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

Tom Fleming — Feb, 2011
Tom Fleming won the 1973 and 1975 New York City Marathon when it was a hilly, loop course in Central Park. He finished in second place twice at the Boston Marathon in 1973 and 1974 – both times less than a minute behind the winner. His personal best marathon of 2:12:05 was set at the 1975 Boston Marathon where he finished in third place, another of his six Boston Marathon ‘Top Ten’ finishes. Tom raced a strong fifth place at the 1976 Olympic Marathon Trials. He finished fourth at Fukuoka, Japan in 1977 which was at the time the unofficial World Marathon Championship. Tom's marathon victories include the 1978 Cleveland Marathon, 1978 Toronto Marathon, 1981 Los Angeles Marathon and the Jersey Shore Marathon three times. He broke 2:20 in the marathon 27 times. At one time, Tom held American records in the 15-mile, 20-mile, 25K, 30K and 50K distance events. While at William Paterson State College, he won four straight New Jersey Athletic Conference Cross Country titles and was a multiple-time NCAA All-American. He didn’t start competitive running until track season of his junior year in high school, but still ran a 4:21 mile and 9:22 two-mile as a prep. Tom ran personal best times as follows: mile – 4:09.5; 2-mile – 8:41.6; 5,000m – 13:48.8; 10,000m – 28:48; Half-marathon – 1:04:12; 30K – 1:30:27(AR); 20 Miles – 1:40:21(AR); Marathon – 2:12:05 and 50K – 2:52:21(AR). He has been inducted into the Distance Running Hall of Fame and the HOF at William Paterson University. Tom founded the Running Room and currently teaches and coaches at Montclair Kimberley Academy. He resides in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Tom was kind enough to spend two hours on the telephone in January, 2011.
GCR:Often an athlete has ‘defining moments’ such as winning an Olympic medal or Super Bowl title that affects his life and forever shapes how others view and relate to him. After more than 35 years since you won the 1973 and 1975 New York City Marathon and were runner up in the 1973 and 1974 Boston Marathon, which of those days was a ‘defining moment’ for you?
TFAs I get older it becomes easier to realize the big picture and how those days made a difference in my life. The day that really changed my life was in 1973 when I placed second at the Boston Marathon while I was a senior at William Patterson State College. I don’t think anyone thought I would place that high, but I was training harder than anyone imagined.
GCR:How your confidence and what was was your training like leading up to the 1973 Boston Marathon?
TFI was running 140 miles per week which didn’t put me in position to win NCAA titles. I was a four-time All-American, but didn’t win a championship race. The Boston Marathon was the ‘Granddaddy of all Marathons’ and drew me to it. I wanted to race marathons as I was better as the distance got longer. Going into that race I had a Saturday dual meet and ran a 4:16 mile and 13:50 3-mile double on a cinder track. The day before the marathon I told my dad, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to win the Boston Marathon.’ My dad looked at me like I was out of my mind! But I had been training all winter with Olavi Suomalainen who had won in 1972 after I met him in Puerto Rico when I ran the San Blas race. That day had a huge impact on me because I e from that day onward that I would win it one day, though I ended up being wrong.
GCR:When you won your first New York City Marathon in 1973 what was your race strategy, how did the race develop and what was the feeling to win what was growing into a respected large big-city marathon?
TFI decided to run the New York City Marathon that year because I only lived 12 miles away. I figured that I should win as I usually won all of the races in Central Park and had a period of about two and a half years where I never lost a race at any distance in the park. It was right ‘in my back yard’ and I raced in Central Park almost every weekend. Coming in second place in Boston made me believe that I could be good. It validated that if I worked hard that good things would happen so I kept working hard. My mom and sister rented bikes and rode along while I was running the 1973 New York City Marathon. They were glad I was running so they could get some exercise. There were skate boarders, bikes and all sorts of people using the park. As I was coming toward the finish a policeman pulled alongside my mother and said, ‘Please lady, move away.’ My mom responded, ‘Hey, that’s my son!’ It was a fun time and gave me a great foundation to grow as a runner. I made a comment once that was taken out-of-context when I said years later, ‘If I knew the New York City Marathon was going to be such a big thing I would have won it five times’ as I didn’t race it every year. I like the New York City Marathon but the Boston Marathon is my love even to this day. I would give up my two New York Gold medals for one Boston Gold.
GCR:In the 1970s there were often prizes such as bikes or small kitchen appliances awarded to runners since prize money wasn’t allowed. Didn’t you win an around the world plane ticket from Olympic Airways as 1973 NYC Marathon Champion?
TFThat is true and is an interesting story. In 1973 Olympic Airways was the race sponsor and offered that prize to the winner, though I didn’t know about it until after the race. I did know the winner got a big three foot tall trophy which has since been broken though I did keep the label that says ‘New York City Marathon Champion.’ At the awards ceremony they put a laurel wreath on my head and Mayor John Lindsay gave me my trophy. Then this woman gave me what looked like a check, but it was an Olympic Airways ticket. The woman happened to be Nancy Tuckerman, who had been President Kennedy’s secretary at the White House. The connection was that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ husband, Aristotle Onassis, owned Olympic Airways. My ticket said I could go around the world either from east to west or from west to east and that I could stop anywhere I wished. That’s how I got to Europe and competed in European track meets. I travelled with Marty Liquori and Dick Buerkle and had my first European running and racing tour. I was no track star but held my own as I travelled around the world.
GCR:In 1975 when you won your second NYC Marathon title were you the pre-race favorite, did anyone stay with your pace or did you run solo most of the way?
TFIt was a very hot that year on race day - around 75 or 80 degrees and I was out in front early. So I ran it like a hard tempo run. My time that year of 2:19:27 was very respectable for a solo effort and six minute margin of victory on the Central Park rolling hills on a hot day.
GCR:How different was the 1976 edition of the NYC Marathon when it left the four-lap setup in Central Park to race in all five boroughs, what was your race plan and how did that race develop?
TFI liked the new race course and thought it was great that more spectators could see our sport as we had a cool sport that many hadn’t been exposed to. We ran along the East River and the course was very hard that year so Bill Rodgers’ 2:10:09 was a phenomenal time. I was with the lead pack until about 14 miles. Then Bill put in a strong move on a bridge and left everyone. The race was over by 16 miles and the leaders were now in one long line. I ran as well as I could and placed sixth in 2:16:52. Even today in New York the leaders use Bill’s strategy and, if he was at his racing best now, he’d go right with them.
GCR:In 1970 when you were a college sophomore at William Paterson University you finished second in the first NYC Marathon on a hot 80-degree day. How did you decide to run in the race and were you with the leaders most of the race?
TFMy first marathon was at Boston that spring and I finished around 2:37 in 63rd place. Then I ran a marathon out in Pullman, Washington as I was selected to run at the Olympic Training Center. The New York City Marathon in 1970 was my third marathon and I ran because it was ‘in my backyard.’ I thought I won the race as I didn’t know that Gary Muhrcke was ahead of me. I was a bit upset as I thought I was winning - but there was no finish tape stretched as if I was the winner.
GCR:It was and always has been uncommon for college runners to serious race the marathon. How did you end up doing this unusual distance racing?
TFI had started running toward the end of my junior year in high school so I only developed so much as a prep. If I had been very fast and got a college scholarship I never could have done what I did as no coach would have let me run marathons. It was a blessing that I was at a small school without excessive academic or athletic pressure and I was able to do what I wanted to do.
GCR:Switching gears up the road to Boston, you were twice the bridesmaid in 1973 and 1974 in the Boston Marathon. Relate how each of those races developed and ‘critical points’ that were the difference between winning and placing second.
TFIn 1973 I ran from well behind. My plan at Boston was always to finish fast and I kind of miscalculated that year. Jon Anderson got away from me and I never caught him. In 1974 I definitely screwed up when Neil Cusack made a smart move early. I was very strong at the end, but needed a couple more miles to catch him as I let him get to far out in the lead. The critical point was in not staying closer when he picked up the pace.
GCR:You ran your personal best marathon at the Boston Marathon in 1975, finishing third in 2:12:05. What are your recollections of that day which ended up being the first of Bill Rodgers four wins in Boston?
TFBill was having the race of his life and no one was going to beat him that day. I was in second place late in the race and didn’t offer any resistance when Steve Hoag went by me as I just couldn’t take coming in second three years in a row.
GCR:A final question about the Boston Marathon – in 1979 you pushed the pace and had at least a 100 yard lead before the halfway point until Garry Bjorkland caught you about 14 miles. You ended up a strong fourth place in 2:12:56. Was this your time to just ‘go for it’ and see if anyone could beat you?
TFLooking back, I think that was the right strategy for me if I was going to win the Boston Marathon, though maybe the wrong year. In 1973 or 1974 it may have worked, but the field in 1979 was very, very tough. There were some great runners and Rodgers, Seko and Bjorklund ran very fast.
GCR:You came close to making the 1976 Olympic team in the marathon when you finished fifth at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. With Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers as favorites to make the team, what was your strategy before the race to contend for the final spot? Is there anything you could have done differently to possibly challenge third and fourth place finishers, Don Kardong and Tony Sandoval?
TFI didn’t have a particular strategy except knowing it would take a very good day to make the team. It was warm but the pace felt easy. I had an average race, but you can’t have an average race and expect to make the Olympic team. I was in contention for much of the Trials race, but after about 22 miles I faded. You have to be on top of your game if you are fighting with the best runners for an Olympic spot and I wasn’t. Sometimes it is just timing and I missed peaking at the right time. The shame was that two months later when the Olympics were held I was probably in the best shape of my life.
GCR:You finished fourth at Fukuoka, Japan in 1977 which was at the time the unofficial World Marathon Championship. How was it racing internationally and racing so well on the world stage?
TFAt that time the two biggest non-Olympic marathons were at Boston and Fukuoka. I enjoyed racing in Japan and always raced well there. The Japanese seemed to like me as I was a big runner at six feet one inch and with my long hair and beard I stood out. Fukuoka was a great course and a fun place to run.
GCR:You posted victories at the 1978 Cleveland Marathon, 1978 Toronto Marathon and 1981 Los Angeles Marathon. Is there anything that stands out from these marathons regarding your competition, the courses or other memories?
TFIn Cleveland I was looking for some redemption as I hadn’t raced well at Boston. Chuck Smead was my top competition though I was able to get away fairly early. The course was beautiful along the lake. One surprising memory was when the lead motorcycle policeman led me off course about a half mile from the finish. When I realized I was off course the feeling that went through me was not good. But I retraced my steps, lost about 30 seconds but still won. The Los Angeles Marathon course was the hardest course I ever ran as it started at the Hollywood Bowl and went through Pacific Palisades. That day I probably could have run 2:11, but I just cruised. Kenny Moore was covering the race for Sports Illustrated and told me it didn’t even look like I was running hard. The race winner got $25,000, but my deal when I agreed to race there was that I would get an extra $25,000 if I was the winner. Believe me - $50,000 was a lot of money in those days. I was in great shape as Bill Rodgers and I had a good winter of training in Phoenix. I wanted our sport to go completely over-the-table with prize money and that is where Bill and I disagreed. I understand his viewpoint as he was getting under-the-table appearance fees. But he also understood my point of view. In Toronto I raced my old rival, Jerome Drayton, who had won at both Boston and Fukuoka, and he took off early. The father of Scotsman Paul Bannen, who ran for Memphis, stepped out with his heavy Scottish brogue with about two miles to go and shouted ‘Tommy, he is right ahead of you and he’s dying!’ I couldn’t see him until about a quarter of a mile to go and caught him with 200 yards left. That taught me to never give up in a marathon as you never know what could happen to those in front of you. My advice to others is to always run through to the finish line.
GCR:Did you have any other races where you surprised yourself with your performance?
TFNot as much in the marathon as in two track races in Europe. When my 5,000 meter personal best was 14:11, I came through a 10,000 meter track race in Europe in 14:10 which was a bit frightening. That is an amazing thing about track racing in Europe – when you step on European soil and get in front of those crazy crowds something magical can happen. I only won one track race in Europe which was on a 92 degree day in Finland. I’m convinced that the only reason I won is because I had been training in the summer heat and was the only entrant who was used to such high temperatures. But on a given day anything can happen – you never know.
GCR:How special is it to be the three-time winner of the Jersey Shore Marathon since you are a ‘Jersey boy’?
TFI was born in Long Branch, New Jersey so I ran the Jersey Shore Marathon as it was in my father’s old neighborhood. I basically used them as training runs. But those three years it was fun having some of my dad’s old friends out there cheering for me. The last year I received the beautiful Johnny Hayes Memorial Trophy from Johnny Hayes’ daughter. That was very special as Hayes was the Olympic Marathon Champion in 1908.
GCR:At one time, you held American records in the 15-mile, 20-mile, 25K and 30K distance events. Do you feel that these intermediate distances may have been your strong suit when compared to the marathon?
TFProbably my best distance was 30 kilometers. I remember one time when Bill Rodgers and I ran a scorching fast 30k on a point-to-point course from Schenectady to New York. Most of my American Records were no longer valid after new standards were implemented regarding point-to-point versus loop courses and elevation changes. It was fun to aim for those records as many of the races were set up for that purpose. My 20k, 15-mile and 25k records were set on the track so I was running many laps around the oval. If you want to see some bloody feet – run 40 or 50 laps around a track in spikes and you’ll find that your feet will be absolutely shredded. We had a plan which was basically to run five minute mile pace and to see how many 75 second laps I could do. You’re going to win lots of races on the road and track if you can run 5:00 pace per mile. It was a tough day as it was hot and I was taking fluids every two laps – I ended up sick afterward.
GCR:When road racing was growing in the 1970s didn’t you have a bit of a duel with Jeff Galloway at the Charleston Distance Run 15-miler? And what is the story of your lengthy conversation with Jesse Owens at the pre-race dinner?
TFJeff Galloway beat me at the first Charleston Distance Run, but the highlight of that race has nothing to do with the events that occurred while we were racing. The night before at the pre-race dinner I was invited to the home of Race Director, Dr. Cohen, and I sat next to Jesse Owens for two and a half hours. Sitting next to a legend for that amount of time was unbelievable as were the stories he told. After he won his fourth Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin the films show Adolph Hitler not shaking his hand. Jesse told me the real story of what happened is that, after he won his fourth Gold Medal, when they were in the bowels of the stadium, Hitler did shake his hand, but he did it where no one could see it. Then Hitler told Jesse, ‘You are the greatest athlete I have ever seen.’ Jesse Owens was a really nice guy and for a runner it was almost like having God sit next to me.
GCR:Other top races at intermediate distances in the 1970s included the Wheeling, West Virginia 20k and the Peace Race in Youngstown, Ohio. What are some top memories from those two races?
TFI still go back to Wheeling, West Virginia every Memorial Day weekend and am the Master of Ceremonies for the 20k even though it’s been over 30 years since I first ran the race in 1977. I never won it, but was in the top five finishers several times. I was never in top form because I was usually recovering from the Boston Marathon but it is a race I have a lot of love and affection for. The Peace Race at that time was a long race of 30 kilometers. One year I remember it was the U.S. 30k Championship and John Vitale, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter and I were among the ‘stud field’ there to contend for the win. Bill, Frank and I were hammering and just killed each other for about 14 miles and then John Vitale put in a surge, went into the lead and beat us all! There was great road racing at the time and you never knew if you would win or lose as the competition was tough.
GCR:Is there one race that tops all others where you duked it out with a top foe and won?
TFThe Diet Pepsi Series 10k in New York in Purchase, New York was a good duel between Bill Rodgers and me. Bill had a contract with Pepsi to run all of the races in their series and was kind enough to get me invited due to his connections. The final race was in Purchase where the corporate headquarters was located. Bill and I got into a real tangle in that race where neither one of us could pull away and it came down to a 50 meter sprint at the end. I think the race officials gave me the nod because my nose was bigger – but it was an incredible race and finish. To this day Bill is still mad at me for winning that race! The interesting thing is that this race and others where we competed fiercely weren’t always ‘big deal’ races and there was nothing at stake except our drive to win. So when we felt good we just went for it and often ran sub-29 minute 10k races in the heat of summer. As I mentioned earlier, there were so many good runners that at any race if you didn’t have a good day there was someone there who could beat you.
GCR:Stretching the race distance out a bit, in 1982 you set an American Record for 50k at 2:52:30 in winning at Cedar Grove, NJ. How tough was it racing beyond the marathon distance?
TFIt was a setup race that Hugh Sweeney did for me around a reservoir where I had run for years. He measured a loop, got it certified and I started doing 2.27 mile loops around the reservoir. We knew that a 2:22 marathon pace would be on the way to breaking the American Record for 50k so that is what I ran. It was actually pretty easy to break the record as I could have run quite a bit faster. I didn’t want to really push myself – I just wanted to aim for the record and see how it went. My fastest mile was the last mile in 5:01 so that told me I could have run faster. I did the race because it was close to home and was a good training run.
GCR:Did you think much about training for and racing more ultra marathons?
TFAfterward I had no desire to run any more ultra marathons as I didn’t like them. My personality is that I wanted to be a miler, but I wasn’t fast enough so I stretched it out more and more to the marathon – but that was far enough. I have spoken with Bill Rodgers recently and now that we are old and decrepit we regret that we didn’t do the Western States 100-Miler as we both wish we had earned a finisher’s belt buckle.
GCR:In college you placed in the top 30 of the NCAA College Division Cross Country Championships twice with a 29th place 25:32 your junior year in 1971 and a 12th place 25:05 on the Wheaton College Course the following fall. What stands out from these national championship races?
TFThe fields were loaded back then with many good runners in the college division and it was hard to place high in the championships. You can imagine how tough the field was when I didn’t even place in the top ten in 1972 and I finished second in the Boston Marathon five months later.
GCR:You are the only cross country runner in New Jersey Athletic Conference history to be a 4-time Cross Country individual champion. Were there any tough competitors in the NJAC or close finishes? Did you have any secret to your success on that course?
TFThe first two years there was more competition than in my senior and junior years. The meet was held on a tough course in an area about ten miles from my house and there was a big, long hill toward the end. It suited me well and if you were aggressive early you could really hurt your competitors. I was nervous my senior year when I was going for my fourth title since no one had ever done that. I remember talking to a friend who was there as a spectator and saying, ‘Meet me at the mile marker because I’m going out fast.’ I ran a 4:26 first mile and had a lead of 50 or 100 meters as nobody else was going to run that fast. It is a great course that they still use today. I felt good about winning four straight years and am sort of surprised no one else has matched me. But runners are different today – I didn’t think much about whether I was running cross country, on the track or on the roads. I thought of just being a runner and my training didn’t change much. I was always trying to build a bigger base, do tempo running and incorporate more speed. I was fortunate to have a body that never broke. I never missed days due to being sick or injured.
GCR:What was the main impact on you of Dean Shotts, your coach at William Paterson State College?
TFCoach Shotts started coaching during my second year and was happy to do some travelling when I qualified for big meets. When I made my first U.S. team and earned my first U.S. uniform he went along with me to San Juan, Puerto Rico where I won that marathon. His best contribution to my time in college is that we had a fun time and a loose group.
GCR:When you started in college was the 1968 NJAC Cross Country champ, Tom Greenbowe, from your college still there to run with your freshman year? Did any other teammates help you as you transitioned from high school to college?
TFWhen I started running as a freshman I was the top runner on the team as I had got my times down to around a 4:16 mile and 9:10 2-mile over the summer. That was from years of soccer and only about 18 months of running. I liked the individual aspect of running where I did the work and I reaped the rewards and credit. Tom was there, was a nice guy and is a doctor now. Another runner, Dave Swan, is unique in my life as Dave took me to my first road race which was a 20k in Binghamton, New York in August of 1969 between high school and college. Somehow I won the race though I was dehydrated and dizzy afterward. The drive home took seven hours as we were in the biggest traffic jam in the world – the traffic jam after the Woodstock Music Festival on the New York Turnpike and it took that long to get from Binghamton back to Bloomfield, New Jersey. Now I regret that I didn’t go to Woodstock - but I was an athlete. You wouldn’t believe how much marijuana smoke was in the air and just by driving along with all of these pot-smoking young people I must have inhaled about 12 joints just from second hand smoke! That was the longest day of my life.
GCR:Are there any other races that stand out from your collegiate track seasons for fast times or tough competition?
TFMy freshman year I broke 9:00 for the 2-mile for the first time indoors and the runner who was ahead and, in effect was a rabbit for me, was John McDonnell who became such a successful coach at the University of Arkansas. John ran 8:58 and I ran 8:59 on an old wooden track at Lawrenceville Prep that was ten laps to the mile. Another standout memory was the weekend at the NCAA track championships where I placed in the top four in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. Thursday I ran the 5,000 meter trials, Friday the 10,000 meter final and Saturday the 5,000 meter final. That’s a tough triple racing twelve and a half miles on the track in spikes when just six weeks earlier I had placed second at the Boston Marathon. During introductions all runners receive a good hand and when they announced I had placed second in the Boston Marathon I could tell amidst the cheering that there was an undercurrent of incredulousness in the stands.
GCR:Though you consider yourself to be best at long distance racing, did you enjoy the collegiate track and field atmosphere?
TFI liked my school and teammates and I ran all kinds of races in dual meets. I was competitive in the mile, would get crushed in the half mile and usually win the three-mile. We had six or seven dual meets and I was focused on helping our team win as I enjoyed the feeling of belonging to a group. It was a good feeling that my buddies needed me to race well just as I needed the jumpers and hurdlers to do well. I take this same mentality to the runners on the high school team I coach and let them know that whatever their event is it is their job to do it well. Looking back it seems silly that I ran the half mile, but maybe it was smart. Maybe what we’re missing today is that we need some more variety. Maybe high school kids should run the 800 meters, mile, two-mile and longer road races. If the distance kids get crushed in the 800 meters it still can help them with their leg turnover.
GCR:In high school you made the move from team sports such as baseball, football, soccer and basketball to distance running. What was the appeal about running, what events did you race and did you show a talent fairly quickly?
TFMy high school coach, Paul Williams, was an excellent coach and he is still the president of the county coaches association. Paul knew then what I know now – that it is all about desire and hard work. I liked in track how my personal success depended on what I did – if I worked hard I would reap the rewards, which sometime doesn’t happen in team sports. We had a great track team and won the state championship my senior year. Many of my teammates went to big schools. I was one of the few that went to a smaller college as I don’t think most colleges even knew I was graduating since it was just my second track season. I knew I could run fast and by running more and more I got better quickly. I ran a 4:21 mile and 9:22 2-mile in high school and placed second in the State Group Four 2-mile. What I also like about the sport of running is that you don’t have to go to a big time school to be a big time runner.
GCR:How did the events of the late 1960s such as the Vietnam War shape you during your formative teenage years?
TFI was obviously aware of what was going on with the Vietnam War and didn’t want to go there. I knew that if you were a good student and athlete it could help you to keep out of the war so that was my thought process for four or five years. I had a student deferment and focused on being a good student and athlete. I had compassion for the veterans who served but I didn’t want to be one. My focus was to be the best runner that I could be.
GCR:What was your training mileage in high school, college and beyond?
TFWhen I first started out in high school I was running 50 to 60 miles a week. After I graduated from high school I ran from 75 to 86 miles a week that summer. I was already getting good results from that level of mileage as I ran a 2:30 marathon. I knew that I had built up endurance over the years from playing soccer but needed more miles to continue building my distance base. I kept steadily increasing my mileage during college so that by the time I graduated I was up to 130 to 140 miles a week. I think the high mileage and avoiding injuries were the keys to my success.
GCR:Did you ever do any extremely high mileage weeks just to ‘test the waters?’
TFMy biggest training weeks ever were two 200-mile weeks that Bill Rodgers and I did together – one week at his place and one week at my place. We either did two 15-mile runs or three 10-mile runs each day. Both times it was disastrous as it was way too much running and whether we did two 15-milers or three 10-milers it didn’t work. All we were doing was eating, sleeping and running and we both agreed it was too much. I found that my best high mileage weeks were around 160 miles. I would run 150 to 160 miles a week for about five weeks when I was getting ready for the Boston Marathon. It felt pretty easy, but 200 miles a week was insane. There just wasn’t enough time to recover and we couldn’t eat enough food to nourish our bodies.
GCR:How far did you typically go on your long runs?
TFMost of my longest runs were 22 to 23 miles. If I wanted to get in 30 miles or more in a day, I would run 22 to 23 miles in the morning and another eight or ten miles in the afternoon.
GCR:Speaking of running a second workout after a long run, I have heard that you would occasionally run a 20-miler in the morning and then mile repeats in the afternoon to see if you were in really good shape. Is there truth to this?
TFI probably only did this two or three times in my career, but that is what many people seem to remember. Now as a coach I look at a day like that and realize it is a mixing of different training elements of an endurance run and then tempo which we shouldn’t do. My philosophy is to build volume to allow a runner to be faster on the track, but you need to be careful when doing both simultaneously as it can be a dangerous combination that leads to injury.
GCR:What type of pacing did you incorporate on your distance runs with conflicting thoughts from some who suggested long slow distance, long fast distance or long variable distance?
TFI ran how I felt on a particular day. If I felt good I might run a 20-miler in an hour and fifty minutes which is 5:30 pace per mile. If I was tired it could take two hours and ten minutes which was a full minute per mile slower. I think that was my secret – I listened to my body. If I felt good I cranked up the pace, but if I didn’t I slowed down while still running the miles. I realized that every run cannot be a high performance run as it just isn’t humanly possible. In some way this thought process helped me as I always got the miles in even if I had to slow down. But when I was winning marathons it was rare for me to run over six minutes per mile.
GCR:Through the years, based on whether you were training for cross country, track or marathon racing, what were some of your favorite track workouts and road sessions? What are your thoughts about the concepts of ‘variety’ and 'peaking' in training?
TFI always like ten times 1,000 meters at a little faster than marathon pace. I found it was strenuous, but not hard. I liked doing five times a mile in 4:45. When Billy Squires was helping with some suggestions, I liked one where we would pick it up to 5:00 pace for two or three miles in the middle of a longer run. There was one ’10-mile’course we used that was actually 9.7 miles and I ran a 3-mile stretch as fast as 13:50 during a run. Years later Joe Lemay, who I coached, found out what I had done and he took off to break it. His first mile was 4:30 and I thought, ‘Oh, oh – he wants it.’ He ended up running a 13:40 and two weeks later he won the Jacksonville River Run 15k. It’s a different type of training and is hard. I tell high school kids now, ‘Whatever workout you don’t like is probably the one you need.’ I also believe you need to train at a variety of speeds over a variety of distances. The more you do that the better off you are. Runners also need to realize that they don’t have to do some speed, tempo and a long run every week. Sometimes they just need to jog for a couple of weeks and do no tempo runs or pickups. I always tried to peak twice for fall cross country and for the Boston Marathon. I didn’t aim to peak at New York as it was too early in the fall back when it was in September or October. Peaking in the spring for the Boston Marathon was ideal after a strong fall and winter of training.
GCR:You are known for saying, ‘Somewhere in the world someone is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win.’ Was this a driving force behind your disciplined training philosophy?
TFYou have that quote exactly right as it has been framed and I’m looking at it on the wall right now. The original thought was what I said before my first Boston Marathon. I believed it then and I still believe it today. I don’t care how good you are as someone is always out there. I felt that there was always someone breathing down my neck that wanted to beat me so, God willing, I would be out there training every single day.
GCR:This thought process extended to many of us in the 1970s. I remember my senior year in high school running ten repeats of 440 yards on Christmas morning before the day’s festivities and thinking that no one trained harder than me that day. Is this similar to how you thought?
TFYes it was and I had you beat as one Christmas I ran 14 miles in the morning and 14 miles in the afternoon for the same reason! You would have made it with my group – you would have been fine!
GCR:How important is the mental part of training and racing and developing the ability to endure increasing levels of discomfort?
TFIt is huge. I never used a sports psychologist, but I was doing race visualization as I thought I had to be mentally tough to race well. I did wonder if it was the training that made me tough in the head or the toughness in my head that let me do the training. I believe you have to have both. Runners also cannot have a fear of losing as we all lose races. As a young kid I always felt I had to go for it. When I played soccer and there was a corner kick I knew that if I wanted to score a goal I had to get my head on the soccer ball. I took that same mentality to running. I believe that on a given day if everyone has been running 140-mile weeks and other elements of training that anyone can win. So I thought, ‘Why can’t it be me.’ Too many teenagers I coach today think they might lose and I tell them, ‘You might lose, but this is what your planned pace is and let’s give it your best shot because you might win.’ Today we have the availability of sports psychologists, but all people have to do is to believe in themselves. If you have good talent and believe in yourself you will go very far.
GCR:What have been the positive effects of the discipline and tenacity learned from running on other aspects of your life?
TFIt is a big factor in my success in other areas. Do I think I can do anything? No. But I believe I can give 100% at anything and then I can look in the mirror and know that it is the best that I can do. If someone gives 100% in the business world they will probably be a millionaire. When I had my running store business I liked to hire runners who were training hard as I knew that if someone was running 20 miles a day and coming to work that he was mentally tough.
GCR:Did you have a chance in the late 1970s to train much with members of the Greater Boston Track Club or other top distance runners?
TFBill Rodgers and I trained together a lot with us spending two weeks at my house or two weeks at his house. In the springtime I would spend more time in New England training for Boston. Bill and I also spent some time in the winters training in Phoenix.
GCR:With the luxury of hindsight, is there anything you could have done differently in training and racing focus that may have resulted in better performances?
TFI am okay with how I did and will take my record. I ran 27 marathons under 2:20 and I’m happy with that. But did I make mistakes? Absolutely. There were times I over trained. Maybe I could have used a coach especially to get me to take some time off when I may have needed it. When I worked with Billy Squires for two years he gave me a bit more ‘purpose’ to certain days training with tempo running and recovery days, so if I did it over again there are a few things I would change in my training. When I look back at my personal best times on the track, they were all set in Europe when I focused on fast track racing. It may have helped my road racing and marathon performances if I had concentrated periodically more on track racing. My best 10k was only 28:42 and it may have helped my marathon racing if I would have concentrated a bit more on decreasing my times in the intermediate distances. But overall it was a good running career.
GCR:Who were some of your favorite competitors and adversaries?
TFMy greatest adversary was my friend, Bill Rodgers, who in my opinion was one of history’s greatest marathoners and was born to run. Another adversary whom I really admired was England’s Ron Hill who won the 1970 Boston Marathon. He is a real character and God threw away the mold when he made Ron. He was ahead of his time in the way he thought and was a pioneer in many ways. The reason I wore a mesh shirt is because he wore a mesh shirt. He was the first runner and I was the first American to do so as we tried to find ways to stay cooler while running. He wasn’t as much my competitor as a running God who helped me and was very nice to me on my way up. When I finished a few places ahead of him one year at the Boston marathon he was one of the first runners to congratulate me. Frank Shorter was a great competitor and with two Olympic medals it doesn’t get much better than that.
GCR:There is a story about you meeting and being inspired by Horace Ashenfelter, 1952 Olympic 3,000 Meter Gold medalist. How did that transpire?
TFHe lived in the next town down the road from me when I was a senior in high school. The way I first heard about his achievement was when I ran against a boy from Glen Ridge High School named Tommy Ashenfelter and some kids said his dad had won an Olympic Gold Medal. So I said, ‘Tommy, does your dad really have a Gold Medal?’ He said, ‘Yes, he was the 1952 Olympic steeplechase champion.’ I told him I’d love to see the Gold Medal so I rode on my bike to his house which was only about two miles away. I rang the door bell and Mrs. Ashenfelter came out and showed me the Gold Medal. Horace wasn’t there as he was working so I met him later. I am still friends with Tommy and tell him that he never knew the impact that had on me as I’d never seen any Olympic Medal, much less a Gold one. I saw Horace last Thanksgiving at the Ashenfelter 8k Thanksgiving race and still see him a few times each year.
GCR:You currently coach at Montclair Kimberley Academy and founded the Running Room, which has since closed, in Bloomfield, New Jersey. What are some of the highlights of your coaching?
TFIt has been great coaching as I have the kids I coach run on the same loops I trained on and they can’t believe I always know where they are. It’s a great advantage for me to coach as we have a brand new training facility at Montclair and nice areas to train. When my Running Room teams won the national championships is was awesome as they were all New Jersey or Pennsylvania girls. It was a fun time but retail sales were tough so I closed the store several years ago. I like what I’m doing in life now with teaching fourth grade and coaching high school kids. Now I’m doing what I should be doing which is having an impact on teenage runners as you never know if one of them will have the dream that I had to win the Boston Marathon. I just hope that some kid like me comes along so I can show him tips and shortcuts and then spend a lot of time on the course so we can find a way to win. I would love to do that in the upcoming years.
GCR:How satisfying is it to help others succeed compared to your own personal accomplishments? How much more difficult is it to instill in others the necessary discipline, focus and mental toughness?
TFIt is better to help others. It gives me an incredible feeling when I can help youngsters to improve. The best coaches aren’t always the ones with championship teams, but the ones who can take a 7:00 miler and turn him into a 5:55 miler. That’s coaching! It is exciting to take kids who aren’t too good at anything and to help them find the one thing they can do better than most kids. This past fall I only had nine boys on my high school team, but all of them broke 18 minutes for 5k. Our goal for next fall is for every one of them to get a minute faster and, if they do, they can be county champions. Once these kids hear my passion, they get that enthusiasm inside of them and just go for it. Running fast was easier for me as I only had to be concerned with myself, but it is more rewarding to get a group of kids succeeding together.
GCR:What are the effects of the increased distractions of today’s society and the fact that most American youth are more ‘well off’ than a generation or two ago and may not be as hungry for success or willing to work as hard?
TFIt is harder for today’s kids with all of the distractions and the demands and desires to make money, get a good job and to live in a big house. It wasn’t like that with me – I just wanted to go out and run. The most important thing I owned as a teenager was a pair of running shoes and, ironically, I haven’t paid for a pair of running shoes since April, 1973 when I came in second at the Boston Marathon. I still have running shoes sent to me because of a race I ran nearly 40 years ago. My good friend, Freddy Doyle, works for Saucony and sent me a few pairs of running shoes recently. Then he called and wanted to send me some racing flats and asked me our school colors. I told him they were forest green and navy and two days later a pair of racing flats that are forest green and navy arrived at my home! I want kids to want to be good runners not so that they can get free running shoes but so when they are 50 years old they can look back and say, ‘I ran my butt off, I did it because I wanted to and I’m happy with what I achieved.’ Whether they win races or not, running gives a tremendous sense of accomplishment and the success and hard work transfer to other parts of their lives.
GCR:The United States was very dominant on the world stage in the men’s’ marathon in the 1970s and 1980s before declining for two decades. Do you see optimism with the resurgence in American marathon running in the past several years?
TFI’m an optimist and, since we’ve got over 310 million people in our country, there has to be another ‘Bill Rodgers’ or ‘Alberto Salazar’ out there. There were so many runners back in the 1970s that just went out, put in the training and ended up running respectable 2:18 or 2:19 marathons – back then they were unknowns though today they’d be studs. I remember back when Bill Rodgers and I were training and Dickie Mahoney, who was a post man, would run 140 miles a week even though he was working full time. Incredibly he ran a 2:14:37 for tenth place at the 1981 Boston Marathon. How good would he have been if he didn’t have to work a full-time job? If enough U.S. runners put in the work, we can have many more marathon runners closer to winning major marathons again. What bothers Bill Rodgers, me and others who have raced very successfully at the Boston Marathon is that none of today’s top U.S. marathoners come to us for advice on how to race well at Boston. We can’t believe it! You would think that my finishing six times in the top ten would make it apparent that I know some tricks that can help. If runners out there who are reading this have a desire to run the Boston or New York Marathons and want to talk to someone who can offer insights into racing smarter and faster, then they should get in touch with me. There are advantages if you know the course. For example, very few of the top runners today even run the tangents and race the shortest course where the race is measured.
GCR:What do U.S. marathon runners, as a group, need to do to step up to another level?
TFMy personal take on U.S. marathon running is that our top runners are waiting too long. I believe they need to start running marathons when they are twenty years old if they want to have a top-level career. But most runners who are that good are in college on scholarship and no coaches are going to encourage them to race marathons. It is a dilemma we face in this country. Our system in the U.S. doesn’t lend itself to developing great young marathon runners. Another problem is that most runners are overly concerned with what contracts they may sign when they complete college. You know what – just be good like in your dreams and it is there for you. The next American born kid who wins the New York City Marathon or Boston Marathon will be an instant millionaire. But money doesn’t make you run faster. If the reason you are running 140 or 150 miles per week is to be a millionaire you might as well stop now. If you want to be the best runner America has ever seen and to run like Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, that has to be your reason for running. As far as marathon race strategy, no American should want to lead a major marathon. Almost every race has rabbits and the fast African runners want to lead, so they should let someone else do the work. I wish I could get my hands on some of our top marathon runners and train them as if their whole life is the Boston Marathon - because if they win their whole life will change. They need to run the course like Bill Rodgers and I did. Greg Meyer, the last American man to win at Boston, practically lived on the course and that’s why he won it in 1983. He was very, very fit and knew the course extremely well. Today the competition is tougher as there are hundreds of Africans racing in the U.S., but Americans can race better and win in Boston and New York.
GCR:For twelve years you were the meet director for the Sunset Classic 5-mile road race in your hometown of Bloomfield, NJ which raises money for Special Needs Children in the Bloomfield school system. How rewarding was this and how important is the role running now has in raising funds for so many charities?
TFIt is great that our sport has raised so much money for charities. But I do question why our sport of running has become the official sponsor sport of the world. It would be interesting to have a big road race and to have the proceeds actually go into developing top runners in our country. An example would be to raise funds so that all U.S. runners who qualify for the Olympic Trails Marathon would have the opportunity to train with similar runners at Olympic development camps. It is a difficult balance these days between competition and developing great U.S. runners and raising money for charity. But I do believe strongly in the good that running is doing in increasing awareness and trying to find treatments and cures in many areas. Two causes that are dear to me are multiple sclerosis and Special Olympics. So, I do want our sport to help with charitable causes while we also pump money into developing our sport.
GCR:You have been recognized for your running achievements by Hall of Fame inductions including the Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2006 and the HOF at William Paterson University in 1980. How special is it to be so honored?
TFIt is nice and I am appreciative. There were some inductions that may have happened when I was too young as I didn’t appreciate them as much at the time. I am grateful for the recognition.
GCR:How your health and what is is your current fitness regimen?
TFMy health is good and I don’t have to take any pills due to health issues. I’m tall at six feet, one inch and my racing weight was around 159 pounds, though now I weigh 210 pounds. I don’t feel like I weigh that much, but that is what the scale says. I play a lot of basketball which was my first love. I play in a 55-59 age basketball league. I walk and jog two or three days a week. I don’t have any desire to go out and run 10-milers. Sometimes at our cross country meets when I’m running from one point to another on the course I’ll hear, ‘Hey coach, you look pretty good.’ I just say, ‘Don’t let looks fool you,’ as I have no desire to run more regularly or to do longer distances.
GCR:What goals do you have for yourself in fitness, running and other aspects of your life for the upcoming years?
TFI just hope to continue without knee problems. My last recordings in my running log were back in the early 1990s and I had run around 123,300 miles. I have no joint soreness in my hips, knees or ankles, am thankful for that and hope it stays that way for a long time.
GCR:Are there any major lessons you have learned during your life from growing up in New Jersey, the discipline of running and sharing your knowledge and experience with others through teaching and coaching that you would like to share with my readers?
TFWhat I do well and I believe others should do is to share enthusiasm. Whether in the classroom with nine or ten year olds or at the track with teenagers, I see that by my being genuinely excited about how they are doing, they are apt to try their hardest. If kids do their best, the outcome doesn’t matter as they will deservedly get a big cheer from me. My passion is to convince kids that it’s okay to try hard, they should have no fear of competing or losing, they can win and they can be successful.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI enjoy coin collecting; I am a big basketball fan, especially of pro basketball
NicknamesA few friends call me by my initials, ‘T.F.,’ but I don’t really have any nicknames
Favorite moviesOne of my all-time favorites is ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and another is ‘The Sting.’ I like lots of movies from the 1970s. I just saw the recent movie,‘Footlocker,’ about what our soldiers are enduring in the Iraqi War and it was excellent
Favorite TV showsMost of the television I watch is either sports or news. I’m a sports guy and am happy to have cable television with about 100,000 channels! I have the NBA package and additional soccer channels. I will even watch ESPN Sports Center in Spanish!
Favorite songsI’m a rock music fan and my favorite group, hands down; going away is ‘Queen.’ Brian May and Freddy Mercury were great!
Favorite booksSince I started back teaching about ten or twelve years ago I have been reading more mysteries. I like a Swedish series of detective stories called the ‘Henning Mankell Mystery Series’ and I have read the entire series of ten volumes. Another favorite is ‘Lady of the Tattoo.’ I’m reading a biography of Joe Namath which is very good. I’ve met Joe and he’s a nice guy – you know, everyone likes a guy who predicts he’s going to win and does
First car1964 Ford Falcon with leather bucket seats and a five speed
Current carA Subaru
First jobI was a newspaper boy in New Jersey and in 1964 out of 104 local newspapers I was named the ‘newspaper boy of the year.’ I was delivering over 1,000 papers per week and making about $105 which was a lot of money back then. As a reward for being ‘newspaper boy of the year,’ Governor Hughes of New Jersey picked me up in Bloomfield with his helicopter; we flew to the World’s Fair in New York City and I got a free pass to go on all of the rides
FamilyMy father, who was my biggest fan, passed away fairly young at age 52 from cancer. I have a sister and my mom is 81 years old and lives about 60-70 miles away in Pennsylvania
PetsI have a long-legged coonhound named Yummy
Favorite mealI love Italian food
Favorite breakfastFrench toast
Favorite beveragesI’m a Pepsi guy. As far as beer, I drink Coors Light – I’m not much of a beer drinker so dark ales or stouts don’t suit me
First running memoryRunning around the block which was exactly a half mile. When I decided I would go out for the high school team I ran around the block about eight times. After doing that for a few days I wasn’t sure if I liked it yet!
Running heroesRon Hill and Horace Ashenfelter are heroes of mine who I have had the privilege of getting to know much more than most people. But my first hero was Abebe Bikila as I remember seeing him on television as he won his second Olympic Gold Medal in the marathon in 1964 in 2:12:19. He was my hero and it really blew me away when I ran 2:12:05 at Boston one year and I thought, ‘Wow – my time is faster than Abebe Bikila!’ When I came in second place at San Blas I met him and, of course, he was in a wheel chair and paralyzed from his car accident. I bent over, shook his hand and said, ‘It is an honor to meet you.’ I felt strange. Mamo Wolde, who won the 1968 Olympic Marathon Gold Medal, came in behind me in San Blas so it was sort of bizarre to meet my childhood hero and to beat an Olympic Champion
Greatest running momentThe first time I came in second place at the Boston Marathon in 1973. That is when I knew that I really wanted to come back to try to win it. Finishing second at Boston made me feel that I could be a very good runner. For the first time I also realized that I was faster than most runners. I don’t say this in a boastful way, it was just that I finally came to this awareness that all the work I was doing was worth it and that from then onward on one could stop me
Worst running momentDropping out of a couple of marathons. I don’t like not finishing so I’m not even going to talk about which races they were. Everyone has those days when they are sick and just can’t perform. So I was forced to quit and, later on when the sickness was gone, the feeling of quitting was not. I can count on one hand the times I’ve quit, but I don’t like that feeling. I hate it and can’t tolerate a quitter
Childhood dreamsI wanted to be Mickey Mantle in baseball or Oscar Robertson in basketball. In Little League baseball I wore number seven just like Mantle. I wanted to be like him or Roger Maris and was lucky to be following baseball when Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961
Funny memoriesBill Rodgers and I were staying in the New Otani Hotel in Japan for a race in 1976 when there was an earthquake of about 5.6 on the Richter scale. We were in separate rooms that were next to each other and we awoke to a screeching sound that was our building moving on rollers. I ran to the window, looked out and realized the building was moving. I hurried out of my room in my underwear and there was Bill in the hall – also in his underwear! The next morning when we went out to run, Bill stopped at the front desk and said, ‘Can I get a room on a lower floor?’
Embarrassing momentDuring a race that was finishing at Manhattan College I was running on the George Washington Bridge when the liner inside of my running shorts broke and, as they say, I was hanging out. I’m not sure if I impressed anyone or didn’t impress them!
High School Social LifeI was the kind of kid who would leave the Friday night dances or socials early so I could go home and get proper rest for a Saturday meet or team practice. I look back now and laugh, but it was good to have that discipline as many kids didn’t, stayed out too late and developed bad habits
Favorite places to travelI like the Orient - Japan is my favorite place and I also like China. I like the culture and the people there liked me as I was this tall runner with a beard and they kind of dug my whole look. I really appreciate the Asian culture’s feeling of the ‘honor’ of doing one’s best. I liked the environment of Scandinavia as they are typically quiet and withdrawn people. The foreign place I felt most at home was in Germany because Germans are ‘the loudest Americans in Europe!’