Stephen E. Kellogg
15 February 2014
Picture yourself on a road in the country, Colonial farms and trees floating past. Hop over stone walls to pastures beyond them; A cow path snakes through knee-high grass. Wading through columns of summer-ripe corn towering over your head, Splash 'cross the creek to the shade of the woods and you're off: Long, Slow Distance running! Long, Slow Distance running! Long, Slow Distance running! Ahhhhh, ahhhhhh. Picture yourself on the side of a mountain, The switchbacking trails and songs of the wind. From dust and pine needles your feet rise so slowly; The air 's so incredibly thin. Misty rock canyons entangled in growth, white water cascades below. Burst from the cloud to a snow-crested ridge and you're off: Long, Slow Distance running! Long, Slow Distance running! Long, Slow Distance running! Ahhhhh, ahhhhhh. Follow her down to the pier by the ocean Where grey whales cavort and porpoises play. Walruses bask on the rocks by the tide pools While waves kiss the air in surging salt spray. Seagulls float lazily over the sands smoothed by the tears of the tide; Barefoot impressions lead down to the surf: the girl with the sandpiper stride! Long, Slow Distance running! Long, Slow Distance running! Long, Slow Distance running! Ahhhhh, ahhhhhh. -- Thespen Locke (c. 1977)
My storied running career began in 10th grade at Ferguson High in Newport News, Virginia. In this large school with its distinguished harrier tradition, I was the last and least on the JV cross-country team. On moving to Ledyard, Connecticut, I was surprised to find myself suddenly running varsity for cigar-chomping Coach Bob Arsenault, thanks to the school’s small size and emphasis on football and wrestling. Third or fourth on a squad where the top five “score” and the top seven “count,” I had no illusion of being anything other than an average runner when compared with the stellar likes of the Flora brothers. And so when a letter arrived from the Caltech cross-country coach inviting me to join pre-season workouts after graduation, I understood it as an opportunity to learn the lay of the land in Pasadena – where the campus bookstore and libraries were, where to find the best hamburger joint in town. I expected to run JV for a season before studies crowded out frivolous extracurricular activities. Like my co-Ledyard Scholar (valedictorian) and friend Gary Atkinson, my future was science and engineering.
The Institute: gargoyled ramparts, sub-basement laboratories, olive walks, halls steeped in tradition, since 1891. Still, every tradition has an origin and evolves over time. Three mighty buildings rose amid the orange groves of Pasadena in the early 20’s: stalwart Throop Hall (Engineering) named after the founder of the trade school that became Caltech, Gates (Chemistry) where Linus Pauling applied quantum mechanics to create modern-day chemistry, and Bridge (Physics) where Robert Millikan, the most famous American physicist of the first half of the 20th century, enticed a new generation of scientists westward. As the decades rolled, lab after research lab sprouted concentrically around these three. Entirely new disciplines came to fruition – seismology, aeronautical engineering, nuclear astrophysics, nanotechnology – fertilized by theorists and experimentalists rigorously trained in the scientific method. Out of impromptu war-era rocket tests in the Arroyo Seco, a new endeavor/campus emerged in the form of JPL which pioneered unmanned robotic exploration of every planet in the solar system. But massive Throop Hall, centerpiece of the campus, built for the ages, structurally compromised by the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, and where I first interviewed as a prospective student in 1972, was no more than a hole in the ground, destined to be a garden again, when I matriculated in 1973. So too, the historical all-male makeup of the undergraduate population tectonically shifted with the admission of coeds in 1970. But not to worry – women only comprised 10% of the student body when I attended, so there was no chance of being distracted from studies on that account.
‘Tis advertised in Boston, New York and Runner’s World:
Cross country lads across the land unto great fame are hurled.
Run yer roads in the mornin’ and Run yer roads high ho;
Haul away yer runnin’ gear and Run yer roads high ho!
They’ll send you to Caltech, me boys, a famous runnin’ spot
And hand you to Coach Leroy Neal to stretch and fit you out.
They’ll tell you of the mountain trails switchbackin’ in and out,
And say you’ll log 500 miles a-fore your first month's out.
So now we’re in mid-season lads, the blue slips start to come;
One-half the class is failin’ Math, the other half Phys-One.
On burnin’ sands our good coach stands a-squintin’ at the Sun
While down below we harriers go at the sound of the starter’s Gun.
“Aye, crowd ‘em on the tacks, me Jacks; o’erhaul ‘em on the level;
Close reef up canyon walls, ye tars, and kick ‘em to the Devil.”
“And now that Vict’ry’s ours, my lads, your efforts you may double.
Hit hard your books, unclew your spikes: Track season starts tomorrow.”
With Finals gone, the Relay done, we’re bound for summer sunnin’.
Around may pass the foaming glass and Damn this Distance Runnin’.
-- Thespen Locke (c. 1976)
Eight freshmen arrived for cross-country practice in the summer of 1973 – the JV team, I surmise. But no, there was only one senior who showed up two weeks later, Alan Kleinsasser, a serious 880 runner who proved beatable on a long hilly course, and one junior who arrived in time for class registration, Greg Griffin, a true standout runner, light years ahead of the rest of us. I assume a familiar fourth slot on the Varsity squad. Griffin proved the definition of a Renaissance man, holder of school records in the 3-mile, 10-K and marathon, tenor in the Men's Glee Club and theatrical musicals, and a Chem-E major – a notoriously difficult and lucrative discipline. Think a combination of John Flora and Gary Atkinson. He was, in short, the heroic figure I aspired to be. Alas, I lacked the natural talent of speed (what today we would call “fast-twitch muscle”) to approach his track times. Nor did I have the brains or time-management skills to ace exams or homework sets. What I did seem to have was endurance for long training runs. When “the Grif” asked for company on a 16-mile run up to Henninger Flats or the top of Mount Wilson, I alone joined him. And when he suggested the Culver City Marathon that December, I alone was fool enough to follow.
The 30th annual Western Hemisphere Marathon (as the Culver City race was titled) was the third oldest marathon run in the United States. (Recall that this was just one and a half years after Frank Shorter, out of the shadow of the Israeli hostage tragedy, uplifted the country by winning the Olympic Marathon in Munich. Commentators struggled to explain this quaint odd-distance endurance trial to audiences more familiar with good-old American gold-medal-won events like the 200-m sprint and the 4x400-m relay.) With a time of 2:59:53, I cracked the 3-hour “milestone” in this my first marathon, but rather inelegantly. After a swift 18 miles, I hit the fabled “wall” and staggered to an inglorious finish. To my shame, two women outran me. I resolved to train harder. Indeed, I later became renowned for a keen sense of pace, consistency and endurance. And over the next few years that regimen paid off: 2:55, 2:50, 2:46, 2:41 – as I rode the popular wave of the running boom sparked by Frank Shorter and the affable Bill Rodgers. With vain bravado, I saw myself in a race to reach a sub-2:30 marathon before the women of the world (on whose heels I was nipping) got there. The flip side of the consistency coin was that I was stuck on a speed plateau, in spite of all the coached stretching, wind-sprints and interval training. My goal each consecutive year in track was to run a 16-minute 3 mile (or not get lapped by the Grif), yet my times were consistently closer to 17:00. So I concentrated on what I was good at: solo long, slow distance training. I ventured out to every far-flung neighborhood within a ten-mile radius of the school; I explored many a trail that wound up the canyons and ridges of the nearby San Gabriel mountains. And when Greg Griffin graduated and passed into legend, I captained the cross-country team and became keeper of the hard-won knowledge of courses, urban loops and mountain trails, even as Coach Leroy Neal declared me “uncoachable.”
The Norman Bridge physics hall was infamous for its honeycombed basement offices where grad students, the cannon fodder of science thrown at nearly impossible thesis projects, toiled away as research assistants. Naturally, these denizens under Bridge were referred to as "trolls." The noun begat the verb sometime in antiquity: to troll was to study. The opposite of a troll was a flick, and the two eigenstates of a student were said to be trolling and flicking. Caltech had a modest P.E. requirement for graduation. (This alone explained the freshman turnout for team sports.) But once formally satisfied, should further participation in intercollegiate sport be considered trolling or flicking? While quantum mechanics may be content with a binary universe, the reality of student life required a healthy mixture of the two. Running was an escape valve and for me, at least, it proved essential for enduring the stress of the academic firehose of lectures and homework. There were certainly gradations to what might be considered training runs. It was not all lactic-acid-churning interval workouts, nor salt-sweat-in-your-eyes grinding milage. With the team, there were the impromptu midnight runs to Tommy’s, 5 miles away in Eagle Rock, where one refueled with steaming chiliburgers before retracing one’s steps back over the Colorado Bridge and down the Rose Parade route. Within Page House (one of the seven student houses on campus, each a cross between a dorm and a fraternity) Eugene Loh led the “San Marino Steeplechase”, another midnight affair, leaping over the manicured hedges and rose bushes in the front yards of the posh neighborhood just south of campus. I once corralled a ragtag group on a jogging trek to the beach through the greater Los Angeles metropolis – over the Hyperion Bridge, past Griffith Park, down Santa Monica Blvd, stopping for lemonade and ice-cream on the 20-mile journey.
De Caltech runners sing dis song: Relay, Relay!
De track dere be 24-hours long. Oh Relay Day!
I grabs de baton wid a snicker an’ a grin. Relay, Relay!
I staggers back, legs cramped and out of win’. Oh Relay Day!
Gwine to run all night; Gwine to run all day!
I gulp my E.R.G., put a new shirt on; Somebody’s locked in de haid.
De Wabbit laps de Fox on de inside lane. Relay, Relay!
De tent’s blown down in de hurricane. Oh Relay Day!
Is time to pull de Froggie out of his sack. Relay, Relay!
Dey’s Squids and Armadillos all ober dis Track. Oh Relay Day!
Gwine to run all night; Gwine to run all day!
I gulp my E.R.G., put a new shirt on; Somebody’s locked in de haid.
De Cripples lead de Frosh troo de mornin’ frost. Relay, Relay!
Dey miss de turn an’ dey both get lost. Oh Relay Day!
Ol’ KELROF speed like a Railway Car. Relay, Relay!
Runnin’ a race wid a Shootin’ Star. Oh Relay Day!
Gwine to run all night; Gwine to run all day!
I gulp my E.R.G., put a new shirt on; Somebody’s locked in de haid.
See dem flyin’ on a one-mile heat, Relay, Relay!
Roun’ de race-track, den repeat. Oh Relay Day!
De gun goes off, all stop and shout a cheer. Relay, Relay!
“No, never again … until next year!” Oh Relay Day!
Gwine to run all night; Gwine to run all day!
I gulp my E.R.G., put a new shirt on; Somebody’s locked in de haid.
-- Thespen Locke (c. 1978)
Then one fine spring day in my (first) senior year as I faced the end of my collegiate running career, I sought out my co-captain, sophomore and talented miler Rob Bourret, to share a reprinted Runner’s World article on a 10-man, 24-hour relay that they had invented/sponsored. “Sure it sounds cool,” he said, “but you’ll never find nine other Techers to join you.” In the macho world of Caltech, this was a challenge, a gauntlet cast down and not to be ignored. I immediately set a date, one week after track season ended, and got to work, buttonholing, persuading, cajoling current and former team members, grad students and postdocs. I launched a (self-) promotional campaign: “Wanted: 10 good men, each to run one mile legs in a continuous relay for 24 hours,” complete with a catchy team name: “KELROF” for “Kellogg’s Eighth Light Regiment of Foot.” I arranged for T-shirts, emblazoned with a broad Sword crossed over a flaming Torch (the torch being the emblematic seal of Caltech) – symbols for Day and Night, Speed and Endurance, Flicking and Trolling. On the back of the shirt was printed our motto "That which does not kill me makes me stronger." (Kellogg, who was serious, quoting Colgrove, who was kidding, quoting Liddy, who's crazy, quoting Nietzche, who's dead.) I attended to details like making sure that the gym would be open, the field lights on, the sprinklers off; I procured modest funds from the Alumni Association and rented an easy-up tent, bought food and drink. I signed up volunteers for two-hour shifts as official timers to stop-watch every lap, entries to be chronicled on a large poster board and plotted in real time. I even established mock “baton handoff practice sessions” and signed up Tim Brown (“Da Wabbit”), a regular in Eugene’s Steeplechases, as an alternate. Behind my back, my alternate proceeded to recruit another nine fun-runners. And so when the morning of the Relay dawned, we fielded two complete teams. KELROF ran a total of 247 miles, 375 yards, averaging 5:49.5 per mile, while the Caltech Cripples without Crutches amassed a respectable 189 miles, 850 yards. The following year, in the hopefully christened “2nd-annual KELROF 24-hour Relay”, five teams crowded the track and I would lead an extraordinary posse of runners to a 262-mile, 1316-yard tally. This was the equivalent of 10 marathons. Strung together, we each could have claimed a world-class pace, good enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
I had entered Caltech with the class of 1977, but my degree would say 1978. To which class did I belong? I had outright flunked two too many classes to graduate in 1977 and so was looking at a makeup or 5th year. In fairness, I was working part-time as a TA in the Senior Physics Lab (PH 77) and in Prof. Felix Boehm’s group engaged in sensitive parity-violation research. Experimental physics was more my forte than the classroom-heavy theoretical stuff. As a “super-senior” I felt out of place in the student houses, ineligible for the cross-country team, though welcome to train with them, showing the ever-younger freshmen the 7-mile San Marino loop, the 10-mile South Pasadena loop or the 12-mile roundtrip to Occidental College.
Then a small miracle occurred. Among the crop of incoming freshmen runners was one Celia Peterson of Bloomington, Indiana: 5’5”, 105 lbs, rail-thin (what today we might refer to as anorexic), thick black-rimmed glasses, short blonde hair which led more than one race director to mistake her for a boy as she crossed a finish line. Painfully shy and awkward, Celia's voice was perpetually hoarse, perhaps due to a strained larynx or her vegetarian diet. Spoken words were obviously difficult for her, as they were for me. She had left her cello behind in Bloomington. So she let her studying and running do the talking for her. Celia had more stamina for long distance training than anyone else in her class. She quickly assumed fourth-place on the men's team. But she came to Caltech for the science, the possibility of doing research. She also seemed to get by on only 3 hours of sleep each night. So if you found her studying in the Rickets House lounge at 6 am, it was not because she had pulled an all-nighter, but rather had arisen at 3:30 after a fitful rest, run a 10-mile morning workout, showered and breakfasted in her room before tackling a left-over problem set from the previous night. She described herself as clumsy and I remember her ignoring sidewalk cones and sploshing through wet concrete on the return from a twelve miler to Oxy. By contrast, I was infamous for my efficient stride, silent footfall, measured breathing, scaring the bejeezus out of pedestrians I overtook on the sidewalk.
I recognized a lot of myself in Celia – quiet, inward, driven by colossal internal dreams and energies, tempered by doubts of self. She needed the solitude of long-distance training runs, along with unconditional acceptance of her peers. Regular workouts were not enough for her self-imposed anaerobic requirements. She could use an early morning running companion capable of keeping up with her. But what she really needed was a hero to look up to. I looked around and the only one who might plausibly fill that role was me.
Day-O! Me Race-Day-O!
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
Day! Me Race-Day-O!
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
Me run: Six-mile, Seven-mile, Eight-mile Loop.
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
Me run: Six-mile, Seven-mile, Eight-mile Loop.
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
Come Mr. Coaching-Man, Time-Trial me Five-thousand.
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
Me say: Come Mr. Coaching-Man, Time-Trial me Five-thousand.
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
Day-O! Me Race-Day,
Race-Day come and me want taper off.
-- Thespen Locke (Track training camp song, 1974)
The winter of 1977-78 saw record-breaking rainfall in southern California thanks to El Nino ocean currents in the South Pacific. Pasadena streets turned into storm runoff channels. The Paddock field oval, Caltech’s dirt and clay track, turned into a quagmire, incapable of supporting interval workouts. Track meets were cancelled. One overcast day while coming down from Henninger Flats on a solo run, I rounded a bend to encounter a massive land slide that covered a stretch 30 yards long and the entire width of the dirt toll road. The rain-saturated slope had given way and missed me by less than 5 minutes. But with the winter rains there came a strong onshore wind pattern that dispersed the usual thick smog. In short, conditions favored training for long-distance road races in Los Angeles. In January of 1978, I led a small contingent of Techers, including Celia, to the Mission Bay Marathon, directed by old-timer Bill Gookin. A medical doctor and runner himself, Gookin was locally infamous for the elixir he had concocted after analyzing the nutrients he lost sweating: Electrolytic Replacement with Glucose (E.R.G.). We called it Gookinade and Bill and his wife were fixtures at local races peddling the stuff from the back of their van. Mission Bay was a favorite of mine, but by 1978 it was suffering growing pains, a victim of its own success. A traffic jam left us racing across the sandbars to get to the start, even as the gun sounded. It was not my best race; Celia did not finish. Feeling guilty, I scoured race schedules for a small, intimate startup and found one in the 2nd-annual Los Alamitos Marathon in March along with a series of progressively longer races to build up to it.
On the night before a 30-km “trainer” in February, I carefully prepared for rejection and approached Celia with arguments about how important it was to relax the night before a race and how Star Wars was quite inspirational, but if she had too much homework, well, I would understand. She surprised me be saying “yes” before I could reason with her, so I drove her to the Chinese Graumann theater in Hollywood, and caught her uncharacteristically smiling as Han Solo coaxed the Millenium Falcon to jump into hyperspace. I drove her back to the student houses and she mumbled a thanks. Only later would I come to understand that this had been her 18th birthday. It had been my first date. The following morning I picked her up and we drove to Culver City for the race. 30 km (18.6 miles) is a seldom-run, odd-ball distance taking one right up to the marathon “wall”. Hence Culver City served as the Western Championship and was frequented by only a handful of the AAU faithful. I concentrated on my 5-km splits and ate up the course in spite of its flatness, finishing anonymously in the upper 10%. I did not have long to wait before Celia crossed the line, winning the women’s division. Afterward, Martha (Marty) Cooksey, the 2nd-place finisher, sat next to Celia on the grassy field as we awaited stragglers and the awarding of cheap medals. Brian Oldham, Marty’s coach, sat apart as she quizzed Celia: Did she know about the first ever all-women’s marathon, sponsored by Avon, to be held in Atlanta, Georgia in three weeks time? Yes. And would Celia be there? No. Too far, too difficult. But it’s not difficult at all. You just jump on a plane and go! This was a concept inconceivable to a poor student whose funds were dedicated toward tuition, books and two-a-year plane tickets home for Christmas and Summer. Yet she was also turning down the invitation to “go national” in favor of running the obscure, low-pressure local race that I had picked out for her.
The Los Alamitos Marathon we ran two weeks later followed a convoluted course that included two large loops around the perimeter of the Naval Air Station and a good deal of winding through residential streets to meet the required 26-mile, 385-yard distance while at the same time staying within the geographical boundary of the town. I managed to get turned around (lost) jogging a warmup, but started the race well, cruising to a measured first mile in 5:59 and for the second mile and the third…. By 10 miles, I was running 10th in a field of 254. At my steady pace, I proceeded to pass runners, one by one, until I was 3rd and very much alone at 20 miles. In fact, I could no longer see anyone ahead or behind, hearing only my own breathing and footfalls on the asphalt. There was a zen-like joy in feeling myself finally master over the wall of emptiness. A final zig-zag in the last quarter mile was required. I queried a policeman as to whether I should cross the thoroughfare here. Sure, he replied, so I crossed and zigged down the first side street, then zagged towards the visible finish, but I had cut over one block too early. Crossing the line, my time was announced as 2:36:56 for 2nd place, but since I was off course, I would be disqualified. Furious, I retraced my steps and dashed around the errant block to cross the line a second time, then sat down to compose a protest note for the race director. The final course was insufficiently marked. I had run the prescribed marathon distance. The winner had been able to follow a pace car. The true 2nd-place runner had actually missed the zig altogether, running an additional half mile before realizing his error, turning and crossing the finish line after me and in the opposite direction! By the time Celia finished, winning the women’s division in 2:47:07 (18th out of all 254 finishers), the ambiguities in the course had been corrected with guides posted at the critical intersections. Before the awards ceremony, the race committee agreed with my petition, assigning 2nd place and a pro-rated time to the deserving runner, and restoring my “first-crossing” time of 2:36:56 and rightful 3rd place standing. I had run a perfectly-paced 5:59-per-mile marathon. Celia’s time raised a few eyebrows among knowing AAU officials. Her previous best had been a 3:02.
One week later, a photogenic Marty Cooksey decisively won Atlanta in a time of 2:46:16 – making the cover of Runner’s World magazine, and earning a featurette in Sports Illustrated.
Light appeared at the end of the academic tunnel. I would graduate after all and so made plans for a post-Caltech future. MITRE Corporation offered to fly me to Boston for an interview. Naturally, I managed to arrange it for the Tuesday after Patriot’s Day, i.e., the 82nd running of the Boston Marathon. I crashed at Gary Atkinson’s pad that weekend. (Gary was working towards his Masters in Civil Engineering at MIT.) Because of a pulled hamstring, I ran a cautious 2:52:03 in the rain. It was of course impossible to get lost on the road from Hopkinton to the Prudential Center what with roaring spectators six to twenty deep on either side of the course. Bill Rodgers (2:10:13) won his second of four Boston’s that year even as I crested Heartbreak Hill. Alas, MITRE declined to offer me a job, but ENDEVCO, a small engineering development company in San Juan Capistrano, summer home to the migratory swallows, did. Celia suddenly announced that she was transferring to Cornell in idyllic upstate New York. I was unsuccessful in recruiting her for the KELROF Relay in May, but did involve her in a wild attempt to cross the San Gabriel mountains on a 50-mile Pasadena-to-Palmdale trek. We crested Mt. Wilson (5712’), descended and crossed the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, bushwhacked up a canyon to Charlton/Chilao Flats (5500’). I was ready to summit Mt. Waterman (8030’) and then descend into the Devil’s Golf Course, but my primary support vehicle (Grandfather) was weary and I had to terminate the venture at 35 miles. I drove Celia and her bike to LAX and saw them on the plane. (She stood in the forward cabin most of the flight to avoid the cigarette smoke in those unenlightened days.) Celia longed for a summer of pastoral training in Bloomington and a return to the Three Rivers Marathon in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I had already set my summer sights on the perfect marriage of my running strengths/interests: the Pikes Peak Marathon, August 13, 1978.
Ah, hot August morn – and the leaves on the bough and the sweat on the brow – smelling sweet.
Run on up the road –
to the outside of town and the sound of your Tiger-clad feet.
There mills some ragged types
With nought but underwear on
Stretching their legs and psyches
Awaitin’ the starter’s gun
Run runners, run, the Fun-Runner’s Traveling Marathon Show
Kick up the loose dirt and grab an old T-shirt and everyone go
‘cause everyone runs the marathon slow.
The field grows suddenly still – and when you’d almost bet you could drown in your sweat – he jogs up.
Shoes double laced – with those white woolen socks and two Casio clocks – warming up.
"Start off soft and slow.
Take on water at four.
Gradually let yourself go.
You can each set a P.R.”
“Runners …” [Alleluia, runners!]
“Now listen up, runners …” [Alleluia, runners!]
“You stride the world on two God-given feet.” [Alleluia, runners!]
“Now you gotta plant that first foot on the firm earth beneath you,
And spring up, spring ever so lightly off that oft-trod tarmac,
‘cause that’s what you’re leaving behind.” [Alleluia, runners!]
“And with that second foot, you gotta reach out to the road up ahead,
Stretch out to that finish line somewhere over the rise;
‘cause that’s what you’re headed for.” [Alle, Alle, Alle, Alle …]
You gotta pace yourself.
You gotta race yourself.
You gotta brace yourself.
You gotta face yourself.
-- Thespen Locke (1975)
In my new setting halfway between the smog and traffic of L.A. and San Diego, unencumbered by classwork and only responsible for 40 hours of work each week, it proved possible to finally rack up some serious milage. 75, 90, 105, 120, 135 miles per week were meticulously logged. At this rate, marathons became workouts. Palos Verdes: picturesque bluffs overlooking the Pacific, but shunned by most runners interested in fast times because of its hills. I ran the first half in 95:00, enjoying the scenery, then told myself to "make up the difference," kicked into high gear and brought the second half in under 85:00, passing Pete and Sue Petersen, a famous running couple, on their way to a measured 3:00:00. This was a lighthearted "mirror" to my first marathon performance. I confess to miscalculating once. Late one warm morning, I checked in with the ranger's station off Ortega Highway to review the trail to Saddleback Mountain (4121'), the distinctive and highest peak on the skyline visible from Southern Orange County. I disputed the ranger's estimate that it was more than 15 miles distant, and drove to the gated trailhead, closed due to fire season. No shade, 95 degrees. But what did I care? I was an all-weather, all-terrain, running machine. I had not appreciated that there were two high ridges, each a 1500’ climb, that had to be traversed before I reached a small copse of trees at the base of the mountain. I commenced the final ascent, hot and parched, struggling up the steep, slippery, dusty fireroad, but when I was perhaps 200 yards from attaining the summit, I tunnel-visioned. Now, I was familiar with "seeing" strobe lights, a sign of stress, but this was getting serious. I lay on the trail head downhill to get blood to the brain and reasoned thusly: There would be no water faucet at the radio tower on the mountain top. To persist is death. On the other hand, there was a spring of water among the copse of trees, the only shade in 15 miles, at the bottom, and a chance of life. I stumbled near delirious downward and, ignoring all those years of Boy Scout training, drank deeply directly from the spring, immersed myself in its shallow pool, and drank and drank more. Even so it was touch and go jogging and hiking out the remaining 12 or so miles of desolation with buzzards circling overhead. Blood was in my urine that evening. Ever since, I have consciously made certain I was well-hydrated before a long run.
I commenced a correspondence campaign that summer (remember the pre e-mail/facebook era?) intending generally to link together the cross-country teammates and KELROF expatriots scattered across the country, and specifically to keep the introverted Celia connected to Caltech. Ours was the easy, self-effacing banter of the distance runner, sprinkled liberally with names, milage, accounts of courses, and the occasional inspirational verse. For every four letters I directed to Bloomington or Ithaca, I received one in return. The day before Three Rivers, our letters crossed in the mail, anticipating/downplaying her potential performance. Impatient for results, I tracked down and called the race director in Ft. Wayne, Indiana (the thought of telephoning Celia directly never occurred to me), and he gave me the incredulous news that Celia had run a 2:41:48! This was nothing less than the tenth fastest marathon ever run by a woman in the world to that date. I allowed myself some undue satisfaction in having helped train her.
And now it was my turn, in my self-appointed role as "hero", to establish the next standard/ideal. I jumped on a plane and went to Colorado Springs, “base camp” to Pikes Peak, with an arbitrary goal of finishing in 4:00:00. (This was a 14110' mountain I was climbing, after all, and I had never been confident at running steep downhills with abandon.) 800 queued at the starting line in Manitou Springs (6800’), including Marty Cooksey, I noted. We started, immediately ascending past kitschy shops lining Main Street, then up the steep but wide Barr Trail switchbacks for 5 miles, hit the “flats” at 10000’ where we cruised through forests of pine and aspen, partaking of water drawn directly from the icy mountain streams, passed through the distinct timberline at 11500’ where the going got tougher with loose rocks and sand and boulders where handholds would have proved helpful, switchbacked up a nearly shear rock face and with half a mile to go passed the disheartening sign proclaiming the “16 Golden Stairs” by which was meant that one had to bound upwards 24 inches each step. Walkers gained on me even as I tried to maintain a running tempo. I finally attained the top in a time of 2:38:52 and 14th overall. (The ascent is a race unto itself and anyone was welcome to bail out at that point by plan or impulse, but that was certainly not what I had come for. Marty, for example, finished her morning workout here in a strong 2:46:44, opting to hitch a ride down the motor road.) I was the 7th of 200 to turn around, refusing a shot of O2 and the opportunity to sightsee in the frigid wind. Casting aside inhibitions, I leapt from rock to rock, crashed through the woods, and bounced off the switchback guard rails, tearing half-dollar-sized blisters on both heels, to a 6th place, 4:15:23 finish. I mockingly expressed disappointment that I had not achieved my arbitrary 4-hour goal, only to later learn that the true measured distance of the Pikes Peak Marathon was 28.3 miles, i.e., further than the standard marathon. Those extra two miles corresponded almost exactly to my extra 15 minutes spent on the trail.
Don't look back; I dare not now,
It's been so long since I've taken the lead.
My feet are flying, the hills I'm climbing,
And each stride pulls me that farther ahead.
The pack was slow, it took so long
just to realize I'm much too strong
to hold back with them anymore.
Blow them away; I had to break away.
I'm headed down the road to glory
Ahhh, headed down the road of glory
with dreams of miles I'd left behind, left behind.
-- Thespen Locke (1975)
Two weeks later, I felt recovered enough to run the 1st America’s Finest City (i.e., San Diego) Half Marathon. Like Boston, this was a logistically-challenging point-to-point race and the organizers had limited entry to the first 3000, but that didn’t stop me from sneaking into it anyway. Again I made note of Marty Cooksey’s presence among the front-line elite as we awaited the start; but as I had no “number,” I positioned myself among the latter third of the expectant runners and it took me a good 30 seconds after the gun sounded just to cross the starting line. I worked my way through the field, accelerating slowly as the road opened up and the herd thinned. The Pike’s Peak “souvenirs” on my heels kept me on my toes as I dashed downhill to the flats along the bay. I finally caught up with Marty, paced by her coach, in the eighth mile. “Atta way, Marty. 75 minutes. Piece of cake!” (75:00 of course would be a 2:30:00 marathon pace.) Having uttered this prophetic encouragement, I could hardly ease up and so pressed on without looking back, recording my fastest 10-mile split ever, and powered up the downtown hills and into Balboa Park, where I doubled back 3 yards shy of the finish line in an (unofficial) time of 74:30 and 18th place. Marty crossed the line in a smooth and unlabored 75:04, 22nd overall.
Another two weeks passed and on Labor Day I found myself on the summit of 10069’ Mt. Baldy after the familiar 9-mile Run-to-the-Top. This had been an important “trainer” in my quest for Pike’s Peak. Again, Marty was there, as was coach Brian Oldham who outran me that day and was waiting for me among the tumbled boulders above the tree line. He complemented my summer achievements (I had not gone unnoticed) and suggested that I could benefit from the services of a coach (flattering, but I loved my independence.) The conversation turned to his protégé. Marty Cooksey, he said, had the endurance (Pikes Peak), the speed and smoothness (San Diego), the strength (Mt. Baldy) and experience (Atlanta) to go for the American record at New York. “She will go out at a 2:34 pace, but probably run a 2:38.” I passed on this intelligence by post to Celia, who was by now an invitee to numerous prominent cross-country championships and road races from 10-km through the marathon all around the country, expenses paid by sponsorship money. She had to pick and choose.
By the ninth running of the New York City Marathon (October 22, 1978), what had been an informal gathering of a few dozen members of the NYRRC running laps around Central Park had morphed into an international mega-event, 10000 entrants commandeering the Verrazano Narrows bridge at the start, and expansively touching each of the Big Apple’s five boroughs. Bill Rodgers, on fire that year, won in 2:12:12. Marty Cooksey predicted it would take a 2:30 to win the woman’s division and that she was the one who would do so. She set out at a blistering early pace, but faltered. Dehydrated and woozy, she famously stumbled twice in Central Park, collapsed, and crawled across the finish line in 2:41:49. It was a Norwegian middle-distance runner in her first career marathon, Greta Waitz, who blew past Marty at 18 on the way to setting a world record 2:32:29. Sue Petersen finished third in 2:44:43. Celia Peterson (Marty’s designated NY roommate) reported being dizzy at 13 and dropped out at 15 miles.
1978 proved an extraordinary year for the long-distance running community. To put it in perspective, consider that only 3000 Americans completed a marathon in 1970, the year I first laced on running shoes. Women were neither sanctioned nor recognized by the AAU in the marathon until 1971. (Roberta Gibbs and Katherine Switzer were “illegals” in the late 60’s as far as the Boston Athletic Association was concerned.) By 1978, marathoners in the U.S. numbered 55000, of whom 4000 were women. That year, my Los Alamitos time ranked me about 1200th, or at the 97.5% level among the men. Celia, Marty and Sue ran the 4th, 5th and 6th fastest American times, respectively, placing them at the 99.8% level among the women. Still, they had to wait another 6 years before a women’s marathon was added as an Olympic event. Today, the tally of Americans completing at least one marathon each year exceeds half a million, and of those 40% are women. Coincidentally or not, the ratio of women to men in the undergraduate student population at Caltech parallels that of marathoners. While our post-1978 dreams remained as big as the sky, seemingly unlimited, as it happened some of us had already reached the pinnacles of our running “careers.” It was Greta Waitz in 1979 at her second appearance in New York who decisively shattered our communally shared 2:30 goal with a 2:27:33.
This morn I’m going to break away, Just you wait and see!
I’ll never be held back by An old knee injury.
Just when I think I’m over it, The pain seems to subside.
A little speed and a misplanted foot – I’m forced to halve my stride.
It happens all the time, This crazy knee of mine,
Tripping up my dreams, Refusing to align.
Oh, injury! Ah, Aieee.
-- Thespen Locke (1980)
A handsome promotional photo graces the cover of a slick brochure for the San Diego Marathon showing me and three other serious runners in full six-minute-per-mile tilt, running past the Star of India, a tall-masted ship on the waterfront. What the photographer failed to capture that January 1979 morning was me running out of gas later and walking miles 18, 21, and 23 on the way to a humbling 3:14 finish. Since speed was ever my bane, I tried my hand at ultramarathons. 50-km (31 miles) wasn’t so bad. But 50 miles proved that even at a comfortable pace, the wall was waiting for me near mile 35. After two abortive attempts on the track (yes, 200 laps!), I persuaded my roommate Josh Rothenberg to support me by bicycle in the Marysville-to-Sacramento 50 miler following the Feather River. That way I did not have the option of dropping out. It worked. I finished, depleted, in 7:02:00, but I had been shooting for 6 hours, two easy 3 hour marathons with room to spare. Another 24-hour Relay came and went. KELROF was on track for a record 265 miles when three members dropped out during the night, reducing our in-between-miles “rest period” to 32 minutes. We slowed to survive ‘til morning, falling short by one mile of surpassing the previous year’s mark. I sought out a new mountain to strive for and found it in the Haleakala “Run to the Sun” in Hawaii. One way (no downhill), 30 miles (the right distance), 10000’ elevation gain (but from sea level). I never made it to Maui, though.
At our level of training, we constantly flirted with injury. It did not help that I eschewed stretching prior to morning runs in favor of the extra miles that could be squeezed in. Years of forgoing milk (to keep lactic acid at bay) led to bouts of anemia. A pain in the foot was diagnosed as a metatarsal stress fracture which halved my milage. Then I ignored a pain in the knee on a short morning workout, which left me limping for a week. I sought out doctors, podiatrists. “My God, you have a 10-degree forefoot varus. You can’t run!” Really? I sought out another podiatrist: Dr. John Pagliano, a contributing columnist to Runner’s World. “Chondromalatia patella,” inflammation of the cartilage under the knee cap. When Dr. John says take the anti-inflammatory pills and stay off the knee for three weeks, there is nowhere else to appeal. Months later, I rebooted to a daily regimen wearing orthotics, but the knee never fully allowed me to reach the halcyon days of the previous summer. It forced me periodically to back off on training even as I tried to gear up for a comeback race. Most disheartening of all, I completely lost my hard-won, keen sense of pace.
Marty suffered through a number of injuries after NYC, biking and swimming to maintain fitness when knees or feet could not bear the punishing pavement. She would eventually run a 2:35:42 marathon in the 1984 Olympic Trials in Olympia, Washington. (I briefly considered driving down to watch that race.) But by then, Marty’s P.R. achievement, as foreseen by her coach, was only good enough for 13th place. Joan Benoit would go to L.A. and win American gold in the first Olympic women’s marathon.
Celia struggled too. She delighted, surely, in the rural runs and wrote approvingly that winter of her classes, but between the lines there was unhappiness. Cornell’s new coach preached and practiced a track-centric regimen: interval workouts for speed and tempo, exercises to lengthen stride, sessions in the weight room for strength. In one sense, these were necessary elements to reach a “next level.” As one friend (another ex-Caltech CC runner transplanted to Cornell) put it, “How can Celia run so well when, form-wise, she is a textbook [case] on how not to run?” But on the other hand, it is risky meddling with something that works. Was not I, Mr. “Ten-degree Forefoot Varus”, proof that the long-distance runner naturally compensates as needed through thousands of anaerobic miles to atone for minor physiological deficiencies? (Ignore the fact that I was on the injury list in the end.) More serious was Celia’s bad habit of not eating for 20 hours prior to a race. This led directly, I have to imagine, to an increasing number of races in which she DNF-ed or reported being sick mid-race. And then there was the issue of Old Man Winter in upstate New York. Could it have been the case that the rainy L.A. winter of 1977-78 had in fact been Celia’s first taste of round-the-year outdoor training? The Finger Lakes are indeed idyllic in Spring, Summer and Autumn, but sloshing through slushy streets can be miserable in the long dark of winter. In one letter she expressed a desire to find a marathon in a warm southern state, though not, heaven-forbid, California. She hinted that the students at Caltech had seemed nicer, yet I was caught unaware when, as an afterthought to a springtime letter, she wrote “did I mention I was returning to Caltech next fall?” No. Nor had she bothered to tell anyone else save the Registrar.
Celia returned to a rapidly evolving student body at the Institute where there was now a viable women’s CC team (at least for half the season). Celia too had changed. She had put on a few pounds, which was a healthy development in her case, and had noticeably slowed. Unrivaled in her freshman year, she was now challenged by under-classmates. For reasons I never fully divined she began a slow withdrawal from the team. It might well have been the pressure of classes, but it could also have been burn out, a personality conflict, a relationship problem, drugs, or upper-class malaise. I suspect that she felt betrayed by her own maturing body, no longer streamlined, taut and lithe, injury free. This must of necessity be conjecture on my part. I was no longer a student, no longer a resident of Pasadena, but rather a working alum, 60 miles distant with fewer and fewer campus contacts. Once a month I pilgrimaged to neighboring Glendale to visit with my father’s parents. Grandfather was dying of cancer, having foregone a second round of chemotherapy so as to enjoy my sister’s wedding day. I used these visits to sporadically check in on the team and managed to introduce Celia to the few San Gabriel trails we had not run together during her freshman year. But I was (again) completely unsuccessful in recruiting her into a 24-hour Relay. She dropped off the team roster and did not run collegiately in her senior year.
Early on the beautiful spring morning of my 25th birthday, even as I was running to the Glendale radio towers atop 3126’ Verdugo Peak during one such visit, Grandfather died peacefully in his own bed. It was the kind of death that we all might aspire to – and it freed me for my planned break away from Southern California. In the grip of youthful wanderlust and desirous of a return to unfettered academic research, I had shotgunned seven applications to graduate schools. The schools were chosen with care: second tier, for who else might accept one so academically weak? Each possessed an active experimental nuclear physics program, for low-energy nuclear physics was a backwater – a well-tilled field by 1980 and not sought by the best and the brightest – but promised the sort of small-scale physics where an individual researcher might work in splendid isolation. Most importantly, each school was more than 1000 miles distant from Southern California. I was genuinely surprised when I received no less than seven acceptances. Never good at making final decisions, I nevertheless managed to narrow my suitors down to two. I called the University of Rochester, on the shores of Lake Erie (home to the bleakest winters I could imagine), to accept their offer, but the advisor mistook my natural gloomy tone as rejection, and, not wishing to contradict her conclusion, I let it ride.
And that is how it was that I ended up as a candidate for a PhD in Physics at the University of Washington in Seattle, with its spectacular views East and West to the snow-capped Cascade and Olympic ranges respectively. While the pristine Pacific Northwest violated one of my self-prescribed conditions – lack of distraction from study – I nevertheless took comfort from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens the previous May which laid a blanket of white ash on the plains of eastern Washington. Somehow, I managed to pass the qualifying exam on the first try and settled in for seven years of experimental work at the Nuclear Physics Lab and the monastic life of a grad student. Even so, Seattle should have been an ideal setting for a racing comeback. The rolling hills, wooded shorelines, bike trails, light rains and relatively mild though dark winters were ideal for Long, Slow Distance running. How longingly I recalled pastorally peaceful Ledyard jaunts. And indeed I did enjoy a few highs like my 4th place finish (out of 61) on the run up Mt. Ashland in Oregon. But the knee, the knee, the knee kept forcing me to cut training runs short, leaving me underprepared for the few road races I did enter. I faltered in the Mercer Island Half Marathon and the Mt. Si (actually the rural valley beneath) Marathon. I still thought myself a member of that elite corp of serious competitors, valiantly vying for P.R. glory, but found myself finishing races among the rabble, the thundering herd, the weekend runners. What did I have in common with them? As a consequence, I never found a training partner, and so infrequently explored alone the trails and logging roads that my increasingly unreliable vehicle could reach. I allowed my correspondence, tenuously connecting me to past friendships, to dry up. While I might have deceived my younger self that their purpose was to inspire, they also served as egotistical, nay, narcissistic boasting. Who now would want to hear the litany of my failures?
Runs, more often than not, were associated with nuclear physics experiments: “We ran all night with 20 amps of 18-MeV protons on the target.” I did manage to conflate the two definitions for a critical part of my thesis work. Dressed in lab coat, bow tie, running shorts and shoes, I stretched outside the three-foot thick concrete door, awaiting the termination of a 10-minute-long cyclotron run, bombarding deuterons onto a water-cooled Be beam-stop to produce a spray of high-energy neutrons which bathed my sample of a few mg of Hafnium, isotopically enriched in 180Hf. As soon as the beam was halted, I squeezed through the door as it slowly rolled open via electric-drive worm-gear onto the experimental hall, where I grabbed the broomstick with my target sample taped on the end, then sprinted through the lab with the broomstick held high like an Olympic torch, setting off radiation monitors in a staccato frenzy as I passed in a 100-m dash to the Hot Lab where, under a fume hood, we promptly dissolved the Hf metal in HF acid, added a few drops of Y as a carrier hoping to precipitate out the handful of atoms of Lu we had created, agitated said solution within a test tube, spun it up in a centrifuge to 800 g’s, deaccelerated the centrifuge by hand, carefully decanted the solution, then repeated the HF titration, agitation, centrifugation and decantation steps another two times, before dispatching the barely visible precipitate, again by runner (me), to a low-background counting room. Stop-watch-measured times from cyclotron to radiochemistry to initiation of data collection with the high-resolution Ge(Li) gamma-ray detector ran under 5.7 minutes, the half-life of the desired parent radioactivity, 180Lu (and about what I used to average per mile on the track). Radiochemical separation factors (Lu from Hf) of greater than 10000-to-1 were achieved by this method. By further incorporating the long-lived radiochemical tracer 181Hf, we could use subtractive processing to definitively rule out any significant r-process nucleosynthetic production path for 180Ta^m, the rarest “stable” isotope found in nature. That was my thesis: a negative result.
My sense of worth, I held in those days, rested on three active legs. First there was science & research which challenged my logical, inquisitive intellect. Second was music that touched the soul; and third was the running which engaged something more primal – a competitive spirit deep within me. When one leg was compromised, I tended to overcompensate on another to “right” myself. And so I threw myself into the choral world where I found soaring peaks and deep valleys of emotion that left me more depressed and alone than ever. Perhaps it was the legacy of growing up in an itinerant military family, but even though I loved the gentle Pacific Northwest, I could not stay. Disheartened, I cast about for a postdoctoral-ship and was again surprised that Caltech considered me as a candidate. But after all, the Kellogg Radiation Lab, named after the cereal magnate, was the birthplace of the field of experimental nuclear astrophysics, driven largely by the cheerful force of will that was Willy Fowler, winner of the 1983 Nobel in Physics. As I was a student of Eric Norman who was a student of David Schramm who was a student of Willy Fowler, there was a certain symmetry, a closing of the circle, a fulfillment of destiny, if I were to make my way “home,” even though I had sworn that I would not return to smog-choked Pasadena. Since I was no longer capable of serious running and, frankly, too depressed to care anymore, why should breathable air matter?
In the morning's greying
we rise with
inheriting the freedoms
In the midtime's blueing
we proceed to
creating the finities
In the evening's darkening
we pause in
confirming the possibilities
In the night's void
we dream of
realizing the harmonies
-- BBJN (1990)
And so, in 1987 I returned joylessly to Caltech, intent on trolling in the sub-basement of Kellogg lab, dug under the garden where Throop Hall had once stood. I should not have been surprised by the changes I found. There were new buildings on the campus (though my office remained in one of the venerable, seemingly timeless buildings), new students, a new CC coach, and a new synthetic Track. It took a few weeks to realize that even the very air I breathed had changed. Despite an ever increasing number of infernal combustion engines clogging the roadways, catalytic converters, vehicle emission checks and aggressive mandates had sharply reduced the incidence of level-2 and -3 smog alerts. Yes, much had changed, but what was this? On the gymnasium bulletin board I found a notice announcing the upcoming running of the 12th annual KELROF 24-hour Relay. Somehow, the crazy idea that still bore my name had morphed into a “tradition” without my continuous promotion. The Relay director that year (and the following) was Bibi Jentoft-Nilsen, an extraordinarily-talented undergraduate. She was a female version of Greg Griffin, with an outstanding academic record, chamber musician, star of the woman’s cross-country, track and soccer teams, president of Blacker House, a member of the student council and Model U.N. Her classmates considered her the most likely among them to win a Nobel Prize someday. How much more well-rounded were the coeds now being admitted in ever increasing numbers. Under an alias, I ran the Relay that year on Bibi’s ten-person team and let them figure me out as the day unfolded. Subsequent contacts resulted in my reluctant recruitment onto a four-person Caltech/JPL corporate “team” that competed in the 1989 Houston Marathon. I was conflicted about participating as anything other than a free agent in the very personal trial that is a marathon. Despite pre-dawn heat and humidity, Houston proved to be my last sub-three-hour endeavor.
As 1988 drew towards a close with another 24-hour Relay notched on my belt, news flashed around the globe that Pan Am Flight 103 had scattered its precious cargo across the green heath of Lockerbie, Scotland. And then came the call that brought a distant tragedy home. William G. Atkinson III, aged 33, and his wife Judith Ellen, aged 37, had been seated in the 747’s “Clipper Class”, two rows forward of the luggage compartment containing the suitcase containing the radio containing the Semtex and timer placed by Libyan agents. Gary and Judith had been returning to Connecticut for the Christmas holidays. This act of terrorism, December 21, 1988, proved a harbinger to September 11, 2001, when I would lose five colleagues – John, Lenny, Max, Chuck and Bill – en route to Los Angeles for technical meetings at my engineering & science place of employ. I knew them all well.
In January of 1990, my fiancée in hand, I retrieved a letter in my Pasadena apartment mailbox from a familiar, handwritten Bloomington address. I knew instinctively before opening it that it contained news of Celia’s passing. Her father, Lloyd Peterson, wrote that she had fallen asleep at the wheel of her car on an Indiana highway and slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer parked for the night on the shoulder of the road. She, who had never needed much sleep, was now at rest. Celia Peterson had died at age 29 on December 21, 1989, one year to the day after the downing of Pan Am 103.
Six months later, the campus was rocked by the tragic news that Bibi Jentoft-Nilsen had died in a motorcycle accident. She had taken a year’s break after graduating with honors from Caltech. Purposing to live life fully, she had been waitressing in Sitka, Alaska and as her last summer of freedom approached before she would commence studies at Harvard, she had set out for the Arctic Circle, intent on exploring the permafrost frontier. Her zestful life’s journey ended in the Yukon on the Trans-Alaska Highway. She was 22 years old. Services were held both in her home state of New York and on the Caltech campus where she was well remembered and mourned by the entire undergraduate population. Established in her honor, a memorial scholarship is now awarded each year to an undergraduate with outstanding qualities of leadership, an active contributor to improving the quality of student life at Caltech
Yet who was there to remember Celia, the quiet, retiring, shy-to-a-fault student-athlete? I began to seek out her former team mates. This required overcoming the uneasy relationship I had with the telephone. I slowly built a tree, starting with runners and branching out to classmates in later years. Who else did she know? Who else should be told? The Alumni Association helped fill in some blanks when I needed an address or number. No one had heard of her passing, though all remembered her. I encouraged each to send condolences to Lloyd Peterson, her father, and asked myself: Why had he only contacted me? I could only claim to have known Celia incidentally for a little over a year and had not heard from her in close to a decade. Her effects apparently included my letters and a few photographs I had taken of her in my brief role as chronicler of the cross-country team. No picture exists, to my knowledge, of the two of us together. On the anniversary of her death, I screwed up the courage to write Lloyd directly. I pointed out that even though, to a person, none of us had kept in contact with her after graduation, she had in fact touched and changed for the better several lives. I counted my own as one.
We’d walk the mile and talk the while
Of that and this, how that it is
Together we might face the morrow’s cold embrace.
Through trellised spray we’d wend our way;
The garden grows yet little know
The hand that turns the soil, mindless of those who toil.
At shadow’s fall the songbird’s call,
Then furtive claw and whiskered maw –
The rustling leaves betray where Tabby stalks his prey.
No kitten fears the rolling years,
Awake the night with wide eyes bright
To chase its tail among the flow’rs, forever young.
For stars did shine before our time
And after will be shining still
About this greeny rock on which we vainly walk.
A hand to hold when nights are cold,
To smoothe the brow and know the now;
In wordless softness hear a trembling heartbeat near.
-- Stephen E. Kellogg (1987)
Recent anthropological studies of Homo erectus and Homo habilis suggest that the human race evolved – or was born – to run; and unlike our other ape cousins, capable only of dashing to the nearest tree to escape a predator, our species’ forebears physiologically specialized in endurance running. Our unique propensity to sweat, along with our bipedal stance, long legs, arched feet, Achilles tendon, and even gluteous maximus offer efficiency in the long haul. The gazelle and antelope who could gallop out of reach of lion and hyena were no match against the hunter who could weary and outlast them in pursuit mile after mile. Running may in fact be the transformative trait in the emergence of man as king of the beasts. We are all of us harriers at heart.
But Man does not live by marrow from the cracked bones of gazelle alone. He must pass on his genes generation unto generation to inform the universe of his legacy. Easier said than done. Courtship proved more arduous than any mountain run or 24-hour relay, but fortunately Ann did not flee and, excepting the running part, has remained by my side since 1991. Our son did not last through his first cross-country season at Burbank High and our 11-year-old daughter, with a far better sense of balance than I ever possessed, seems destined to be a dancer rather than a track runner; but perhaps my admittedly imperfect genes are just sitting out this next generation.
In my heyday, I promoted what seemed like an appropriate unit for tallying Long-Slow-Distance training: 1“picoparsec” = 31 km = 18.7 miles. “Just a picoparsec a day keeps the marathon wall at bay.” Alas, I now average but a small fraction of that unit. My last marathon was the 99th running of Boston (1995), the granddaddy of them all, as a “master” where, alas and alack, I flamed out on the hills, got sunburned, and finished far behind Dave Barnett, who I used to regularly outrun at LHS. Since then I have only “competed” in a few hyper-local events. For nine consecutive years, I collected cheap hardware in the Verdugo Hills Community Hike & Trail Run until the uphill race was discontinued for lack of interest. Yet, for all that and my balky knee, I still lace on the ASICS, exit the front door and shuffle stiffly up the hillside, 30-minutes most mornings, with a 100-minute loop to the radio towers at 2700’ most Saturdays. Though I have slowed measurably over the years, I still count myself a “runner.” Today’s BHS harriers could be forgiven though if they saw only a “jogger” on the roads they speed down.
My running companions these days are the deer and coyote, crow and owl, skunk and bobcat. I use my long runs to think through issues of the day, solve math problems, compose music, meditate, and run through the memories of an earlier era when men were men and giants walked the earth. For, verily, I once crested peaks in the ranges of the San Gabriels, Cascades, Rockies, Appalachians, Alps. And I have left transient footprints on the beaches of Dana Point, Puget Sound, Tonga, Normandy. No more than two degrees separated me from modern-day Olympians and their 2500-year legacy; and I have born recent witness to and played a small role in the exponential growth of the healthy American fitness craze. The KELROF 24-hour Relay endured for 32 seasons until 2008 when a crack team (that knew me not) finally broke our 1978 record – a pretty good run for a tradition. Even now, I am occasionally rewarded with a vision that only my solitary early-morning routine earns me. There was, for example, the foggy mountain ridge where a million butterflies emerged from their cocoons, dried their newfound wings at the first kiss of a spring dawn and betook their maiden flights all about me.
In the spring of 1990 I had a dream. I ran a narrow wooded trail wending its way along the shore of a placid lake at twilight. Celia appeared on the trail ahead running in the opposite direction. We ran past each other with a knowing smile and nod, but no words. She had her path to follow and I had mine.