By Russ Ebbets, Editor, Track Coach
This is Part 2, a continuation of the Villanova middle distance roundtable involving some of the top Villanova middle distance runners of the 60s and 70s, reflecting on the great success of their relay teams, particularly at Penn.
The participants: MB—Mark Belger; GOR—Gerry O’Reilly; DP—Dave Patrick; JH—John Hartnett; KS—Ken Schappert; EC—Eamonn Coghlan; TG—Tom Gregan; CM—Chris Mason; TD—Tom Donnelly.
Oftentimes one will do things for others that you would not do for yourself. I think a relay race is a perfect example of this. Was there a teammate or circumstance when the difficulties you endured were made acceptable/easier because of putting someone else ahead of you? Or perhaps a word of inspiration or support either given or received?
MB — Two things I remember hearing often, were, “Whatever you do, don’t drop the baton” and “Let’s go out and have some fun!” I do remember a conversation where I said I hoped the other teams brought their best runners and that they would be running their best times to beat us because it made it easier to accept the fact it wasn’t going to be easy and made it easier to understand what we had to do.
GOR — I always looked up to Marcus O’Sullivan and always made a point of talking with him a day or two before the Penn Relays, he always had great advice and made me feel like I was ready to run with anyone.
DP — I’d have to say “spilling your guts” that’s what the three guys in front of me were committed to do and I couldn’t let them down! I would say that the guys in front of me my senior year made the anchor leg a bit easier. In hindsight I let them down a bit since WR was there if I went all out. (I knew if I did I would feel Jumbo’s wrath). That reminds of a meet in the MSG my junior year passing ¾ in 3:05.5 I decided to pick it up. Jumbo had his hands flailing on laps of the final quarter. I pretended that I did not see him and sped off to a 4:00.6. He laid into me after the race for not following his “slow down” instructions. He was much more on edge of not having his anchor do more than they needed as he knew it was time for multiple races and wanted to keep us as fresh as possible.
JH — Because your teammates are relying on you, there is a tendency to push harder and get more out of your performance. My senior year, I had some minor injuries before Penn and was struggling to break 60 secs for 400 in workouts. Yet, somehow, I managed to run 4.00.1 in the anchor leg of the 4 x mile as we were pushed hard by Manhattan.
KS — The big difference with running on a relay team is no one wants to let the team down. There are situations when you need to break the race open or just keep it close so your anchor can do his job.
I don’t feel that I ever put someone else ahead of me; I felt that as a team we had to always support one another. If you were chosen to run a leg on a Penn relays team it was because Jumbo felt you were the best person for that spot. You had to put everything else aside and just focus on your spot on that relay.
Break down the distance medley relay for me. What psychological traits or physical abilities are necessary for each leg? Especially at Penn when there are 15-18 teams on the track at once.
GOR — 1200m- aggressive, tough, not afraid to use the elbows, must hold onto the baton. 400m- confident speed demon; you can’t win it on this leg but you can lose it. 800m- great tactician, make sure you set the table for anchor leg, sometimes better to hand off a few feet behind than to hand over a yard in front. Mile—good at handling pressure, self-awareness of strengths and confident that they can win.
MB — There are 4 legs in the DM. Each leg has its own requirements. I ran the 3/4 mile (the three lapper which in nowadays is only 1200m). I knew how to run the 880 leg, and knew a little about how to run the mile leg. My least experience was in the 440 leg (as a 47+ 440 runner I could not fathom how to run a 45 second or faster 440.) The 3/4 leg is special. You need to run it more like an 880 than a mile. If you run it like a miler you’ll run around 3:00. If you run it like an 880 runner, you’ll run a 2:50. I preferred the 2:50 style, especially when you need to come from behind. I did my job and let the anchor leg do theirs. Sometimes I’d ask them where they wanted the baton, in the lead, tied for the lead, that was my job. You could imagine some of the looks I’d get.
JH — I think the lead-off leg is probably the most important because that’s the leg where more things can go wrong. The field of competitors is still very compact so you need someone who is savvy from a tactical point of view and who will not panic if it gets difficult.
KS — This relay is a test of the best from every team. It’s your best ½ miler, ¼, ¾ and miler. It’s also a psychological mind game on how you want to line up against your competition. Does your ½ miler run the ¾ or your miler, you want to create the best shot to win against the competition.
At Penn as you are aware there can be 60 plus runners in the paddock getting ready to run their leg, also during the baton passing it can be crazy so you have to know exactly where your teammate is in the exchange zone so you don’t get disqualified or tripped up.
EC — “Just get the stick to me and I’ll do the rest”. That’s the mantra necessary from lead-off to anchor man. For all of the first three legs the important thing is not necessarily to win your leg, but to get the stick around safely and to maintain a top three position. Each runner has to keep his cool.
TG — From the moment you leave the “bull pen/holding area” and are directed to take your position at the starting line/exchange area starting line I was focused on making sure I controlled the hand-off space around me all the time. One tactic I used to do this was….I would face the infield at the line in lane #1, bend/lean towards the infield and in doing so my butt would stick out into the 2nd lane and push off/back the other guy into lane two. By doing that my incoming guy has a clear lane towards me BUT…….we never exchanged the baton at the starting line but instead I ran 10 to 20 feet down the exchange zone area where it was always clear from traffic and away we go. We never dropped the baton, ever.
Did you have a favorite relay race? Why did you pick that one?
MB — I liked the sprint medley especially since it gave me a chance to run with the 200 and 400m guys. I trained enough with the middle distance runners. The sprint medley gave me a chance to run with teammates I didn’t train with. At Penn, if I remember correctly, the sprint medley had trials and finals which made it hard for a few teams because they weren’t used to doubling, more fun to win.
KS — I loved them all, the 4×400, 4×800 DMR & 4 x mile. My freshman year indoor and outdoor I ran on our mile relay and I loved it. The relay that was the toughest for us was always the 4×800 mainly because in major competition many had a strong team: Manhattan, Princeton, Florida Track Club, Chicago Track Club, etc. These races always came down to the anchor leg and were exciting from start to finish.
EC — Hard to choose one. However, the DMR stands out because it brings the 400 guys into the frame you don’t ordinarily get to “run” with in training. The mixture of the four distances make it an exciting spectacle for the fans.
TG — The DMR was my #1 because of its history and I always knew we were the favorite going in but most important I was very confident on race day as I knew what type of shape the other three guys were in.
DP — I would have to say the DMR is my favorite. You have to field a team that covers a span from the quarter to the mile. And the strategy of how the team members are selected. It’s so unique because you could have distance men dropping to middle distance, middle distance moving to anchor. In a sense it is the great “potpourri” of forming the very best of the runners available to heed the call. The only relay that offers a ¾ mile leg, and one that Villanova seems to put up great performances—it’s in the middle, a quarter longer than what is expected from half milers and more speed required from our great milers. Picking the best of the best especially when we want to get off to a great start at Penn to set the stage.
GOR — 1987 DMR, we got beat by Georgetown by less than a few 10/ths of a second. We broke the old WR but it was just a great battle between 6 schools with 400m to go.
Who was your toughest competition in the DMR? What about one of the other relays such as the 4 by mile; the 2-mile relay or the sprint medley?
MB — In high school, while at meet at White Plains HS, after an amazing storm, the rain had stopped completely. The sun came out and the meet resumed. The ground was so saturated when the shot put landed they had to be dug out with shovels. The cinder track was a mess. I least of all wanted to run the anchor leg of the distance medley and had resigned to second place somewhere on the back straight of the last lap. The lead runner was 30-40 yards ahead with 220 to go. Then storming by me, crashing through the puddles, Matt Centorwitz (Sr.) motored by me. I realized he was making ground on first place. I remember thinking “Wow, that guy can run”, and then thinking, “If he can do it so can I.” Coming out of the last turn we were three abreast and racing for the finish. That was my toughest win and I had learned so much from that race. It made me think that giving up should not be an option.
EC — Tough to pick but, Tennessee, Georgetown, Manhattan College, Arizona State were always tough and we had much respect for them. They had the ability to keep us on our toes in all relays, be it the 4xmile, 4×880 or DMR.
CM — When you had one of the top milers in the world (69-71) as our anchor on the DMR there was never much doubt.
JH — Toughest competition seemed to change every year but generally, Manhattan were pretty tough.
GOR — DMR – Mike Stahr (Georgetown) and 4x1500m – Gary Tailor (Arkansas)
DP — From an all-out anchor standpoint it would have to be my sophomore year. The jury was out whether a young sophomore-led team could be good enough so soon. We were really so young and unproven. I am sure we were all scared to a degree and trying to use this adrenalin to our advantage. Our only non-soph on the team was upper classman quarter miler, Bill Heildelberger. Georgetown was returning their victorious DMR from the previous year. I was just hoping to be in contention once I got the stick. Although I got the stick 30 yards down I knew we had a chance and I also knew that I had to be methodical in my quest to cut into the margin for the last lap. I felt the energy with each step as I got closer to Georgetown. Ironically, I caught him with 300 to go, right where the team and Jumbo would be standing and shouting for more. So, I used that extra adrenalin to risk going past Georgetown, prepared to fight to keep going to the finish. I could not let the team down and used the extra energy to speed away to the win, running the fastest relay leg since the Carnival inception in 1895.
The win was a dream come true and a precursor of what was to come in the next couple years. This relay set the stage for the showdown the next day with Georgetown and their loaded senior team, anchored by NCAA half-mile champion Ricardo Urbina. That race was probably the hardest I ever ran at Penn. In 68 the sprint medley was on pace for a WR with 45.2 lead-off (Larry James), 21.1 (Bob Whitehead) and blazing 20.4 (Erv Hall). You want to talk about a scary exchange try taking a baton from someone running that fast. Not even sure what I ran, but afterward I felt I let the team down by not running all out to chase the WR. Once again, it was Jumbo telling me to slow down—winning was most important with other races to follow.
KS — Every year changed in the early to mid-seventies. There was Manhattan, Bowling Green, Tennessee, Florida and others. When it came to Penn we always had a huge target on our backs. It was a little crazy because teams would fly in and just want to race us in one particular race whether it be the 4x 8, 4×1 or DMR and that would be it while we were all running two or three races at Penn.
The craziest of all for me was our 4 x Mile in 1973 against Bowling Green with their Olympic 800 Champion Dave Wottle. We knew we needed to give John Hartnett a huge lead and that we did. He had 14 seconds on Dave at the exchange and there was no catching him at that point.
Regarding nutrition and hydration. What did you eat prior to your Friday events? What about Friday night after you competed? Saturday morning? How did you stay hydrated? (it bears mention that most ran in the days before screw caps on water bottles).
DP — The misnomer about hydration for us is that we didn’t really even know the term. 20-mile cross country runs, grueling intervals, sometimes in 90-degree weather, we never hydrated. If anything, we were probably poorly hydrated for many races. Nutrition was also a foreign word. We rarely got enough to eat for dinner, since the portions were controlled. Most of the time the food was terrible, but we learned to accept it. Many dinners would be augmented with a burger and milk shake at the “pie shop”. Truth is many of us were a few pounds overweight. I was probably overweight by 6-8 lbs as I raced at 165lb and just shy of 6 feet.
GOR — I stayed in same routine as normal, DMR was usually on Saturday so I’d eat a normal bagel breakfast and then something light for lunch.
MB — Cafeteria food, milk, nothing special. Jumbo would tell us to push the potatoes away. The Penn Relays were in the middle of finals week at Villanova. Sleep seemed more important than anything. When it was over there was always the celebration. If I had to guess what I liked to eat if we were traveling and racing, I’d have a chef salad with chicken and French dressing. Otherwise the joke was, I was on a see-food diet. If I saw it, I ate it.
EC — Unlike modern day sports, there was no real science when it came to our diets. The secret then (and still now) was a good feed of pasta. Water was encouraged but Coke and beer were not excluded. Even a Mars bar was considered ok! I believe we were very sensible as a team and kept our pre-race diet and hydration under control not just around Penn, but most of the time. If you didn’t, Jumbo would soon let you know.
CM — Ate light. Also, we were always fortunate to be able to use one of the lounges located within the complex as a rest area between races on Saturday.
JH — There was very little emphasis on nutrition and hydration when I was competing, so I really did not take any special measures.
KS — Nutrition and hydration were not major factors as they are today. The main thing that we all tried to do is live like a clock, keep things simple, eat well, hydrate before a long run and after. There were no hydration packs to carry, no energy bars to eat. We just stuck to the basic meals for dinner, lunch and breakfast.
There is training adage that “insecurity overprepares.” Overpreparation and overtraining presents with a barely visible line that is easy to cross. How did you manage to do “enough” without doing “too much” in the weeks leading up to Penn?
MB — Training was hard but not that hard. It was more conditioning than training. Pace work and passing was what I would think about when I ran our quarters on the cinders. It was racing that made you a better runner, not so much as wanting to train more than anyone else. Regardless, Jumbo often started each workout squeezing your shoulders and asking how you felt and (I thought) modified the workouts accordingly (we’d run 58’s rather than 60’s if we felt good). Once I told Jumbo I couldn’t run that day. I explained I just couldn’t run and feel comfortable; it was too hard. He told me to take the day off. Jumbo’s style of training and racing best fit my approach which was similar to my high school training. I never believed the adage, “If it doesn’t hurt you’re doing it wrong”.
DP — We knew the challenging indoor program, training outside on the boards was making everyone tougher that the thought of warmer weather to train in was a welcome sight. Tom Donnelly still reminds me of one of the coldest days—icicles were forming on our ear lobes. Now that’s cold!
So, with the cross country season and indoors behind us we had done all the hard work, in harsh conditions, and now it was easier to prepare for Penn. Certainly, the dual meet we had against Tennessee mid-April of ‘68 was the conditioner we needed to even think we had a chance at five Relay championships. We were coming off the boycott of the NYAC that served to strengthen the strong bond we felt for each other. We took that bond to the highest level at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Track & Field News estimated no one was going to beat USC with their well-balanced squad and the race would be for second place as USC was expected to double the second place score. That did not sit well with us, and not only did we beat USC to capture our first NCAA indoor championship we almost doubled their score. Then it was the horrific assassination of MLK Jr a couple of days before we were to take on Tennessee in a dual meet. Another meeting was called and we voted to run the meet, that we would NOT be intimated. Boy, did we run, winning virtually every running race and sweeping a few. Those wins and times (Larry James 45.2y) was the perfect conditioner that would set us up to be the first team in carnival relay history to possibly win five Championships of America.
GOR — I learned so much from people like Tom Donnelly and Marcus O’Sullivan who knew how to get me ready for Penn.
TG — Jumbo and Jack were watching the workout split times very closely the week leading up to Friday. There were times we pop off a 57 second 440 in the middle of the session and Jumbo would yell… “SLOW DOWN, TOO FAST.” He knew how to balance lap time sessions versus making a withdrawal from the bank strength time.
JH — Since Penn was very early on in the outdoor season, I was never overprepared. That would have been more likely to occur heading towards the NCs.
EC — Overtraining is the danger and most of us are guilty of that. It’s very hard to get the balance right. The more you do, the more you feel you have to do. Nothing changes that even today! Confidence coming from the coach/teammates helps. Self confidence in ability/preparations plays a bigger role.
TD — You mentioned balancing training and not overtraining. Jumbo gave you a lot of latitude in figuring out what was best for yourself. As a result, I think most guys went through periods of overtraining. We could have used more coaching direction in that respect. A lot of guys never were able to handle it and fell by the wayside. I remember calculating that of the 22 guys on track scholarship one of my years there, just half of them “made it”. The other half either dropped out of school or just never ran as well as they did in high school. So, it was a tough road. I preferred that method myself because I could basically handle it and it made you mature, but as a coach I feel athletes need and deserve more direction. I think the team had that when Tup [Jim Tuppeny] was the assistant coach, but Jack’s role was as a recruiter and manager of the program (and he did a great job in that role), but it would have helped having another hands-on coach from the mid 60’s through Jumbo’s death. Crazy to think that such a great team could have been even better. Just to finish with the overtraining part. Jumbo wanted you rested and ready to go before the IC4As and the Penn Relays. They were the only times he would have a team meeting. His big line, “Hard work will get you nowhere!” We would look around, thinking, why the hell have we been killing ourselves all year? Of course, what he meant was no hard work THIS week. We had paid the price and now was the time to take that money out of the bank.
KS — There was always a plan leading up to Penn and it was Jumbo’s plan and his alone. The preparation was what it was for years before us and it was very successful, so no one was going to try and change it.
All the work needed for Penn was done way before the week of Penn. We just took it easy the week of Penn till Friday or “D-Day!” That’s when all hell broke loose for us at Penn.
Recovery. If you competed Friday-Saturday what did you do to recover between the days? What was Friday night like? Did you have trouble sleeping? What was your Saturday morning schedule?
MB — Get back to campus, eat and sleep. Take a walk in the morning, then dress and get back to Penn. You didn’t want to be late. If anything, I dreaded the final exam I had to take on Monday after the Relays were over.
DP — Many times indoors we raced on Friday/Saturday and really didn’t think about the hectic schedule whether it was trains, planes or automobile and we didn’t let it bother us. At the IC4As it was not uncommon to run 4 races in one day. Whatever Jumbo wanted is what we delivered. Jumbo did the thinking and we did the running.
Sleeping was never an issue, in fact many days after classes ended at noon it was a quick lunch and a nap before 3:30 practice. I needed as much rest as I could get as the workouts were challenging/tiring most of the time (especially the interval workouts).
CM — Stayed in on Friday nights. No trouble sleeping. Nothing special as for the schedule on Saturday.
JH — I made sure to have a nice, easy cool-down on Friday and a nice easy warm-up on Saturday. No problems sleeping.
EC — I just followed the guidelines. Post-race 30 jog. Refuelled on pasta, light massage, kept off the legs as much as possible and early morning 20 jog before second days competition. I never had trouble sleeping the night before. Always blocked out racing from my mind until it was time to run! Why waste mental energy in the days and hours leading up to the race?
TG — Recovery time was always done like what we have done before. I would have a blistering workout say on a Monday knowing very well that on Tuesday it would be the same. I would eat right to restore the energy, take a lot of liquid and most nights be in bed at 9pm. That was my schedule and I kept it that way race day or training.
KS — I was very fortunate to be on nine Championships of America in all three distance events during my time at VU. The most important thing that I always focused on was the race at hand. I never worried about the other races that I was listed to run till the time came. After each race whether you won or lost, and I mean 2nd place was losing for us, we all warmed down together, we traveled together, we ate together and by doing this it was a calming factor for all of us. Again, maintaining your schedule was very important the week of Penn, wake up, do a shakeout run, have a little breakfast, meet your teammates and take the train to 30th street and start all over again.
Did Jumbo Elliott give you specific directions on how he wanted you to run your races or did he ask you for your race plan and then make suggestions?
DP — Most of the time the discussion about racing strategy/tactics was one-sided. The most memorable was in my race against [Jim] Ryun 880 indoors he said, “Champ, I want you to go to the lead and improve your position”!!??
He had confidence in us, that we would do the right thing in the race to avoid trouble, not drop a baton and get the job done.
MB — We were professionals. Jack Pyrah recruited us, Jumbo trained us, then he let us loose. We ran to win, not for time, and if we screwed up he let us know, otherwise he left us alone. Jumbo wasn’t much of a pep-talker. He’d squeeze your shoulders and tell you not to drop the baton. Jumbo spent more time asking about classes and getting a haircut, speaking correctly and not dressing poorly.
CM — As I recall he would not say much, usually run smart and save some energy for the next race on Saturday (all three years I would run 3 races over the two days.)
JH — I almost never discussed race strategy with Jumbo. Due to my lack of speed, my options were limited. I was always going to go out strong and I was pretty decent at judging my pace.
KS — That’s very interesting, Jumbo hardly ever gave us any race directions. He believed in us and taught us how to be gracious champions. The only time he gave any instructions was when he was scared. I only remember two times in my career, one was in 1973 when I won the indoor NCAA’s he pulled me aside and said go with three laps to go and don’t look back. The second time was in 1973 when he pulled Brian McElroy and me aside before our 4 x 1Mile against Bowling Green with Wottle on their anchor leg. Wottle broke the college record at Drake the night before. Jumbo said we needed to give Hartnett as big a lead as possible. Which we did.
EC — Jumbo never asked for race plans. He told us what he expected. “Just run your ass off.” Jumbo had total confidence in us and didn’t allow conversation get in the way mentally. The only time Jumbo confused me was in the tactics I applied in the 1976 Montreal Olympic 1500m final. He was worried about the fast half-milers. His nerves came through and I ended up going into the lead at 400 mark to set myself up as the “sacrificial rabbit.”
One of the difficulties in teaching the endurance session in the Coaching Ed program was getting across the point that in distance running there are “many roads to Rome.” The great common denominator between all successful systems is the coach’s ability to establish a successful culture and the athlete’s faith in that system. What do you feel Jumbo Elliott did to make the “culture” at Villanova successful?
TG — Beside the obvious approach of trying the motivation angle to our core team members Jumbo knew that would not work. You see the cast of characters on the core team were the best in the USA and the international countries where they came from at that time and already achieved glory and achievements. For me personally, the “culture” on the team was “TRUST”. I knew Eamonn, Ken and others had my back on workout days and especially on race day. We watched out for each other off the track and class time. You see “TRUST” is not taught it was earned and is something I have with me today as a business owner and family man.
A second critical point is we trained to compete to win, seven days per week by adopting the work ethic of practice, discipline, repetition and routine. This is the secret that all great teams and athletes worked under. My transformation into this winning culture was not a matter of training harder but training wisely.
Jumbo knew how to train us wisely which in turn produced a healthy and vibrant team spirit that stood the test of time.
MB — It wasn’t just Jumbo. It was Jumbo, Jack, and all of your training partners. He’d let some of us stray a little before reeling us in, he’d always emphasize your studies as the most important thing. When you were having an off day or just wanted to relax in training there were plenty of guys you could hide between while doing quarters. The fact that we were all middle distance runners (from the 440 to the 5000m) we had enough in common to think and train alike. You weren’t judged unless you screwed up.
EC — Jumbo picked the best out of high school. He ran the program like a business. He created an environment whereby he instilled belief into guys who had it themselves anyhow, and who in turn instilled it in the teammate. Old adage, “It’s not the coach who makes the athlete, it’s the athlete who makes the coach”. Both must understand this. If not, you’re sure to fail!
DP — Jumbo expected results- he never expected or accepted excuses. He expected a laser-like focus on training and racing. He knew he could get you physically prepared and I knew that mental preparation was up to each of us. We all had different ways to prepare mentally. It went the gamut of taping a note saying “Beat Ryun” on the ceiling of my bunk, and/or envisioning the race, accepting the pain and bringing home the gold. I put more pressure on myself, enhanced my mental preparation if it was a relay I was preparing for because I wanted to make sure I did not let my teammates down.
JH — In my mind and without a doubt, Jumbo’s greatest asset was his ability to inspire. I believe he achieved that by being pretty sparse with his praise but when he did offer up praise, it was very timely.
TD — Jumbo recruited guys who knew how to compete. Most of those guys were also selfless team-oriented athletes. That’s a great combination. The goal was always to excel, which for many of our guys meant not only running fast but finishing in front of everyone else, even at the NCAAs. The bar was always set high. I remember warming up with the team at the NCAA cross country meet at Van Cortlandt Park senior year. As we jogged past the other top teams you could see all of them sneaking a look at us. It gave me chills. I remember thinking, “These other teams know we are going to beat them, because we are Villanova.” And we did.
KS — Jumbo was the master in creating one of the greatest track dynasties that ever existed. He mastered the 60 / 100 yd. dash with Frank Budd, hurdles with the great Erv Hall, quarter-mile with Larry James, and then a great cast of middle distance runners for many years. Culture is built brick by brick. He created this by handing down his knowledge to his students and it was our job to make sure this culture carried over to the rest of the team the way Jumbo wanted. He was such a strong figure that you never wanted to disappoint.
Many readers will review your bios at the beginning of this piece and find it hard to believe any of you ever had a “bad day.” How did you deal with setbacks, untimely injuries or other disappointments in your career? How did you get back up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward?
MB — Back in the 60’s and 70’s most of the “runners” were athletes in high school and college. The running boom hadn’t really started yet which meant if you were an athlete and you were in the right sport you were gifted somehow not to be injured. Having said that, there was always the mental aspect to keeping it together. I figured that I can’t be “on” every single day so I planned a down day. When training was hard I forgot the pain and saved it for my special “down” day (which was typically a Wednesday). Whenever I went through anything that potentially stressed and confused me, I shelved it and thought about it on Wednesday. This worked for me. On the rare occasion I actually had an injury I did what the doctor or trainer said with one exception: if they said take a week off I took 2 and when I came back it was always with some light jogging and strides. After a few days I had a stride back it was time to train. My worst day was my very first XC race running on the varsity team at Franklin Field for Villanova as a freshman. I ran so badly (it was 5 miles, I had never run a race over 2 ½ miles, and there were gigantic hills, and sand; it was bad). Coming out into the open field 600y from the finish I took off my VU Jersey because I didn’t want to disgrace the team somehow. Then coming down the final strait I heard people cheering. Looking up I saw people jumping up and down and waving their arms. “Wow” I thought, they’re cheering for me, and I’m in last place! These Villanova people are great! Then I realized they were cheering for someone behind me (I wasn’t in last place; I was so relieved) and they were telling me to get out of the way. Since I wasn’t wearing a jersey they must have thought I was a recreational jogger so I peeled off the course only to find out the runner behind me that they were cheering was the first place runner in the JV race which started a half hour after the varsity race. You just have to laugh. There are many things in life that are not to be taken too seriously.
CM — During my career at ‘Nova I only had one injury that sidelined me for any period (missed training and racing); it was in my senior year of 1971; I just rested and recovered and raced “above” distance on my first race back. My first mile was in the NCAA heats and on Jumbo’s orders at trackside was told to slow down on the final straightaway when it was apparent that I would qualify for the final. My time was 4:00.3 and almost the same in the final. Looks like the rest did me good. As for disappointments I would say my freshman year was one, as up until that point I had always improved on my times. Due to lack of racing and not being able to fully compete I did not improve on my track times. Once I was able to fully compete the disappointment was gone.
JH — I had many disappointments through my running career. I believe my experiences growing up steeled me in handling future disappointments. Losing my father at a young age and working long hours on the family farm with my mother and four siblings prepared me for any difficulty that lay ahead.
EC — I had “bad days.” Montreal, Moscow, 4th twice! Stress fractures, Achilles injuries etc., that forced me out entire seasons at a time. While accept the situation and not allow frustration to enter the mindset. I took control by being a patient patient! I focused on the cure rather than, “Why me?” again. As much belief you need in yourself to win, you need to draw on every ounce of confidence necessary that you’ll get back stronger than ever before.
GOR — Relied on my teammates for support when I got injured, it’s something we all go through. I also believed that with injuries sometimes you have to reevaluate your training and tweak it if necessary.
KS — Many of these readers do not realize the efforts and sacrifices that goes in to be an Olympic caliber athlete. The trials and tribulations of the athletes that went before us involved many successes and failures and there was never a quit mentality in them. Personally, my biggest disappointment was my senior year getting hurt during XC and I had to sit out the entire 1974 season and see the success that my teammates had while sitting in the stands.
The following year I was grateful to defend my indoor NCAA title and being a part of three Championships of America at Penn. Including a world record in the DMR.
It’s a never quit, feel sorry for yourself attitude, when things don’t go your way. One finds a way to get through these setbacks physically and most of all mentally.
DP — The most frustrating part for me and which kept me from achieving better results were injuries. I knew it was part of the program since in high school, I endured shin splints, fractured foot and dislocated hip in three short years. I didn’t let these injuries slow me down from setting records, winning state championships/All-America status. I remember my junior year fracturing my foot before the state championships. Not happy that the doctor told me not to run, I found another doctor that gave me a pass to run in the states.
In college it was more the same, but it was more frustrating because of poor diagnoses. Freshman year after cross country I put in couple weeks of high mileage 120/125 miles. The combination of the miles and running in shoes with poor support on the roads I sustained another foot fracture. In this case I stopped running for 8 weeks and did not do any cross training.
After 8 weeks of not running Jumbo put me as anchor on the Freshman relay in the AAU’s at the Garden. I used the strength training from cross country to anchor our freshman team to a 2 mile relay freshman record 7:39 and contributed a 1:54 leg.
After winning the NCAA mile my sophomore year Jumbo entered me in the National AAU championships that would determine who would make the team to run the dual meet against the Russians. I dove across the finish line to secure 3rd place but in doing so got a serious thigh contusion (which I still have today) that meant I couldn’t train for a couple weeks. The training staff, or lack of, did not address the deep bruise or how to help heal it. So, off to Britain to run in the British Championships without training. It was an all-out 1:48.8 half running third as Villanovan Noel Carroll won in 1:48. Fast forward to Junior year after a great indoor season that saw three World Records (880/1000/2 mile relay) and a 3:59.3 mile it was on to outdoors and Penn. Sometime between the end of the indoor season and the start of outdoor my junior year I was dealing with a continual sore throat/cough and workouts that I was not able to do my best. It wasn’t till late June after the nationals that my home doctor informed me I had a chronic case of infected tonsils that would have to be removed immediately. Needless to say, the poison from the tonsils didn’t help my running.
April/May/June and our training/doctor staff was not able to properly diagnose the problem. The only relay I lost at Penn (2 mile relay) was probably the hardest race I have ever run under less than ideal physical conditioning. I remember going out in a torrid 50 second first quarter with Michigan (Kutchinski) and Georgetown (Urbina) and running a 60 second last quarter. I gave everything mentally and physically to hold off Fordham who did not get compromised by the torrid first lap. I could see the maroon shirt out of my peripheral vision and gave every last ounce diving (or falling) across the line. I had nothing left and was carried off the field and the next thing I knew was waking up on a table in the locker room. So, instead of not winning by a few seconds, my frailty from a physical perspective did me in. (Point being that I should have been diagnosed properly and I would have never lost a PR anchor.
Senior year started great as we repeated as NCAA cross country champions with an amazing team performance at around 8,000 feet above sea level, outdueling high altitude schools like Air Force and Colorado.
I was anxious for indoor season to begin as I had my eyes on multiple World Records—880, 1000, Mile, 2 Mile relay. Right after the boards went up the beginning of January I was so pumped that I put on my 9.9s racing spikes and went to board track for all-out sprints down the straightaway. After my third sprint I hurt my foot and stopped running. I wasn’t sure what it was, although I wasn’t ruling out another fracture. The training, medical staff assured me it would be ok after a couple of weeks. After a couple of weeks off I started training but my foot was in pain and I found it best to run the opposite direction on the boards a couple days a week and then race on weekends. I would get my foot taped, endure some cortisone and DMSO to try to relieve the pain and heal. The pain, lack of training persisted and continue to hamper my performance and knew my personal goals to establish multiple WR was not to be, except one. We traveled to Louisville late February to field a team to go after the WR in the 2 mile relay. It was a successful attempt as we set a new WR with a 7:22.8 time as I threw in a 1:49 anchor. Upon getting back to school late Saturday, I awoke with even more pain in my foot and went to Bryn Mawr hospital. The doctor called me into his office after x-rays and proceeded to tell me my foot was fractured. He showed me the line and how it was beginning to get cloudy.
The cloudiness was the indication my foot was healing. Upon asking what I should do, he stated that if I could run on it for the last 7 weeks I could keep running as it was healing and shouldn’t get worse. That was a very tough time mentally and physically to endure my senior year. In hindsight, I would have liked to have known after that first day of January the diagnosis so other alternatives could be explored. As it turned out I was somehow able to repeat as 880 champion (holding off Frank Murphy by.01 second) and we won the NCAA indoor championship, so I guess it was worth going through the arduous indoor season. In summary, it was a year where I had to focus on the mental saying—“Sometimes it’s not how good you are, but how good you THINK you are.”
Thank goodness, medical and training expertise and support has gotten so much better from what we had to deal with. Listen to your body, everyone is unique and you need to understand what your body is capable of doing and know when to throttle back and rest when you reach the tipping point. I, among others never complained, we trusted the organization and did our job.
No one succeeds alone. Was there somebody in your past that you can point to that got you started, kept you going or positively impacted the direction you ultimately took? OR What has running meant to your life?
DP — That would have to be my brother Len. He was my idol, a state high school champion in the 880 and scholarship runner at Maryland. He was the catalyst that got me running, the inspiration at my first-ever race (cross country in the 10th grade). Before the race he said, “Dave, you can beat these guys! They are NO better than you as they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you!” The gun went off and I led from the start to the finish, and my first indoctrination into how important the MIND would play in my quest for greatness would stay with me forever. I was fortunate to have a great high school coach that was a proponent of strength training vs speed training that allowed me to build a strong foundation. And to have a teammate like Charlie Messenger was the final piece to reaching your full potential. We were competitors and gave our best whether we were running against each other / individually or on a team. We supported each other, we made each other the best we could be. And if I take it a step further the team that was built at NOVA was like no other. We trained hard, we laughed hard, we loved hard, we raced hard and we came out WINNERS!
I love competition whether it is on the track or closing a business deal. You’re always competing and someone has to win!
Running is that precious outlet in life, no matter how fast or slow the going as it is “the simultaneous liberation of mind and body.”
MB — Number #1 my dad for making me join a sport, Jim Murran, my JHS coach, for teaching me how to stride, Steve Braff (a JHS, and HS teammate) who started the Mepham HS 1000 mile club, Eddie Heitner, my best-ever 3rd leg on a relay, Paul Limmer and Jerry Hughes, my high school coaches who never let me down and gave me the rest of my life, Jack Pyrah for being persistent in recruiting me to Villanova, all the Villanova guys (for not busting my balls too much for slacking in workouts), Jumbo for his acceptance and leadership, Eamonn O’Reilly who coached me after Villanova to be a consistent sub 4:00 miler, and all my running buddies and gal friends in Boston and San Diego which kept my training and racing fun and easy. Why so many? If no one else showed up for a workout, I would have never trained. I needed and still need them all. If I had to pick one, it would be Paul Limmer, the Mepham HS track & field and XC head coach who talked me out of quitting.
CM — The positive impact in my running was 100% due to the club coach I had as a 14-15-year-old. He was not unlike Jumbo in that this was a labour of love for him. He had a family and a job during the day and he devoted his time to coaching. The only thing he asked was that we listen and follow his instructions. At the beginning he told me I could be good if I worked – trained hard. I was with him until I entered Villanova. Unfortunately, I never got to be trained by him in my post ‘Nova career due to my staying in the U.S.
TG — I owe my early success in track and life to my coach back in Ireland, Maurice Ahern. He took me under his wing and trained me to be the best in the world at a young age. I learned from Maurice if you work hard enough something good will come out of it. To Maurice I say thank you and you are always with me even to today.
JH — Credit must go to Paedar Dorgan who took me to my first race as well as introducing me to my first xc/track club. Credit to my wife Colleen, my family who always supported me to the fullest and to my teammates at both club and college level.
GOR — I would say Tom Donnelly who coached me for a number of years and Marcus O’Sullivan were two people who had a huge impact on my career. Tom is a tremendous coach and an even better person. Marcus is a close friend and would offer me great advice.
KS — This is a question that is greatly debated, and I believe everyone has a different take on it. First of all, I truly believe everyone that excels in a sport, whatever the sport is, there is an innate desire to be the best that they can be. For me it was running as a youngster growing up in an inner city. I always wanted to be the fastest kid on my block. I had success in grade school running CYO league track meets. When I went to high school my junior year had a new coach that ran in college and competed at Penn and won the 4×800 Championship of America high school title.
He was the one person that truly believed that I could run at a major college level and reach the heights that I attained.
EC — There are many people who helped me succeed. My teammates were the ones I learned from most. They pushed me, I pushed them. We learned from each other. But, if it wasn’t for my childhood coach Gerry Farnan, who came knocking on my hall door when I was eleven years and said, “Come join my running club; you will be a great champion,” I’d never have become an athlete, nor would, I have been exposed to the world. And, without Jumbo Elliott giving me the opportunity to return to Villanova after I quit mid-freshman year, I’d be absolutely nothing. Both these men I owe my life to in all I have achieved, both on and off the track.
Mark, winning a Penn Relays title is a lifetime achievement. You won 10, more than anyone else. Any last words?
MB — It’s all about the relays. Don’t get me wrong, I like cross country; it’s the best running sport in the world and by racing a mile or half-mile or another invitational event you get to showcase your individual talents. But when you run a relay the expectations and dependencies put on you raise the level of competition between teams. You don’t run as an individual. You are truly part of a team. Regardless, win or lose, you share with three other people a special bond not just between yourselves, but with your school, your coaches, and the fans. And the best part, when you tell the story you get to hear the same story told four different ways, so I guess, it’s all about the stories…just remember, “Don’t drop the baton!”
Thanks to Jerry Bouma for his help with this project.