The Magical Team Apex Of Our Youthful Running
National Cross-Country Championships, Raleigh, NC, 1979 —The GBTC as we knew it ended on a high note
by Bob Hodge
I joined the Greater Boston Track Club in 1974 and for every year after that our primary goal in the fall was the National Cross Country Championships in November. The original mission of this club was providing opportunities for post collegiate athletes, many of whom were already at or close to a nationally competitive level; for example, qualifying for the National T&F Meet or the Olympic Trials.
Jack MacDonald, the club founder and mastermind, brought Coach Bill Squires on board from his day job at Boston State College. A loose group formed of mostly middle distance and distance men who would meet at Boston College weekly with Squires. Coach would dispense with a workout subject to negotiation and change, and a nice bond of being in it together was formed.
Both the athletes and coach had jobs and lifestyles, families, commitments etc., and so although there was a seriousness toward the endeavor and specific objectives and goals were made, fun and enjoyment were a large part of the bargain. We were all grownups here with one exception—Alberto Salazar, a precocious high schooler from Wayland. A post workout get together over pizza and beer on occasion, gave us all a chance to share our hopes and dreams and plans and schemes.
Coach was light hearted but also very dedicated to his teacher role, and gave some of us more fatherly advice at times. When I returned from a trip across the country in 1977, Coach said, “Bobby, I’m glad you finally stopped picking daisies and got serious.”
Danny Dillon recalled Coach telling him, “kid, don’t get too comfortable in Beantown, get yourself back to Providence and finish that degree.”
Danny thought, “Comfortable! Does he not have any idea that I had been slaving away at the New Balance factory five days a week for $3.50 an hour and sharing a cot on Orkney Road with an army of roaches every night?”
Somehow this easy-going formula, along with the commitment of Squires and MacDonald in securing what little finances they had at that time, took off. Jack started a beach race; then the Freedom Trail Road Race in Boston was also formed by club members, both events serving as fundraisers to send athletes (who were qualified) to national events. Many times, we all just piled into cars and travelled as inexpensively as possible to NYC, Penn. Relays, etc. We were a club by athletes for athletes. For some time, until running began to change, it worked very well.
Many of us became involved with athletic shoe companies and some were even employees or had received contracts, ostensibly being paid to aid the company with shoe development feedback and ideas. Nike had formed Athletics West in 1977 and had even tried recruiting Randy Thomas and Bill Rodgers from GBTC. Perhaps it was possible to make a career as a runner?
It is impossible to say what would have become of my own running had it not been for GBTC. I think that perhaps I would still have had my successes, but I am happy not having to find out.
By 1979 Alberto, Greg Meyer, Danny Dillon, Randy Thomas and myself had all had our share of success. Alberto, now at Oregon, was the 1978 NCAA Cross Champion; Greg was the 1978 AAU Cross Champion and 1979 Canadian Cross Country Champion, and Danny and Randy had tied for first in the International Cross Trials in 1978. We knew we had a very strong team even if Alberto ran for Oregon as he had done in 1978, but we were all hoping he would run with us at AAU Nationals in ’79, for old times sake, and he did, though we weren’t sure of it until a few days before.
Alberto raced the great Henry Rono, while the GBTC mostly raced among ourselves at the Canadian Cross-Country Nationals in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we won the team title followed by the New England Championships team title in Boylston, MA. (Photo: Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar race through the streets of Boston in the 1979 Hood Freedom Trail 8M. Salazar would notch victory here in 37:15 (4:39 pace). Less than two months later, Salazar would switch to a GBTC singlet for the national cross country championships with equal success. Photo by Scott Mason)
From Danny: “I remember we sharpened each other in the races leading up to Nationals. I especially recall you, me and Greg trading the lead several times on that rocky course at Boylston that wasn’t fit for Billy Goats. We probably could have, and should have, tied or ran through those races but I think that we were trying to get the most out of them to get ready for Nationals. When I think of that GBTC team, I think several of us could visualize winning the individual title, and with a GBTC team like that I had no doubt we would win.”
Danny was back at Providence College but sitting out the collegiate season. He was working out with John Treacy et al. I remember a group workout at Franklin Park and another workout just Greg and I did at a Newton golf course, and then a track workout the week before Nationals on a frigid night at BC where Randy, Greg and I did a 4:19 mile, an 8:56 2-mile and a 3:15 3/4-mile. I believe there was some influence from the Michigan Warhurst camp (Ron Warhurst was Greg’s track coach at Michigan) as we had never previously done workouts like that.
Outside of the GBTC top five we also had Pete Pfitzinger, who moved to Boston and joined GBTC in the summer of ’79. Also competing for GBTC in Raleigh were Bruce Bickford, Bill Okerman, Mike Quinn and Paul Oparowski.
Both Danny and Greg remember some “trash talking” from the Coloradoans. Boston don’t kowtow to nobody, the thin air in Boulder must have had an effect on their brains.
A few weeks before Nationals I changed shoe company sponsors and I now ran for upstart Reebok. The problem was I had barely any shoes or clothing, including spikes. I grabbed a pair of Sauconys from the shelf at The Runnery, a retail store where I worked, and went to a nearby golf course for a light workout to make sure they would be OK.
When I met everyone at the airport for the flight to Raleigh, NC, I packed up a rucksack because I didn’t want to be seen with my former shoe company sponsor logos (New Balance) on any gear including baggage. Alberto quipped, “Hodgie, are you going camping?”
On arrival in Raleigh we went out to view the course and have a run over it. Tough one, I liked it, particularly the steep uphill in the last mile. The start was nice and wide open for the masses but soon funneled into a narrow path and a steep downhill nearly to the mile marker where Alberto was clocked at 4:08. He didn’t buy the time being that fast, but I was under 4:20 and that seemed entirely possible to me.
I was in a good position throughout the top dozen or so, as were Greg and Danny and Randy. Alberto was at the front with Herb Lindsay and a few others. We ran close together as we had done in our previous races. I knew we would win the team title and I started to think grander thoughts for myself. I moved up steadily and on the last long, steep uphill I moved up to Lindsay’s shoulder; we were second and third with Alberto barely in sight 75-yards ahead.
The last quarter mile was flat and slightly downhill and I was wind milling my way to the finish with some very fast closers just behind me. We did it, we won the big one! We all celebrated that evening and in the near future went our own way, destined to meet again while often no longer GBTC teammates but always with a nod to the past. (Photo: The author, who earlier in the year had placed third in the Boston Marathon at 2:12:30, closes in on that same position at the 1979 AAU National XC Championships. Photo by Paul Sutton)
Alberto is quoted in History of the Greater Boston Track Club by Paul Clerici, “It was exciting to win a team championship with my old friends from Boston. I’d won a team championship with Oregon but Boston is where I started, so it was great to win individually, but even more to be able to celebrate a team championship with my close Boston friends. The 1979 Championship was a highlight.”
Coach Squires added, “Yeah, there was talk that the guys were going to be pros and to be truthful I think that they knew it was going to be the end. I said, ‘guys this is the biggest thing. I want you to win this freakin’ thing!”
Not the breakup of the Beatles, but in our little world, still pretty momentous.
1979 AAU National Cross Country Championships, Raleigh, NC, Nov. 24
Men’s 10,000m: 1. Alberto Salazar, GBTC, 30:27; 2. Herb Lindsay, U. Cal. TC, 30:47; 3. Bob Hodge, GBTC, 30:52; 4. Danny Dillon, GBTC, 30:56; 5. Greg Meyer, GBTC, 31:01; 6. Duncan McDonald, West View TC, 31:04; 7. Steve Scott, Sub-4 TC, 31:05; 8. Steve Plasencia, UCTC, 31:06; 9. Jim Stinzl, WI, 31:12; 10. Marty Ludwisowski, NYAC, 31:15; 11. Don Clary, Oregon TC, 31:22; 12. Randy Thomas, GBTC, 31:23. Men’s Teams: 1. Greater Boston TC, 154.7 minutes; 2. Sub-4 TC, 160.07; 3. Oregon TC, 160.44; 4. Mason-Dixon, 160.84; 5. Penn State, 1561.85. Women’s 5,000m: Margaret Groos, Charlottesville TC, 16:53; 2. Julie Shea, NC State TC, 17:02; 3. Jan Merrill, ACAA, 17:12; 4. Brenda Webb, Knoxville TC, 17:14; 5. Lynn Jennings, Liberty AC, 17:21; 6. Joan Benoit, Liberty AC, 17:21; 7. Heather Carmichael, Penn State, 17:22; 8. Ellison Goodall, Liberty AC, 17:24; 9. Jennifer White, Charlottesville TC, 17:29; 10. Francie Larrieu, Athletic Attic, 17:30; 16. Dia Elliman, Liberty AC, 17:48. Women’s Teams: 1. Liberty AC (Boston) 81; 2. Penn State TC, 128; 3. Oregon TC, 132; 4. NC State, 137; 5. Wisconsin United, 142.