Category Archives: Running

Bob’s Interview with Runner’s World

Bob Schul won the 5000-meter run in the 1964 Olympics ahead of Germany’s Harald Norpoth, American Bill Dellinger, and France’s Michel Jazy; he is the only American gold medalist at the distance. Schul, who ran in the U.S. Air Force, at Miami [Ohio] University, and for the Los Angeles Track Club, once held the American 5000 record of 13:38.0 and the world 2-mile record of 8:26.4. He has written the “Bob Schul Training Manual” and an autobiography “In the Long Run,” both available from his website. Now 63, he coaches the Bob Schul Racing Team and men’s andwomen’s cross-country and women’s track at Wright State University in Dayton. Runner’s World Daily: Being favored in the Olympics, as you were in 1964, was unique for a U.S. distance runner. How did you feel about that role?

Bob Schul: When you go into a race as a favorite, you have much more pressure. You can’t be a person who would just say, “I can do anything I want because nobody expects me to win.” If nobody had ever heard of me at the Olympics, I could have taken off with a mile to go and said, “Okay try to catch me.” And if I didn’t win, people would say, “Look at the guts the guy had.”  At that time, I thought I could run about 13:20 [his winning time was 13:48.8]. And you’ve got to remember we were on cinders, which I look at as being about 2 seconds per lap slower than an all-weather track. So if I could have run 13:20, we’re talking under 13:00 on all-weather. But those are big ifs.

RWD: Michel Jazy had a silver medal from the 1500 in 1960. Did his lead late in the Tokyo 5000 give you much concern?

BS: Oh yes. Jazy was the person I feared most. I had beaten [Ron] Clarke a couple of times. I’d
beaten [William] Baillie [of New Zealand]. I’d never run against Norpoth, but he was just a youngster and an up-and-comer. I’d beaten Dellinger.  Jazy had run 3:54 [for the mile]. My best was 3:58. I knew it was going to be the toughest match I would have in the last 300 meters, but my strongest suit was still to do it that way. As it turned out, speed was not the overwhelming factor. Between 300 and 200 to go, I wasn’t gaining on him. But speed and endurance in combination was what won the race. Endurance is what failed Jazy. I ran exactly the same time as Peter Snell did in his last 300 meters [in winning the 1500 in Tokyo], and he was on a dry track and I was on a muddy track.(Both ran 38.7 for the last 300 meters.)

RWD: What made the L.A. Track Club so great?

BS: We had one of the finest coaches the world had ever seen in [Mihaly] Igloi. He was so dedicated. He was at the track at 5:00 until 9:00 in the morning, and then again from 5:00 until 9:00 at night with different people. That’s tremendous dedication. He was doing that 363 days a year. He let us off at Christmas and Easter. How many people in their jobs would do a split shift like that 363 days a year?  That’s unbelievable dedication.  Secondly, we had a group of very dedicated athletes who just looked at these sessions as mandatory.   It wasn’t like someone said, “I’m going fishing and I’ll see you next week.” Igloi was the driving force, he said, “Every day, you must train.” So everybody was at those workouts, injured or not. There were times when I didn’t do tremendous workouts because I was limping or something, but I was there. Thirdly, there was a mystique that attached itself to this club. Gradually, we believed that [L.A. track club members] Jim Beatty and Jim Grelle and Laszlo Tabori and Max Truex and Bobby Seamon were the best in the United States, and that we [the rest of the club members] would also be the best in the world if we trained properly.

RWD: To those who know your competitive running life, what would be the biggest surprise in your autobiography?

BS: I guess most people don’t know I was asthmatic and almost died of it as a youngster. Truthfully, Tokyo is the only Olympic Games where I could have competed. All of the others [i.e., Rome in 1960, Mexico City in 1968] were high-allergy places. And in those days we didn’t have all the drugs that you can take now. If anything is fate, it’s that the Olympic Games were in Tokyo at the time I was approaching my peak.

 

Rich Block in Germany

In the early eighties the better runners in my Club would travel to Europe to compete for a couple of weeks in various competitions. On this occasion Rich Block, who would soon break the four minute barrier, was with me at a small meet in Germany. Rich was a little tired from travel and racing so I found out the meet promoter needed a “rabbit” for the 800 meter race. There were only two good runners in the race, another American and a runner from Sweden. All the others were local Club runners.

As I talked to the promoter he told me he wanted the first 400 meters to be run in 50 seconds. “Alright”, I said, “That will not be a problem” I knew Rich could run that fast but truthfully, I also knew he would be close to “all out” in doing so. No matter, he was only expected to run the first 400 and he could drop out if he wanted.

In those days you could pick up a little money for being a rabbit but since this was a small meet we settled on $100.00 for Rich to do the job. Everything was set and Rich relaxed until the meet that evening while I did some sight seeing.  On a beautiful summer evening the meet was under way and as the events unfolded I went to the meet promoter to be sure everything was in order. “It is a beautiful evening”, I said. “Have you told the other runners that Rich is to be the rabbit in the race?” “Yes”, came the answer, “Everything is arranged.” After a little more small talk I made my way to Rich to go over the plan. “Rich, they will start you in the third position and you will have to get out fast. I will be at the 200 meter mark and call your split.  Any questions? “Rich looked at me and said, “This is to be 50 seconds, right? I don’t think I can run any faster as I feel beat.” I smiled and said, “That is what they want. Have fun.”

Rich continued his warm up as we had about thirty minutes before he was to run. Finally it was time for the 800 meters and the announcer called for all the runners to report to the starting line. I moved to the 200 meter position and checked my stop watch. Everything was ready.  All the runners were lined up, side by side, with the American in position one and the Swede beside him. Rich was next to the Swede. In German, the command came for SET, and soon after, the gun sounded.

Around the turn they came and Rich could not get in front of the other two runners. To make matters worse Rich was forced to run in lane three which meant he was running twelve meters extra around the turn. They were moving very quickly and I could see the strain on Rich’s face as he tried to take the lead.  He was beside the American as they went past me and I yelled,”23.” Into the turn now and Rich had to fall back. Into the first quarter and they were a shade under 49. Rich was still in third and ran 50 flat. I could see he would have trouble staying with them much longer. He made it to the 600 meter mark and then his legs just wouldn’t carry him any longer and he struggled in, losing many meters to the other two.

The race was won in 1:48+ and Rich was third in 1:57. He could have dropped out, but it was his choice. I knew something had gone wrong between the promoter and the two good runners, otherwise they would have let Rich take the lead. But how would I handle Rich. He had been somewhat embarrassed and I wanted to keep it light.

I watched Rich as he walked to the high jump pit which was in the middle of the turn, right after the finish. I saw him lay down in the pit as I walked in his direction. What would I say to him. I approached him and said, “Well, that first 400 was pretty fast.” I can’t relate what he said in return, but I was keenly aware that he was upset. “Well, just relax, I want to talk with the promoter.” As I looked around the site to find him I saw the American cooling down and I approached him. After the usual small talk and congratulating him on his victory I said, “By the way did you know that Rich was the rabbit in the race?” He looked at me a little startled and answered, “No, we were never told. I wish we had been because the first lap was too fast.”

I found the promoter and informed him that I knew he had not informed the other runners. “But your boy did not lead”, he said, “Why not?” “Because the others didn’t know and Rich was only supposed to run 50 seconds which is what he did.” With a wave of his hand he walked away. I must admit I was a little upset with his attitude.

Rich had finished warming down and he asked, “Will I still get my money? “We will see”, I answered “We will see.”  Later that evening there was the usual meal for all the sponsors and the invited athletes. Rich and I sat at a table with a few other athletes from Germany and we enjoyed the meal and the company. The hour was getting late and we had to catch a train to our next competition early in the morning. We had already been paid for the competition expenses which included a little extra so all that was remaining was the $100.00 for Rich. “Do you think he is going to give it to you”, Rich asked. “Let’s find out” I said and turned around to talk with the promoter who was sitting with a group of well dressed Germans. Maybe friends or backers of the meet I thought.

“Excuse me, but we have an early train and would it be alright if we settled up the fee for Rich in the 800 meters?” He stared at me for a few seconds before answering, “He does not deserve any money, he did not lead.” He was technically right of course but it was his not telling the other runners that was the problem. “But Rich ran exactly what you asked, he went through the 400 in 50 seconds. Isn’t that what you had asked him to do?” “Yes, but.” I didn’t let him finish. “NO, no,” I said, “I don’t want to argue but if you don’t do what you said I will tell all the people at your table what happened.” He didn’t wait a second before he stood up and looked at me. “Bob, would you like to come to my room, I know you and your athlete must be tired.” He turned to the others at his table. “Excuse me for a short time, I have some business with my American friends. I will be back shortly.”  Then he said something in German and he led the way to his room.  We received the money and excused ourselves. The next morning we boarded the train for the next city

The Bob Schul Racing Team

The Club has had members from age fourteen to sixty nine. Bob started training athletes in 1966 when he lived in California. Both men and women trained three days a week on a track for speed work. On the other days they went on long runs.

A partial list of club runners and their performances follow: I began training athletes in 1966 and since that  time hundreds of runners of all ages have trained with the Club.

Eamon O’Reilly….Georgetown University graduate, ran 8:50 for the two mile at Georgetown in 1966. After training for eight months he ran 2 hours, 16 minutes for the marathon in California in 1968, which was the fastest time ever run in the Americas.

John Baker.…University of New Mexico graduate. After a year of training he ran a 4:01 mile indoors in 1968. John tragically died of cancer in 1970. Subject of a book and movie called: “A Shining Season.”

John Shull.…Ran 9:58 two mile in High School. Came to Wright State where I was coaching in 1973. John was 6’2″ 170 pounds.  In his Senior year he ran 14:22 for 5K on the track. He was an “All American” in cross country and track.

Wally Saeger.….University of Wisconsin graduate. He ran in the mid 8:50′s in college for two miles. After two years of training he ran a 2:13.9 marathon which placed him 11th in the 1980 Olympic trials in the marathon.

Bret Hyde.….Air Force Academy graduate. Ran 8:43.4 steeplechase at the Academy. After two years of training he ran 8:25.39 in the steeplechase in 1984. Eighth in 1984 Olympic trials in the steeplechase.

In memory of Bret Hyde

International class Steeplechaser, Bret Hyde, age 41, lost his struggle to Lou Gehrig’s disease on Sunday January 14, 2001. He was buried in Post Falls, Idaho the following Friday morning with the Fairchild Air Force Base Honor Guard giving him honor for service to his country.  Bret had been diagnosed with the disease on September 2 of 1998 and for the twenty eight months he fought for his life, he showed the same courage he had shown in his races.

As I stood watching the ceremony in this small cemetery, with a few hundred other friends, the snow was falling lightly on ground that was already white and the pine trees held the snow on their bows. On any other day it would have been a beautiful site.

An hour earlier we had attended a memorial service where I and Rob Langstaff, his friend since boyhood and once a member of the Racing Team I coached, spoke to the overcrowded room where hundreds of friends and family had gathered.

I came to know Bret when he and six other Air Force athletes came to Wright Patterson in 1981
specifically to train with the Racing Team. He had just graduated from the Air Force Academy where he had run well in the Steeplechase with a best time of 8:43.4.

As I watched him over the next few weeks, I found he had little natural speed and his fastest 400 meters was 56 seconds. This was a problem and would be a factor as he trained to become one of the best in the world.  What he did have was a strong work ethic and a drive that reminded me of my days with Mihaly Igloi and the athletes who had that same drive. It wasn’t long before he was on twice a day workouts, six days a week with a long run on Sundays. We were on the track on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as Saturday mornings. That left him with nine (9) workouts of runs of various distances and tempo. It was not easy as he still had his eight hour job with the Air Force. But he had a goal and that was to qualify for the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in 1984. He told me he would do anything I asked. He was true to his word. To be a top runner the athlete must be able to push their body even when they are hurting. When other runners back off to run in a comfortable state Bret was able to push his body and run in a discomfort zone.

That is not easy and takes courage to accomplish. And courage he had and he showed that in race after race. It was also apparent that other runners in the workouts were able to learn from Bret. Others saw how dedicated and driven he was and tried to emulate him. It was the perfect situation for me and I was able to use Bret to make him and others better runners.

When Bret arrived in Dayton, Susan Overholser, had been with the Club for many years. I don’t knowhow long it took but it wasn’t long before the two were dating. Over the months I watched the courtship evolve into marriage and eventually two fine boys were added to the family. Bret became a husband and a father and for those of us who watched the transition, it was what we expected. Susan and Bret were the perfect match and you could tell they loved each other very much. Bret had been a leader on the track and he carried that over to his private life. Leadership came easy to Bret, it was just the way he was. Others expected him to lead and he did in an unpretentious, easy style.

As the months passed he became a better hurdler and could take the water jump with less effort. He was now beating people who had beaten him in college. But still the basic speed was lacking. There was no way I could change his muscle tissue but I could enhance what he had. We talked about changing to the 10K but his size was against him for he was 6’ 4″, 177 pounds. Not good for a 10K runner, and we would continue in the steeple. Before long, Bret had become one of the best Steeplechasers in the Nation and he made us proud of his accomplishments.

By the time 1984 rolled around, Bret was ready to run well and in the TAC championships he placed second and was going to the Olympic trials. When, at one time, he had wanted to take part, he was now a major player. In the trial heat I told him in order to make the final he couldn’t allow the race to be slow. His best chance was to use his strength and not allow a lesser athlete with good speed beat him in the last lap. He ran perfectly and made it to the final. With a days rest he stepped on the track with nothing to lose. Again his instructions were to force the pace. He led most of the race until the final lap when those athletes blessed with speed went by him and he placed eighth with a time of 8:27.59.

In his career he beat many athletes because of his determination and because he was able to get the most out of his body. And through it all, Bret never said, “What if.” What if I had more speed. He accepted what he had and would tell me after losing a race, “I really tried.” There was never any doubt in my mind that was the case. I never saw him give up. He never gloated over a victory or dismayed over a defeat. He understood that all he could do was his best.

As his disease progressed he was in a wheelchair and his last email was sent to me, Susan told me it took fifty minutes to write three sentences. But even then he joked about it. In his last weeks he was no longer able to eat by himself or talk and he could hardly move a muscle in his body. Finally he made the decision to end it all. No more food though tubes. No more medicine to keep the blood clots from forming. No more anything, he told his wife Susan, communicating in a way only she could understand. A neighbor who had been with him through this ordeal told me Bret was not afraid to die. That does not surprise me as his courage was part of his being.

Susan, who had been his nurse, is now going to take classes to become a nurse. (In 2008 Susan became a nurse and is working in that capacity.) Paul the eldest son, age 15, is a runner as is Seth who will be 13 in February. (In 2009 Paul is finishing college and will go into the Air Force as he has been in the Air Force program for his four years.)(Seth will be starting his Junior year in college in September of 2009)

Gene, Bret’s father, kept a scrapbook and the boys will be able to show their children the feats of their grandfather. They can be very proud of his accomplishments.  As I stood in the cemetery and watched as the Honor Guard folded the American Flag with precision, the snow continued to fall. Two Air Force Buglers stood off in the distance and once the flag was folded one of the buglers began playing Taps and the other would echo the notes. The sound came through the pines, so beautiful with the snow on their branches. When the last haunting sounds were heard there was a Twenty One Gun Salute and then an Air Force Officer carried the folded flag to Susan, and with words of thankfulness for his service to his country he presented her the flag.

A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought of this friend. Bret had shown courage in his races and over the past two years Bret would show that courage in what would be the toughest race of his life. There is no doubt he was able to do that. It is hard to understand why Bret would have to undergo this ordeal. We say it isn’t fair. Of course all who knew him will miss him. He was a friend, a competitor, a son and most of all a loving husband and father.  And now that Bret is with his God, I, like so many others can truthfully say, I am so glad he came into my life. Our paths had crossed, but the time was far too short.