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THE NEW ASTLEY BELT 6 DAY RACE

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The New Astley Belt 6 Day Race – Part I

Betty Dietrich (1) 9

 

 

 

 


By Betty Dietrich – July 2012

Note: This article is a sequel to “The Woodside Bunch”, which should be read first.

Have you run a marathon? How about 2 marathons in one day? Can you imagine running that distance every day for 6 days… and doing it on a track?

Impossible you say? Not so! In the late 1800s, 6 day racing was the leading sport in Europe and America. Walkers and runners who competed in these events could earn more per race than today’s basketball players! No wonder it was the leading sport!

HISTORY

My husband, Jerry, and I were intrigued with the great six day contests of the past. Sir John Dugdale Astley, known as the Sporting Baron, established a series of 6 days races. He commissioned artists to design a splendid trophy – the Astley Belt. The winner of the 6 day race series would receive the trophy and earn the title, “Endurance Champion of the World“.

A great rivalry developed between the United States and England to determine who would win the belt. Huge crowds attended each race. Newspapers on both continents were filled with accounts of the contests. Competition was fierce!

The ultimate winner of the Astley Belt was Charles Rowell. He earned $50,000. An unbelievable cash prize! He became the long distance champion of the world and retired the most coveted trophy in the history of running – the Astley Belt.

100 YEARS LATER

The first 6 day race in modern times was held in 1980. Jerry ran the 200 mile division in under 4 days and was offered the option of continuing in the 6 day category. Not mentally ready, he declined – a decision that would haunt him.

Following the first race in 1980, a second was scheduled on the east coast. Jerry called the race director but was informed that the race was limited to a preselected few. Unable to find a 6 day race to compete in, Jerry was disappointed.

After much consideration, we made the decision to put on a 6 day race ourselves. In honor of the famous race series of the past, we named the event – The New Astley Belt Six Day Race. We decided to present the winner with a replica of the famous Astley Belt.

It took 2 years to organize the event.

THE SETTING

The race was set for the last week in July of 1982. Phoenix Vitamins and Nike Footwear agreed to co-sponsor the event. Announcements were made and track arrangements were completed.

The original 6 day races were held on an indoor track. Our race would be held on an outdoor track during the month of July in San Diego. Even with a cooling breeze from the nearby ocean, the runners and walkers were warned to expect high temperatures.

Next we had to arrange for scorers. Each lap for every contestant had to be meticulously recorded. Chip timing would have been great but there was no computer technology in those days. Volunteers were recruited and organized into shifts to cover 24 hours a day for 6 days. A daunting task!

Arrangements had to be made for lighting in the evening, first aid, and clean up. A program for the event was designed and press releases sent to all of the local media.

An area near the track was designated for tents. Another for the lucky few who had RV’s.

CREATING THE NEW ASTLEY BELT:

The decision to award a replica of the Astley Belt to the winner of the 6 day contest presented a great challenge.

Initially, we had planned to commission an artist to handle the matter.  But we soon discovered that no one was willing to undertake the entire project.

There were too many different crafts involved.  Silversmiths (goldsmiths), engravers, leather workers, and woodcarvers were all skills which must be employed.  So we began the task of coordinating all these skills ourselves.

Our first step was to utilize a description of the belt.

The original Astley Belt was designed with gold and silver plates for ornamentation. We found a metalworker to cut 7 sterling silver plates to the exact dimensions of the originals.  One of these was then plated in gold.

From there the plates were taken to a well known artist.  On the gold plate, placed in the center of the belt, the artist hand engraved in old English script, “Long Distance Champion of the World”.

Photographs of two of the 19th century’s foremost competitors were given to the artist to study.  From their photos, she engraved their likeness on the plates.  One was of Daniel O’Leary, a famous racewalker.  The second was Charles Rowell, one of the great runners of his day.

The next step was to commission the belt buckle. It was of sterling silver and inscribed with the exact words of the original buckle.

We then began what turned out to be one of the most difficult tasks – the search for red morocco leather.  This exotic leather, once extremely popular, had in modern times become very rare.

We went to dozens of leather shops and finally found a beautiful red leather hide of genuine morocco leather.  The rare leather was purchased on the spot and taken to a leather craftsman who cut the belt and mounted the plates and buckle.

All that remained to be done was to find a suitable base to display this unique trophy.  We took the belt to a woodcarver known for his fine craftsmanship.  He carved a beautiful piece of walnut and the belt was mounted.

A gold plate was placed above the belt with the words, “The New Astley Belt – 1982”.

The project was at last finished.  The skills of seven different artists and craftsmen had been utilized.

It took over two months to complete. The finished product was worth the effort.  No trophy in modern time could compare with this unique tribute.

The New Astley Belt – 1982

 



 

 

 

THE FIELD:

The lure of the New Astley Belt attracted a field of outstanding athletes from the far corners of the U.S., anxious to compete for the unique trophy and the title “Long Distance Champion of the World”.

Jerry felt strongly that the championship wouldn’t be a true one unless it was open to everyone. Fifty miles or more was the qualifying distance to compete. To be a finisher, a 300 mile minimum for 6 days was established.

The race would be “go as you please”. Athletes were allowed to run, walk, or combine a mix of both. They could take as many breaks as they needed. The winner would be the athlete with the highest total of miles at the end of the six days.

Fifteen men and one woman made up the field.  They came from five states and ranged in age from the youngest who was 20 to the oldest who was 63.

Their occupations were diverse. One was self employed. One was retired. There was a psychiatrist, a mail carrier, two school teachers, a dentist, and a student. One listed his occupation as “runner”. The only woman entrant was from Washington D.C. She worked for the Department of the Navy.

All were extremely fit, experienced ultra marathoners.

CHET BLANTON – Oxnard, California

Chet was a young, lean athlete who began doing ultras on his own.  He traveled on foot from the town of Taft, through mountainous regions, to the coastline city of Ventura, a distance of 100 miles. He completed the run in 21 hours. He also competed in two 6 day races in the U.S. and England.

Chet gained quite a bit of recognition locally from this feats which enabled him to have little trouble in securing sponsors to assist in his endeavors.

One sponsor, Santino’s Pizza, even provided Chet with a daily lunch of all-you-can-eat pizza.

Brown K

 

 

KEN BROWN – Dallas, Texas

Ken was known at home, affectionately, as the “mad runner”.  He was given this title because he enjoyed running 50 miles or more at night while the sane population slept.

Brown was a stocky, happy-go-lucky man.  The clippings from his local press revealed that he was an excellent endurance runner but that his attitude toward running was even more remarkable.  His primary reason for running was for personal satisfaction and pleasure. He rarely entered competition.

Ken was accompanied by his daughter who was also his number one fan.  They went to Tijuana (Mexico was only 8 miles from the track) the day before the race and returned with a carload of souvenirs.  When things got dull, Brown would entertain everyone by running a few laps wearing a big, gaudy velvet sombrero.


JOHN BUENFIL – Oakland California

John Buenfil (left), Dick Collins (right)

 

 

John appeared on the surface to be the exact opposite of Brown.  John was a giant of a man – tall, stern and towering with a thick, black beard.  This serious man did, in fact, have a very funny dry wit.

Buenfil had competed in numerous ultras.  He usually entered these events with his good friend, Dick Collins.  At the Woodside 6 Day Race in ‘80, Buenfil’s performance was nothing less than inspiring.

 

 

 

DAN CAIN – Borrego Springs, California

Dan Cain


Dan Cain was making his first attempt at a 6 day event.  Dan was a lean, but muscular, all around athlete who followed an arduous training schedule.  Besides long, 200 mile training runs, Dan would include one or two long ocean swims every week.  He had recently set a course record at the Tecate to Ensenada biathlon.

One of the problems most ultra runners face is finding a job that doesn’t interfere with their training.  Cain secured a job delivering flyers on foot and was combining work and training.

 

DON CHOI – San Francisco, California

Don Choi

 

Don was the innovator of the modern 6 day race. He had competed in all four 6 day races held in modern times. A San Francisco Mail carrier, he spent his day climbing hills delivering mail.

On the way to the NAB-82, Choi was badly scalded by steam from his car radiator.  He had large and ugly blisters on the inside of his upper right arm.  Yet, with stoic demeanor, he did not complain.  In fact, he laughed and joked with old friends, enjoying his reunion with the “Woodside Bunch”.

Choi’s slight frame was deceiving. He did not outwardly appear to possess such great powers of endurance.  His soft-spoken manner and good humor concealed the fierce competitor within. On the track he was a lion.

 

awards nab 82 (9)

 

DENNIS COFFEE – Palos Verdes, California

Dennis was accompanied by a support team of family and friends. A psychiatrist, who prescribed running as therapy for many of his patients, he conducted many group running sessions. He was quiet and reserved.  Though he submitted little background information, his friends spoke of this man’s love of adventure.  He was challenged by the difficult, sometimes dangerous, and liked to test himself.

His interests were hang gliding, cross country skiing and sailing.  He also enjoyed mountain climbing and had once climbed Anapura Three in Nepal.

During the race, Coffee’s demeanor was always calm.  He commented that the 6 Day Race was the most demanding task he had ever attempted.

DICK COLLINS – Oakland, California

Dick was a powerful appearing man. Six feet of muscle, he didn’t appear as lean as a typical runner. Collin had extremely powerful arms and legs.  At Woodside, Dick gave an outstanding performance finishing second to Choi with 350 miles.

Collins was a very likeable man who valued sportsmanship as much as winning.  He was one of the founders of an ultra running club in Northern California.


JERRY DIETRICH – Casa De Oro, California

Jerry Dietrich

A retired Olympic weightlifter, and out of shape, Jerry began running in 1978. Jerry was soon addicted to running and became obsessed with 6 day racing two years later. He was, initially the race director for this 6 day event, but just before the contest he relinquished the position to me.  Since infected with the fever at Woodside, he dreamed of little else.  For six months prior to the race, nearly every waking minute of Jerry’s time was spent either planning the NAB-82 or training for it with 30 and 40 mile daily track drills.

At Woodside, Choi described Jerry as “probably the toughest night-time  ultra runner I know”. Because of that praise, Jerry became known as “Night-Train” Dietrich.

 

 MARY MARGARET GOODWIN – Washington, D.C.

Mary Margaret was the only woman runner entered in the NAB-82. Mary Margaret was from Washington, D.C. and was employed by the Department of the Navy.  At times it seemed like the entire San Diego Naval Base came out to cheer for her.  No one ever had a larger or more devoted fan club and with good reason.

Most of her childhood was spent as an invalid.  She had numerous operations, including a spinal fusion.  For most people, this would have meant a life of total disability.  But Mary Margaret refused to accept such limitations.  She led a full and active life, participating in several ultras. She had recently completed the C & O Canal Run.

Mary Margaret, tall and statuesque, constantly pushed herself to new frontiers.  One of her most vital goals was to encourage other women, by her example, to reach out beyond self-imposed boundaries and try new experiences.  She was anxious to compete on even terms with the men.

Honig J

 

JIM HONIG – Pleasantville, CA

Both Jerry and I, were really happy when we received the entry form from Jim Honig, a schoolteacher in Santa Clara.  We had the opportunity to get to know Jim at the Emerald Day 100K in Lake Tahoe.  Honig had grown a beard since the last time we saw him but was easily recognizable by his ever present smile.

Honig noted on his entry form that he felt he had 2 qualities which would serve him well – patience and persistence.

 
RICHARD KEGLEY – College Place, Washington

Richard Kegley with wife, Margaret

 

Richard was accompanied by his wife, Margaret, and granddaughter, Janelle.  Tall and thin, he was an outstanding athlete with many ultras under his belt.  He did an amazing run from Walla Walla, Washington to Loma Linda, California – a distance of 1100 miles in 34 days.

Kegley and his wife were avid runners who spent much of their time traveling from one race to another.  Kegley, at 63, was the oldest runner in the field. He held two U.S. age group records.

 

 

 

STAN LEVENTHAL – Placentia, California

The “Walk and Roll” brothers, Elliot and Stan (right)

 

The youngest runner in the NAB-82 was 20 year old Stan Leventhal.  Stan sent a newspaper clipping in which he and his brother Elliot were dubbed the “Walk and Roll Brothers”.  They had set two Guinness World 24 hour records – one on roller skates and the other walking backwards.

Stan had run several 24 hour events doing well in every instance. He was accompanied by his entire family including grandparents. His family expected a top performance.

 

 

 


FRED NAGELSCHMIDT – Ventura, California

Fred Nagelschmidt

 

Fred Nagelschmidt, along with Choi, was the most experienced runner in the field. Fred was a runner with classic form, and was easily recognized by his flowing silver hair and beard. Fred had recently won the Oxnard 24 hour run with a total of 114 miles.

One of the original “Woodside Bunch”, he finished 3rd at Woodside with 325 miles. His total still stood as the U.S. record for runners over 50. He also held many other age group records for 50 miles and longer.

 

 

 

LEON RANSOM – San Diego, California

Leon resembled a scowling growling bear. He had a stocky physique and did more walking than running. He relied on a strong walking pace for hours on end to reach his goals. Nobody knew what his goals were.
He had some quirks. He didn’t want anyone to call him by name. He wanted to be called “number three”, his race number. He instructed lap counters to “never tell me my mileage”. He didn’t want his photo taken. He would take his breaks lying on the metal bed of his pick up truck. “Tents are for sissies”, he declared.

DALE SUTTON – San Diego, California

Dale, a dentist, was the only race walker to enter the event. He drew a large following of fellow racewalkers. He had walked 100 miles at a recent 24 hour ultra. Sutton was the original race director of the prestigious Pacific Crest 50 Mile Trail Run, as well as numerous other ultras. He helped a lot of local people get interested in fitness and they were there to cheer for him and offer their support. One of this friends quipped, “He’s also my dentist. He warned me if I didn’t show up, he would get even”.

JOHN WALLIS – Luddington, Michigan

John Wallis

 

 

Wallis was well known in the east for his running talent.  He had a long list of credits to his name and was the subject of many admiring articles about his athletic ability. John had competed in numerous 24 hour runs and 100 mile ultras. This was his first try at a 6 day race. He was accompanied by his father who served as his handler.

 

 

 

In a contest of this magnitude, spanning 6 days and 6 nights, anything could happen.  There was no way to tell who would be the “Long Distance Champion of the World”.

 

*****  Next – The New Astley Belt 6 Day Race – Part II *****

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New Astley Belt 6 Day Race – Part II

-UNEDITED VERSION-

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

By Jerry Dietrich

FOREWORD

2012 – Thirty years ago, Betty and I decided to stage a six day endurance contest. The details of how we came to make that decision were outlined in the last issue of the Silver Strider magazine. In our “Memory Lane” column, we told about how the original “Astley Belt 6 Day Races” were conceived and staged back in 1880. In preparation for our modern day version, we spent nearly two years bringing our dream to reality.
In this issue I describe the race itself, aptly named “The New Astley Belt 6 Day Race”. To understand the event, Part I should be read first.

July 1982 – THE NEW ASTLEY BELT 6 DAY RACE – Chula Vista, California

THE ENTRANTS: Ken Brown, Chet Blanton, John Buenfil, Dan Cain, Don Choi, Dennis Coffee, Dick Collins, Jerry Dietrich, Mary Goodwin, Jim Honig, Richard Kegley, Stan Leventhal, Fred Nagelschmidt, Leon Ransom, and Dale Sutton.

DAY ONE
On Monday morning, July 26, 1982 two pre-race meetings were held. At 8:00 a.m. scoring procedures were reveiwed with the scorers and handlers. At 8:30 another meeting was held to review rules and give last minute instructions to the  runners.

Promptly at 9:00 a.m., the race started.

Stan Leventhal, the youngest runner in the field, streaked to the front running a very fast pace for this type event. About 5’6″ tall, with dark curly hair, he looked extremely fit with a tightly packed 140 pound muscular body. He did a lot of yelling at his handlers and the lap scorer recording his laps. Stan took his drinks without breaking stride for the first 30 miles or so. He didn’t want to lose a single second in the hot July sun.

Don Choi seemed to running a little faster than expected, but nobody would second guess the most experienced 6 day racer on the track. This was his fourth 6 day race.
All of the entrants were on the track, some running fast, some slow, some jogging or walking. They were all following pre-planned race patterns.

Early in the afternoon, a T.V. crew and several reporters arrived to record the event. Daily reports of the race were planned for the evening news. The New Astley Belt was unveiled for filming and then displayed to the passing runners for motivation. After 20 minutes the belt was put away for safe keeping until the awards ceremony to be held six days later.

Leventhal reached 50 miles first in 8:35, fast for 80 degree heat. He went to his tent where he would remain for several hours. About 40 minutes later, Choi cruised by the 50 mile mark in 9:15. He was followed closely by Fred Nagleschmidt in 9:21. As Choi and Nagleschmidt left Leventhal behind, I could not help noticing the contrast in the two. Choi, stood about 5’5 and at 120 lbs he looked to be running effortlessly. Nagleschmidt, who stood about 5’11 and weighed about 140, ran with a stronger stride and more knee lift. He had a forefoot footstrike and presented beautiful running form. Those who knew him knew that he loved hot weather and he had vast experience holding several U.S. records for various distances in his age group.

Dan Cain was the second youngest runner at 23. He appeared very strong through the day. His running was very spirited, but tempered with well timed walking breaks. His plans were long range. The rest of the field ran conservatively.

I was dead last by mid afternoon after spending more time in my tent than the others. I was a night runner waiting for sunset to begin my effort.

 

I began my effort at 5:00 p.m. I had a lot of catching up to do.I began my main effort for the day at about 6:00 p.m.  I was 45 miles behind the leader and had a lot of ground to make up during the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the onset of evening, some light meals and short naps were taken as runners were depleted from the heat. The exceptions were Choi who never seemed to tire,  John Wallis, the little dynamo from Luddington Michigan, and myself.  Wallis, who had tread lightly during the day, became the terror of the track after dark. About 5’6″ tall and weighing about 125, he ran shirtless in the damp night air. I made up ground during the night, but my reputation as a night runner was diminished by the running of Wallis.

By the end of the first 24 hours, the leaders had given spirited performances. Furthermore, everyone in the field exceeded 50 miles and were on schedule to become finishers. To be a finisher a 300 mile minimum had to be met. It was felt by myself and others that although we wanted the event open to anyone who had run a 50 miler or more, we should discourage novice entries by setting a minimum because of the health dangers involved in multi day racing.

First day totals were: Choi 110 miles, Wallis 99 miles, Cain and Nagleschmidt each turned in 91 miles, I was in 5th place with 76 miles, followed closely by Leventhal and Honing with 75. Ransom had 70. Only 10 miles separated 5th and 14th. Mary Goodwin and Dennis Coffee, were 15th and 16th, with 54 and 50 miles, respectively.

 

DAY TWO

The 24 hour totals were posted shortly at 9:05 a.m. Nearly all the runners retired after viewing the results. The first day effort and the heat had taken a toll.
Choi was the exception. After a 20 minute break, he continued to circle around in the blazing sun.

A reporter arrived at noon and wondered if a race was in progress. Only two runners were on the track, Don Choi, and Dan Cain who just started his daily effort at 11:00 a.m. Cain was a handsome young man, with a perfect physique. He  stood about 5’10” and sported a beautiful suntan. His hair was bleached blonde from hours in the sun and he made a nice photo subject for the journalist.

nab 82 group

During the early afternoon runners began returning to the track, refreshed by naps and showers. Most were now wearing clothing designed to protect them from the sun.

 

 

Mary Goodwin appeared to be the first runner to encounter trouble. She was wearing a back brace. Not one to complain, she kept a cheerful smile and sunny disposition to the delight of everyone. She had many supporters and admirers visiting the track. Employed by the Department of the Navy in Washington D. C., she had supporters from the San Diego Naval Base on hand. They brought best wishes, encouragement, flowers, and even hung a sign on the perimiter fence proclaiming Mary the greatest. While she proved to be a strong walker with a firm step, her back problem was hampering her effort and she became the first contestant in jeopary of not reaching the 300 mile minimum.

There were several outstanding efforts on the second day. One of these came from the only racewalker, Dale Sutton. He stayed on the track for almost 20 hours on the second day in an effort to gain on the leaders. He had some success too, cutting his deficit from 42 miles to 34 miles. He advanced from 10th to 6th place. The bad news was that the marvelous 72 mile effort left him with a back and foot injury. The back problem was in his upper back in the cervical area. He ended the day with his left arm in a sling and the realization that he couldn’t win the belt.

A top performance was given by Dan Cain. He totalled 73 miles and pulled within 9  miles of the lead. He appeared extremely confident and announced that he intended to break the U.S. record of 445 miles in 6 days. Unbeliveably, he was still running shirtless day and night.

The onset of night, the second day, brought out John Wallis to put on another show of running excellence. Choi and I were running together marveling at the Wallis exhibition. I told Don that my reputation as the top night runner was over. Choi remarked, “Wallis has a running style that is very efficient. And, he has a smart plan for the six days”. Wallis cranked out 72 miles for day two, leaving him only 3 miles out of the lead.

Fred Nagleschmidt had another fine day with 61 miles. Unfortunately, Fred dropped from 3rd to 5th because of Cain’s performance and the top performance of the day by Stan Leventhal. Stan moved into fourth with an impressive 77 miles. He chalked up more miles on the 2nd day than he did on the first.

Collins had another strong day as did Honig. I talked with Jim and discovered our goals were identical. 75 miles the first day and 60 miles each for the remaining days for a total of 375.

Day two mileage totals: Choi 173.5, Wallis 170.5, Cain 164.5, Leventhal 152.25, Nagleschmidt 152, Sutton 139, Honig 135, Dietrich 131, Collins 129, Kegley 124.5, Ransom 121.75, Blanton 120.25, Buenfil 112, Brown 107, Coffee 100.25, Goodwin 97.5.
Choi was still the leader by the narrowist of margins. It was obvious at this point that the battle for the belt was between the top five, Choi, Wallis,  Cain, Leventhal, and Nagleschmidt.
Mary Goodwin was the only runner slightly behind schedule for a 300 mile total with 98 miles.

DAY THREE

Day 3 began on a discouraging note. John Buenfil was forced to withdraw losing a several day old battle with the flu. It was unfortunate because John was considered a “name runner” being part of the original “Woodside Bunch”. John confided to me that he also had been turned down for the New Jersey 6 day race and he wanted to vindicate himself at this race so badly that he tried to compete even though he was sick with the flu. He was well positioned at 112 miles for 2 days, but was just too sick and feverish to continue. After a rest, John displayed fine sportsmanship by going to the scorer’s table and becoming a lap counter for the remainder of the race. He joined our mainstay lap counters, Janelle Kegley, and Wally Wallis.

More disaster struck as the day wore on. Sutton was walking in misery had quit twice only to return later and struggle onward. Nagleschmidt was stricken with tendonitis in the right lower leg and was spending long breaks trying to releive the pain. Jim Honig had a similar injury and continued walking and taking asprin. His strides were barely a 12 inch shuffle. He stayed on the track most of the day, just plopping down on the track when he tired.

Collins was gaining ground with a steady day. He and I both passed Sutton and Honig during the early evening.

Only 6 runners exceeded 50 miles on the third day. Leventhal, Choi, Wallis, Cain, Collins, and myself.

Leventhal was the top performer for day three with an amazing 81 miles. He joined Wallis at 234 total miles, just 6 miles behind Choi. Cain ran 62 miles for the day. Only 14 miles separated the top four. Only a few miles separated Nagleschmidt (192), Dietrich (189), Collins (188), Sutton (184), and Honig (180).

All eyes were now on Leventhal. He had increased his mileage every day. Day four would tell the tale. If he exceeded 81 miles on day four, it would be all over. Could he continue to get stronger each day when everyone else was encountering difficulties?

DAY FOUR

At 9:05 a.m. the 72 hour totals were posted. It was a four way battle for the belt. Everyone, except Choi, took a nap. Choi took a 20 minute break and returned to continue circling the track. He was running strongly, feeling the challenge of the three contenders close on his heels. Don knew he would face a strong challenge from the three.

At 11:00 a.m., as usual, a fresh looking Dan Cain left his tent and began a series of walking and running laps. Choi had added an additional 8 miles to his lead while the others slept.

At 1:40 p.m., an early start for him, John Wallis appeared on the track. He was ready to challenge Choi. All three ran conservatively, neither gaining or losing ground to each other, until about 4:00 p.m.

Suddenly, Cain began to crank. The race was on. Leventhal, still in his tent was now in 4th. Cain’s running was sensational at this stage of the race. Choi and Wallis were being lapped again and again. Leventhal, hearing the cheering came out of his tent and began running. A few minutes before 6:00 p.m. Cain passed Wallis and assumed second place.

Choi was now feeling the pressure. His lead was disappearing. He had to change tactics.
Using a tactic popular in the 19th century, Choi began to stalk Cain. Both men were running at the top of their speed. Cain leading with Choi on his heels. If Cain slowed, so did Choi. If Cain sped up, so did Choi. Occaisionally, when Choi tired, he let Cain go and walked until Cain came by again and then Choi would go back on Cain’s heels.

The duel continued on through the night. Leventhal and Wallis were unable to match Cain and Choi. Shortly after midnight, Leventhal went to his tent and slept until 5:00 a.m. Wallis stopped at that time. He was still in third because Leventhal had left the track.

Cain and Choi continued their duel until the day’s end at 9:00 a.m. Cain had totalled 74 miles and was now in second place, leading Wallis by 19 miles. Yet, he was 20 miles behind Choi who covered an amazing 80 miles. The big question now was what could they do on day five? Both men were exhausted.

It was a day of mixed results for the rest of the field. Collins had another steady day rolling past myself and Fred Nagleschmidt. He seemed well positioned for a big finish. The tendonitis hit me during the night and I was forced to walk. Nagleschmidt’s tendonitis had worsened and now Coffee was complaining too. Dennis (Coffee) assessed that we were running too much of the time in the wrong direction. We changed direction every 12 hours. Nine a.m. to nine p.m. clockwise, and nine p.m. to nine a.m. counter clockwise. Since the heat forced everyone to do most of their running at night, we were doing 70-75% of our running in the wrong direction in lane one. The exception was Choi who did all his running , except for stalking Cain, in lane four. He was running farther but with less strain from the curves.

All things considered it was a day of good and bad. Seven runners exceeded 50 miles including Brown, Kegley, and Blanton. The big shock was the failure of Wallis and Leventhal to reach 50 miles for the day.

DAY FIVE

Choi started day 5 with his usual 20 minute break. Leventhal who had started at 5:00 a.m. in fourth place was back running strong with lots of ground to make up. At 9:30 a.m. Leventhal passed Wallis moving into 3rd place. He looked strong and rested.

I heard Leventhal’s family on the sidelines plotting strategy. Cain, they assessed, was tired and demoralized from his battle with Choi. Choi looked exhausted and in need of sleep. His weight was down to 106 lbs. the door was open for a well rested Stan Leventhal.

As he did every morning at 11:00 a.m., second place Dan Cain left his tent and began walking around the track. But something new had been added. He had something wrapped around his right foot and ankle. It looked like a cross between a bandage and a splint.

At 5:30 p.m. Wallis returned to the track after a 12 hour absence. He looked rested but lacked his usual zest as he turned in laps of 4 minutes each. He was now in 4th and losing ground to Collins in 5th.

At 11:30 p.m. Cain’s collapse came. He retired to his tent having walked only 25 miles for the day. He would not appear again for 12 hours.

Shortly after midnight a fast moving Leventhal passed Cain and was now in second place. He was ready to challenge Choi. Again threatened, Choi began to stalk again. This time the prey was Leventhal.

For the rest of the field it was a day of disaster. Collins was stricken with tendonitis in the right leg like many of us and it curtailed his efforts as well. My leg was worse and I spent the day walking a pitiful 39 miles. Nagleschmidt spent more time off the track than on. Honig stayed on the track doing his hobble and rest for long periods. Sutton managed 45 miles.

Only 4 runners reached 50 miles on day 5; Leventhal, Choi, Brown, and Coffee.

Wholesale changes loomed for day 6. Brown was running strong and injury free, moving from 12th place to 10th. Coffee moved from 14th to 11th. It appeared these two would run past many of the injured during the final day.

As the fifth day drew to a close on Friday morning, it was evident that Choi was not going to fold. Stan’s brother, Craig, was complaining about Choi’s tactics to anyone who would listen. His dissappointment didn’t change the fact that his brother’s challenge had been put to rest.

But what a challenge it had been. A 73 mile performance by Leventhal had been answered with 68 miles from an exhausted Choi.

Entering the final day the totals were: Choi 388 miles, Leventhal 351 miles, Cain 326 miles, Wallis 322 miles, Collins 281 miles, Sutton 279 miles, Dietrich 273 miles, Nagelschmidt 271 miles, Honig 265 miles, Brown 260 miles, Coffee 245 miles, Ransom 243 miles, Blanton 237 miles, Kegley 230 miles, and Goodwin 201 miles.

Goodwin’s chances of reaching the 300 mile minimum was nil. Blanton and Kegley had a slim chance. Coffee and Ransom were just a few miles back and both running strongly. Their chances were good.

DAY SIX

When the five day totals were posted at 9:05 a.m., Choi had a 36 mile lead. tears filled his eyes as he looked at the results. He mumbled though sun cracked lips, “I didn’t know…I didn’t know.”

Choi’s battle was now with himself. He only had to stay on his feet and the belt was his. It was immediately evident that he had more than the belt on his mind as he skipped his usual 20 minute break. He continued around and around in the blazing sun. He continued hatless and his suncracked lips were bleeding. The strain of the constant challenge during the last five days had taken a toll and he looked worn out. Yet it was the challenge by Wallis, Cain, and Leventhal that brought him to the brink of his finest performance.

His pace was now relentless. He was going for for the U.S. record.

At this point, the contest for the top four places was over. Leventhal had a 30 mile lead on Wallis and had second place cinched. Third place looked close in miles, but Wallis was back in form leaving Cain farther behind with each passing hour.
Cain was strolling along. His lead on the rest of the field was enough to secure  fourth.

Fifth place was still wide open with six men within striking distance of Dick Collins. Dick was walking because of his injury, but he was a powerful walker matching strides with Sutton during the first 10 hours of the final day. they started the final day 6 laps apart and 10 hours later, the gap remained the same.

As the runners reached 300 miles, there was applause and cheering greeting their achievement.

Collins began to pull ahead of Sutton and reached the 300 mile mark at 8:41 p.m. He went directly to his tent.

The excitment continued as Sutton reached 300 miles at 9:16 p.m. He followed Collins example and went to his tent for a rest.

Nagelschmidt reached 300 miles just before midnight and limped straight to his lounge chair trackside.

I reached 300 next but declined a break, continuing to stroll 5 minute laps. I knew if I stopped, I would have difficulty starting up again.

Meanwhile, Brown, Coffee, and Ransom were closing fast.

At 1:15 a.m. Sutton came out of his tent. He could finish as high as 5th or as low as 12th. It would be decided during the next few hours. He walked relaxed waiting for Collins to return.

At 2:00 a.m. Collins emerged from his tent. He looked ready for a big finish. Could he run? If so, fifth palce was his. He had not been able to run for some time because of his leg. Could I stay on the track? I had been 25 hours without sleep. If we were all three walking shouldn’t the racewalker finish 5th?

The last question was answered first. Despite Collins appearance Sutton continued a relaxed walk. When I saw Collins return, I began a crude form of racewalking. It was no match for Collins powerful rolling strides and soon I was being lapped.

At 3:30 a.m. Ken Brown reached 300 miles running like a machine. He looked strong and had a shot at 5th, but went to his tent.

Forty minutes later he returned to join the cheering that accompanied Jim Honig’s 300th mile. Amid wild cheering and applause Honig smiled and acknowledged the tribute to his courage. He had not taken a stride longer than 12 inches since the third day, and yet, here he was a finisher with 300 miles. When he completed his final lap he shuffled smiling to his tent to ease the suffering he had endured.

Brown whose tent was next to Honig’s returned to his as well.

Coffee and Ransom had been exchanging places during the night. At 7:13 a.m. Coffee passed 300 miles and Ransom did the same 14 minutes later. Sutton who had been watching their progress, stepped up his pace to keep his hold on 7th place.

Collins had now closed within 4 laps of me and our contest for 5th was brutal. I had been on the track for 31 hours and Collins had been giving 100% for the last six hours and looked haggard. He had made up 16 laps on me but his right leg was as badly swollen as mine.

Our duel took a back seat to the big excitment which was building as Choi closed in on Park Barner’s U.S. record.

Choi’s popularity seemed best exemplified by his team of handlers. Local young men who had never heard of Don until a week ago, had a new hero, and they tended to his every need.

Because of the articles in the local papers during the race, some spectators gathered to watch the finish. Well wishers, writers, photographers, runners, friends, and sponsors swelled the crowd of onlookers as they gathered to witness the finish.
Loud cheering and applause greeted Don Choi as he completed his 446th mile. He joined the spectators in the stands. to watch the final minutes.

Now all runners except Choi, Nagleschmidt, and Honig were on the track, laughing and enjoying the exhilaration of their achievements.

Coffee was talking about his injury when Ken Brown offered, “I have an injury too.” He pointed to his chapped lips drawing laughter from those near.

The 300 mile mark was a joyous mark for those who reached it, and a discouragement to those who didn’t. Those who fell short, did so with grace and a vow to do better next time.

Mary Goodwin handled her disappointment well. It was evident on the fourth day that she had no hope of finishing, but she continued with a smile and words of cheer for others as she continued for the full 144 hours.

Chet Blanton needed 63 miles on the final day after a disastous 5th day. When time ran out he had 279 miles.

The nearest miss belonged to Richard Kegley. He missed the second half of day 5 and the first half of day 6, observing his sabbath. A Seventh Day Adventist, he retired to his trailer for a 24 hour period. When he returned to the track with 13 hours left he embarked on a duel with the clock. He needed 70 miles in 13 hours. Impossible at this point. With his shoulders hunched up and his spindly legs a blur of mini strides he reeled off lap after lap. He won the hearts of everyone with running unequaled by any contestant at this late stage.

With time running out, lines of exhaustion marked his face. “My best is good enough”, he said. He ran 55 miles in the final 13 hours for a total of 285 miles. He would not receive a finishers plaque, and yet seemed happy and gracious. He had, at 63, scored a victory over an age oriented society. His 285 mile total became the U.S. Record for Men over 60.

With the race finally over, Betty announced that the awards ceremony would take place in one hour. Along with the chief scorer, Janelle Kegley, and John Buenfil, she  checked the lap sheets and the ballots for the sportsmanship award, which was voted on by the runners.

Larry White and Ron Mirolla of Phoenix Vitamins lined up the trophies for presentation. The belt was still under wraps.

AWARDS PRESENTATION

The array of awards was most impressive. The Weston sportsmanship award was an engraved plaque mounted against two columns on a marble base with a tier above. A runner and two eagles rested atop the tier.

The finisher plaques were thicker than normal with a beveled edge that formed a frame around the engraved plate.

The trophies for 10th through 6th were made from pieces of polished quartz rock. A large piece sat on a flat piece with a runner on top. A custom designed plate was mounted on the flat piece with the finishing place inscribed.

The awards for 5th and 4th places were larger versions of the 6th through 10th trophies.

The Rowell Cup was named after Charles Rowell who retired the original Astley Belt. It was awarded for third place, and was a beautiful silver cup atop on a block of walnut containing the engraved description plate. A large runner topped the cup.

The Fitzgerald Cup for 2nd place was a larger, more elaborate version of the Rowell Cup. It was named for Patrick Fitzgerald, who defeated Charles Rowell in 1884 in the greatest 6 day race of all time.

Ten o’clock arrived.

Mary Goodwin, Chet Blanton, and Richard Kegley were called forward to receive their t-shirts and some well deserved applause. The shirt was adorned with a picture of Charles Rowell, who had retired the original Astley Belt 100 years before. The T-shirts were contributed by Nike. The remaining plaques and trophies were contributed by our primary sponsor, Phoenix Vitamins.

Fred Nagleschmidt and Jim Honig were summoned to receive their finisher plaques and t-shirts. Both were injured, but finished despite the hardship.

It was announced that Jim Honig had won the sportsmanship award. I found out later that the vote was close between Jim and Richard Kegley.

Ken Brown came forward to accept the 10th place trophy. He tipped his hat to the spectators enjoying his popularity.

Leon Ransom accepted the trophy for 9th place. His 63 miles on the final day was fourth highest.

Dennis Coffee finished in 8th place, having the third highest mileage on the last day, 64 miles. He edged Ransom by three miles.

Many friends were there for Dale Sutton a local San Diego dentist as he was presented with his trophy for finishing 7th.

Dick Collins came forward to get the 6th place trophy. Only one mile separated us at the finish.

I received the 5th place trophy.

A very talented runner, Dan Cain was awarded the 4th place trophy.

John Wallis was very popular. The man with an impish smile was a most worthy receipient of the Rowell Cup. John was also first master in the competition. His final day mileage of 67 miles was the second highest.

The Fitzgerald Cup went to Stan Leventhal. He had the highest mileage on the final day, with 71 miles. His total of 421.75 miles placed him 3rd on the current American list. There were two amazing things about his performance. First, he was only 20 years of age. Second, he exceeded 70 miles every day except for the fourth.

All this time the new U.S. record holder, Don Choi, had remained calm and smiling, applauding each runner. Now it was his turn.

Incredibly Don had just ran a six day race four weeks earlier in New Jersey. He was defeated by Park Barner who set a new U.S. record of 445 miles. Now, three weeks later, Don had beat Barner’s mark and regained the U.S. record.

The final moment arrived and photographers edged closer to the presentation area.

The New Astly belt was unveiled and the plates of gold and silver shone brightly in the sun. The crowd sat in awe of the beauty and craftmanship. The belt, a beautiful symbol of a bygone era, was won by a true champion who had given a brilliant performance.

I spoke briefly about the historical significance of the belt. Then I announced, “It is a pleasure to present this belt to Don Choi, “The Long Distance Champion of the World”.

Six Day Race Totals:

1.  Don Choi    446 mi  –  A new modern day U.S. record
2.  Stan Leventhal    421 3/4 mi
3.  John Wallis    388 mi
4.  Dan Cain    369 1/4 mi
5.  Jerry Dietrich    323 1/4 mi
6.  Dick Collins    322 1/4 mi
7.  Dale Sutton    312 3/4 mi
8.  Dennis Coffee    308 1/4 mi
9.  Leon Ransom    305 1/4 mi
10. Ken Brown    302 1/4 mi
11. Fred Nagelschmidt    300 1/4 mi
11. Jim Honig    300 1/4 mi
DNF – Richard Kegley    285 1/2 mi (A new U.S. Record for Men over 60)
DNF – Chet Blanton    281 mi
DNF – Mary Margaret Goodwin    237 1/4    mi

Standing left to right: Stan Leventhal, Dan Cain, Mary Goodwin, Don Choi, Dale Sutton, John Wallis, Richard Kegley, Fred Nagelschmidt, Leon Ransom, and Jim Honig. Kneeling: Dennis Coffee, Chet Blanton, Dick Collins, and Ken Brown.

Editor’s note:  I apologize for the poor quality of some of the old photos. I decided to use them despite their condition so that readers could visualize the runners. Also interesting is that John Wallis, holding the Rowell Cup, and standing next to Choi, is still* listed in the record books for running 1000 miles in 14 days, 9 hours, 45 minutes, and four seconds.
*as of Nov. 2014.

 

 

 

 

 


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