HERB LINDSAY COMES ON STRONG

His physique seems better suited to the backfield than the blacktop, but the record shows he's America's finest road racer
September 28, 1980

Just a few minutes now until race time and Herbert Donald Lindsay is getting ready to blast off. It's something to see: Lindsay practically snaps, crackles and pops with assorted tensions. This is customarily the moment when racers are withdrawn, each self-absorbed and looking inward for strength. At most they'll nod distractedly at one another in fleeting indications of goodwill. Not Lindsay. He's delivering an unspoken message all around; it can be seen in his appraising glances at the others, in his subtle changes of posture, the casual shaking of a thigh muscle or the flexing of a shoulder. This is what Lindsay is telling the other runners:

All right, it's belly-to-the-ground time, gang. You wanted to race; ok-a-a-a-a-y, you're going to race. Make sure that your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright and locked position, and no further smoking until you're well inside the terminal.

To be fair, it must be noted that not all of this is conscious on Lindsay's part. His appearance puts a lot of the competitive chill in the air. Lindsay has a craggy and chiseled brow; in an overhead sun, his eyes are hidden in darkness. His jawline is unyielding. His body is lean and flat this way, from the side view, but wide this way, from head-on. At 5'9" and 150 pounds, he is Arnold Schwarzenegger with most of the air let out. Or, as Greater Boston Track Club Running Coach Bill Squires says, "The first time I saw Herb in full pursuit, coming over a hill, I thought, 'My God, he looks like a melted halfback.' " With Lindsay, every important bone is overlaid with a sheath of muscle. His thighs are slabbed on the sides.

The popular thinking in this nation is that runners just aren't supposed to look this way. It isn't necessarily the correct thinking, as we shall see later, it's just popular. People tend to identify runners with the wraithlike Bill Rodgers, who looks like Woody Allen at speed, or Frank Shorter, handsome but terribly gaunt. The theory grows that because such men are successful runners, skinny must be good. And then up pops a Lindsay, clean-cut and rippling, giving off fierce messages about "Let's go racing." We see his competition number and the Nike prototype racing shoes—those advance-model Nikes are a dead giveaway—but are we sure this man is a real runner?

This man is, indeed, uh-huh, a runner. As it turns out, Lindsay, who is 25, is one of the very best road racers in the country, and the best at several distances from six to 12 miles. He's the U.S. record holder at 43:50 for 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and 46:0 for 10 miles. In 1979 he won 16 of the 22 major races he entered—including two billed as national championships—and never finished worse than third. For all of this, Lindsay was named Road Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News. So far in 1980, he has 14 victories in 18 starts.

It is a measure of Lindsay's dedication that one of his four 1980 losses was an absolute what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here disaster: the U.S. Olympic Trials 10,000-meter final in Eugene, Ore. last June. Lindsay wheezed home ninth—his old nemesis, Craig Virgin, won—having had all his doors, windows and fenders blown off. The trouble with that race seemed to be that it was conducted inside a stadium—with no hills and hollows, no curbs, gutters, lunging Airedales or little old ladies spritzing the racers with garden hoses. This was only the second time in his life Lindsay had run a 10,000 on a track. The defeat came on a miserable rainy Tuesday evening. Five days later, on Sunday morning, Lindsay showed up at Portland, Ore. and won the Cascade Run Off, setting his U.S. 15-km. record. And that brings us back to the aforementioned ferocity.

If the other competitors were to look more closely, they'd figure this out. That isn't hostility Lindsay is giving off, it's competitiveness. It must be the body and forehead and jawline; inside, it turns out that Lindsay is really full of a sort of fierce joy. "I suddenly realize that I've given myself gooseflesh," he said before the start of the Cascade Run Off. "Look at this. Look at my arms—goose bumps on a hot day like this."

In action, Lindsay becomes even more revved up and a lot of vivid technicolor stuff plays through his mind—as happened this spring at the 15-km. Midland Run in Far Hills, N.J. Finest road-running field ever assembled, the experts said: Rodgers, Henry Rono, the steeplechase 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 world-record holder, plus Lasse Viren, gold medalist in both the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 1972 and '76 Olympics, and Dick Quax, a silver medalist at the 1976 Olympics in the 5,000. And suddenly, there was Lindsay, flying along this rolling highway, hipbone to hipbone with Viren. Everybody else was behind them. Lindsay had raced and beaten Viren before, but Lindsay also is an unannounced romantic. He kept stealing little sidelong glances at this celebrity, as one might size up Robert Red-ford at the next table in a restaurant. And then Viren began surging on him; that is, spurting ahead for spells, then slowing to a mere breakneck speed, trying to scrub Lindsay off along the side of the road. But Lindsay, delighting in the occasion, went surging right along.

"And tears came to my eyes," he says. Lindsay is honest about this memory, even though he's aware that there is a lot of Louisa May Alcott in it. "Here I was, side by side with this legendary runner, and, well, I suddenly realized that I was pressing my body to the limit—and my body was responding. And, I swear, a tear actually rolled down my cheek." Not that the sudden flood of emotion clouded his vision; Lindsay may be full of marshmallows, but he ain't dumb. He ultimately surged Viren to pieces and beat the Finn by some 40 meters, winning in 43:54.

This preoccupation with one's body—"I was pressing it to the limit" and all that—is typical of most athletes, of course, but most pronounced among runners, and Lindsay is a great example. Runners regard their bodies in the abstract; in effect, standing off to one side and looking at them critically, or getting out and walking all around them to check on things. There is an intense awareness of every bodily nuance; runners lie awake at night listening to their little digestive gurgles and rumblings as one might listen to the wind in the trees or the house creaking. In an interview before the 10,000 at the Trials, Lindsay earnestly tried to explain that, while being considered one of the favorites in the race was comforting, any number of possible bodily ailments could strike at the last moment. "Say that I develop a tiny gas bubble in a remote little coil in my lower intestine," he told Gary Burns of the Boulder Daily Camera. While the columnist was considering that awful possibility, Lindsay squirmed a bit, indicating that he could pinpoint the precise location of the offending blip. "Why, it could knock me right out of the race."

There is absolutely no narcissism in any of this: Lindsay and the others don't oil their torsos and loll about in front of full-length mirrors, admiring the sweep of their pectorals. Instead, Lindsay concentrates on, say, the action of his hip joints, figuring out whether the goo inside has heated up enough for him to shift gears. The more one hangs around Lindsay, the more sense it seems to make. If one came across Lindsay and associates on a plane, it would be no surprise to hear them say, "I'm taking my body out to Lynchburg, Va. to run a 10-miler," as if each of them were a chief mechanic of a marvelous racing machine. In fact, it is this single-minded concentration on the racing body that provides the connecting links in the life and fast times of Herb Lindsay.

One of his earliest memories is of bounding across an open field, supported between an older brother and sister, with his feet pedaling furiously but only occasionally touching the grass. Perhaps it was a case of psychological imprinting: they finally put the kid down, and he has been more or less on the run ever since. For one thing, Lindsay's early life in Grand Rapids and Reed City, Mich. wasn't just a childhood, it was a saga. First, he was the youngest of six. "There were three girls and two boys, and my mother was pregnant with me when my dad died in 1954," he says. Then Mrs. Lindsay married a man named Kaverman, a widower with five boys and one girl, and Lindsay went from being the sixth of six kids to the 12th of 12 and, later, the 12th of 15. "Our family reunions are pretty, um, entertaining," he says.

With platoons of hungry children on hand, there were certain realities a boy had to come to grips with. The Lindsay-Kavermans all lived in one big house in the country, and the clanging of an old schoolhouse bell was the call to supper. But when the sound of it rolled a half mile or so across the hills, "that meant that you were already late," Lindsay says, "and you'd have to wheel and sprint for home." Not just sprint, but hightail it. Open-field, run-for-the-porkchops records were set in those days that will never be broken.

By the time he was a senior at Reed City High, Lindsay was an official whiz at cross-country (the state champ in 1971 and '72), the two mile (a then state high school record 9:22) and the mile (4:24). He had also discovered that he is nearsighted, which accounted for the teammate running behind him at the cross-country meets yelling, "Bear left, Herb!" It also explains part of his ferocious look; Lindsay's still trying to get things into proper focus.

After weighing offers of track scholarships from several colleges, Lindsay settled on Michigan State, partly because the program looked pretty sound—and partly because a really great-looking girl friend went there. It later turned out that she was more interested in demonstrating against the Establishment than she was in Lindsay, but one must remember that there was a lot of that going around in those days.

But this jilting was more educational than heartbreaking. As a side effect of his natural earnestness, Lindsay wears something of a Rudolph Valentino look, which one hardly ever sees anymore. This is an inherent ability to lounge around not doing much of anything—and with nothing on your mind—all the while seeming to seethe passionately from deep-set eyes. Something in this, perhaps an implied promise of sexual mayhem, totally disarms women of all ages. If Lindsay ever learns how to flare his nostrils, he'll be unstoppable.

So with one girl off to the student ramparts with sandals and hand-lettered signs, it wasn't long before Lindsay was going full blast at varsity track, indoors and out, and cross-country, and dating four coeds on alternate evenings. "It was insane," he says, meaning that it really wasn't too bad at all. Finally, he took the only course open to an athlete in serious training: he cut two of the girls.

Still, when Lindsay talks about his college years, there is a certain wistfulness in his voice: sure, he was a certified Big Ten track ace. But outside the conference, who knew? Who cared? On that circuit in those days, being Michigan State's big gun meant running an awful lot of anchor legs on four-mile relays (at a respectable 4:01 or so), galloping along just behind Craig Virgin of Illinois at cross-country meets and never getting in the mileage necessary to become a good distance man. There was a time when Lindsay held Spartan records at two miles (8:38.9), three miles (13:14), 3,000 meters (7:51.2) and 5,000 meters (13:52.2)—but he never got ink. And try this: "For a time at Michigan State, I was a contemporary of Magic Johnson," Lindsay says. "Occasionally we'd see each other in the gym. And now he's doing in his field what I'm doing in mine, and yet..." Lindsay lets that one hang there. "...if I walked up to him now and said hello, he wouldn't know me."

Chances are very good that Lindsay is right, but that is as sad as this story will get. After all, take away the 600 thou a year from the L.A. Lakers and the TV exposure and the celebrity and the fancy cars and the glittering wardrobe and the instant recognition, and what has Magic got? Can he outrun Viren at 15 km.? Lindsay figures his turn will come in whatever modest spotlight is beamed on road racers, and he's ready to suffer the indignities of anonymity until it does. It doesn't occur to Lindsay that he'll ever become anything but a world-beater.

Besides, these are the good years. Lindsay now lives in Boulder, Colo. with his wife Terry. They have been married for 2½ years and have a modest new house on the outskirts of town, two Chevy Novas, two bicycles, cardboard boxes full of running shoes and a tight budget. He keeps in touch with his huge family through The Lindsay Newsletter, handwritten and duplicated for everyone. They have put off having children for now; Terry is a dental assistant, and Herb works for Frank Shorter Sports. The hours on his job are loose and adjusted to fit his training schedule. It is all part of a grand plan in which Boulder will one day rule the world.

If one were to stand across the valley from Boulder and view the mountainside through binoculars at dawn or dusk, it would seem to be moving, as alive with scurrying things as an anthill is. Almost everybody runs in Boulder, and the very few who don't are glad to stand around with cans of Coors in hand and yell, "Way to go!" Boulder is perched at 5,350 feet, in thin, clean air that one can actually see through, and is said to be the perfect altitude for training for everything from distance running to the good life. Lindsay is more or less typical of the wave of running immigrants who've followed Shorter into town. "Consider this development," says Rich Castro, coordinator of the Boulder-based Frank Shorter Racing Team. "In 1972, only 15 guys in the entire nation had done a 2:20 marathon. Two hours and 20 minutes was a sort of wall back then. But now, in 1980, I know of 17 guys in Boulder who've done that time or better."

While he has not yet run a full marathon, Lindsay works as hard as any top distance runner: 14 or more miles a day; an average of 103 miles a week so far in 1980; 2,055.5 miles by the end of June, 3,034.5 through last week. He's still young enough to believe that all this will somehow lead to a good living. And it well might, what with the very real prospect of a pro road-racing circuit. Or, if that doesn't pan out, at least someone will care about Lindsay's having made the effort. It works beautifully in Boulder; folks care in Boulder, but when Lindsay leaves the hills and appears at sea level, it goes something like this:

LINDSAY: Tell me, who do you think will win the race?

(This is a Lindsay personal poll, conducted by wandering through the crowd before the start of the Falmouth [Mass.] Road Race on Aug. 19, 1979.)

VARIOUS SPECTATORS: Umm, let's see. We'll take Craig Virgin. Or Bill Rodgers. Or, um, Greg Meyer.

LINDSAY: What about Herb Lindsay?

SPECTATORS: Herb...uh, who?

True story, Lindsay insists. What's more, with just a few hundred yards to go in the 7.1-mile race, the leaders were blasting past the Brothers Four Hotel, when yet another sideliner yelled, "Hey, there's Bill Rodgers! But who's that fat guy about to pass him?" The fat guy was our hero, as they say, beating Rodgers and finishing second to Virgin.

Or try this as an example of elusive celebrity:

The Catoctin Mountain (Md.) Park Run, 10 kilometers over a very hilly course on Sept. 15, 1979. Does it ring a bell? Of course. That was the race in which Jimmy Carter, our President, did his famous el foldo, stirring great alarm followed by a lot of bad jokes. Correct. Now, then, here comes the hard part. Guess who won that race?

That was probably the low point. A week later Lindsay set a U.S. record in winning the Virginia 10-miler in 47:02, again beating Rodgers, not to mention such notables as 1976 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, Brendan Foster of Great Britain, Viren and Shorter. And the week after that, he won the national 10-km. title, more formally known as the Diet Pepsi National AAU Road Racing Championships, at Purchase, N.Y. And this time he smoked all the all-stars, including archrival Virgin.

Well, then. Considering his lack of recognition, Lindsay's semi-mean and forbidding look makes sense. No wonder he crackles with messages. Until recently, Lindsay was a member of the Frank Shorter Racing Team. In training sessions, Rich Castro would yell, "Hey, guys, you're all lookin' good." And then he'd spot Lindsay, jawline all locked up, and shout, "Hey, Herb, relax your face!"

"I know, I know," says Lindsay. He sprawls in the grass, taking a break, squinting a bit and looking young and terribly vulnerable without his glasses. "I have this tendency to tighten my neck and it makes me look sinister. My high school coach, Dave Goodell, called it rigor mortis. I'd come whomping past him in a race and he'd scream, 'Don't rig on me!' And then, as if that wasn't bad enough, I looked like most runners for years, but suddenly I matured. Everybody said, 'Oh, oh. Herb's filling out. It's all over.' "

Not necessarily, says Shorter, who is 32 and looks back across the years at Lindsay in a gruff, almost big-brotherly way. "Herb has compensated for his bulk by working harder," Shorter says. "In the Virginia 10-miler—which I told him he'd win—Herb demonstrated he's very good at running close to his abilities. He can maximize what he's got." Indeed, Shorter gets a bit snappish over repeated references to Lindsay's heft. "After all, Emil Zatopek was no waif, you know," he says. "And Russia's Vladimir Kuts was built a lot like Lindsay. And Bill Baillie of New Zealand—he looked like a tree trunk. I guess it's just that people tend to remember the slim look, that's all."

Fair enough. Lindsay has plenty of problems and personal goals without folks picking on him for his size. Here's the plan: he'll keep running forever, perhaps cutting some events here and adding some there. He has run 20 kilometers in an excellent 60:27, and last October he ran unofficially in the Americas Marathon in Chicago. He stopped after 25 miles, having worked his way up to 12th place, in order to honor an appointment he had made with an old friend. This test convinced Lindsay that when he does run a marathon, he may be able to kick it home in something under 2:11.13, the record, held by Quax, for a first marathon. "Knowing my body as I do, I imagine I'll mature as a runner at about 31," Lindsay says.

But he'll no doubt still be transmitting his message. Not long ago, before one of those mass workouts in Boulder, the gang was getting ready to set out. There was a lot of thigh-shaking and jiggling. And then, suddenly, without warning, that look came over Lindsay. He radiated tension, jaw set and eyes shaded beneath his brow. The other guys were used to this. One of them turned and asked, "Has anybody got Herb's leash?"

TWO PHOTOS PHOTOTerry helps keep Herb well fed with her pay as a dental assistant. PHOTOLindsay's job allows him to sneak out for plenty of training. PHOTOAt the Midland race in New Jersey, Lindsay defeated Viren, and was so awed "tears came to my eyes."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)