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UjENA FIT Club Running Interviews and articles with 100 Interesting People

Best Road Races and the UjENA FIT Club is speaking with 100 people who we feel have a lot to say about running, racing and fitness  We will give you background information as will as their insights into the future.  Be sure to post your feedback and comments.

Read All UjENA FIT Club Running Interviews

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The Chris Jones story is a running saga of epic proportions.  Don't try this at home! (Photo - Leadville 100... Read Interview
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Sharon Vos: Three in a Row
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Aging ever so gracefully at age 59 and forging a career record that becomes ever more impressive, Sharon Vos is... Read Interview
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Julius Koskei: All In the Family
Posted Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
 By David Prokop Editor Best Road RacesJulius Koskei (pronounced Kos-kay), who set the current world record in the Double Road... Read Interview

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Gerry Lindgren Interview 25
Thursday, March 29th, 2012
"350 miles of running per week will NOT make anyone a great runner"
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My first memories of Gerry Lindgren was in 1964 when he won the 10,000m race at the USA/USSR meet in Los Angeles while in high school.  It was very inspiring for me.  I had just started running and to see what was possible was very exciting.

Over the years I featured Gerry many times in Runner's World.  I don't think we ever met and then in 1980 he disappeared for many years.  Then we came in contact on Facebook a year or so back.    I asked Gerry if he would be interested in doing an interview.  (Interview by Bob Anderson)

1. What if you never found running?
I was from a broken home. My father was alcoholic and my home life was a mess. I was brought up to know I was just a worthless person and I had attempted suicide twice before I found running. I am sure that had I not been rescued by running I would be either dead now or in some prison somewhere hating the world.

2. What one thing made you one of the best high school distance runners ever?
Every person who puts on racing  shoes wants to finish ahead of everyone else.  When I first started running I too wanted to finish in front.  But I was so slow and uncoordinated I was lucky to even run without falling down.  I was dead last on my team.    

With the help of my coach, Tracy Walters,  I changed my attitude and stopped thinking of myself.  I became the sacrificial rabbit to make my TEAM run faster.  Going from last place on the team to the rabbit position required me to train harder, so it led to my doing extra workouts and mega-mileage. 

Every time I raced, I wanted to loose by making the other guys race harder, but I discovered I was just as bad at loosing as I had been at trying to win.  The very last thing I ever wanted to be was "one of the best high school distance runners ever."     It took me two weeks of being the rabbit before I could stay ahead of everyone on our team.  My coach expanded my thinking by telling me I need to 'rabbit' all the runners I was racing, not just my own team.   I slowly got so I could stay ahead of most of the runners in the league and finished in 2nd place in the Washington State XC Meet.    

When I first started running against international competition, my coach used the same thinking.  We knew I was not good enough to run with these giants of the sport, but I could get them off to a good first mile while I had energy.  I could creat great races.  The reason I was able to excel so much as a distance runner was that I was giving to other runners rather that trying to take from them.  When you give you have a lot to give away but when you try to take, you have a tough row to hoe.

3.  Didn't being a "wimp" as you describe yourself help you achieve your success?
Being a "WIMP" was instrumental in my success.  If I had been tall and blessed with natural ability I would have not inspired anyone.  But other people saw this tiny, skinny, uncoordinated kid running well and they knew that if I could do that they too could do better.  I could inspire because of my wimpiness.  Rather that attempting to BUILD the self to be what you are not, it is better to embrace what you are NOT and become an example for other people.

4. You ran a 13:44 5k in 1964 while a senior in high school. 
It was the Compton Invitational 5K.  An international field of great runners had gathered at Compton and I was there to attempt the 5K for the first time.  At the start I took the lead, knowing that I could only help them all get off to a good start.  Bruce Kidd of Canada had a strategy of sprint-ease up-sprint and with me in the lead he could not work his strategy so he tried to get around me.  I did not have any concept of pace so when he started to pass I sprinted and held him back.  He tried again and this time he planted his elbow painfully into my ribcage.  It hurt and I did not hold him off.  But once he was in the lead I came around him to regain the lead and he let me have it with the other elbow.     

Through nearly 3 miles we battled each other with Bruce's elbow seeking my ribcage every time I tried to pass him or he passed me.  I was so interested in his elbows I did not even think about the race.  After almost 11 laps Bruce tired out and slips into last place in the race.  I was all alone in the race when the bell sounded to announce the final lap.  I started to sprint but then I started thinking that this was a big race.  I shouldn't be leading like this.  So I slowed and suddenly 7-runners sprinted around me.  I came back to life and sprinted after the seven but in the end I could only regain 4th place.

5. I remember watching you on TV when you won the 10,000 at the US/USSR meet in Los Angeles.  What an inspiring moment that was for me.  When did you realize you could win that race?
I had no intension of winning the Russian Meet.  I was not supposed to win it.  I was supposed to sprint for a quarter-mile after 4-miles of the race because that is what the Russians were going to do.  They called us "Lazy Americans."  In the entire series of USA vs. USSR duel meets, Americans had never beaten a Russian.  They were the world's best 10K runners.  The week after the Compton 5K there was a 10K in Corvalis, Oregon.  My coach wanted to see what I could do for 10K.  Somewhere my coach read that European runners sprinted a lap after 4-miles so my strategy was just to stay with the front runner(s) and then sprint after 4-miles.  I did that, got away from everybody, and cruised to a 29:37.5.    

But, Sam Bell, the coach at Oregon State, would later be picked to coach the USA Team for the Russian Meet.  He was all impressed with my mid-race sprint and thought maybe, if I could stay with the Russians in that sprint, I could erase the 'Lazy American' image.     I finished second behind Bob Schul in the 5K and so I qualified for the Russian meet at 5K.  Coach Bell asked me to switch to the 10K instead so I was kinna forced into it (I hated running 10K).     

The race started and I sat behind the two Russians for 4-miles.   When we got closer to the 4-mile mark I got tense knowing that soon the race would start.  One of the Russians moved out ahead about 10 yards.  I wondered if I should go around this Russian and catch up to the other one or just wait for the sprint.    

Coach Sam Bell was standing near the curve and my coach had yelled down to him from the stands to tell me that if I was feeling good I should go.  When coach Bell yelled to me I moved to the outside but just as I was starting to speed up he tripped just a bit and took an extra step or two to find his balance.   To me he was sprinting and this was the moment I had trained all summer for.     

I sprinted just as hard as I could go.  I caught up to the front Russian and sped past him into the lead.  Fear gripped me.  I sprinted the entire lap as was my calling but when I got back to where Coach Bell was standing, I could hear the sound of running shoes hitting the ground.  The Russian was right behind me.  I couldn't slow back to race pace.  Instead I sprinted another lap.     

The fans in the stand had never seen an American runner leading the Russians and they started screaming.  In high school, when people scream someone is going to pass so I pushed hard to show them we were not Lazy Americans.  In the end they had not passed and I was on the final straight.  I expected them to finally sprint past me but when I hit the tape I was all alone.  I looked back down the track but there was nobody there.  It was my own feet striking the track that has me is such fear....

6. I read somewhere that you trained hard.  You stated "race your workouts."  Were you pushing yourself in every workout?

In the beginning my training miles were rather slow.  I ran to Mt. Spokane, a distance of about 44, at a mere jog.  I ran to a lake 57 miles away at a jog.  But as I got in better condition and the competition got stiffer, I started using a watch a bit and trying to get somewhere at a faster pace.  I timed myself to the top of Mt. Spokane.  I would sprint a half mile or so during a long run.  Sometimes a bike would go past and that was a challenge for sure.  Even cars were racing material by the time I was a senior in high school.

7. You averaged over 240 miles per week for a year.  That's a lot of mileage.  How did your body handle it? 
I did not count miles.  I had no idea how many miles I was running.  I just ran as much as I could run.  I loved to run.  Ron Clarke was writing a book and wanted to put in a word about me.  He asked me how many miles a week I was running.  I didn't know so he wanted me to recreate a typical week.  When we got to around 45-miles in a single day he cut off the interview and asked my coach instead.  Again the coach had to try and recount miles that had never been counted before.  In the end Ron Clarke used the figure 25-35 miles a day because he didn't think any more than that would be believable.

8. A sprained ankle cost you the gold medal at the 1964 Olympic Games.  
I was running down a small trail in Yoyogi Park next to the Olympic Village and I stepped on something sticking up out of the ground.  At first I tried to continue running but the pain was too much.  I went back to the Olympic Village to seek help from our trainers.  The head coach of the USA team was a pompous guy from an Eastern university.  He had been upset with me because my training was usually done in Yoyogi Park with one of the assistants or on my own and NOT on the training track.  He had threatened to send me home saying I was not training.    

When I went to the training room that coach was there.  Every day he closed off the training room to athletes so the trainers could give him a full body massage and let him sleep for a couple hours undisturbed.  My entry woke him up and he was boiling mad.  He said I was faking it so I would not have to race.  He forbid the trainers from helping me.  The Adidas Representative set it up for me to go to a new kind of doctor from Germany; a sports medicine doctor.  So I went to the German compound and got treatment there.     

When the head coach heard that I had gone to the German Doctor he ranted at me once again.  I was unpatriotic.  I was undermining all America.  He again was going to send me home.  My high school coach arrived in Japan and had a heart to heart talk with the head coach and there was nearly a fist fight I was told later.   An interesting side note.  Billy Mills was my room mate.  When he came into the room and saw me flat on my back with my foot elevated and iced, his eyes got BIG.  "Gerry" He said.  "I can win the gold medal.  I can win the gold medal".  He was hard to live with for the two days before the 10K because he was so excited.  With me out, he said, he thought he could beat everyone else (and he did).

9. You and Billy Mills ran some amazing races together including the 1965 6-mile race were you both ran 27:11.6, a world record at the time. 
Billy Mills, full of enthusiasm as was Billy's nature, ran up to me to warm up.  I told him I was running for the world record and sure enough, Billy disappeared.  The race was called and my ankle was bothering me.  Billy came up to me on the track and said he would help me with the pacing.  I take two laps and then he would take two laps.  We would help each other for the first 5-miles of the race.  A deal was struck. I took the first two laps and surprisingly, as soon as the gun sounded to start the race, my ankle was cured!  I moved to the outside after two laps and Billy quickly shot through the opening and into the lead.    

He picked up the pace to a near sprint, trying to psych me out for sure.  After his two laps I waited for him to move out but he held the first lane, forcing me to move past on the outside.  He held me off the entire two laps so that my two were in land two.  That is how we raced through the first 4-miles.    

At the 4-mile point is was again my turn to lead and we were on world record pace.  I went by on the outside but this time I picked up the pace much more.  I didn't want to go into my usual hard sprint at that point because I didn't want to mess up our pace.  But Billy got my point and when it was his turn to take the lead two laps later, he struggled.  At 5-miles our bond was over and I did a hard sprint lap to rid myself of the pesky Mills.  At the end of the lap I started to slow back to race pace but Billy sprinted his own sprint lap and I had to just hang on.     

With only two laps to race we were sprinting against each other in a grand way.  For me this was what I had wanted to do my entire career.  I could make Billy a better runner by giving my all.  We came to the gun lap and we were neck and neck.   All the way around we were together.  Around the final curve of the track I found a little bit more speed and slowly I started to move ahead. At the top of the curve I let up just a bit and Billy came back into contention on my inside shoulder.  To the finish we raced right together.  At the tape Billy knew to lean and I went it straight up.

10. You mention that "Karma" was a large factor in your running success?
When I made the Olympic Team at age 18 I had a lot of trouble thinking I was Olympic Material. I was just a wimp. I started looking at other Olympians to see what it was that got them there. I was shocked to learn it was not natural ability. Almost every athlete I talked with stated that when they were new to the sport they were not as good as other athletes.

11. You mentioned that a runner should pick one event? What was your event?
I was a miler in high school; I ran XC in the fall too but in track I was a mile specialist. I see so many runners spread into several events and focus on none. I think that by focusing on one event you live that event. You know where to go faster and where you can run best. If a runner competes in several events this focus is lost.

12. Were you ready for all the attention running brought you?
I was never prepared for the success that came my way.  Suddenly being forced to the forefront of my sport was very hard to take. I decided that I was just extremely lucky to be racing so well.  I didn't even want to win races; I wanted to make races great and help other runners.  

13. Are you a good coach?
I seem to be a pretty good coach, but I doubt that I will ever get an opportunity to actually coach a team. I coached the girl distance runners at Univ of Hawaii for a year and a half but the head coach 'let me go' when several of the girls on the team suddenly started to show signs of greatness.  I have coached other runners by e-mail; even had some of my runners run in the Footlocker Nationals. Now most of the coaches follow what is written in books.  They have a program that the runners must follow. I don't read books on how to run.  I know that the books were written by asking successful runners what they did.   I think it is better to just go out there and do it and not know HOW.

Comments and Feedback
run Thanks Gerry for doing this interview...how can anyone ever forget how good of a runner you were in high school. Running a 13:44 5k as a senior. And that was back in the days of cinder tracks and heavy shoes...
Bob Anderson 4/2/12 11:48 pm
run Wow! what an inspiring story! thanks for sharing!
Catherine Cross 4/3/12 5:18 pm
run Great interview. What an interesting guy. Gotta love his goal in life.
Justin Wall 4/20/12 2:52 pm

Photo: Gerry signing numbers at the 3-mile race held in his name March of this year.

15. We are about the same age, in your younger days you could run circles around me.  But from what I know, I can run much faster than you now.  Why do you think some people slow down more than others with age?
When I was young and able to beat you, I was on a mission. I wanted everyone in the World to run. Every day when I woke up my first thoughts were on what I could do to make that dream possible. When your mind is so occupied with making yourself better for such a noble cause, the speed is possible.  Now I am older and my drive has soften way too much. I lost my purpose altogether for a while and life got rather boring. Now I am back on track just a bit but I have to go through all the aches and pains of a beginning runner all over again. I will be back and give you competition soon (I hope).  

16. Does it bother you that a lot of people don't seem to understand you?
It bothers me not that other people do not understand my inner heart. We are all born alone and naked and in the end of our lives we again will be all alone. Every one of us has a purpose to life that is unique to that one person. How can anyone else understand my funny mind?

18. You ran over 350 miles in a week before.  How did this help you run at world class levels?
350 miles of running per week will not make anyone a great runner. It only gives you a huge base of running. After you have run 350 miles a week for several weeks you can TRADE mileage for speed (and vice-versa). By dropping down to 300-miles a week you can increase speed without fear of injury. A person who runs 50-miles a week has little room to trade mileage for speed but if your base is at 350 miles you can trade a lot of mileage for a lot of speed. If you try to run faster AND run more miles at the same time usually something has to give and an injury is usually the result.

19. Do you follow track and field on an international level these days?
These days I get very little coverage of track and field. Once in a great time there is a televised track meet I can see but the newspapers do not cover track. Sometimes the coconut wireless drums bring me results from a track meet on the mainland but my home is in the back of the valley and the echo of the drums are unreliable.

20. What was it like running in the Olympic Games?
I was young. I had never even WATCHED an Olympic Games before. I had NO idea what to expect. All I knew was that all the best runners in the whole world were there for one race and I was scared! I could not appreciate the complex nature of the Games nor the stress of running in such a big competition. I was only 18.

21. Back in your days there was no such thing as prize money.  In fact, if you took money you would not have been able to run in the Olympics. 
The AAU held very tight control over amateur track in those days. Wes Santee had been disqualified from competition just because he criticized the AAU on the way they treated athletes. Their European tours were well known for how they ran athletes every two or three days without rest and fed/housed them like animals. When I first started running in the big meets there was a WAR going on between the AAU and the NCAA. The two sides had been at war for over 50-years when I arrived on the scene. As a college freshman I was forbidden to race varsity for my school because the NCAA had a rule forbidding freshmen from varsity competition.

Then the NCAA called for a national boycott of the AAU National Championships. They didn't even TELL me about the boycott because I was just a dumb freshman anyway so when someone asked me if I were running in the AAU Championships of course I said yes.  The NCAA people exploded! I was threatened! I was badgered! Calls came in every 5-minutes from another NCAA official or coach telling me what a terrible rat I was.

They threatened to kill me. A coach came to my front door with a gas can. He said if I run he would burn my house down with me in it! Another caller said he would be in the stands at the AAU Championships in San Diego with a gun and if I ran he would kill me from the stands. I was scared to DEATH! But I was not a runner to garner attention to myself or to be somebody. I was here to help other runners. If I backed down, there would be 50 more years of war between the two groups. Somebody had to stand up and say ENOUGH! I ran!

22. What one thing made you to decide to leave the limelight?
If you could understand WHY I am a runner you will understand why I would shun the limelight and not take advantage of my name as so many of my contemporaries have done. My purpose was to serve; not to garner anything for myself. I never wanted to win. My big dream was to get everyone to run. I watched the running revolution form around me. I stood in shock as hundreds lined up to race in races that before only 10 to 15 skinny bodies dared run. I watched first America grasp running and then the entire world. This is the biggest dream a skinny little uncoordinated wimp could ever hope for. I have been arrested 17 times for running. I was arrested not only in my home town of Spokane, but in Pullman where I went to school, In Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo,......I should have been a Gucci Bag! Now you can run in almost ANY city in the world and people will not see you as weird. If in this lifetime I have had any small part in making this happen, my life is a total success. I could ask for nothing greater. It is amazing what one person can achieve in this world if you do not care who gets the credit for it.

23.  I think you moved to Hawaii in 1980?
I have been running here since 1980 and continue to run here now. I had a race last Saturday, the Gerry Lindgren 3-Mile. It will be part of a series with a two-mile next and a mile street race as well.

24.  Have you stopped having enormous dreams?
I still have enormous dreams. When I started running the average lifespan for an American was 57-years. Today the average is 87-years. This is due in a large part to our more active lifestyle. We have gained HALF A LIFETIME in just 40-years!!! My continuing dream is to continue to build on that lifespan. I plan on a life of 360 years and lead the way for many other people to live even longer. In biblical times humans lived extreme long lives. The only reason we don't still live such long lives is because we look to each other and do what everyone else is doing. Isn't that exactly what most track runners are doing? I was able to make a big difference in running because I didn't follow the norm; I was crazy! In life too, I will continue what I have started so long ago and thrive where older people are supposed to falter. Even now, at 66-years of age, people comment almost every day that I should NOT be able to continue to run like this. But we older people hold the key to long life in our hands. To not accept death as our ancestors have done, but to cling to life to guide the next generation to new ages, that is what older age is for. I am going for it!

25. What is ahead for you?
The future for me is invisible. We humans were never gifted with the ability to see the future. We can only look to the past and guess what will follow. I have set my task, 360 years, but to know HOW such a future will unfold I can never know. As a beginning runner standing atop Beacon Hill in the winter of 1962 I dreamed a big dream, that everyone would find the joy I found in running. I had NO idea HOW such a thing could happen; I just had faith. Every day I ran knowing some day everyone would run and be more healthy because I went through all the hardships I was going through to run. The way found itself and today people are running, walking, biking, doing aerobic exercises, swimming,,,, all offshoots of the running revolution. So now, I plan on taking away from these humans I love the sadness of death. We will all live massively long lives...thousands of years for those who learn to serve others compassionately. That is my dream!  

26. How important  is diet for a runner?
Diet becomes more important as we age. A 15 year old kid can get his nutrition from almost anything. Digestive enzymes are everywhere! But by age 35 or so, the enzymes start running out and what we feed our body becomes more important. I got on a vegan diet about 25-years ago and I love the energy I feel from avoiding animal products. Sometimes when I was running the local races here, only fellow vegans were able to beat me. Now I run to slow to even stay up with the meat eaters, but diet is one of those things I watch because my goal is 360 years.

27. What do you think a person should do the day before an important race? 
The day before an important race I tried to do as little as possible. I tried to stay OFF my feet. I rested. It was boring and I didn't like that at all, but when I raced I had energy and mental desire to race for all I was worth just because I had been too inactive.

28.  What  memories do you have racing against Pre?
I was visiting friends in Reedsport, Oregon, a town about 15-miles north of Coos Bay on US Highway 101. Their son had just made the final cuts on the regional softball team. He was worried about one of the boys in Coos Bay who had NOT made the final cut. I agreed to run down to this town of Coos Bay and see if I could cheer up a guy named Steve who lived in a pink house just off the highway. Finding the house was simple and when I knocked on the door it was Steve Prefontaine himself who answered my knock. His eyes got big and he started a monologue that continued the entire time I was there. I didn't get to say a single word.

"Hey! You're Gerry Lindgren! I know you. You look a whole lot bigger on television. You're just a wimp. I'm bigger than you. I could beat your ass. I'm going to be a runner. I am going to whip your ass, you runt." He said more I am sure but by that time I had turned and started running back up US Highway 101 to Reedsport. What an unusual boy, I thought.  Pre told me later that he went back inside, put on shoes, and chased me back up the highway.

I didn't look back so I don't know if he was there or not. HE was always brash and boastful. Most people when they first met him were put off my his arrogant nature. To me he was a big problem. Every other runner allowed me to get a big lead so I could do my own thing and not worry about competition. Pre made me work for every inch of ground I covered. Always he surprised me. Even when I beat him soundly, he told me, "Wait till next time. I'll kick your ass."

29.  How do you like living in Honolulu? Every morning I wake to the swaying of palm branches; birds sing constantly; The sun shines down on the white sand beaches until I want to cry. I try to get away from it all by running the trails in the mountains behind Honolulu and there too I find no relief. The fragrance of flowers fills the air; more birds with exotic songs everywhere; The jungle trail suddenly opens up on views of the valleys below and the ocean; I scream! Where is the stress? Where is the anxiety that we all fight every day?



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