We woke to the typical morning in Boulder: the sun rises early to illuminate the mountains in the West, and the summer heat, which takes the shortest of breaks from 2-5am, quickly resumes its place across the valley. There is a premium on early-morning runs here, though not as an escape from the energy-soaking humidity of late morning as in the Northeast, in the cities that never sleep; no, when you run early in Boulder, the advantage lies in waking alongside the town itself. There is no rush, no sense of urgency, just a gentle suggestion that to sleep in is to miss something worthwhile. You stretch your calves as the trees stretch their morning shadows, as the prairie-dogs stretch their curious necks from the dirt. Glimmering in the distance, already half-way up a mountain, a long train cuts through a tunnel, vanishes, snakes its way up toward the Rockies, somewhere out there beyond the peaks.
This particular morning held something memorable in store for us, as we hopped into the car and made our way to a morning run with Frank Shorter, Yale Class of 1969 (Morse, for the Yalies who are conditioned to ask), 2-time Olympian, Gold and Silver medalist in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic marathons (respectively) -- in short, a running legend. Frank was the last American to win gold in the Olympic marathon, he raced alongside and was a close friend of Prefontaine, and he provided inspiration for the running boom of the 1970s, among a great many other accomplishments. But for a few current Yale undergraduates who literally run in his footsteps in New Haven, who compete on the indoor track that bears his name, and who train from time to time on a route known to the current men of xYc as "Shorter Hill" (note: it is a long hill), the opportunity to run and chat with one of Yale's most notable alumni promised a kind of historical inspiration.
|Frank with the classic Yale jersey|
We picked up Mike Sandrock at the Trident (coffee shop) and headed out to Frank's house in North Boulder. When we arrived, the garage opened up and there was Frank, dressed in running shorts and sandals, waiting to head out on the trails as he's done countless times before. After some brief introductions he showed us around his house, decorated here and there with marathon posters, pictures, a few medals, and race memorabilia. We all instantly recognized a framed picture of Yale's indoor track (dedicated to Frank in 2005) which hung on the wall.
Frank had just recently come back from a trip to Munich, during which he was part of a 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1972 Munich Olympics. He showed us pictures that he took of the Marathon course run-up to the Olympic stadium, as well as the exact point on the course (roughly mile 9) where he found himself in the lead and made his decisive move, dropping the field and never seeing them again. "I still get chills when I look at it," he told us. Of course, I'm pretty sure we all got chills looking at those pictures.
A few minutes later we headed out the door and began Frank's route on the trails behind his house. For 40 minutes we ran together and talked about his time as a student-athlete at Yale, training and racing under the tutelage of another Yale Track & Field legend, Bob Giegengack, Yale's coach from 1946 to 1972. Frank explained that back in that era, without the structure of post-collegiate running teams and coaches that we have today, Giegengack would tell his athletes that he didn't just want to coach them, but he wanted to teach them to coach themselves. Just as they do today, the men of Yale Track & Field took the bus out to the field house and met together before heading out for their workouts. If they had a track workout scheduled, they would collect the outrageously expensive stop-watches of the time, strap them to their hands with shoe strings, and use them to time their splits. Giegengack would often not even watch the workouts himself, but had all his athletes report back to him afterwards and discuss how they felt, how the workouts might be altered in the future, and what they could learn from the day.
In 1972, shortly after finishing the marathon, Frank caught a full bus carrying athletes back to the Olympic village from the stadium. He squeezed in the doors, glanced up, and there was Giegengack, who, unbeknownst to Frank, was spectating in Munich. After the initial surprise, Frank found himself automatically recapping his race and his training to Giegengack just as he did most every day throughout his four years at Yale. He explained how he tweaked and altered his training after graduation, whereupon Giegengack replied, "You were really coaching yourself by your junior year."
Today, the Olympic dream seems to press the collegiate runner into a kind of crossroads as he or she faces that ultimate question after graduation: "What will you do now?" The old "hanging up the spikes" metaphor makes you sick, and no matter how much you celebrate that gloriously unhealthy week off between seasons, you know deep down that one great long run is worth an entire season of lazy Sundays of watching football and eating wings. So, you think about the future, and you can't help but make the calculations for the next Olympics. Let's see... graduate in 2013, that leaves 3 years to prepare for 2016... 7 years to prepare for 2020... where are they again? Rio, 2016? Hmm... what are my chances? Am I good enough to give it a shot? Where can I train? How will I make enough money to live? What about grad school???
|Frank's Yale Captain photo|
Frank provided me with some much-appreciated wisdom on the subject when I asked him when it was that he first set his sights on making it to the Olympics, thinking that it must have been shortly after winning the 6-mile at NCAA's his senior year. His response, which took me by surprise but illustrated a worthy attitude to take towards any endeavor, was that he never really thought much about making the Olympic team or winning medals and championships after he graduated (in fact, he has given most of his trophies and medals away). He merely felt that he hadn't reached his potential as a runner, and he wanted to see just how much more he could improve, how much faster he could go, how much closer he could take himself to the edge (paraphrasing, of course). It was an individualized and personal objective, indifferent to the times or successes of the other runners around him. That same philosophy applied to his racing mentality as he described when asked about how he approached Heps: "I knew that if the Harvard guys or the Princeton guys or anyone I was racing were thinking about how to beat me, while I just thought about running, then I already had them." I'd like to imagine that it wasn't much different for Frank when he raced with the "YALE" on his chest than when he found himself in the lead at mile 9 of the 1972 Olympic Marathon with "USA" on his chest, breaking away from the field for a lonely 17 miles to see just how fast he could go. It so happened that at the end of that day there was a gold medal waiting for him at the finish line, but you get the sense that it wouldn't have made much difference if there wasn't.
|Mike, Jacob, me, Frank, John, and Alec|
Needless to say, we all found a tremendous amount of inspiration in the stories that Frank shared with us during the run and afterwards as we sat outside in his backyard. Even after a long and memorable career of national championships, Olympic races, and general domination as a distance runner, Frank easily recalled the stories of his Heps races, the names of his Harvard and Princeton rivals, and the training foundation and philosophy he developed as a distance runner in the Ivy League which ultimately propelled him towards his post-collegiate career. Not a bad source of motivation as my final year with xYc and tYf looms in the distance... A big thanks to Mike Sandrock, founder of One World Running and author of Running With the Legends, for putting us in touch with Frank and making this day happen. And of course many thanks to Frank for the run, the chat, the tales and the motivation. Frank, you are welcome back in New Haven any time. I hear the Yale-Harvard alumni race is wide open this year...