For the past couple of months two of the world's best milers have been training together in San Francisco. One is Ron Delany of Ireland, the winner of the 1,500 meters, or so-called metric mile, in the 1956 Olympic Games. The other is Don Bowden, the first and only American to run the mile in less than four minutes. Not present but very much on their minds is Herb Elliott, the world mile record holder, who has been training savagely on raw oats and raisins in Australia (SI, Jan. 18).
Delany and Bowden are unlike Elliott. While both are dedicated athletes, they are not ascetics. Delany is not above taking a glass of wine now and then "for the good of my digestive system," and neither he nor Bowden would ever think of stocking up stamina on raw oats. "We just eat the bark off trees," says Delany.
A Villanova graduate, Delany came to San Francisco last January as a sales representative for Irish Air Lines. He lives in a view apartment in an old house atop Russian Hill. All in all, he has taken nicely to life in California, though he still keeps his wristwatch on Irish time so he can keep in mental tune with the folks back home. A charmer, Delany says that he not only kissed the Blarney stone, but sat on it as well.
Bowden, 23, is two years younger than Delany. A California graduate, he is now an Army second lieutenant stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. After he completes his service, he plans to study law.
On weekdays Delany and Bowden run on the polo field at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. On weekends they generally go to a log cabin the Bowden family owns near Santa Cruz. The cabin is in a delightful setting, ringed by giant redwoods, with the Pacific only 10 minutes away by car.
A recent weekend, while rainy, was typical. ("I run like hell in the rain," Delany confided.) At 3 on Friday afternoon (or 11 at night by Delany Dublin time) they met in Golden Gate Park for a workout. They did exercises and a half dozen laps around the half-mile grass field.
After a shower and a change of clothes at Delany's apartment, they drove to San Jose for dinner with Bowden's mother and father. On the way down they talked about training in tandem. "When your body's weak, you have to have someone to push you," said Delany. "You run longer and farther together than you would on your own."
Friendship, however, counts for naught in competition. "He'll be out to kill me, and I'll be out to kill him, 'said Bowden. "If there's a space we both want, say the inside lane, we'll both go for it."
After dinner (cracked crab, avocado salad, ice cream, cookies and milk) the two runners drove over to the cabin. Delany started a fire, and they both flopped down to talk. Bowden picked up an old copy of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED with Anne Quast, the golfer, on the cover, gazed at her dreamily and sighed, "Oh, baby, would I like to have a date with you."
"Ah," said Delany, "she may have muscles in her arms."
"Well, I'd sure like to have a date with her," Bowden said.
The conversation turned to training in the park. "We warm up for 15 minutes," Bowden said, "running two to two and a half miles with our sweats on. Sometimes we might crisscross the field. Sometimes we might run the sides of the field and jog the turns. You have to mix up your speed work and distance work. You get the most lift from training if you have a fresh mental approach. But you have to do a certain amount of work. I'm competing on the all-Army team, and the schedule is pretty well set up. I'll probably run at the end of April."
"I don't want to run until later in the year," Delany said. "I want to spend as much time training as possible. Where Don might run in April, I might run in June."
"Ron has had enough experience," said Bowden.
"For one race," said Delany, "you lose five days of training. Right, Don?"
"You can't get in shape and race at the same time," Bowden said. "The Olympics is everybody's goal. Of course, Ron here has reached the top. It's a glorious thing. I picture it in my mind that on one given day in one given thing, you're the best in the world. That's something I think is worth working for. It's quite an art to bring all this physical and mental concentration together and focus it upon one afternoon."
Present company excluded, there was one man to watch. "Elliott's the man," said Delany.
"Elliott's certainly proved himself," said Bowden. "We're kind of recognizing the facts."
"But we're not conceding him anything," exclaimed Delany.
"We're getting ready to slip it to him in the last 50 yards," shouted Bowden, laughing. "With a blackjack."
"We'd like him to see a certain region of our anatomy," Delany cried.
"The posterior," shouted Bowden.
Shortly before noon on Saturday the two of them set out for a deserted stretch of Pacific beach. Elliott was still on their minds. "The tiger here," said Delany with a confidential nod toward Bowden, "is out to get him."
Bowden laughed. "You're out to get him yourself."
"I'll let you beat him first," Delany said graciously as he got out of the car and eyed a formidable sand dune. "I have nightmares about Elliott." He paused as Bowden turned to listen. "I dream," said Delany, "that after he beats me, I beat him up." Bowden laughed. Beaming at the response, Delany ran up the dune, waved his fists and shouted, "Maybe he can beat me running, but I can clean him with the fists."
"I hope Elliott reads that," Bowden called out. "He'll be right over here."
They reached the peak of the dune—it must be at least 300 feet—high and sprinted down the precipitous forward slope to the beach. They ran along the water's edge together until they disappeared into a blanket of fog. A half hour later they appeared again. Bowden sat down at the base of the dune and took off his shoes and socks, as Delany did push-ups before sprinting down the beach alone. Bowden got up and ran into the water. He ran up and down in the surf, lifting his knees high. Delany returned and took his shoes off. Bowden joined him, and they sprinted back and forth on the wet sand. Then they assaulted the dune, their feet slipping in the loose sand. They reached the top and ran down the other side. Then they ran back up again.
"What does this sand-dune running do for you?" Delany was asked.
"It makes you feel sick," he exclaimed.
"It destroys morale and builds up physical capabilities," said Bowden. "I think I'm king of the mountain when I reach the top here. I'd love to take Elliott here when he comes over. Don't you think he'd enjoy it, Ron?"
Ron, with a weary smile: "Oh, he'd love it."
They ran down to the beach again. "Ah," said Delany, "this gets you away from civilization for a weekend. No one to bother you. No one with model airplanes trying to gun you down."
"It's restful and relaxing and a change of scenery," said Bowden.
Delany walked into the water. "Sea water is good for your legs," he said. "Horses are often trained in it for their hoofs. Personally, it's too cold for me."
"Come around in September and see who's taking the curtain call," said Bowden, who likes to run in the water. Delany came out, and they jogged up and down the beach together. Then they ran up that god-awful dune again. "Come play by the sea with Ron and Don," exulted Bowden when they reached the top. They headed for the car. It was 2:30 and Delany had to be getting back to San Francisco.
After cleaning up the cabin, they drove to the Coast Creamery in Santa Cruz. The creamery is run by Les Cuneo, the husband of Bowden's cousin, who treats them to malteds after a workout. They both had vanilla, and after they finished, Les gave Delany a St. Patrick's Day special, a brick of vanilla with a pistachio shamrock. Delany took a bite. "The white doesn't taste much good," he joked, "but the green is excellent."
A half hour later Delany dropped Bowden off at his home in San Jose, then headed back for his apartment. "It's very enjoyable training together," he said as the car sped up the Bayshore Freeway toward San Francisco. "It's a very enjoyable experience. It's a pity they don't give two gold medals. But you never feel badly running against a friend in a race. It's a singular experience. A race is a race is a race."