Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First Marathon: 1977 Dallas White Rock Marathon

It was 31 years ago today that I ran my first ever marathon. I had just finished up my freshman cross-country season at Wheaton College in Illinois when I was invited to go down to Dallas to run the White Rock Marathon. Wheaton College was interested in building a new Fitness Center at the college so some faculty members where going down to Dallas to visit Dr. Ken Cooper, the author of "Aerobics", and his fitness center. I decided to join the group to run the marathon and so soon after Thanksgiving break we piled into a couple of cars for the long ride. It was not a pleasant drive as we were crammed into a car and I had a case of bad food poisoning or something that made me live for those rest stops.

We first stopped in Oklahoma to visit a fitness center at Oral Roberts University. After arriving in Dallas we had a private tour with Ken Cooper of his facility. That night we had dinner at a pizza restaurant and Dr. George Sheehan walked in. He sat at our table and we enjoyed some conversations with him. The day before the race we went to seminars where we heard many guest speakers. This is probably where I first got interested in the science of running.

Mike Pollack from the Human Performance Lab gave a talk on elite runners. From my notes that I still have, he talked about scientific tests that had recently been done on the elite American runners. He talked about the muscle biopsies as well as maximum oxygen update tests. We learned that better performers had more slow twitch muscles. He gave an example of Frank Shorter having 80% slow twitch fibers. He said good runners had an average of 70% slow twitch fibers. However Don Kardong, who eventually placed 4th in an Olympic Marathon, had only 50% slow twitch fibers. When measuring the maximum oxygen uptake he said that 70 mls seemed to be what elite runners had. The highest that he measured was Steve Prefontaine with 84.5 . He said that there was no difference between the measures of lactic acid and blood pressure when comparing elite athletes with others. The one thing he mentioned was that efficiency is what "does it". An elite athlete was able to run efficiently as well as have less than 5% body fat. "Streamlined is better for competition". He did end by stating that many things make an athlete elite so, "don't put all your eggs in one basket."

I found an article from the IAAF from 2006 that talks about a 1976 study that including Michael Pollack's studies. It says this:
"Back in the 1970s, Dr. Michael Pollack and other physiologists, collaborated to study the top US distance runners of the era, such as 1972 Olympic champion Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine. The data gathered from these athletes, such as muscle biopsy samples and oxygen consumption data, provided a profile of the make up of top endurance athletes but also created almost as many questions as it answered. Foremost among them, perhaps, remains the issue of what is lumped into the term "running economy." It is sort of a catch all term used to record the fact that an athlete can run at a given speed at a given cost. Some runners can run at higher speeds seemingly because they have a greater ability to process oxygen. They have a higher VO2 max. Others, with lower VO2 readings, can run as fast or faster, presumably because they are more "efficient." But what makes them more efficient? What allows them to generate as much or more power and maintain their speed for as long or longer than other athletes? These are the mysteries that future studies may discover. These are the questions that may be answered by research into the "triggers" of athlete's physiological adaptations to the training they endure to reach the heights of athletic excellence."

It was very interesting to hear about the cutting edge research going on at that time. Dr. Sheehan gave a talk on overuse injuries and gave out the mantra to "know yourself" something I am still trying to figure out in this blog. Dr. Steve Subotnick talked about podiatry. Bill Morgan gave a talk on psychological considerations for running. I always remember him talking about runners who disassociate as they run; they think about other things. He said world class runners associate as they run. They constantly go over strategy, monitor their bodies, and focus on relaxation.

Then we had the marathon. December 3, 1977 was hot and sunny in Dallas, Texas. We drove out to the starting area around White Rock Lake. I had never run more than 16 miles in my life. We drove down from cold Chicago and were not ready for the heat. I also had a knee injury that was giving me pain. I don't remember too much of the race. I guess it was going well the first bit except my knee kept hurting and I wasn't sure if I could finish. Halfway through the race my knee stopped hurting and I have been fortunate to have good knees since that day as the pain never returned. I remember slowing a lot in the last few miles. I finished in 306th place with a time of 3:25:44. I learned two things. Number one: never wear a shirt with stitched on letters on the front during a marathon.Number two: always wear band-aids so you don't bleed. The shower after that race was very painful. The winners of the race where John Lodwick in 2:16:43 and Marianne Pugh in 2:56:55. Other notable finishers were Ron Tabb in 3rd place with a time of 2:22:01 and Penny DeMoss, of Runner's World fame, in 2:56:58.

I had bad running form even back then, but this was 10 miles further than I had
ever run!

Wheaton College runners (none of us were even good enough to be JV runners) were Dean Nervik (3:19:09 -I wasn't happy when he passed me), Dale Anderson (3:53:48), and Ron Vlieger and Tim Johnson (both in 4:18:39 and just seconds behind the legendary Walt Stack). Dr. Cliff Schimmels ran 3:58:56. I was only 18 years old and I was impressed that an older roundish man could even run that far. He was only 40 years old at the time but seemed ancient for a runner! Even though Wheaton College did not have a woman's cross-country team at the time we had a good female runner join us. Susie Sandstrom finished in 3:29:23 as the 12th overall woman and second in the under 19 years old age group by only 4 seconds.

Dale Anderson, Ron Vlieger (behind), Susie Sandstrom, Dean Nervick, me, Tim
Johnson (behind), Cliff Schimmels
Other notable finishers were George Sheehan who at 60 years old ran 3:17:19 and Alex Ratelle, who at 53 years old finished in 2:36:46 for 19th place overall. 909 runners participated in the marathon. Tony Sandoval won the accompanying half-marathon in 1:09:02. It was a long drive back to Illinois, but I was happy. After 4 1/2 years of running I had finally won something. Every finisher got a small trophy of a shoe on a piece of marble. I have run about 40 more marathons since that first one in Dallas. Wheaton College did build a fitness center, but it was completed after I graduated.


Dean said...


Great Article! It brought back many great memories. Sometimes I wondered if I really ever did that Marathon.

Dean Nervik

Jim Hansen said...

Hi Dean,
It has been a long time since that race and Wheaton. I hope you are still happy and healthy.
I enjoyed that trip to Texas and my first marathon. I still have the running bug! It's just a whole lot harder these days!.
And you did run the race. I can vouch for that. I have the results book too!
I am glad you found the article and enjoyed my recap. Thanks for checking in.

Mark Evans said...

Son of a gun! That was my first marathon too. I remember a few runners cursing at the wind around the lake. A guy in a passing car felt sorry for me around mile 18 and handed me a beer. Best beer ever! I finished a little under 4 hours. At White Rock 1978, I broke 3 hours.

Jim Hansen said...

There you are in the results. 500th place, 3:56:28. You took an hour off your next marathon time! That is great! I wish I would have been able to do that! I don't remember the wind so much as the heat! I wish someone had told me about band-aids and vaseline!