As a training technique designed to reward distance runners with first places and record times, it may be safe to say that jet travel rates only slightly higher than chain-smoking. You might have noticed it last Saturday in Philadelphia, where Dave Wottle and "the other milers of Bowling Green" found out that Kipling's unforgiving minute, when measuring recovery time, can be absolutely heartless. Bowling Green's disappointment was born of an ambition that looked somewhat presumptuous when it came up against the resolve of Villanova in the 79th annual Penn Relays, which were contested under a bruise-colored sky and in a chill rain at Franklin Field. Yet the weekend plan of Steve Danforth, Bruce Vermilyea, Craig Macdonald and their celebrated teammate, Wottle, was as admirable as it was adventuresome. No other team, after all, had ever tried what the Falcons had in mind—winning back-to-back, four-mile relay titles in the Drake Relays at Des Moines and in the Penn Relays, all in the space of 23 hours.
The intent was noble enough to provide Bowling Green with a lusty cheering section at each venue, including some folks who expected the Falcons to set meet records at both ends of their trek, and perhaps even threaten the national collegiate standard of 16:09 established by Oregon 11 years ago.
"Normally, we wouldn't think of doing something like this," said Coach Mel Brodt. "But Bowling Green is halfway between Des Moines and Philadelphia, and it would be nice for both the Midwest and the East to get a chance to see Wottle run in his final season of collegiate competition."
It is exceedingly difficult, of course, to run a tough competitive mile one day after flying 1,100 miles after running a tough competitive mile, but even with that in mind there was reason for optimism. Bowling Green had won earlier four-mile relays with relative ease in Kentucky (16:55.4) and Kansas (16:24) before its grand commute; the Falcons had set the Drake standard of 16:26.4 in 1970; and in Wottle, the Olympic 800-meter champion and co-holder of the world record, the team had an anchor man with an unrivaled finishing kick. For their own part, the Bowling Green runners were concerned only with winning both races. "Every time we try to go after some kind of record, we do lousy," said Macdonald.
May 6, 1973
Thus the practice week went as Bowling Green practice weeks will, which means running in a mob the size of a football team, engaging in infield wrestling matches and exchanging personal barbed jokes. Each is an aspect of the togetherness which Brodt and Wottle point to as the Falcons' most conspicuous team characteristic.
"Track is like a fraternity at Bowling Green," Wottle said the night before the race at Drake. "Every workout is loose and there are a lot of things that are hilarious. The current thing is cutting people down. No one takes it seriously and it helps to keep your mind off running, which is good."
Wottle got a few zingers to lay on his track brothers from the Drake program, which captioned a picture of the three relay runners and middle-distance man Rick Schnittker as "the other milers of Bowling Green."
"Handsome group, isn't it?" said Macdonald.
It looked even better on Friday with a sterling performance that held off a challenge by Manhattan, for whom the gutsy Tony Colon ran a 3:59.1 anchor leg. Manhattan's race was all the more remarkable in that Joe Savage, who has a 3:40.6 1,500 to his credit, was disabled with tendinitis. Bowling Green took the relay in a meet and American citizens' record 16:19.6 to beat the NCAA indoor champions by two full seconds, and while Wottle's kick handled Colon, it was the 10-yard lead provided by Dave's teammates that made the job easy.
Danforth, a 21-year-old senior from the Toledo suburb of Temperance, Mich., (the nearest bar is 10 blocks away) opened with a 4:07.2 leg to make amends for his 4:10 lead-off in the Kansas Relays. "I was the honker that week," Danforth said. "ran a smarter race today. I was closer to the front when I started my kick." Vermilyea, a sophomore biology major from Kenyon, Minn. who pulled a straight A average last term, ran a 4:07.7 to hold third place behind Kansas State and Indiana when he handed off to Macdonald, whose imposing physique has earned him the nickname of Spider.
As a cross-country runner at Ward Melville High School in Setauket, N.Y., Macdonald's picture appeared in FACES IN THE CROWD (SI, Dec. 1, 1969), which prompted Brodt to send him a letter ex-lolling the virtues of Bowling Green. Macdonald has lowered his lifetime best for the open mile from 4:29 as a prep to 4:05, and at Des Moines he ran a 4:04.2 to give Bowling Green its lead.
Wottle finished up with a 4:00.2 that undoubtedly would have been faster had Colon been closer at the exchange. "He ran a great race," Wottle said, "but I felt that I could let him catch up and still outkick him because he had more distance to make up and he'd be more tired than I was."
"I thought I could catch him," Colon said, "but he's smart. He saw me coming and opened up eight yards on me right away. If we had started even, it would have been an interesting race. To run against Wottle, you have to use your speed on him early to strip away that kick of his."
A crowd of 15,700 witnessed Bowling Green's victory and if any among them doubted that the Falcons" anchor man was the same Wottle who was a sensation in Munich, they changed their minds during the flag-raising ceremony which followed. Sure enough, there was Dave Wottle, again standing under his hat during the national anthem, just as he did in the Olympics. This time, however, he remembered before the band finished playing and yanked the golf cap off with visible chagrin.
"When I wear it in a race," he said, "I don't even feel it on my head and that's why I forget to take it off." Wottle and the others then "warmed down" by running halfway back to their hotel two miles away before leaving for the airport.
In a municipal rip-off, the city of Des Moines charges airline passengers a $1 boarding pass fee for the privilege of getting out of town. Had Brodt known what awaited his team in Philadelphia—a city, incidentally, that used to perpetrate the same kind of gouge—he would have saved five bucks and walked to Ohio.
In a word, nothing went right for the Falcons in Philly. For one, the weather was rotten—traditional Villanova weather. For two, in the marshaling area known as The Paddock, a fatuous official monotonously intoned, "No hats, no headbands. No hats, no headbands," seemingly for the sole purpose of annoying Wottle, who risked disqualification by wearing his cap. That was trivial stuff, however, less noticeable than the obvious fact that Bowling Green hadn't recovered from Friday's record run and would offer no challenge to Villanova, three of whose runners had competed on its victorious distance medley team the day before and would help the Wildcats win the two-mile relay later that afternoon. While Danforth struggled into sixth place with a 4:12.5 first leg, Irish import Eamonn Coghlan gave the Wildcats the lead with a 4:09.9. His handoff went to Brian McElroy, who put the race out of reach. McElroy, who left Kansas 2½ seasons ago after becoming disenchanted with the training regimen of Coach Bob Timmons, turned in a 4:06.4 leg that improved Villanova's first-place margin to 80 yards. Ken Schappert ran 4:11.7 before John Hartnett, another Irishman, unleashed a dandy 4:03.7, the Wildcats winning by more than 100 yards in 16:31.7, a time that would not have earned them sixth place at Drake. After Danforth, Bowling Green's splits were Vermilyea 4:14.7, Macdonald 4:11.9 and Wottle an eased-up 4:06.8, for a sorry 16:45.9. The Olympian would have had to run a 3:52.5 for the Falcons to win. "I wish we could have been closer to them," Macdonald said. "It was a letdown after yesterday when we ran so well. It's been a long weekend. Maybe we got on each other's nerves."
"We knew we had to run a front race and give John [Hartnett] all the lead possible, for Dave has a great wallop at the end," said Villanova Coach Jumbo Jim Elliott.
McElroy, essentially a half-miler, attributed his fine leg to an inspirational oration from Elliott.
"Can you believe it," McElroy said. I've just had my first pep talk from Jumbo, and the funny thing is, it worked."
Obviously, staying at home is the only way to fly.