Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Summer is here and with a vengeance.  Running in southwest Florida during the same presents a whole set of challenges that other parts of the U.S. simply don't face.  It's a combination of heat, humidity and the threat of lightning.  The heat and humidity I can take, but the lightning a whole different matter.

Most of the sane runners I know here try to get their runs in before 7 a.m.  You beat the heat and generally only have a moderate amount of humidity to deal with during the time just before dawn.  I have never been much of a morning runner.  I prefer hitting the roads late in the afternoon.

The only time I did morning runs on a regular basis is when I lived in Phoenix.  You had to run before 10 a.m. during the summer in Phoenix or face death.  I would generally run sometime between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and take a quick nap before going to work at 2 p.m.  I would usually supplement the morning run with a light workout when I got home.  It could get unbearably hot and this was long before it became fashionable to carry water. 

I decided to run 6 miles this afternoon at 5 p.m.  A thunderstorm had just blown through so I was hoping to catch the cool side of the storm.  Unfortunately another set of storms blew up 20 miles to my east leaving me in unrelenting sun with the maddening humidity fluffing off the storms to the east. 

It was 95 degrees with a dewpoint of 75.  The feels like is well over triple digits.  I got through the first couple of miles and enjoyed something that resembled a breeze as I headed north along the trails from the storms brewing along the interstate.  I realized that 5 miles would be a better option because I knew the breeze would disappear when I turned around to head home.

That's when the slow roast started.  I ran some of the slowest miles that I've run since I had stomach surgery almost a decade ago.  It made me reflect back that it was exactly 10 years ago when I could still actually run something resembling fast.

10 years ago this month I ran a 4 mile race in Eugene, Oregon averaging 6:50 per mile.  I wasn't in what I considered good shape at the time.  Then we had a summer filled with hurricanes in southwest Florida and it ruined my health and didn't do much for my running.

As I muddle through the heat and humidity I reflected back to running in this kind of heat 10 years ago, going along at 7:45 pace for 5 miles and feeling a pain deep in my guts.  It made running almost impossible, almost.  A few months later and 4 hurricanes later my guts would let go and my running was never really the same. 

The fact that I can still pound out miles and actually managed a marathon again, after four surgeries, is really pretty amazing.  I never thought I would be able to run more than 10 miles because of the danger that dehydration posed to my stomach.  Somehow I've managed to keep training, enduring the heat and humidity, without blowing out my guts, again. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Hot Mess

We're on the backside of one of the coolest springs we've ever seen in our 11 years in Southwest Florida and of course I waited until last weekend to run a race.  I just wasn't motivated for the most part of the spring.  Coming off my injury in January my training while steady, was painfully slow.  It felt terrible to waste such a great winter and spring but my heart just wasn't in it.

I had really wanted to run a 5K in April.  The urge to sleep in on Saturdays overwhelmed my desire to race.  Then came May and there really aren't many good races to run.  Even though I had Memorial Day off, I skipped that race too.  The desire to sleep in was just too strong.

So finally, last Saturday, I entered the Fort Myers Track Club's Membership Run.  It was just a mile from the house so it meant I could get the maximum amount of z's in, before heading over to lace em' up.  The Czarina came along and so did the son-in-law Vlad. 
I was just hoping to run in the mid-24's, which is what I was running in much cooler weather last fall.  It wasn't humid, but I can tell you by the last mile of that 5K I was roasting.  As you can see in the picture I managed to meet my goal.  The Czarina finished about 3 minutes behind me, the son-in-law 1 minute ahead.  He was within reaching distance for the first mile but my slow fade did me in.  I think I could take him in a half marathon but who knows.

Anyway, it felt good to get one under the belt after 6 months of race avoidance.  I doubt that I will run anymore races this summer (yes, they actually exist in our summer sweat box) because I don't want to drown in a pool of my own perspiration.  I swear I'll be back in sub 22 minute shape by next fall, really!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Nearly Forgotten Coach

As fans of track and field, fans of sport, are looking back at what happened 50 years ago tonight, when Jim Ryun became the first high school runner to run a sub-4 minute miler.  You'll read nothing from the man who guided him to this astounding feat.  In a couple of weeks Bob Timmons will turn 90.  He is almost invisible, largely due to his diminished mental state.

My relationship with Timmie is complicated.  39 years ago I was busting my ass trying to keep up with the tough regine required to run at the University of Kansas.  I lasted about six weeks before getting kicked off the KU cross country team by Timmie. I cried like a baby when he told me, "Come back when you get in shape." I had quit the last part of a tough workout the day before, after battling a case of diarreha all day. It was one of the toughest things I've ever experienced in my life, certainly the toughest at that point at age 18.

I wasn't in the kind of shape that I should have been to try and run for KU. What's sad is that now at that same ability level if I was to walk on at Kansas, I would be a member of their varsity. My how the program has fallen.

During the Timmons era at Kansas, the program for most of the time was top notch. His predecessor, Bill Easton, had turned Kansas into a national power. Easton lost his job, due in part to Bob Timmons and a high school phenom he had coached, Jim Ryun.

Timmon's former athlete had decided to attend Oregon State. Timmons, who had become Easton's assistant during Ryun's senior year in high school, was handed KU's head job after Easton was fired for some minor transgression. Suddenly Ryun was Kansas bound, and the rest is history.

Ryun had a wonderful career at Kansas. The program continued to flourish for the next 15 years with the Jayhawks winning a handful national titles in track and field. They were unbeatable in the old Big 8. But Timmons reign had one glaring weakness. There were no more Jim Ryun's.

By and large distance runners from Kansas never lived up to the potential they had shown in high school. A few did, Kent McDonald, one of my old training partners, was an All-American and finished second at the old AAU nationals one year. Bill Lundberg was another standout who went on to coach.  George Mason, a high school nobody, flourished under Timmons.   I could name three or four others but the point is, none of his distance runners at Kansas, ever won a national title, or made an Olympic team, except for Ryun.

Timmons had made his name as a great high school swim coach and later on as a track and field coach. He put his swim coach philosophy to use in track and created two legendary high school milers, Ryun and Archie San Romani, Junior. But his workout regiment was brutal. I experienced it first hand. A few runners, like McDonald, learned to coast through some of the workouts, in order to stay fresh and competitive. But very few did and some simply burned out.

For a long time I despised Bob Timmons. I blamed him harshly for KU's fading fortunes in track and field at the start of the 1980's. He had faults, but at heart he was and is a good and caring man. And as I grew older, more sober, I began to realize that my bad feelings were a waste of time. I began to value the experience that I had with Coach Timmons and became thankful for that eventful day when he kicked me off the team.

I became so grateful in fact that I produced a documentary about Timmons and his prized prodigy Jim Ryun in 1996. Most people probably assumed I did it as a tribute to Ryun, a world record holder in the mile and an Olympic silver medalist. But the real reason I did it was to give Timmons the credit he deserved for putting Jim on the path to greatness. It was my way of making amends to the man, even though he never knew (at least I don't think he knew) that I had harbored such ill will for him.

Five years ago Runner's World magazine published a hit piece about Bob Timmons. Coach was very old and had terrible lapses of memory. I saw him two years before the article and he didn't even recognize me. You could literally see the fog in his eyes. I don't know what the point of the article was. All it did was dredge up a lot of bad memories for athletes who had suffered at the hands of Timmons more than 20 years ago. Ben Paynter, the author, did his homework. But in the end, the work is meanspirited

I later learned the impetus for the article came from a hatefilled, self-pitying former Kansas runner.  Timmons is really defenseless at this point in his life. His triumphs far outweigh whatever failures Paynter tried to foist the readers of Runner's World.  You can click here to read it if you care.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Aunt Betty

Death comes to us all.  It's the harshest reality of life.  When those we love and admire leave this earth, it becomes incumbent upon us to remember, to carry their spirit, to cherish it and nourish it and when possible, share it with the ones you love.

I met Betty Longhofer about 53 years ago.  Aunt Betty was married to Kenneth Longhofer, a hard scrabble, hard working, farmer who worked the rocky wheat fields on the edge of the Flint Hills in North Central Kansas.  Kenneth died too soon, a victim of the cigarettes, the harsh farm chemicals and the circumstances that come with the farm life.  He's been gone more than 25 years.  Betty left us this Monday.

Kenneth always seemed hard and uncompromising to me, but there was something to that hard edge to forced you to admire his tenacity.  Betty was soft around the edges and gave him balance.  She had an unvarnished charm and Midwestern sensibility that was the essence of the wisdom that you find in farm families across the great plains.

Together they raised three amazing children, Kenny, a farmer, Rita, who tried her hand at a singing career, and Keith, my running buddy out of the farm, now a veterinarian.  They are all whip smart, with a strong sense of family and a sense of humor that sneaks up on you in like a Greg Maddox fastball.  Being with anyone of my cousins is always a first rate exercise in the lost art of conversation.

As for my Aunt Betty, I remember her non-judgemental acceptance of a very odd and very picky eating little boy.  She never made me feel bad about the way I was.  Betty had a heart that accepted people at for who they were, as long as their hearts were in the right place.  And it would go without saying that nothing will ever replace Aunt Betty's ice tea.  It must have been the well water.  A well that couldn't have possibly been as deep as her heart.

I will carry her with me forever. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

50 Years from Glory

I wasn't very aware of the world of sport in 1964.  I don't remember watching the Olympics or paying much attention to any athletic competition.  That awareness wouldn't take flight until 1965 when Sandy Koufax became my hero and not long after my mother got me a subscription to Sports Illustrated.
I wasn't aware of a Kansas kid by the name of Jim Ryun.  It's remarkable that so much history was happening less than 100 miles from where I was living at the time.  Once I discovered Jim Ryun, my quest for all things Ryun was pretty much unstoppable.  I was glued to the television in 1966 when one of the Wichita stations aired a documentary on him. 

I can remember watching him race Kip Keino in 1967 on ABC's Wide World of Sports, the announcers warning that Ryun would have his hands full with the veteran runner from Kenya.  You could imagine my delight when Ryun took flight and raced his way to a world record.  It is a memory stamped on my mind just as watching him compete in person for the first time at the Kansas Relays in 1969.  I remember the agony of watching Keino defeat him in 1968 for Olympic gold and the infamous fall at the 72 Munich Games.

Yet sadly, I have no memories of his perhaps, most stunning achievement.  A copy of it sits on a beta tape in our spare bedroom closet.  It is an old film that shows most of Jim Ryun's first sub-4 minute mile, the first ever run by a high school boy.  It happened 50 years ago this week.

Ryun went to the Compton Relays in June 1964 having just missed a sub-4 clocking about 2 weeks earlier at the Modesto Relays.  During the making of my documentary about his great running career Jim related to me the story of how Coach Bob Timmons had to grind down his spikes so they would grip the hard clay track.  I remember Jim wistfully wondering what had happened to those historic shoes.

He wore them on June 6 to be exact.  On that date he ran 3:59.0.  He split the half in 2:01.5 which means he ran the last half in 1:57.5, about what Galen Rupp ran last Friday for 800 meters when he broke the American Record for 10000 meters. 

Later that summer Jim Ryun would sprint to a stunning 3rd place finish at the Olympic Trials to earn a trip to Tokyo and the 1964 Olympic Games.  While his trip to Japan was less than memorable, it was a notable chapter in the career of the greatest high school miler in American history.  Alan Webb may have taken down Ryun's record of 3:55.8 36 years later, but his achievement pales to what the kid from Wichita East accomplished.

Ryun was an Olympian as a high schooler.  When Ryun set his long standing high school record of 3:55.8 in 1965, he beat Olympic 1500 meter champion Peter Snell and won a national championship in the process.  The time was an American record, which would stand for one year until a 19-year-old Ryun would break it by setting a world record of 3:51.3.

Jim Ryun can still be proclaimed America's Greatest Miler 50 years after having broken the magical threshold.  It's an astounding claim considering the great runners that would follow, Rick Wohlhutter, Dave Wottle, Steve Scott and Alan Webb.  Ryun's accomplishments, especially his run in Compton, will long endure.

Editor's note:  I put the date of this historic race as June 6, 1964.  I took the date from Bob Timmon's split log which covers most of Jim's races.  Track and Field News says the race took place June 5, 1965.  Who am I to argue with the self-proclaimed Bible of the Sport!