Gasparilla Distance Classic Gasparilla Distance Classic
           be healthy • get more fit • race faster
Enter email to receive e-newsletter:
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter

"All in a Day’s Run" is for competitive runners, fitness enthusiasts and anyone who needs a "spark" to get healthier by increasing exercise and eating more nutritionally.

Click here for more info or to order

This is what the running elite has to say about "All in a Day's Run":

"Gary's experiences and thoughts are very entertaining, all levels of runners can relate to them."
Brian Sell — 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathoner

"Each of Gary's essays is a short read with great information on training, racing and nutrition."
Dave McGillivray — Boston Marathon Race Director

Skip Navigation Links

Don Bowden — March, 2017
Don Bowden is the first American to run a sub-4:00 mile which he did on June 1, 1957 when he ran 3:58.7 at the Pacific Association AAU meet. The trailblazer was just 20 years old and was the youngest to date to run a mile in under four minutes. He represented the United States in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics at 1,500 meters after finishing in third place at the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials. Bowden raced collegiately for the University of California - Berkeley where he was NCAA Champion in 1957 at 880 yards in 1:47.2, helping Cal to a second place team finish. He was fourth in the mile at NCAA’s in 1958. Don and his collegiate teammates set World Records in both the two-mile relay and sprint medley relay. He was Pacific Coast Conference Champion in the 880 in 1957 and in the mile in 1958. Bowden set Cal – Berkeley school records in the 880, 1500, mile, 2-mile relay, sprint medley relay and distance medley relay At Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose, Calif he was student body president and won the state 880 title in 1953 and 1954, setting a high school World Record of 1:52.3 his senior year. His personal best times include: 400 meters – 47.9; 880 yards – 1:47.2; 1,500m - 3:46.5 and mile - 3:58.7. After college Don helped develop the Tartan track, the first artificial running surface. He was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2008 and the USATF's Pacific Association HOF in 2014. Don resides in Saratoga, California with Betsy, his wife of nine years, and their two Great Pyrenees dogs, Susie and Bodie. He was gracious to spend nearly 90 minutes on the telephone in February, 2017.
GCR:Many athletes are known for championships, World Records or Gold Medals, but only one, and that’s you, can say he is the first American to run a sub-four minute mile. Now, nearly 60 years later, how does it feel to be that man?
DBI was quite fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with some great coaching and good genetics. It was a real honor for me and I’m thankful for that opportunity that I had that day in June of 1957.
GCR:It was three years after Roger Bannister broke the mile’s four minute barrier, and about a dozen runners had broken four minutes but no American had done so. How strong was the impetus to be the first American, especially since there were several capable runners? Was it discussed and did you know of several runners who were taking aim on being the first?
DBObviously, the person that should have done it first was Wes Santee. I watched him run 4:02 at Compton and then he ran four flat point four or five. After Bannister ran his race, Wes was down in the four flat point something range more than once so he was the main person that I thought would run under four minutes. In 1954 when Bannister ran under four minutes, I was still in high school and really was running the half mile and not the mile. So running under four minutes was out of my bailey wick. Bob Seamen from UCLA was a real good runner who could have challenged four minutes and there were one or two other guys. Someone had to do it, but I wasn’t so sure it was going to be me. I was a half-miler and the half mile was my race so I was really stepping up to run the mile. That wasn’t my primary event.
GCR:Since you were primarily a half-miler, what did you do in training leading up to that race which had you ready both mentally and physically to run sub-four minutes?
DBIt really goes back to the year before in 1956. That was the Olympic year and I barely made the team in the 1,500 meters. I ran that because the 800 meters was so loaded with Tom Courtney, Artie Sowell, and my teammate, Lon Spurrier. That was very difficult because I had had a few injuries that year. The 1,500 meters looked like my best chance to make the Olympic team and I was very fortunate to barely out lean Fred Dwyer at the tape to make third place and the team. The thing was, the Olympics were in Melbourne and I was in school at Cal and my father was pretty strict about athletics. He wanted me to go to school, learn, and get good grades and graduate. If I could fit in athletics then that was fine too. In those days many students would go on and on and on, but he told me he wanted me to graduate with my class and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ The Olympics were in October and November because the seasons are different in Australia so I had to drop out of the fall semester at Cal. In order to keep up with my class I went to double summer sessions and I was doing all of this training for the Olympics. As a result of going to school, training strong and flying around to meets to compete every weekend somewhere, I ended up getting mononucleosis. That slowed me down and I was just coming out of it around the time for the Olympics. But I couldn’t beat anyone at the Olympics because with world Class competition you have to be at your best.
GCR:So your 1956 Olympic push just carried over into 1957 at the longer distance?
DBI had done all of this training up to the Olympics and continued after the Olympics which gave me a really strong base going into 1957. As far as the mile, I had run some pretty good miles that year. I think I had run 4:04 or 4:05, something like that. But I think the key race was at the Fresno Relays when we had a distance medley team and we were running against the L.A. Striders and I anchored with the mile. Jerome Walters, who had won the 1956 Olympic Trials at 1,500 meters, was the anchor man for the Striders. We ran stride for stride and then coming to the end about thirty or forty yards before the finish I thought, ‘Don, if you don’t let up you’re going to go right on your face.’ So I let up a little bit, but I ran maybe a little bit over four minutes that night and he did too. That was with a running start in a relay, but it showed my capabilities. The other event that happened was that Tom Courtney, who had won the 800 meters in the Melbourne Olympics, came out to train with me a bit at he was going to race at Fresno and Modesto. So we were working out at Berkeley and we were running 1,320 yards in three minutes and Courtney announced that he could run a mile in under four minutes. In my opinion, Tom Courtney was a great athlete, but he was a big, strong muscular guy. He didn’t have the build and the physical stature that most milers have. He was so big and strong – a Peter Snell type of guy. I think he had the strength, but it’s tough to carry that over a mile. So I went to my coach, Brutus Hamilton, and told him ‘Courtney says he can run four minutes, but I was right with him on that 1,320, so maybe we should start thinking about that.’ Brutus said, ‘Okay. I think you can do it, especially after that relay race at the Fresno Relays. So that’s what we started pointing our training toward. We knew that the meet in Stockton was going to be the only opportunity I was going to have to run the mile again that year because all of the rest of my planned races that year were geared around the half mile.
GCR:When Roger Bannister broke four minutes he had two pace setters, but you were out front on your own. Take us through the first three laps of the race as you ran splits of 59.7, 61.1, and 59.8 to put you at 3:00.6 and in position to challenge the four minute mark. Were you feeling comfortable and ready for the final lap and your assault on history?
DBThat was a great day. Everything was going right. It was flowing right. The reason I could run those laps is because we did the interval training. That was our system and it was similar to what Bannister did. He had Franz Stampfl as his coach and he used an interval system as did Brutus Hamilton. And Brutus had me in a similar focus as Bannister in that we went to school to get an education and we weren’t going to spend more than an hour or an hour and a half a day on running track. He wanted me to study, enjoy life and try to come out of college as a balanced person. That was his whole philosophy and that’s what I really liked. He built character and built the person for a lifetime, not just for a race. We had run so many quarters and we would start the year in 65s and get down to 60 seconds. I could run a quarter mile and tell you within a tenth of a second how fast I’d run that quarter just because of the amount of training we had done at that distance. So we got to Stockton and there were a lot of things going on. It was a beautiful day. In the summer it gets hot but there is no humidity. When the sun goes down it feels like there is more oxygen in the air and there are ideal running conditions. It was that kind of a day on June 1st when I ran there and everything was just going so easily. It flowed easily. We had made plans to run a three minute 1,320 or three quarters and then see where I was. They were giving me the times at each quarter and Brutus was timing me on the other side of the track so I knew pretty much where I was all the time.
GCR:Did you focus on segments of the next straightaway and then the next curve as you rounded the track on that last lap, did you hear the crowd and what were you thinking as you tried to break four minutes?
DBWe purposely picked this race because there was no promotion and there were no rabbits. To be honest, I don’t think I was even entered in the mile. When I got there I was entered in the half mile and when we showed up Brutus said I wanted to run the mile and they put me in there. It was a pretty low key deal. There may not have been even three thousand people there, though over the years I’ve had a whole lot of people come up and tell me they were there. But, back to that last lap, I was right on schedule with that three minute time with a lap to go. What happened was that I got around to the other side where Brutus was with a 220 to go and he said, ‘Don, you got it. Go for it.’ Whenever he said something, it was going to happen. When he said I was ready to run a certain time, I was going to do it. When Brutus said you could do it, you really had confidence. What was also interesting is the announcer that day was H.D. Thoreau who was a pretty famous historian on track. He knew track backwards and forwards. He knew times and when I came off of that last turn he started counting the time down and he said, ‘This could be a very special race.’ As I got closer he got excited and then I got excited. He was very helpful as I was coming down the last straightaway to urge me on to be able to run under four minutes.
GCR:What was it like after the race and in the succeeding days in your town or in the press?
DBThere was a lot of excitement. Immediately after the race I hoped that the track was measured right. This wasn’t a big race like the Fresno Relays or the West Coast Relays. Sure enough I was very fortunate as the coach from the University of Pacific had measured the track that day and it was completely legal. That was important. I went to thank Brutus Hamilton after the race and I couldn’t find him. Brutus had disappeared. He went to get his next athlete ready for his event. That was Brutus – a magnificent person and great high character man who wanted each of us to have the accolades. Brutus Hamilton, by the way, finished second in the Olympic decathlon in 1920 and was voted in 1950 the State of Missouri’s Greatest Athlete.
GCR:Eight days before your sub-four mile, on May 24, 1957, you ran the third leg for the California Golden Bears' 4 by 880 yard relay in 1:49.5 as you and your teammates set a World Record of 7:21.0. Were you aiming for the record, could you describe the intensity and fun of doing it with your teammates, and how much easier did it make your mile races to have that 880 speed?
DBThat race was down in the L.A. Coliseum and we had a great team. There was Jerry Siebert who was a two time Olympian in the 800 meters. There was Jack Yerman who won a Gold Medal in the 4x400 meter relay in the 1960 Olympics. Then there was Maynard Orr. He had to run the all-time best race of his life for us to do this. We got together and talked about how we had a great chance to get the record but that Maynard had to run the race of his life, and he ran the race of his life. We were racing against Michigan State and they had a great half-miler. He came up on top of me and I made amends for it and got going and we broke the record. That was a great thing because we were all great teammates working together on the same day. Maynard ran a great race and we just did our part. But the half mile and the mile are two very different races.
GCR:That same year of 1957 you mentioned that you were focusing on the half mile, and you did win the NCAA 880 in 1:47.2, just ahead of 1956 Olympic 1,500 meter Gold Medalist Ron Delaney, Dave Scurlock and Lowell Janzen. Could you take us through how that race developed and the home stretch?
DBFirst, Tom Courtney edged me out of the World Record which had been 1:47.8 and was held by my teammate, Lon Spurrier, from Cal. What happened was that Courtney came out and ran 1:46.8 at Modesto about a week or so earlier. I ran 1:47.2, so if Courtney hadn’t run his 1:46.8 I would have been the World Record holder. That was a great race running against Ron Delaney who was a great friend of mine. We did some training together and he was a great guy. Of course he was fast and I knew I had to get away from him. The race was down in Austin, Texas and I started that race in lane eight. Brutus said to let everybody go early. I had a real long stride since I was six feet and three inches tall and I couldn’t get all mixed up in the bang-bang, boom-boom and getting kicked around. I always had to stay clear of the other runners so I let the other fellows go. I started moving up and moving up and I knew after one lap I really had to get going because Delany was going to be coming. I was just fortunate that night that I had enough going on for me that I ran away from him. But he was coming at the end.
GCR:Timing is everything with the Olympics held only once every four years. Do you ever think back and wish your level of fitness in 1957 could have been a year earlier?
DBYou never know which is why I tell people that the Olympics are really difficult. Two things make it difficult. First, you know what day it will be four years from now – what day, what time, what hour – and you have to be at your best at that particular moment in time and that is tough. The other thing that makes it tough is you don’t run just one race. You have to have the strength to get through the heats and to put them all together at that one point in time.
GCR:Speaking of the Olympics, how exciting was it in 1956 to place third at the Olympic Trials 1,500 meters with your kick to narrowly edge Fred Dwyer at the tape and then to realize that you were an Olympian?
DBIt was a great thrill. I was just so fortunate to dive at the end. The funny part of the story is that the Olympic Trials were on TV and at the end of that race, as I was making my dive, they cut to an advertisement and all of my friends at Berkeley wondered if I had made it or not made it. Making the team was unexpected and I was just fortunate to have the good finish in that race.
GCR:I was reading a synopsis of that race since I couldn’t find videotape. It note that Dwyer took over at the bell lap and dragged Walters as they broke 10 yards clear of the field with 200 meters to go. Then Walters went by Dwyer. Wheeler broke clear of Seamon and went past Dwyer. You appeared out of it until you kicked past Seamon with 60 yards to go. With 30 yards to go Dwyer was still five yards ahead of you for third place. What were you thinking as you went down that final home stretch and worked from fifth place up to third place and an Olympic team berth?
DBDwyer was a longer distance runner and he didn’t have quite the speed that I had. I’m a half-miler stepping up with some speed and he’s a 5,000 mater and two-miler kind of guy who’s coming down with the strength. And so at the end of the race he didn’t have the speed I did and I think I kind of snuck up on him.
GCR:You mentioned that at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, you were hampered by a bout with mononucleosis, and didn’t make the 1500 meter final. How disappointing was it to not be able to race at full strength?
DBIt’s disappointing. You have a great feeling because you are at the Olympics and it is the world’s greatest sporting event. You get to live in the Olympic Village and to meet these people from all over the world. It was such a wonderful experience, but not to be able to represent my country as I would have liked to and to not be at my best was the disappointing part. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do better in 1957. I had this disappointment in Melbourne and that was one of the things that I was hopeful to make up for.
GCR:Did you attend the Olympic Opening or Closing Ceremonies, go to other Olympic sporting competitions and experience the sights of Melbourne and Australia?
DBI did it all. I was there for everything. I just thought it was the world’s greatest experience. I was only nineteen years old. I was a teenager going to the Olympics and being all part of it. I got to see the great athletes in track and field and other sports. I didn’t know anything about field hockey. Where I lived field hockey was a girls’ sport. I watched those guys who played field hockey and they were some of the toughest looking guys I ever saw in my life. When I went to the mess hall I saw the weightlifters that could eat and eat and eat. The whole experience was so terrific with the interchange with all of the athletes from around the world. I had a chance to be around Bobby Morrow, who roomed with me. He was a great guy. Of course everyone wanted to interview him because he was the 100 and 200 meter champion and just a fabulous guy. The whole Olympics were terrific.
GCR:Four years later an injury prevented you from having a realistic shot at making the 1960 Olympic team. How disappointing was this and was it pretty much time to move forward with other priorities in life?
DBI was in the service and was trying to make the team when I severed my Achilles tendon before the Olympic Trials when I was back in Quantico, Virginia. Like a fellow from Track and Field News said, ‘Don, you were a good in-betweener.’
GCR:We’ve talked a bit about the legendary Brutus Hamilton who was your coach in college. What are the main contributions that Coach Hamilton had on your success as a runner and as a person?
DBBrutus took such a personal interest in each of us. He wanted you to develop your capabilities as a person. He believed in the Greek ideal that you should be a well-rounded person. Athletics was just part of your life. He said something to me when I went to Cal that really stuck with me. He said, ‘you might run a little faster if we spend more time training, but that would take away from your social life and take away from your studies and take away from your college experience.’ When training was done he would tell me to hit my books. He was such a brilliant man. He was taken into Phi Beta Kappa in an honorary way which, as I understand, is harder than the regular way. All of his friends were the faculty. Robert Gordon Sproul, who was one of the greatest Presidents the University of California ever had, was a two-miler. He’d come down to our track for meets all of the time. Admiral Nimitz and General Dean were friends of Brutus and they would all come down to watch practice once in a while. We had such a great life experience. There is a group of us around here who call ourselves the ‘Brutus Bears.’ We have regular reunions once or twice a year. Brutus was a fabulous writer and he would write these letters to us. Many of the letters were put into a book. Everyone that Brutus ever wrote a letter to kept those letters and we all kept them. He was more interested in our life than in our training.
GCR:Could you tell us how Coach Hamilton’s experience in World War II profoundly affected him?
DBHe had another experience in his life when he went to war around 1942. He was a captain in the Army Air Force and he sent servicemen out on bombing missions. It was his job to write to the parents of the fellows that didn’t come back. Those were his boys, just like we were his track boys, and it left a deep impression on him. Brutus was a sensitive guy and it affected his life. He surely wouldn’t tell jokes. He was a serious guy and was serious for you. Before races Brutus got so nervous. He was a chain smoker and would start smoking because he was so nervous. I would have to calm him down. Sometimes I’d say, ‘Brutus, take it easy. Everything’s going to be okay.’ He’d tell me how to run my races. At one time I had run a 4:07 mile and he told me I was going to run 4:05. I told him I couldn’t, and he told me how I was going to do it. He did that with the half mile and with the mile. He knew from my training and when he said I would run a certain time, I did it every time. That’s why when he said I could run under four minutes and on the last lap that I had it, I knew because I had built up this confidence for so many years. He was a great coach and a great person.
GCR:What were some of the similarities and differences in your training when the focus was on the mile and 1,500 meters rather than the half mile and 800 meters? What were some of your favorite track sessions?
DBWe ran pretty much an interval system on the track where we would run a lap, jog a lap, run a half mile, jog a half. We would usually do ten quarters like that or sometimes a couple of 1,320s. We were running on dirt tracks at that time. There weren’t any synthetic tracks in those days. Coach would have us go and run on the grass. We would run on fields of clay and get muddy. After I was exposed to some of the other athletes from overseas and their training, I started doing some longer distance running to get ready for the mile. This wasn’t on the track. There are a lot of fire trails in Berkeley in the back of the hills and I used to go run those trails. I think that helped me a lot to build my endurance.
GCR:You mentioned hills and I know many of the Australians and New Zealanders did hill training and hill repeats. Did you do hill repeats or specific much hill training for power?
DBWe did some. There was a story written in Sports Illustrated called, ‘Ron and Don by the Sea,’ which was about Ron Delaney and me and our training together in 1956. My family has a cabin near the ocean and so Ron and I would run on the beach and then run the sand dunes. That’s what the Australians and Coach Percy Cerutty were big on. I went to Portsea once and trained some there. Herb Elliott was the toughest I tell you. He was strong. They ran on the beach and ran up the sand hills and down the sand hills. It was much more intensive training, but that’s how they build up the strength to run repeat races and to run those heats so fast.
GCR:When you raced did Coach Hamilton try to have a strategy specific for certain opponents’ tendencies and then to be proactive rather than reactive and to be aggressive rather than passive? Or were you running your best race until it got down toward the end and then you were going to work to outkick them?
DBEverybody thinks they are a great kicker in track. I don’t know how that thought got around. But everybody can’t be a great kicker and I realized early on that I wasn’t a great kicker. My chance like when I ran against Delaney couldn’t be to wait to run the last hundred yards with Delaney or there wouldn’t be a race. It was the same kind of thing that sort of happened with Landy and Bannister. Landy was a distance runner and Bannister had the speed. Landy tried to get away from him, but Bannister didn’t let him get away and beat him at the end you know. That’s what happened to me so my philosophy was that I had to get out and run my pace. I knew my pace and had to run a pretty fast pace and then at the end hopefully I could take the kick out of the kickers. Of course I was always very competitive and raced as hard as I could at the end.
GCR:You were racing out on the west coast primarily. Was there anyone during your four years in college that you raced a lot in close competition and you really enjoyed racing them because you had good duels or brought out the best in each other?
DBThere wasn’t really one person that I competed against all of the time. We had our dual meets and we had our conference championships and the NCAA and that was it. I don’t think I saw the same people over and over again. I won most of the half miles. The kid from Stanford, Ernie Cunliffe, beat me once. I was really upset that day. It was always a big meet between Cal and Stanford and this was going to be a close meet. They had a good miler from Canada who ran close to four minutes. I ran against him in the mile and was fortunate to beat him. Then to get the points I was going to double back in the half mile. Cunliffe was in the race, but we had Jerry Siebert who was an Olympian and a good friend of mine. I told Jerry to win this race and that I would be up there to get some points and do it if I could at the end. But I had already run the mile and I didn’t have the strength like a lot of people did to come back right back and run those two races. Cunliffe got out and got away from Jerry. I got so upset that I took off after Cunliffe and left Jerry back there. But it was too little too late and Cunliffe won that race. He was a good guy.
GCR:Ernie Cunliffe’s name came up when I interviewed Dyrol Burleson because Dyrol told me that the only reason he was the first to run under a four minute mile at Hayward Field is because Cunliffe took off and pushed the pace. He said he followed Ernie and outkicked him. Dyrol said that if it wasn’t for Cunliffe he wouldn’t have broken four minutes, so it seems that Ernie was really racing strong with you guys.
DBHe was a good guy and a good runner. He made the Olympic team in the 800 meters.
GCR:Let’s get your comments on some of your contemporaries that you raced against. First is Jerome Walters who won the 1956 Olympic Trials 1,500 meters and whom raced you in that relay race you mentioned earlier.
DBJerome Walters was older than I was and the only reason I ran against him in that relay race is because he ran for the L.A. Striders. He was a really great guy. He had a career as a probation officer and has unfortunately has passed away. He was a really nice person who worked all day and trained at night. I always admired him. He was good and I enjoyed competition with him.
GCR:How about Ron Delany who was one of your good friends with whom you did some training?
DBWe didn’t race against each other that much. He was back east at Villanova and I was here in California. And I don’t run indoor track because of this long stride I have. I’ve got knocked down every which way indoors. We used to have Jack Yerman from Cal run indoors because he played football and he could take the indoor bumping, but I couldn’t. I never competed against Delaney except in the NCAA meet because we were in two different worlds.
GCR:Did you lock horns much with Bob Seamon of UCLA?
DBHe was a miler in high school. He was a good guy and I enjoy seeing him and talking to him now every once in a while. But he was a miler and I was a half-miler so that’s where the difference was. Delaney did run both events, but Seamon stayed with the mile.
GCR:What about Jim Bailey and Jim Grelle?
DBBailey used to drop down and run the half mile and we raced. He would do it to get points in our dual meets. He is a real character, a real funny guy. Grelle beat me a couple of times in the mile. He was a real miler.
GCR:Any others?
DBMy teammates, Jerry Siebert and Lon Spurrier, who set the World Record, were both there at Cal with me. Lon Spurrier was like a big brother to me as he was a couple years older. Then I was a couple of years older than Jerry Siebert and was kind of his big brother when he started at Cal.
GCR:When you ran your intervals together did you alternate leading to help each other through your workouts?
DBNot really. I think I did most of it and took the lead on most of them.
GCR:Let’s go back to your childhood and your formative athletic years. Were you a youngster who played all sports and who was one of the more athletic kids?
DBI was a kid who went out and ran around. I lived close to a nice park called the Rose Garden in San Jose and I used to go out and play there. I had a basketball hoop in our driveway when I was small. When I got a little bigger I would play touch football at the park and run around the park. I never competed in track or in grade school or junior high school. I was growing up pretty fast. I was six feet three and a hundred and fifty pounds or so. I went to a high school that was only a three year high school and I used to go out and run around the Rose Garden. It turned out that it was exactly a half mile around the park. That turned into my training grounds.
GCR:How did you get interested in track and field and did success come pretty easily?
DBThat is a great story and I’ll tell you how I came into track and field. I was pretty fast and I could catch a football. In those days the girls all liked football players and not the track guys so I was going to be a football player. The coach, Lee Cox, was a great guy and he coached both football and track, one in the fall and one in the spring. He was primarily a football coach and we had some great football teams when I was there. So, I was going out for football and he brings me into his office. He says with his Oklahoma accent, ‘Don, you know, you’re six foot three and you weigh a hundred forty or fifty pounds. The first time somebody hits you you’re going to go in about ten thousand different pieces. I’ll have to get a big mop and a broom and a bucket to put you back together again and you’re not going to like that. And the worst part is your dad is my dentist and he is going to seek revenge. So you’re going out for track.’ So I went out for track. Coach Lee had picked me out of a P.E. class where we all ran a half mile in our Keds shoes. I always ran that race and he kept telling me I had to come out for the track team. It was a combination of those two things. I was fortunate my sophomore year that we had an ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team and I ran for the ‘Bs’ in the 1,320, the three quarters of a mile. I did okay. I didn’t always win, but I won more than I lost I guess. When I was a junior I moved on to the half mile and was successful as I won the state meet as a junior.
GCR:What did Coach Cox do to develop your talent from a good 1,320 runner into a state champion the following year?
DBHe had coached some good track athletes at our high school. I wasn’t the first one. I had the best times at the end but he had also coached some runners who maybe didn’t have the physical abilities that I had, but were some good runners. He got me going on an interval running system and I was so pepped up once I started running with success. I’d go out in the evening and run around the Rose Garden that was a block away from my house so I probably did some extra training over there that helped me.
GCR:You mentioned winning the state meet your junior year, and so what were some of the highlights whether they were at city or county championships or other meets? Did success motivate you to succeed at a higher level?
DBWhen you’re that age you’re looking for any type of success in your life. That’s a hard period of time when you aren’t good at a lot of things. I was also kind of awkward because I was growing so fast. It was certainly a big confidence builder when I could run. But I wasn’t running very intelligent races in those days. I think I was running more on adrenaline than anything else. Sometimes I would go out and run a 57 second first lap and a 60 second final lap. That’s not a real smart way to run a race. I was fortunate that I was winning the races so everything was going well. It was a great experience for me and I enjoyed it. A funny story about that state win my junior year is what happened that day in Fresno. It rained that morning and they cancelled the meet. Then they called in the afternoon and told us it had dried up and everything was fine at the track. They said the meet was going to go on and if we got there fine and if we don’t then fine – it’s too bad. Fresno was about a three hour drive from San Jose. My coach called my father and he cancelled all of his dental appointments. We jumped in the car. I changed my clothes and put on my running outfit at the service station when they were getting gas halfway to Fresno. I got out of the car when we got to Fresno and they were getting ready to start my race. In those days we would run what they called three turn 880s. They started us at the 100 yard dash line and lined us up according to our times. I had the best time in the state so I had the inside lane. Everybody takes off and when we got to the first turn I was about two yards on the inside of the track. They made a dash for the pole and shoved me right off of the track. I got on the track again and took off and ended up winning it in 1:57.
GCR:While at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose, California you set the national high school record of 1:52.3 in your senior year of 1954. Were you getting close to the record where you had a genuine assault on it? Was there anyone else in the race who was close to you or did you have to do it by yourself?
DBI’d run pretty close to the record time at the NCIS Section meet in Berkeley at Cal. I’d run 1:53 point something so I was pretty close to the record. The 1:52.3 at the championship was because I was a little bit more intelligent then and knew how to run races better. I was a little bit more scared too because the competition was tougher. But I got out and got away and I won that race pretty easily.
GCR:Were you recruited by many colleges or was it almost a foregone conclusion that you would go to California?
DBI was recruited by a lot of schools and looked at several of them. But I was always impressed with Brutus Hamilton. He’d been an athlete himself, had coached Glenn Cunningham at Kansas and had success at Cal with half milers. My dad also went to Cal for his graduate dental studies. I could get a good education there and a good degree and be around a coach I trusted. I also knew I wouldn’t be taken advantage of to run and run and run for his benefit. I knew running would be part of my education, I was there to go to school and to be an athlete was secondary. Brutus was a type of father figure to us. There are people today who still ask themselves, ‘What would Brutus do?’ So that is the kind of impact he had on us and I was fortunate I was able to be around him.
GCR:Coach Bowerman at Oregon was fairly low-key with his recruiting approach in the 1950s. Did he have interest in your going to Oregon?
DBNot really. I was also interested in going to Occidental because that was where Peyton Jordan was coaching. He had some good milers down there including Ty Handley who won the state championship in California. And Peyton Jordan was an outstanding person. I got to know him better when he came to coach at Stanford when I was at Cal. We became very good friends and he would have been a good to have as a coach. But he was mainly a sprinter coach and had been a sprinter himself. That was his specialty and Brutus had more of a distance specialty.
GCR:We’ve been talking about the mile a lot and, as you know, in high school in the U.S. we run this crazy 1,600 meter distance and in college we run the 1,500 meters. For several years now there has been an effort to ‘Bring Back the Mile’ in U.S. track meets at the high school, collegiate and post-collegiate level. Do you think this could help track and field in terms of general popularity?
DBYou just said my mantra there. People don’t know and I don’t know what times mean. We go to a meet and watch the 1,500 meters and people ask how fast was that? I think you have to add 16 or 18 seconds to know what kind of a mile it was. People associate with the mile in the U.S. Someone just sent me a newspaper article recently and at the North Coast Section Meet at Berkeley in 1954 there were 12,000 people there in the stands watching the meet. And that was a high school track meet. Now you can go to a meet and there are 12,000 seats and ten people there. I admire what Ryan Lamppa and ‘Bring Back the Mile’ are doing. More power to them. And I think we are seeing more of it in invitational meets where they are including a mile race. We do so at Cal. Why are high school kids running 1,600 meters? Give me a break! If they have mile races there might be some names and meet results in the newspaper. In the San Jose Mercury I can’t find any track meet results. When I was running if there was a good mile coming up or good results we would see something about it in the paper. We should definitely bring back the mile and there is some impetus which would surely help track and field in this country.
GCR:Interestingly, at the elite World Class level there have been great results for the U.S. recently in the Olympics and World Championships at 1,500 meters with Matthew Centrowitz winning a 2016 Olympic Gold Medal, Leo Manzano earning a 2012 Olympic Silver Medal and Jenny Simpson earning a full complement of Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals at the Olympics and World Championships. Why do you think there is such unprecedented success at the top for the U.S. over 1,500 meters at major championships?
DBI hope this is a resurgence. It always fascinated me how it moved around the world when I was running. There were the Australians with Herb Elliott and Merv Lincoln. Then there were the New Zealand runners with Peter Snell and that group. Then Great Britain had Coe and Ovett and Cram. Then all of a sudden you don’t hear from those countries. There isn’t anyone from Australia or New Zealand and you don’t hear much out of England. I think a lot of the U.S. success is because of Oregon and the support from Nike. That helps a whole lot. But it’s hard to put your finger on it exactly.
GCR:You had a great career and after time went by you were recognized with inductions into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2008 and the USATF's Pacific Association HOF in 2014. How rewarding and humbling is it to be so recognized and honored?
DBI’m very thankful and appreciate it and it is nice to be associated with so many fine people. I look back at my time, particularly at Cal and that is where I met my best friends. The best man at my wedding came from the track team. My best friend in business, and we worked together for many years at 3M, was Bill Nieder, the 1960 Olympic champion in the shot put. So track has certainly been an important part of my life on and off the track. These people are still my great friends to this day and to be associated with them with some type of recognition is humbling and I am thankful.
GCR:In 2004 you were among 17 renowned milers honored in Washington, D.C. on the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister's first sub-four-minute mile. How much fun was the camaraderie on that day and do you have any stories to relate from that get-together?
DBI think the main thing there was that we got to meet some people that we didn’t know very well. Sometimes we have preconceived opinions and they weren’t right and we became good friends. One person was Jim Beatty. I really got to know him and also Wes Santee whom I had never met before that night. Santee was older. I enjoyed meeting him and learning of a different side of Wes Santee from what I knew from reading ‘The Perfect Mile.’ He was a lot of fun and a great speaker. We built some great personal relationships and expanded our friendships.
GCR:You touched on working at 3M and in your professional career you helped develop the Tartan track, the first artificial running surface. How nice would it have been to run on it rather than cinder or dirt surfaces and how much faster do you think it means over a mile race – I’ve heard a second per lap?
DBI know that there are two big advantages. One is that you can train all year around. You don’t have to go and find some other type of training facility. The other advantage is you don’t have to wear those big heavy duty spikes that we used tom have to wear. Traction is built into the track so you don’t need it in the shoes. Also there is no friction between the track and the spike and you can use the brush spike. Another thing is that the inside lane is always nice. It doesn’t get chewed up. We could go to Modesto and they started races at 10:00 in the morning. I’d be racing maybe at 8:00 at night. You might as well not run in the first lane because it looked like a bunch of horses had been through. I’ve heard the same thing and I don’t know how much difference it makes though it definitely would be easier and faster. A real important factor in my racing was getting into a rhythm and that is what I was able to do. When you’re running on a synthetic track it’s all the same and you don’t have to worry about it. On a cinder track you’re not too sure. You could hit a pebble or a rock. You’re not too sure and it could throw you off of your rhythm. It definitely makes it harder.
GCR:How is your health currently and what do you do now for health and fitness?
DBI’m still in pretty good shape. I do go out and jog but not too fast. There are people on the track now who are fast walking faster than I’m jogging. I think, ‘Hey wait a minute - you can’t do that!’ I signed up for adaptive P.E. at my local junior college because I want to keep my balance and I take some balance classes. I’ve been blessed with good health basically.
GCR:What excites you and what goals do you have for your family life, fitness and professional career?
DBI want to stay active and stay busy. I have a little office in Los Gatos, California. I was an export manager for some large companies including Allied Chemical at the end of my career. I exported tennis court surfacing and still have that business. It’s a retirement business. I keep in touch with my friends overseas and export track surfacing materials of a brand I have. I have a wonderful son who is going to have twins pretty soon. We’re all excited about that. I have a lovely daughter who has a terrific job serving girls in Africa. We’ve got a great family here. I have a lovely wife and have been blessed that way too. I have terrific family. I do think you have to keep moving. That’s kind of my philosophy in life – to stay active. I’m active at Cal with the ‘Big C,’ which is the alumni athletic association. I keep my contacts there. Right now I’m involved with my high school foundation at Lincoln High School. That’s bringing me back in touch with a lot of my old high school friends. It’s nice to stay involved with the community and to stay involved with your old friends. I appreciate my old friends more and more as I get older.
GCR:I know you are in San Jose and I ran and won a small marathon in that area back in 2003 called the ‘Forest of Nicene Marks Marathon.’ Are you close to that park?
DBOh my gosh! Our cabin is close to the Forest of Nicene Marks. You can pretty near throw a rock from our cabin and hit the park. That’s great that you won that race. You’d better come back and pay a visit. You can come down to the cabin. Come on down this way and I will enjoy meeting you.
GCR:You talked about how you liked running as a youth in the Rose Garden Park near your home. What advice do you have for younger runners competing in track and cross country to get them on a path toward being their best competitively and also to have a lifetime healthy habit?
DBI think that first of all you have to look at any sport as sport and not a full time avocation. There is some money in the sport of track and field, but the number of people making a living is extremely infinitesimal compared to the whole. Kids should start in the sport of running to have a good time, to make friends and somewhere along the line they will hopefully find a great coach. I was blessed with two great coaches and if you can find a great coach to help you maximize your abilities, that’s what it’s all about. In order to be successful as a sprinter you have to be born with that reaction time. A good friend of mine was Leland King who was a 9.3 sprinter for 100 yards in high school. He ran for Cal and on the Olympic team and won a Gold Medal. There’s no way I could ever run with Leland King. People could run the same workouts I ran at Cal but on Saturday I could still race better because I was blessed with some better genetics. So I would say, do your best. Work your hardest. Remember it’s a sport. Have fun. And maximize your abilities. You learn a lot about competition. You learn a lot about winning and losing. You have good friendships. You learn a lot of life lessons in sport and that is an important part of sport.
GCR:You mentioned that your philosophy includes keeping moving and we talked in the previous question about advice for kids. But if you talk to a group and you are bringing together how Coach Hamilton encouraged you to balance your life academically, athletically and socially and then what you learned from the discipline of running and other things in your life, what is the Don Bowden philosophy on how people can be their best in life?
DBYou have to lead a balanced life with moderation, have good times and hope you meet the right person in your life. It is important to have a good family and good friends. Somebody may have two dogs and somebody may have two cats, but they belong together. What I learned from Brutus Hamilton about the balance in life is a great philosophy and I hope I can live up to that philosophy and I urge others to do so. People have to do what works for them but I find that is what worked out best in my life.
GCR:It’s interesting how events and occurrences in our life shape the remainder of our life. We started this interview noting you being the first American to run a sub-four minute mile. Let’s end with a hypothetical question, if you could, would you trade that distinction for an Olympic Gold Medal? Or are you happy that everything in life played out the way that it did?
DBI’m blessed it played out the way it did. I think we have to play with the hand we’re dealt. We’ve all had setbacks in our lives. We have victories and successes and we learn how to handle them. I’m glad that I ran what I did. My friends will tell me that it is great what I did but that my timing wasn’t too good. Friends tell me if it was a few years later I may have made a few bucks from it. But I wouldn’t trade those times and friendships. I can’t put a dollar value on Brutus Hamilton’s influence on my life. If we can have those types of people in our life to help us learn a great value of the philosophy of life they teach, I am very thankful. We are always hopeful that we are able to do better, but we should be thankful for what we were able to achieve.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI like fly fishing. I love the cabin we have, the one where Ron Delaney and I trained. We spend time down there. I like to be outside and in nature and in the woods. I guess I’m sort of an outdoors kind of person
NicknamesWhen I was in high school I was long and thin and they called me ‘The Stork’
Favorite movies‘Chariots of Fire’
Favorite TV showsI liked all of the 1950s sitcoms like ‘I Love Lucy.’ I also liked ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Maverick’ with James Garner
Favorite musicCountry and Western music. I was a big fan of Hank Williams. I would drive around in my Chevy and listen to Hank Williams. And then Johnny Cash came along. Those are my favorites
Favorite booksI enjoy reading books on philosophy. I travelled a lot in my job and enjoyed books on travel. I am interested in what makes the world tick
First carAn old Chevy. It was a two door with a stick shift and my dad made me learn how to take it apart and put it back together. He wanted me to be able to fix the car so there were parts all over the garage. That was a great experience and a great time with my dad being able to do that. That two door Chevy was my hot rod
Current carI drive a four door ‘mommy wagon.’ It’s a Volvo Station Wagon
First JobsOne job helped me with my sport. I had an uncle who had a ranch up in northern California in Mount Shasta and he raised race horses. They thought if they raised the race horses at altitude they would be faster when they brought them down to sea level. So I worked the summer up at the ranch and ran a lot around there. That was a great experience for me. My uncle gave me a steer that I raised as I was in the Future Farmers of America when I was in high school. I sold it and made some money and that’s how I bought my car. Then after that the main thing around here is that we lived in an area that was very agricultural. We all worked in a cannery. I had several jobs there
FamilyMy wife is Betsy and we have been married for going on nine years now. I married a gal and we had been friends in high school, but she passed away. We were married over twenty years, but we didn’t have any children. That’s how I got involved with Great Pyrenees dogs. I have them and am the rescue man in my area for Great Pyrenees dogs. My son, Peter, is going to have twin boys in June. My daughter, Elizabeth, is the most wonderful gal. She works for Camfed which is a large non-profit and is short for Campaign for Female Education. She lives in San Francisco and is single. The non-profit supplies money for girls to go to school in five African countries and Elizabeth is Camfed’s CFO for the U.S. We are quite proud of her and of my son and I love my wife. She’s a great gal. The children are Betsy’s children, but they’re my children now. We have a great family
PetsI have two Great Pyrenees dogs now named ‘Susie’ and ‘Bodie.’ They are great big white dogs. We usually keep a couple of them. Since I do the rescues, we pick them up at the shelter and we have a society here that finds homes for them. My personal big social event of the year is to organize all of the Great Pyrenees dogs to march in the local parade in Aptos, California. It’s the shortest parade in the world and most of it is downhill. Then afterward we have a big barbeque at my cabin
Favorite breakfastI kind of vary by the seasons. In the summer I make up drinks in my blender. In the winter I make oatmeal. When we go out for breakfast on the weekend I have my bacon and eggs and pancakes
Favorite mealAny type of fish
Favorite restaurant‘Original Joe’s’ in San Jose. Jim Beatty has been there and it may be his favorite too
Favorite beveragesIt depends upon the time of day. Coffee in the morning and gin at night
First running memoryI remember running around the track at Lincoln High school in P.E. class
Running heroesRoger Bannister was a big hero. I admired and ran with some really great ones like Ron Delany. Herb Elliott was a strong runner and was fabulous. I also looked up to my friends, Jerry Siebert and Lonnie Upshaw and my Cal teammates. Landy was also a great role model
Greatest running momentsThis might be an interesting story. What happened was that I was training in the Berkeley hills early in the morning and I came across an accident. A lady had missed a turn and rolled her car down into a heavily wooded area. I happened to be running by that area and found her. I was able to run to the closest fire department to get help. I was always so thankful that I could be there for that. That sticks in my mind. When we get on the track it has to be the four minute mile as on that day everything went well, the two-mile relay World Record that I got to share with my teammates and winning the NCAA half mile. The best times were with my teammates. We ran a lot of relays. We set some records in the sprint medley relay as well as the two mile relay
Worst running momentThe Olympics
Childhood dreamsI wanted to be like my dad. I admired my dad a lot. He was a dentist and, unfortunately, I didn’t have the physical skills to be a dentist. But I wanted to be a person like my dad. All of us kids thought we were going to be football payers, but I didn’t have the build for that either
Funny memoriesWhen I broke the four minute mile there was a trophy that had been left by a Swedish Count when he came over to the U.S. from Sweden in the 1940s and was training with a team for the Olympics. It was a beautiful trophy for the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. They kept it at the New York Athletic Club. When I broke the four minute mile I made the rounds and the New York Athletic Club had a nice banquet and gave it to me. I brought it home and had it in my house and still have it in my house. My insurance agent came over one day and told me I should get it insured. I took it down to a local jeweler and he took it off of the base and noted it was partly made of silver and had all of the right markings. Then he said, ‘It’s pretty old but it’s more in the Antique department than silver, so why don’t you take it next door to Mrs. Benson. She’s the antique lady in town.’ Mrs. Benson looked at it and got her magnifying glass out and went over the whole thing. She said, ‘This is really nice. What a beautiful trophy.’ I was feeling great. Then she said, ‘This would really be worth something, but it’s got some guy’s name written on it so it isn’t really worth much.’ That was my name on the trophy and that’s my story
Favorite places to travelI enjoy going fishing in northern California and Colorado. I enjoy places where I can go trout fishing. I like going to Singapore. I’ve been to Europe several times and enjoy the history. I like Asia and enjoyed Australia, but it’s too far away