The year was 1961 and I had made my first National team. The USSR versus USA match was completed and the US men had won again. I had not competed in that track meet as I was the third best steeplechaser and only two athletes ran in these dual meets. A few days after the Russian Meet we ran in Germany and I tasted my first International experience. I led in the race until the last hurdle, fifty meters from the finish, when I was passed by my fellow countryman, Charles “Deacon” Jones who beat me by an inch. I was upset that I had allowed that to happen as I had been slow over the last hurdle. Foolishly I went to one of the barriers in the infield and continued to practice until my calf muscle gave out and tore.
Now what was I going to do? The rest of the trip was ruined by a stupid mistake. I had not run badly as my time was fourth fastest ever by an American, 8:47.8. Now that is just the setting for my story. We traveled to Warsaw, Poland for our next competition and were housed in a very nice training center about twenty miles outside Warsaw. We were secluded and it was great for training but many of the athletes wanted to be in the city so they could taste some of the culture of the city. After two days we moved into a hotel in the city. Prior to the move I used the wooded area and a cinder track to do my training and I had to be very careful as my leg was very sore. I knew it would be impossible to run very fast in a race. On the second day we were there I had finished my light training and started to warm down by jogging on some trails in the woods that was just beside the track. After a mile or so of meandering through the trails and thoroughly enjoying myself, I came to an opening and in front of me was another cinder track.
The track was deserted except for one solitary individual, Max Truex, who was our best 10K runner in the US. Max was also my commanding officer in the Air Force although our relationship was a little different from the usual officer to enlisted man, which I was. I watched Max as he made his way around the track and came down the last straight away where I was now standing. He ran to the end and came to a stop and placed his hands on his knees for a brief time. He then stood and looked at the watch he was carrying, and had presumably stopped, when he had finished. Then he shook his head as if to say, “I just do not believe it.” I want to point out the fact that Max was about 5′ 4″ tall and cut his hair so short it looked as if he was bald. A week earlier Max had posed in front of a picture of Krushchev, who was the dictator of the USSR at the time, and you would have thought they were brothers as Max puffed his cheeks out for effect.
As he walked in my direction I asked him, “What are you doing Max?” “Four hundreds,” came the reply, “but I can’t believe I am so slow.” Truthfully as I had watched Max come down the straight he looked as if he was running at seventy seconds and I wondered how fast he wanted to run. “Max, you were moving pretty good, how fast do you want to run?” He looked at the watch again as if wishing somehow he had misread the time. “I am trying to run 70 to 71 for a 400 and I can’t get below 82. I feel like I am moving all right but if I have to run against the Polish athletes when I can’t break 80 I am going to be in big trouble.” I looked at the track set in the midst of the forest. “Have you been running a full lap Max?” He looked at me as if I was crazy, “Of course I am running a full lap.” “Max, look at the track, it is not 400 meters.” “Not 400,” he asked in amazement, “what do you mean.” “I think the track is much longer, maybe 500 meters,” I said with a slight smile on my face. “You’re kidding?” He said as he turned to survey the area. “It does look big, doesn’t it?” Max was finished with the number of 400′s he had wanted to do and we jogged easily through the woods until we reached the building where we were staying. We asked the caretaker the size of the track and he confirmed it was indeed 500 meters. “Well I guess my 82′s are worth 70 seconds for the 400. I will be all right for the race this weekend.” He gave me a little laugh as he walked away to shower.