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Running For His Life

Say you walk into a Willits bar. John's place maybe. You order up a draft and start talking sports with the guy next to you. He does a monologue on his triumphant sports days at Willits High School, finally getting around to you, Bob Deines. 

“Nice to meet ya, Bob. You're looking kinda tired. Long day on the job? “No,” Bob says, “I just ran over here from Fort Bragg on Sherwood Road.” The Willits guy says, “Sherwood? Closed to through traffic, ain't it? Four wheel drive, for sure.” Bob says, “I ran it. On foot.” The Willits guy stares in disbelief, finally blurting out, “Bullshit! That's humanly impossible!”

Bob Deines started running in the summer of 1964, and 56 years later he's still running. And between then and now the soft-spoken, scholarly-looking senior citizen has racked up a more than impressive competitive record. “I started running cross country in my senior year of high school. The coach really didn't want me, saying that he'd never had much luck with guys only starting out as seniors. His teams had won small-school CIF championships in Southern California three years in a row.”

And here was this scrawny, library-looking dude boldly demanding he join the most successful cross country team in all of Los Angeles.

“But after a summer of team workouts two or three times a week, and running on other days with my buddy Alan Haas, I made varsity and we went on to win the league and tie for first in the state CIF championships. Track season of 1965 was the first year that had a race longer than a mile, and though I didn't have a particularly great season, I won the league meet in the 2-mile in the not too spectacular time of 10:10.”

Mr. D is too modest. Two miles over a hilly cross country course in ten minutes is beyond the capacities of most of us. And this is a guy who laments that he lacks the fast-twitch speed muscles the really, really fast runners are blessed with. (Ever watch a world class sprinter or an NFL wide receiver warm up? They run in place so fast you wonder if they're half-hummingbird. They have the gift of fast-twitch muscles.)

Deines (right)

Having discovered the joys of competitive distance running well before it became an international pursuit enjoyed by millions, and well before training practices like “long slow distance” were adopted to make good runners great runners, the Willits-based Dienes, also a gifted math student, went on to Occidental College where “I started doing the standard interval training (workouts that combine speed and distance training in one session) but started running some of the LA road races as well, including my first marathon, the Culver City Western Hemisphere Marathon, second oldest in the US to the Boston Marathon.”

Deines remembers road races in LA in the 60s felt a lot like the Boontling Classic, but without the kids, and only a few women were starting to run marathons. The entry fee for most races was $1, maybe $2. Even the famous Boston Marathon cost $2.50; the entry fee is $250 today, no joggers allowed. In the early days of distance running there were no tee shirts, maybe a trophy or maybe medals for the top three finishers. In the late 60s they started giving medals to Masters (40+) the first and only age group. 

“You'd see a lot of the same runners at all the races,” Deines remembers, “and there was a race somewhere in LA most weekends. The top racing shoe, the pre-Nike Tiger Marathon cost $9.95. Getting corporate sponsors for a race was still a pipe dream, there just weren't enough runners to get their attention.” 

We're still in 1965, the very cusp of revolutionary change in sports and everything else. Deines is just getting warmed up, running farther and faster. 

“Following the 1965 cross country season my freshman year my only run longer than 6-8 miles was a 10-miler at the Rose Bowl the week before in a little over 60 minutes (distance runners remember every mile!). I ran the first 10 miles with a recent Oxy grad in a little over 62 min and hit the wall at 18 miles, walking most of the last 8 miles and being out-kicked at the end by movie actor Bruce Dern by 2 minutes. I finished in 3:21.”

As any average masochist who's tried to run a marathon will tell you, these events are grueling, but for some people, Mr. D being one, they aren't long enough. Realizing he hadn't been prepared to run 26 miles the first time he tried, Deines set out to prepare the only way one can prepare for these things — running farther every day in preparation.

“My sophomore year at Oxy I was on 50 miles a week or so, but having run all summer, I brought my Culver City time down to 2:40, and my 2-mile time in track season to 9:20. The summer of 1967 I increased my mileage to around 90 miles per week and got in my first 100 miles per week (112) and ran 20 some races, mostly all-comer's meets, but some road races and got my first marathon first place in the hilly Palos Verde Marathon in 2:48.”

While his peers were variously dying in Vietnam, trying to elude Vietnam or turning on and tuning in at the chaotic end of the Summer of Love, Deines “was on the East Coast visiting Rick Spavins, my Oxy training partner and co-marathon enthusiast.” 

Which is where the young California distance runner met some of the legends of the sport and began to become something of a legend himself. 

“We ran the local Doc Robbins 5-mile road race, which Amby Burfoot won but I came in second. The next day I went up Fall River for a 10-mile which I won. Second place was Jeff Galloway, who made the 1972 Olympic 10K team 5 years later and broke the American record for 10 miles. The next day, Labor Day, we went to Westport for another 10 mile race. I managed 5th place, 2 places behind ultramarathoner Tom Osler who had just published an influential short book, “The Conditioning of Distance Runners.”

“When I got back to college, I told the new coach, Dixon Farmer, that I wanted to continue my high mileage training as it seemed to be working, rather than the team interval-type training he coached. He didn't like it, but when I started winning the meets, he went along with it. My training had essentially become just long slow runs and lots of weekend races.

Mr. D had also run a 2:25 marathon which, at the time, was right up there with the elite distance runners in the country.

“Looking back, 1968 was my peak year, averaging 106 miles per week and running 62 races from the half-mile to the marathon; my best times that year for all but the half-mile ended up being lifetime personal bests. I went 5 years without missing a day running.”

On the track, Deines brought his two-mile time down to 9:00.4 and on Friday April 19th of '68 he ran his first of three Boston Marathons. 

“In that one, I was still with Amby Burfoot who won and Bill Clark who finished second as we approached Heartbreak Hill, but I got a stitch on the hill and had to let them go. I was passed by maybe a half-dozen guys, but recovered enough to get back up to sixth place at the finish. I was back on the track the next Tuesday for a two-mile race in a dual meet, and then a 10K at the Mt. Sac Relays on Saturday.”

The guy was getting noticed. After Boston, Deines won the Culver City Marathon, a qualifying race for the Olympic Marathon Trials, in which he finished fourth. 

“I didn't know that I was supposed to be devastated about missing the team,” Deines says modestly. “I was officially the First Alternate; if one of the top three got sick or injured I'd get a call to substitute in. I felt I should be in the top ten if I had a good day, so I was really happy with fourth place. As with a lot of my best races I ran negative splits and was passing guys up to the end, having been still in ninth place with five miles to go.”

Diligent record keeper that he was, and is, Deines hadn't realized at the time that when he'd won the National One-Hour Run it was an NCAA record over a distance of 11 miles, 1321 yards. Deines was running with best of the times, people like Gerry Lindgren and Frank Shorter.

That fall the distance champ moved up to Oakland at the invitation of Jack Scott — yes, that Jack Scott who combined sports journalism with the Patty Hearst saga, at one point driving the infamous fugitive from her hideout in the east to her hideout in the west. 

“When I moved to Oakland, I moved into Jack Scott's basement. I was one of his acolytes. I became aware of him from a review he wrote in Track & Field News of a book by San Jose sports psychologists Ogylvie and Tutko, called The Problem Athlete and How to Handle Him. Scott criticized the book for being too authoritarian and militaristic. He felt athletes were individuals expressing their artistic selves, rather than cogs in a hierarchical team. Rick Spavins, my roommate at the time (and now lifelong friend) sent in a letter to Track & Field News saying how much he enjoyed his review, and asked whether he might write a book called: The Problem Coach and How to Handle Him. Obviously, our crewcut coach (who had been a NCAA champion intermediate hurdler) did not take kindly to its publication and immediately threw Rick off the team. He kept me because he wasn't willing to lose his top distance runner. Later I met Jack [Scott] at several big track meets, including the NCAA championship in 1969. That was when he was working on books with Harry Edwards and Dave Meggyesy who were revolutionizing the psyches of young athletes who, at the time, were obsessive not only about their own sports, but the impending threat of the draft. It was Jack Scott who suggested his friend Herb Kohl [famed educator based for years in Point Arena] could get me a draft deferment through his school.”

Running as hard as he could to avoid being shipped off to fight in Vietnam…

“I knew I could lose eight-to-ten pounds in a two-and-a half hour marathon race on a warm day. And I had also learned through draft counseling that if I took ten pounds off of my normal weight I would be under the minimum weight needed to pass a draft physical for someone my height, and therefore, would be accorded a 1Y deferment [not quite as permanent as a 4F]. So, the morning of my draft physical, I ran two hard hours in a plastic rain suit, to sweat out the ten pounds. I had fasted the day before and soaked in a hot tub at the end of my work-out. I weighed in at 135, three pounds under the 138-pound limit. Because it was a 1Y, I had to go back and do it all over again six months later. After twice they just stopped calling me back.

Deines, still running for his life via a draft deferment, took a draft-proof job at a continuation school run by Herb Kohl, a famous educator based for years in Point Arena.

“The lure for the teaching job was that I would be able to obtain a draft deferment.” 

In between classroom bouts with difficult teenagers, Deines signed up for a 50-mile race in Rocklin, the PAAAU District Championship. It turned out to be one of his most memorable competitions.

“For 40 miles I ran close to or with fellow Oxy grad John Pagliano, who had won the National Junior Championship for 50 miles a year or two before. We came through 25 miles in a little over 2:48. At 40 miles I was feeling good and picked up the pace and gained five minutes on him; by 45 miles (the course was a 5 mile loop) I'd gained another 10 minutes by the finish. My time, 5:22:55 was the best in the country. The 9th of 16 finishers was the actor Bruce Dern in 7:06, and in 16th place was 15-year-old Pamela Schmidt of San Francisco in 10:14 who became the first woman to finish a 50 mile race. 

“Ted Corbitt of the '52 Olympic marathon team (and still the only American-born black Olympic marathoner) and considered the father of American ultra-marathoning came out for the race from New York along with former American champion 50-miler Jim McDonag, an Irishman who lived for many years in New York. In 1969 Corbitt had run the 52.5 mile London-to-Brighton race in 5:38 for second place, and was estimated to have come through 50 miles in 5:22 something, a little better than my time. 

“Three-plus weeks after London-to-Brighton, Ted ran 100 miles on the track at Walton-on-Thames and broke the American record by three and half hours. Skip Houk and Darryl Beardall (the great Santa Rosa-based runner) led most of the way, while Corbitt, McDonagh and I were together at 30 miles in 3rd, 4th and 5th. At 40 miles I was feeling good and took off after Houk, passing him at about 44 miles and pulled ahead by 3-400 yards. At 45 miles, with one five-mile lap to go, I realized I was just behind the world record (5:12) pace and had to run 10 or 15 seconds a mile faster to get the record. I picked up the pace and made it about half way around the loop when I hit the wall. In what seemed like 30 seconds I went from feeling like I could get a world record to feeling like I could barely lift my legs. I'd been out there for five hours and how was I going to make it another 2 and a half miles? At the last turn with a couple hundred yards to go, I looked back and Skip was only 20 or 30 yards behind me. It gave me one last shot of adrenaline and I was able to hold him off by 2.8 seconds in 5:15:19 to take another 7+ minutes off the American record.” (See addendum, below.)

It was that same month that Joe Henderson, while working at Track & Field News, came out with his first of 30-some books — Long Slow Distance: The Humane Way to Train. It was already known as LSD training, though Henderson was not the one to come up with the term. He soon became the first editor at Runner's World magazine. The LSD book profiled six runners who had all turned away from the typical interval training for long slow distance training. These elite runners, including Deines, all had rebelled against what they considered the tyranny of the track, and found they ran just as well, or better, without all the interval and tempo runs. And they all found long slow distance training to be a lot more enjoyable way to run. Ed Winrow, for one, felt that by running 25-50 races a year there was no need for any other speed work, which is what Deines had already doing with notable success by 1968. 

The 60-page LSD book sold in the vicinity of 100,000 copies in the days when 300 runners was a big race. The 3rd edition from 2010 is still available at Six of the elite six were still alive 50 years after the book came out, but Ed Winrow has died and Joe Henderson is still slowly recovering from a stroke.

Bob Deines runs on, these days alternating long slow distance out of Albion and Willits, making his way as a skilled carpenter, semi-retired division. For years he's been a familiar face at local running events where he inevitably finishes among the top runners, first or close to first among the older runners.


Ted Corbitt said the following in a letter to John Chodes: “If I had not been aware of the force that the West Coast has become it would have been like walking into a big, big ambush. I was aware and on one occasion a few weeks ago I figured that I could break the American 50-mile record and finish as high as 10th place. I expected to break the American record even if I had a bad day and my run was not good. From 30 to 40 miles was a ‘living nightmare.’ I ran very badly, losing ground where I had hoped to close up the distance. We must have passed the marathon point in about 2:46 and I still felt reasonably ok at that point. As you know I had at least three efforts which were considerably better than the record in longer races. Now the new record is most respectable — but it can be had.”

The Finishers:

  1. Bob Deines 5:15:19.2
  2. Skip Houk 5:15:22
  3. Darryl Beardall 5:18:55
  4. Jose Cortez 5:30:42
  5. John Pagliano 5:33:03
  6. Ted Corbitt 5:34:01
  7. Gary Dobrenz 6:03:12
  8. Randy Lawson 6:05:45
  9. Bryan Geiser 6:07:40
  10. Rost Bruner 6:09:55
  11. Ken Young 6:20:37
  12. James Bowles 6:25:50
  13. R. Paffenbarger 6:26:15
  14. Tobe Lusionam 6:31:38
  15. Peter Mattei 6:29:29
  16. Al Meehan 7:02:43
  17. Pat Crevet 7:12:43
  18. Natalie Cullimore 7:35:57
  19. Paul Reese 7:38:49
  20. Brad Gieser 7:56:09
  21. Phil Schaffner 8:04:52
  22. Walt Stack 8:08:58
  23. Dave Cortez 8:32:18
  24. Mitch Kinsery 8:51:27
  25. Rex Dietberich 8:53:39
  26. Mike Ipsen 9:41:55 

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