got out of there with only leg cramps.  I doubt I will ever go across again unless I have someone carrying my gear/drinks.  The 7-mile descent from the south rim beat up my quads and the steps, hollowed out by mules, were gravelly and steep.  The middle 7 miles were gently uphill and I pushed hard (1500 feet elevation gain); but I was dead over the final 7 miles (4000 feet of climbing).  It was hot and the final altitude is around 8200 feet but I had trained all summer at 8800 so I think the leg cramps (biceps femoris and sartorius) were simple overuse.”  Jay must have a short memory because he forgot his oath not to try it again. He made the crossing in 1985, 1995, 2005, and in 2015 to celebrate his 70th birthday.  Will he be up for 2025?

In 1976 he “journeyed” 219 miles from Miami to Titusville, Florida, but that was only a prelude for what was to come.  Jay met Ted Corbitt and Corbitt suggested that he attempt a trans-America crossing.  He lined up a two-man support crew, the use of a camper and sponsorship money.

His first trans-USA attempt in 1977 ended after 238 miles after going from Los Angeles to Ehrenberg, Arizona. “I lasted seven days,” Birmingham said. “I got into Arizona and was doing 45 to 50 miles a day. I was very regimented. I would run for 45 minutes, take a 15-minute break, then run for 45 minutes and take an hour break. It was stupid. I didn’t train that way.”

 “I blamed the heat for my problems,” Birmingham said.  After prematurely ending the first time, he spent 10 days in the desert acclimating to the heat and started again. Again he followed his regimented running plan. This time he lasted two days.

“By then, my Achilles tendons were like broomsticks,” Birmingham said. “I literally couldn’t walk fast.”
The failure left Birmingham depressed. He broke out in a rash.  “It was just stress,” he said.

Birmingham thought that was the end of his dream of a trans-America crossing.  But the itch never left him and in 1979, Jay wrote to Corbitt and told him he was considering another trans-America attempt.

Corbitt asked him if he had considered doing it the way South African runner Don Shepherd had, running alone with no support crew and just a backpack for equipment. Shepherd had been the second man to make the crossing solo, completing the run in 1964 in a record time of 73 days, 8 hours.

Birmingham running with backpack

Birmingham prepped by running 180 miles a week and by reading and rereading Shepherd’s book “My Run Across the United States.”

“I almost memorized what he would do when he had a lumpy Achilles, when he got sore, when he couldn’t find food,” Birmingham said. “I became very confident I could deal with any unexpected situations.”

Birmingham followed the rules set by the Guinness Book of Records, gathering witness signatures along the way. He was required to have three per day but tried to get four or five.

Gathering the witness signatures proved to be a huge help. Birmingham said, “I learned it was a great introduction to learning about lodging, meals, and shortcuts where you didn’t have to run along a busy highway. The witness signature turned out to be a real boon to my progress.”

When Birmingham set off at 9:00 a.m. on May 20 from Los Angeles’ City Hall, he gave Corbitt a phone call telling him he was starting. 

Corbitt gave Birmingham a key piece of advice: Don’t let your rhythm be disturbed by people who are trying to give you publicity.

“I learned to become very independent,” Birmingham said. “I took advantage of every free meal. If all I could get was Pepsi and snack crackers from a vending machine, that’s what I would eat. That happened a couple of times. I’d done so much training, I figured if I ate poorly for a week it wouldn’t affect me much.”

He was cruising along at 35 to 40 miles a day until he got to the eastern edge of New Mexico.  “I ran for 17 miles through a rough gravel shoulder and hurt my left leg,” he said.

Birmingham limped from Tucumcari, N.M., to Amarillo, Texas, where a friend met him and took him to a doctor.
After an X-ray, the doctor recommended a month of rest. Birmingham took just one day.

“I had run 11 miles the previous day and none the next, and here the clock was running,” Birmingham said. During his day off, he fashioned a makeshift orthotic out of some old insoles and resumed running.

“I was able to go 28 miles the first day out of Amarillo,” Birmingham said. “By the time I got to Oklahoma, I was running freely again, over 35 miles a day.”

At that point, a heat wave hit. Birmingham endured 14 consecutive days of temperatures in excess of 100 degrees.
“I would find myself running in the middle of the road just to be in the shade of the power lines,” Birmingham said.

He took no chances in those conditions, limiting himself to no more than 40 miles per day. Gradually, he fell behind the record pace by a day and a half.  “I had 700 miles to go and was running out of days,” Birmingham said.

During a TV interview, Birmingham admitted he might not break the record.  “I think I’m just going to do the distance.” he remembers saying.

The turning point in the run came the next night when another TV reporter asked him about what he had said.
“To have somebody say that to me, my exact words back to me, was like a slap in the face,” Birmingham said.

“I hemmed and hawed for about 30 seconds and said it’s not really out of reach. I just need to average 50 miles a day the rest of the way.”  Birmingham decided to run 50 miles the next day no matter what.  “If you don’t give it your best shot, you’ll never forgive yourself,” Birmingham said he told himself.

He ran 50 miles that day. The clouds rolled in and there was an afternoon thunderstorm. Then, as he reached his hotel, he found a 50-cent piece on the ground.

“I thought that was an omen,” Birmingham said.
Birmingham discovered that he wasn’t any more tired. His blisters weren’t any worse, and he wasn’t hurt.

The next day he ran 59 miles. He started running 50 miles or more each day.

By the time Birmingham got to Philadelphia, he was about a day and a half ahead of schedule. He spent the last night of the run in Perth Amboy, N.J., where he called Corbitt again.
“We’ve got it all arranged for you,” Corbitt told him. “Be at the base of the Verrazano Bridge before 9:00 a.m.”

The New York Road Runners Club had a lane of the bridge shut down for Birmingham.  “I ran up through Brooklyn, across the Brooklyn Bridge and finished on the steps of City Hall,” Birmingham said. “Ted Corbitt signed my final witness card and marked down my time. It was perfect symmetry.” He covered 2,964 miles in 71 days, 22 hours, 59 minutes – a record that still stands.

Jay Birmingham being interviewed on the steps of New York’s City Hall upon concluding his trans-continental run

Rather than satiating his desire for ultras, this achievement seemed to spark his interest for more “journey running.”  Many of you have heard of the Badwater Ultramarathon.  Here is how Wikipedia describes it.

         The Badwater Ultramarathon describes itself as "the world's toughest foot race". It is a 135-mile (originally 146 miles) (217 km) course starting at 279 feet (85 m) below sea leve in theBadwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet (2548 m) at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney. It takes place annually in mid-July, when the weather conditions are most extreme and temperatures can reach 130 °F (54 °C). Consequently, very few people—even among ultramarathoners—are capable of finishing this grueling race.

Originally the course went to the peak of Mt. Whitney. The idea was to connect the lowest point in the western hemisphere to the highest geographical feature in the contiguous U.S.  After three aborted attempts to complete the distance, in 1977 Al Arnold became the first person to successfully navigate the entire route. 

Jay, in 1981, was the second person to accomplish this feat.  His time of 75 hours and 34 minutes eclipsed the standing mark of 84 hours set by Arnold.  During the run in the desert, he endured temperatures over 120 degrees and on the summit of Mt. Whitney it was snowing.

In Death  Valley

On top of Mt. Whitney

The following year Birmingham undertook another journey. He ran from the northern tip of Maine, Ft. Kent, to Key West along the Atlantic Seaboard. This trip of 2,254 miles, which took 47 days and 5 hours, concluded on July 30, 1982.

However, his greatest challenge loomed.  In 1988, he embarked on an ambitious attempt to run through every state. He ran 4,526 miles and had passed through 26 states when he simply stopped and went home. This was six years before the movie Forrest Gump was released. Jay said, “I had run one and a half times the distance of my trans-America crossing. I was tired of running.”  Forrest too just decided that he had had enough.

Actually, Jay was tired of the grind, the daily interviews, and sleeping in a different hotel each night. Coincidentally, that run also ended on July 30, the same date that he ended his Atlantic coast run.

In 2004 he repeated Badwater and completed it nine hours faster than in 1981.  Jay says that his “journey runs” are now over but he continues to run everything from one mile through short ultras, about 2,500 miles per year. He goes at a pace now that truly qualifies as "pedestrian," the term used a century ago to describe ultra-distance running events.

Jay finishing Badwater in 2004

He teaches high school anatomy and physiology, and is head track and cross-country coach at his school.  He remains close to many of his former athletes and supports the sport in a variety of ways.

Is he still competitive?  Birmingham says, “I could do it today.  “I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m in as good a shape.”

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...