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Barney Klecker — May, 2022
Barney Klecker is the U.S. former record holder for 50 miles set at the 1980 AMJA Ultramarathon in Chicago, Illinois in 4:51:25. Barney won the City of Lakes Marathon/Twin Cities Marathon twice (1977 and 1979) and Grandma’s Marathon in 1978. His ultramarathon wins include the Edmund Fitzgerald 100k (1982, 1986) and the Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic 50k (1982, 1983). Klecker won the 1979 and 1980 Snowshoe World Championship which totaled 83 miles from Superior to Rice Lake, Wisconsin over three days. He won all twelve ultramarathons he entered. Barney’s extensive marathon racing, often training through the races, led to 13 total victories amongst 25 podium finishes and eight sub-2:20s included in 34 sub-2:30 performances. Klecker was 1973 Most Valuable Runner and a four-time letterman in both track and cross country at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. Barney was WSU Conference runner-up in cross country and set a school record of 24:40 for five miles. With little training in high school, he raced the mile in 4:56 and two-mile in 10:26. Barney met his future wife, Janis, after winning the 1979 City of Lakes Marathon where she finished third, and they began training together. He helped draw out Janis’ talent and his coaching and advice culminated in her winning the 1992 Olympic Trials Marathon. In 1980, Barney was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame. His personal best times are: mile – 4:13; 2-mile – 9:03; 5-mile – 23:45; 10k – 30:11; 15k – 47:41; Half Marathon - 1:14:43; Marathon – 2:15:20; 50k – 2:51:53; 50 miles – 4:51:25 and 100k – 6:50:43. He is a retired teacher and businessman. Barney and Janis have six children, including Joe, a 2021 Tokyo Olympian at 10,000 meters. They reside in Minnetonka, Minnesota with their three dogs.
GCR: BIG PICTURE As a distance runner you have been immersed in the sport of running for several decades since your teenage years as an athlete, husband of an outstanding runner, parent of six athletes and more. Could you have imagined when you started running as a teenager how has running would have contributed to and shaped your life?
BK Never. I grew up on a beef and hog farm in a large family. I had ten siblings and after school we came home, worked on the farm and did our chores. And on the weekends, we did more chores. There was no time for sports. When I was a junior in high school, that summer dad decided he was going to sell the farm and all the animals in a disbursal sale, which he did. Then he said, ‘If you kids want to go out for sports or do other activities, you can do them now.’ So, I went out for cross country. That was my first foot in the water trying out running.
GCR: When you look back at your running career after college, which included two wins each at the City of Lakes Marathon/Twin Cities Marathon, Edmund Fitzgerald 100 km and Tallahassee 50k Ultradistance Classic, one win at Grandma's Marathon, several other marathon podium finishes, and multiple 50-mile wins topped by your World Record 50-mile of 4:51:25 in Chicago in 1980, is there some genuine satisfaction that you set out to tackle challenging race distances and truly did push yourself to reach your potential?
BK I didn’t realize this until I was forty years old that the fifty-mile time I ran in Chicago was pretty darn good. I trained for an entire year running from one hundred twenty to one hundred fifty miles a week. When I got up to a hundred fifty miles, I would back it down to a hundred twenty miles for a few weeks before I tried a high mileage week. I coached myself. I didn’t feel that I knew anyone who knew more about running than I did around me. And I was working sixty to seventy hours a week at the hospital. So, I kind of jumped in this race in Chicago knowing that I could run under five hours which was the American Record at the time. I had gone on forty mile runs at six-minute pace. I thought I could rest a week and do this. I knew I could do it. The Stout coach, who was a psychologist, was an advisor. I remember him telling me, ‘You have this goal, but don’t tell anybody. It sounds very egotistical to say you are going down there to run a fifty-mile distance you’ve never run before and set an American Record.’ He said, ‘Don’t tell anybody. Go to Chicago, register and run the race like you did when you won the City of Lakes Marathon.’ The big picture I understood. I knew when I ran a 4:13 mile my senior year at Stout that I had a lot more in the tank. Other guys were throwing their spikes in their lockers and saying, ‘I’m done. I’m retired.’’ And I thought, ‘I’m just getting started.’ And I knew I had a lot of improving I had to do, but I was willing to do the work even though I was working up to eighty hours a week.
GCR: Though you raced ten marathons in the 2:15 to 2:20 range, with another two dozen in the 2:20s, did you find you had come close to your limit in the marathon and that the longer distances were where you could truly excel or do you think with specific coaching there was a 2:12 or 2:11 or 2:10 possible that you didn’t get to since you didn’t have a coach and training group like the Greater Boston Track Club?
BK Yes, I trained stupid because I was coaching myself and I over-raced. But I loved to race so I would race every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. Then I would center my training around the upcoming races. There was thought that went into my training but, when you are working as many hours as I was, I was running either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon after working eight or ten or twelve hours and I was tired. So, I didn’t achieve my potential and could have raced faster. I felt I could but there are the ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ thoughts. I don’t like to hear that from runners, and I sure didn’t want to come off that way to anybody else. What that does is it tries to make you legitimate as a 2:10 marathoner and I wasn’t. I was a 2:15 guy. People can say whatever they want, and they can dress it up, but it doesn’t matter. You have to perform. One thing that made a difference was last year when my son, Joe, called me up after he and Ali and some of his team’s runners had just gone on a twenty-mile run. It was kind of an easy run, but it was at high altitude and over hills. They had run the twenty miles in about an hour and fifty minutes. They were high-fiving each other and excited because they hadn’t run that fast for a twenty-miler. Then Ali asked Joe, ‘How fast did your dad run when he ran that fifty-miler?’ And Joe said, ‘I think he averaged 5:49 a mile.’ Ali said, ‘My gosh, I couldn’t have run one more mile.’ So, Joe called me up and asked me what I thought of my 4:51 for fifty miles. I told him that I didn’t think it was that great, but years later I figured it had to be good because nobody got even close to it. But I didn’t want to sound like the ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda guy.’ Then he said, ‘Dad, if you had the training at altitude I have and you had the shoes we have today instead of the shoes you ran on, you would have run a 2:07 marathon and you would have run well under four minutes for the mile. You’re faster than I am.’ I said, ‘Joe, that means an awful lot coming from you. However, that is woulda, coulda, shoulda and didn’t happen.’ I did think at one time in 1981 after I set that record, and I knew that Alberto Salazar was training out in Oregon, that I could quit my job at the hospital as Food Services Director and go out to Oregon and live in a mobile home and train with Salazar. I knew at that point that, if I trained with him, I could beat him. I don’t know what gave me that thought, but I knew I could. And, of course, if you don’t believe you can do it, it is never going to happen. I didn’t do that because Jan and I were going together and the last thing I wanted to do was to screw up my relationship with her.
GCR: Speaking of Janis, you were working so hard and running so much, so how important was it for you and your wife, Janis, to find each other in the sport of distance running and to support each other and could you have achieved what you did and had as much joy along the way without her at your side?
BK I had been married once before that for two-and-a-half years and my first wife left me because I was running and racing. I don’t blame her at all because I had to be a terrible husband. All I thought about was working and running. We both worked hard. She was a Home Economics teacher and I taught Occupational Foods at Long Prairie when we lived there for a couple of years. She wanted to move down to the Twin Cities to expand our horizons. What really happened was she had met somebody else, and she didn’t want to have to go through a divorce in a small town. She never told me that specifically, but I know that was the reason. I don’t blame her at all. Marriages are fifty-fifty. Divorces are fifty-fifty. Nobody is innocent. So, when I started dating Jan, I fell in love with her the first time we went for a run. Don’t ask me what it was – it was just something. I kept telling myself, ‘Do not screw this up.’ I had dated other women. I loved women and loved seeing them. But it wasn’t foremost in my mind. Work was and running was. And when I met Jan, that totally changed. She was number one. Then I worked the other things in. Since she was also an avid runner, we ran together and shared that time. Of course, we fell in love, and I basically moved that priority up on top. That was very important, and it was also important because she was getting better and better and better every year. I remembered something Bill Rodgers had told me one year after the Boston Marathon at an after party when we were drinking a beer. He said, ‘Show me somebody that’s working forty hours a week and I’ll beat them nine times out of ten. It doesn’t matter how good they are.’ I asked him why and he said, ‘Because your attention isn’t on running. You’ve got to focus on work and you’re trying to fit running in. At the World Class level, you can’t do that. You must stay focused on running.’ And that’s what he did. Even though he had running stores, he had somebody managing them and he was focused on his running. Though I didn’t do that, I was adamant that Jan do that. She was going to Dental School, but she met with the administration and, instead of three years, she went for four years. And when she got out and started working, she worked one day a week, so the focus wasn’t on work. The focus was on getting to be a better runner and she continued to improve every year.
GCR: When I spoke with Janis, she told me she thought she would be somewhere in the top ten runners at the 1992 Olympic Trials Marathon on a good day. How exciting was it to be there cheering for Janis as she was in the lead pack of five runners after the halfway point and ended up being victorious?
BK It was unbelievable. At that time there was a lot of talk of runners not getting coaching from the side. I remember when we ran the Bay-to-Breaker’s race in San Francisco one time, and I had purposefully slowed down if we were next to each other, so I was fifty yards behind her. I didn’t want the appearance to be that I was pacing her or coaching her. Still people said there was no way that I wasn’t pacing her. So, when we were at the Olympic Trials, a friend of mine got these two baseball caps that had fake ponytails down the back, and we wore them during the race so no one would recognize us. We also put on sunglasses. As we were cheering, we were very cognizant of the fact that we didn’t want anyone pointing a finger and saying that we were coaching Janis. As stupid as it sounds, that is what I thought about since there were those prior accusations. I didn’t want anything to take away from her. Then, during the race, she got tripped up about halfway and was probably in thirteenth or fourteenth place at that point. She did have the presence of mind to work her way back up. With a couple of miles to go, she found another gear. Everyone else was fading and I was on the sidelines back about thirty yards cheering. She couldn’t hear me. I knew why she had that gear. We didn’t run twenty miles. We regularly went on twenty-five to thirty and as much as thirty-one-mile-long runs. She ran longer than the race distance and not many runners did that back then. What I realized is that you must run longer than twenty-six miles in training if you expect to race twenty-six miles well. Otherwise, you are going to be holding on which is what everybody does, but not the people that train a little smarter. When Jan crossed the finish line and won, it was very rewarding as a husband. We trained together and we raced together, and it was a shared experience. Her parents were also at the race. and they were both marathon runners. It was truly a family day. We did one cover story for Running Times. The writer was with us morning, noon and night. Other publications, including Runner’s World wanted to also do stories, but we had to limit Janis to one as we weren’t there to do cover stories, we were there to train for the Barcelona Olympics. If you get on a cover, that’s great. But that’s not the reason we run. We run as fast as we can. We run to win races. We run to make the Olympic team. We run to break records. That’s why we run. Interestingly, the writer told us that, the night before the Olympic Trials, the writers got together and made their picks for the race. Jan was getting picked to be around tenth or twelfth. There was one writer who went so far to say that, since Jan had run the Twin Cities Marathon in October and Orange County Marathon in December, her chances were slim. The conversation went on about that idiot husband who overtrained and over-raced her. When she won the race, evidently the writers made him eat crow. She was a world class runner and looked great and ran great even though she fell in the middle of the race.
GCR: Janis and you raised a family of six children that all competed in athletics, primarily in distance running. How exciting was it for your entire family when, twenty-nine years after Jan made the Olympic team, your son, Joe, qualified for the Tokyo Olympic team at 10,000 meters and how did it compare to when Jan made the Olympic team? What was it like those last few laps in the stands as he made the team?
BK It was more exciting. Jan’s preparation had gotten her hurt before the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Trials, and she didn’t have a legitimate try to make the team. We made a conscious decision that she was going to run and train for the 1992 Olympic Trials and if it happened, it happened. And it did happen. When Joe was racing at the Olympic Trials last year, I was watching the race and Jan was sitting there with her head between her hands. She couldn’t watch the race. She just said I should tell her what was going on. Of course, I was being as positive as I could. ‘I said, ‘Joe is running great. He’s in about tenth place, he’s drafting and running comfortably. The leaders are no more than five yards in front of him and he looks very relaxed.’ Everything went fine until he had about five hundred or six hundred yards to go, and I said, ‘Oh, no!’ Jan asked me what was wrong, ‘Did he trip?’ I told her that he was boxed. ‘He’s got to get out of that box or runners will get a big head start on him and he’s not going to make the team.’ She wasn’t looking but was groaning. When she again asked how Joe was doing, I said, ‘He is still boxed. He’d better get out of there in the next hundred yards or there is no way he’s going to make the team.’ The lead runners were starting to separate themselves from the group. They were getting ready to pounce on that sprint lap when they hit it. About twenty yards before staring the last lap I told Jan, ‘He’s screwed. Jan, he’s boxed and there’s no way he’s going to get out.’ Right then we heard the ‘ring, ring, ring’ of the bell and Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher took off. Joe had a lap to go, and they were ten or fifteen yards ahead already. Joe was still boxed, but there was a small opening of about eighteen inches. Joe shot through there sideways and was in lane two-and-a-half. He saw how far back he was, and he still had a couple more runners to pass to get into third place and he went all-out. Of course, Woody and Grant were running all-out too. Joe was reeling them in, but it wasn’t happening fast enough. Joe was still on the back stretch about five or six yards behind the two of them. I was watching the three of them and not watching anyone else in the field. When they came around and Joe had a hundred and fifty meters to go, he was a couple yards back. I saw he was relaxed, but I could tell he was tightening up a bit. But Joe had the presence of mind to look back and the fourth-place runner was about thirty or forty yards behind him. He had a hamstring muscle that was tying up and he didn’t want to pull a muscle. He had about a hundred yards to go and looked back again, and he knew he basically just had to finish. But he couldn’t let up. I told Jan that Joe was in third place and was five yards behind Woody and Grant. Joe was looking good, but I could tell he wasn’t trying to catch those two to beat them. There were two reasons for that – he was tying up and maybe couldn’t and he was afraid he was going to pull a muscle. I looked behind and the fourth-place runner was still at least thirty yards back. As long as Joe kept moving, he would be fine. Then he finished third and it was great. Afterwards, he told me the hamstring stated tying up with a hundred thirty yards to go and that is why he let up. His plan was that, if fourth place caught him, to wait until ten yards to go, then sprint as hard as he could, and if he pulled the muscle, he pulled it. So, he had a plan that he didn’t have to use. And he never did strain a muscle, though it was very tight.
GCR: How exciting was it after the race when Joe made the team and the Klecker family could celebrate?
BK We were ecstatic. Anyone would be when their kid makes the Olympic team. We knew he could make the team but, when they lined up to start the race, a dozen of the athletes were predicted as possibilities to make the team. Joe was not one of them. I knew he was probably among the top five or six runners, but it all depends, like in the old cliché, on whomever is in the best shape that day and has a good race. At the Olympic Trials, you must be in top shape, and you must have a good race. You can’t have a mediocre race and make the team. The competition and depth in U.S. distance running is very strong. If an athlete competes in a race, there are six or seven runners who can win the race. Nobody is a clear-cut favorite. Grant Fisher has separated himself a little bit. Woody was slightly injured during indoor season and Joe had a stress reaction in a bone over the Christmas holiday. Coach Ritz set his training back to square one. When it got moved to the Prefontaine Classic, he made that the focus race and told Joe he wouldn’t race indoors. Joe was sad as he likes to race, but he does not want to race unless he is in top shape, which is smart. Joe has reached a level where he doesn’t want to show up to run hard. Grant, Woody, and Joe are legitimately three of the top runners in the world at 5,000 and 10,000 meters and I don’t think I’m overstating that fact. I’ve watched these top African runners and had a chance to talk to the World Record Holder, Kenenisa Bekele, at the Prefontaine Classic last year. It was a thirty second conversation in the elevator. He introduced himself and I introduced myself. He said, ‘Oh, is Joe Klecker your son?’ I told him that Joe was. I didn’t know if he knew Joe. His eyes lit up. He said, ‘Joe is my friend. I like Joe.’ Everyone likes Joe, because he goes out of his way with people and is a nice guy. People like him for that. He is a very, very kind and benevolent person and that comes out in his demeanor. Joe’s characteristics are evident to us, and I know that Joe is going to be a factor in distance running for the next ten years. The little advice and mentoring I give him is, ‘Don’t give up on the mile. Make sure you get that time because you can run sub-3:50. The faster the mile, the faster the 5k, the faster the 10k and the faster the marathon.’ And he knows that. I used to start out in high school thinking, ‘The faster your two hundred, the faster your quarter mile; the faster your quarter, the faster your half mile; the faster your half, the faster your mile.’ I wanted to tell him that so many times that it registered in his subconscious. Then you work on those details, and you get faster.
GCR: With all the experience and knowledge both Jan and you had about distance running, how did you approach encouraging your kids to run and helping with their coaching? How did this evolve when Joe’s immense talent surfaced in high school?
BK When we moved ahead from our racing days, we had six kids, and they were all good athletes. But one was very squirrely in junior high, and his grades were a ‘C’ with a tailwind. We knew he had talent, but we also knew that it doesn’t work out too well when your parents are your coaches. Joe had a very good high school coach in Mike Harris. I talked with Mike, who had kids that were ten years younger than Joe and told him that when kids are two or three years old, daddy is the strongest guy in the world and the smartest and your parents are the best people in the world. But that reverses when a kid gets to high school. Joe said, ‘dad and mom, you think you know a lot about running. You think you’re so smart and you don’t know squat!’ I told him he had a right to his opinion, but we weren’t going to coach him, just tell him things now and then. We did talk to their coaches who, both Lovess and Harris, who were Minnesota State coaches of the year and had several State championships. These guys knew what they were doing. One thing I did was to talk with Mike, and I asked him if he had ever coached anyone at the level Joe was. And he hadn’t. We knew he was going to be good but didn’t know how good. I told Mike that our philosophy as parents was to let the kids do what they wanted to do. When John got hit hard in the mouth playing football, he asked us if he could be a good runner like we were. I said ‘sure’ and he decided to switch to cross-country. He got his butt kicked the first race and said, ‘A lot you know about running. You said we would be good.’ I told John he would have to train, and he hadn’t done much. Joe had an attitude at home and toward Jan and me and, as parents, we decided we were not going to coach this kid. Obviously, he didn’t want it. What I did was during Joe’s last couple years in high school I would meet with his coach on a Sunday afternoon for coffee and find out what the workouts were for the upcoming week. He would say to us, ‘If you have any input, give it to me. I need your advice. I need Jan’s. I don’t have the answers. I would suggest workouts. I told him that it wasn’t magic. Joe did a long run every Sunday, so in cross country during the week he needed a hill workout and a speed workout. Other than that, I told Mike that Joe just needed to run, and we should keep the training simple, and the talent would take over. That is what happened with Joe. When he was a senior in track season, I would put pencil to paper on a couple of workouts each week and tell Mike, ‘Totally change them if you want, but here is what I would do if I were coaching Joe. But whatever you do, I’m fine with it.’ Mike kept very good logs of the runners he coached over the years and knew what worked and what didn’t. Jan and I looked at ourselves as advisors and not as coaches. There is a significant difference, because an advisor isn’t coaching the athletes, just making suggestions. If they use them, it’s fine and if they don’t, that’s okay too. If I had been coaching Joe, I couldn’t have done as good a job as Mike did because I was his parent.
GCR: Can you tell us a bit about Joe’s growth as a runner in college and beyond and whether you were involved in discussions about his training with Coach Wetmore and Coach Ritz?
BK When Joe got very good in college, it was different because he was a thousand miles away. But it was interesting how Joe would call at least once a week and tell me about an interval workout or hill workout he ran or a race. They didn’t race much at Colorado because they did time trails. But Joe wanted feedback and I would give it to him. I did tell Joe that I wasn’t going to get in between him and Coach Wetmore. In my opinion, Mark Wetmore was the best college coach in the country. Joe picked Coach Wetmore and he loved Coach Wetmore. Mark made it very clear that he didn’t want parents calling him to ask why their child wasn’t running in some race or why they did a particular workout. And we were not going to be those kinds of parents. The only time Mark ever came up to us was the fourth year and the team was racing at Notre Dame on this table flat, eight-kilometer course. He said, ‘I’ve got a question. Is Joe having a fun time?’ Jan looked at him and said, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ I said, ‘Joe is having a wonderful time. He loves his teammates, loves the university and you are the best coach in the world.’ When we asked why he asked us that about Joe, Mark said, ‘He’s never laughing, smiling and goofing around like the other kids do. He is so serious every workout and every race.’ We wondered aloud if that was a problem. He said, ‘It’s not how most of the runners are. They prank each other. They like to screw around. Joe never does that, so we just wanted to know if he’s having an enjoyable time.’ I told Mark, ‘Don’t even question that. On a scale of one to ten, Joe’s at about a seventeen. He wouldn’t trade it for anything and that’s just the way Joe is.’ Jan said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to remember that Barney and I were very serious about our running and still are. Even though we aren’t racing like we used to, the attitude is there, and we are serious about it, and we have been mentoring our kids that, if you want to be the best, you must do certain things. If they do, then fine, and if they decide not to, that’s okay too.’ The attitude got mentored into Joe from us. His professional coach, Dathan Ritzenhein, just loves Joe. He told me after the first three months coaching Joe, ‘That kid’s going to be setting American Records in the next year to year-and-a-half. We just have to keep him healthy.’
GCR: There is one more story I’d like you to relate about Joe and that is how he didn’t initially receive a full scholarship to Colorado and how that changed into a full ride.
BK When Joe was at Colorado the first year, we thought he should have received a full scholarship, but Coach Mark Wetmore said they awarded very few full scholarships because there weren’t many. He said, ‘Yes, Joe is a good runner since he ran a 4:04 mile. I wish I could give him more, but I can’t.’ Joe got a forty percent scholarship the first year. I called Rod DeHaven, who was coaching at South Dakota State and said, ‘Rod, if Joe went to SDSU, would he get a full ride?’ Rod said, ‘I would give him a full ride. I’d have a cold twelve-pack of beer on a silver platter every day. I would do everything I could for him. That’s how good he is.’ But he said, ‘I’m not going to do that because I only have three scholarships to award. But, more importantly, it would be no good for Joe. I’ve got three questions to ask you and that will provide your answer. Does Joe like the University of Colorado?’ ‘Yes, he loves it, the campus, everything.’ ‘Does he like the people on his cross country and track team, more specifically the distance runners from the half mile up that he trains with?’ I said, ‘They’re his best friends. That’s who he hangs around with all the time.’ ‘What about the coaching? Does he like the coaching?’ I said, ‘He absolutely loves it. He thinks Wetmore is God and Billy sits at his right side. I hear nothing but positives.’ So, Rod says, ‘Then I don’t care if you have to pay full tuition and room and board for four years, which would be excellent value for you. There is not a better place Joe could be in the country. If Joe didn’t like one of those three aspects, I would have recommended either Stanford or Michigan. After that, good luck. There are some good coaches, but they may be thinking that they will get a fifty-thousand-dollar bonus if they win conference. That becomes their carrot rather than getting the kids to improve and be better.’ Wetmore, more than one time, would meet with his cross-country runners and say, ‘I heard some grumbling about the workout yesterday or we’re not doing this or not doing that. To begin with, I’m the coach. I decide what you’re going to do every day. If you don’t like it, you can transfer anyplace. I’ll sign a letter and you can go to any school you want to.’ I respected him for that. Nobody ever left because they all respected him. Joe went in to speak with him his second year at Colorado and said, ‘Coach, I’m beating everybody on the team, and some have full rides.’ There were three kids from southern California who received full rides. They had run 4:03, 4:06 and 4:09 in high school. They didn’t have Joe’s credentials, but Coach Wetmore said, ‘Joe, there are other factors involved here. Some of the funds are coming from other scholarship buckets, not track or cross-country money. You are a better runner than them, but life isn’t fair. It isn’t a level playing field. Go to Conference in cross-country, indoor track or outdoor track. If you are in the top three, you will get a significant increase in your scholarship. If you go to nationals and come in the top three in any event, you will have a full ride.’ Joe said, ‘Okay. Good.’ He walked out and that spring got fourth in the 5,000 meters at Pac-12s. One of the scholarship cross-country athletes was missing practices and then got a gun and was threatening a young woman who wouldn’t date him anymore. Coach Wetmore dismissed him from the team and the Dean expelled him from school. Then Coach Wetmore called in John Dressell and Joe and upped their scholarships to full scholarships for four years with the newfound funds. Coach also said, ‘If you do well, you’ll have that scholarship s fifth year.’ They both ran well and got that fifth year. John even stayed a sixth year because of the covid rules, though Joe left after five years.
GCR: HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGIATE RACING AND TRAINING When you first began competitive running, how did it go and what did your coach do to help you as a novice runner?
BK That fall after dad sold the farm I ran at Ellsworth High School, and I was the number two runner on the team right away. We didn’t have much of a team, but the coach was Kirby Seinze who was a very successful high school wrestling coach. In later years, he comes up again because he and the principal of my junior high school were referees during track meets and cross country meets. That is what they did in their spare time after school. That went all the way through college for me and was interesting in another perspective because I had referees that were also cheering for me. They had to be very careful about that. I started out with no ambition other than to go out and try to make the team. We didn’t run much as a junior in high school. I’m going to guess we ran fifteen miles a week. We ran a few cross-country meets. I do remember running the Sectional meet that year and I don’t know what place I got, probably fiftieth. I certainly wasn’t in the top runners. I remember the guy who won the race was John Chartran, and he was a half-mile ahead at the end of the race which was two point two miles. I ended up going to college in Menomonie at Wisconsin-Stout where he went and so he ended up being not only one of my best friends, but also a training partner. He won the State cross-country title that year and he won the mile. He was a 4:28 miler in high school. I didn’t meet him again until I got to college. When my family sold the farm, my dad took a position in Reedsburg, Wisconsin which was down by the Wisconsin Dells, so we moved down there. We built a house in town, and I became a city kid. I decided I would go out for track down there. We had very, very inadequate coaching. The wrestling coach was the track coach, and he would have us run down to the middle school, which was a mile away. We would run a lap around the track, and he wanted us to go as hard as we could. Then we would run back to the high school, shower up and that was our workout. We did that each day. Then we would run a couple meets a week and that is how we got in shape. I ran the mile and two-mile.
GCR: By your senior year in high school, had your training and racing improved to higher levels?
BK My senior year I ran cross-country at Reedsburg and was their number one runner. But again, I didn’t have great coaching, it was inadequate, but it is what it is. I got into track season with the same coach, and we did the same workout running down to the middle school. And so, when I got done with high school, my PR in the mile was 4:56 and my two-mile time was 10:26.
GCR: Were you hopeful of running in college and how did that go initially?
BK I had no idea when I graduated from high school where I was going to go to college. My dad wanted me to go to vocational school. But I wanted to go to a four-year school so I could run cross-country and track. I knew that but, looking back I didn’t have many credentials. I didn’t have much on paper. However, I thought that 4:56 mile was like a 3:56. I thought that was very impressive. My dad dropped off five of us the same weekend in Menomonie for college. I had a twin sister, two identical twin sisters that were fourteen months older than us and a sister that was eighteen months younger than me. So, dad dropped us all off to college the same day. He loaded us up in the car and dropped us off one at a time. I had never been to Menomonie and visited Wisconsin-Stout. I was dropped off the freeway and hoofed it for about three miles until I found the college. I had been accepted, now I had an assigned dorm to live in and I found it. The semester’s classes had already started, so I had to get registered for classes. After I got that done the first day, I decided I was going to go down to the field house and see if I could get on the cross-country team. I met the coach and he introduced himself to me and I to him. He said, ‘I don’t know you and you’re going to have to tell me a bit about yourself. Just tell me what your mile PR was in high school. That tells me a lot.’ I said, ‘I ran a 4:56 mile.’ I thought he was impressed. But he said, ‘We have girls on the team who can run almost that fast.’ Since I had just fallen off the turnip wagon, I said, ‘Wow! You have some impressive girl runners.’ What he told me was that he had about sixteen guys running and, if I wanted, I could come out and he would give me a t-shirt and shorts. Then he said, ‘But you’re going to have to work a bit. You’ll have to clean up the locker room.’ I was going to be the manager for the cross-country team and, as a benefit, I would get a t-shirt and shorts and train with the team. But I had to come down before practice for half an hour and hand out the clean shirts and shorts to the runners. Afterward, I would have to clean up the locker room. I thought that was fine – that was great.
GCR: Now that you were training with a college team, did you start to make some strides forward in your racing and position on the team?
BK I trained with the team the first couple weeks. We had our first intrasquad meet and I think I finished fourteenth out of seventeen on the team. Of course, I didn’t make varsity. Our first meet was a home meet the following week, and the coach was going to run everybody. I didn’t get a uniform because he ran ten guys on varsity. When I ran that first meet that I recall was a triangular meet, I finished in seventh place on our team. Afterwards, he called me into his office. I thought, ‘Oh. Oh – he’s going to kick me off the team.’ I had heard how in the first couple weeks football coaches would cut people and I thought I was going to get cut. He said, ‘no, you’re going to be on the varsity team next week when we run, and you will get a uniform. And you won’t have to clean up the locker room. We will have someone else do that.’ I told him I could do it, but he told me ‘No’ since I was going to be a varsity runner and asked me if I knew what that meant. I told him I didn’t, and he said I got a uniform and sweats and, when we traveled, we stayed in a hotel and don’t pay for anything. I thought this was like dying and going to heaven.
GCR: Were you a bit overwhelmed as the season started or did you jump in and run strong right away?
BK The first meet we ran, I ran as a varsity runner. I don’t even remember the meet we ran, but I finished third on the team. Again, coach called me into his office after we got home from the meet and he said, ‘You are doing very well. You are going to be on the varsity team all season. I’ve seen enough.’ The guy that was in front of me was a wrestler that had gotten second in the State cross-country meet in high school and was a year older than me as was John Chartran who had won at State. I had these two guys who were tops in the State and I was third runner, so I was doing okay.
GCR: Were you able to train with the top two runners and use them to pull you along?
BK The guy that I beat out for seventh position a couple of weeks before took me under his wing. I did a lot of training with him because I couldn’t keep up with the top two guys. We did complete all the workouts and he wanted to ensure me that I was going to improve a lot during the season just by staying with it and running the best I could. That got me started. At the end of the season, I was given a little trophy as ‘Most Improved Runner’ and I thought, ‘This is great.’
GCR: After such a great cross-country season, did your performances continue your freshman track season?
BK Moving forward to the start of the track season, I went down to meet the track coach. I didn’t know him, and he was also a football coach. I heard the same thing, ‘What was your mile time in high school?’ I told him and he said, ‘We’ve got a lot of guys out for the team. I’ll give you a t-shirt and shorts, but you’re going to have to clean up the locker room before and after practice. That was fine with me, and I could do that. And, of course, that’s what I did. Our number one runner, John Chartran, came to me, and he said, ‘Did you tell the track coach that you were the number three runner on the cross-country team?’ I hadn’t because he never asked. John said, ‘I guess he will find out when we have the intrasquad meet.’ It was coming up the week after we started practice. There was a full schedule of events at the intrasquad meet and the coach had me in the mile and two-mile. I got second in the mile around a 4:45. Before the two-mile, the guy that was State champion in the mile said, ‘I don’t want to run the two-mile, so I’m going to let you win so I can run the half mile. What will happen indoors is coach will put you in the mile and two-mile and me in the mile and half mile. The other guys will fall in, you are going to get better, they aren’t as good as you and don’t worry about it.’ And that’s the way it transpired. At the end of the season, coach ran me in the indoor conference meet, and I was sixth in the mile in 4:26. So, I had improved quite a bit. In the two-mile I ended up at 9:40, which wasn’t anything impressive but, from where I was, was a good improvement.
GCR: Now that you had a collegiate season under your belt, did your coach have a good summer training plan to get you ready for cross country season? How much improvement did you gain your sophomore season?
BK Nobody gave us a training program, but I decided that summer that I was going to run five miles a day so that when cross-country started in the fall I would be in good shape. We started the season and the two guys who were ahead of me the season before hadn’t trained in the summer. They were told they should rest. That didn’t sound like a recipe to get better. I wasn’t very smart about running, but I figured if I ran in the summer I would get better, and I did. I was running with these guys in practice, and I was the number two or number three runner. Occasionally I was the first runner and coach got excited about that. Our times weren’t too fast though, about 27:30 for five miles.
GCR: With your improvement in cross country and the strength you gained, did your times drop quickly your sophomore track season?
BK When I got to track season, I ran a 4:24 mile and a 9:26 two-mile at the first invitational meet. The coach was excited about those races. I stayed with those two events and continued to train.
GCR: Can you relate the mixed emotions of your junior year where you were racing well but sustained a big injury?
BK Before my junior year I trained harder in the summer. I was running about eight to ten miles daily. I didn’t like racing cross-country. I hated it, but I knew the training would make me much better during track season. Instead of finishing in the middle of races like the year before in thirtieth or fiftieth place, I was finishing in the top ten at invitational meets. People noticed, and I became the number one runner on the cross-country team. In track season that year I was running well until I broke my foot and that took me out for the whole season.
GCR: You were a young man of small stature in high school. How did growth and physical maturity help you in college?
BK When I started high school, I was four feet, ten inches tall and I weighed eighty-nine pounds. When I graduated from high school and started college, I was only seventeen years old. I didn’t notice much except I wasn’t as mature as some other kids. I was very short. When I graduated from high school, I was five feet, seven inches and I weighed 112 to 118 pounds because I wrestled at 112 and 120 pounds. I grew in college to about five feet, ten inches and was up to 140 or 145 pounds during my senior year. I was starting to mature, and I got better.
GCR: Your senior year you were ready to race strong in cross country. What were highlights of the early season meets?
BK My senior year in college we had a couple younger guys that were very good. I was still the number one runner on the cross-country team but, because I could race any distance on the track from the half-mile up to six miles, the coach would have me run the three-mile and six-mile at every big track meet so I could score points for the team. That is what he was interested in. I remember when we came back from one cross-country meet my senior year where I had set a PR and a school record, running about 24:40 for five miles. My teammate, who was a year younger than me, ran 24:46. We were ranked second and third in the conference behind Jimmy Drews who never lost a conference race in college in cross-country or track for four years, which was quite a feat. My senior year I felt confident that I could challenge him. I was getting better and better each meet.
GCR: I’m not going to spill the beans, but can you tell us about how your cross-country season got derailed after that school record and personal best performance?
BK It was about a five-hour drive home to Menomonie from Oshkosh after that meet and we got home about nine o’clock that night. My friend, Bill Lemsky, called me and we went out to have a couple of beers. He said, ‘You are never going to guess what they have going on up in Minneapolis!’ He told me there was a marathon and I didn’t know what that was. ‘It’s a road race for 26.2 miles.’ I said, ‘So.’ And he responded, ‘Barney, the winner gets a trophy that is three feet tall.’ I said, ‘three feet?’ and he said, ‘I kid you not.’ He suggested that we go up and run the race and he thought we would do very well. We always ran 15 to 17 miles every Sunday anyway so we thought we would go up and run the marathon. We got up at five o’clock in the morning and drove to run the City of Lakes Marathon that was a six-mile loop we ran four times with a couple of miles added on to the course. We started out under five minutes the first mile because that was what we were used to in cross country. We went through the mile in about 4:55 and two miles in about ten minutes. Then we started getting anaerobic and slowed up a bit. A guy passed us and a couple more guys passed us. We ran a couple loops, and my friend was a good quarter mile ahead of me. I kept running and at fifteen and a half miles he was sitting down next to the road with his shoes off. He had big blisters on his heels. He said, ‘I’m going to have to drop out, but you keep going. You’re doing fine and are in about sixth place. I passed a few more people and ended up in third place in 2:42. I got a trophy that wasn’t three feet tall, but the third-place trophy was about two feet tall. It was bigger than anything I’d ever won. We drove back to Menomonie and the next day I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t move. I called my friend and he said, I feel fine, but I’ll have to tell coach I can’t run for a couple of days because I have blisters.’ I said, ‘Bill, I can barely walk.’ Boy oh boy I was sore in my legs. Bill figured we would go down to practice and usually on Monday the workout wasn’t too hard. Also, we had just run this big race and would run the Conference meet the next Saturday.
GCR: How did it go at practice, what did your coach have to say about you running the marathon, and did you suffer at the Conference meet?
BK We got down to practice at three o’clock and coach looks at me and says, ‘What happened to you? You ran great on Saturday. What did you guys do on Sunday? Didn’t you go out and do your usual run?’ I said, ‘No coach. Bill saw there was this marathon up in the twin cities and we went up and ran it.’ He said, ‘You did what?’ I was excited and said, ‘I finished and got third place.’ I thought he would be excited too, but he said, ‘So that’s why you can’t run. You are very sore. Get your butt back to the dorm and I don’t want to see you until Wednesday. Sit in hot water and stretch. Do no running. Lemsky get in my office. I want to talk to you. What do you think you were doing?’ Bill said,’ I figured we could do pretty good, and we always do a long run.’ Coach said, ‘But you don’t run twenty-six miles. You guys were out there racing. Never do this again.’ I came back on Wednesday and did a little two or three mile run and was still sore. Coach told me to keep stretching to get ready for Conference in three days. Anyway, I ran Conference and ended up getting eighth place. Bill finished behind me in tenth place and coach wasn’t very happy. The week after that was the NAIA Region meet to make Nationals and we had to make the top twelve.
GCR: How did you end up racing at the NAIA Region meet and Nationals?
BK There were many teams from Wisconsin at the NAIA Region meet, including some that weren’t in the WIAC, which was the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. That next week I was still tired but was feeling better. Drews finished first as he always did. I was back in about fortieth place and had a side stitch. The last mile I went by one of my track teammates who had sort of a funny voice and he called out, ‘Klecker, get your ass in gear or you aren’t going to make Nationals!’ So, I woke up and started running as hard as I could. I ran the last mile in about 4:35 and moved up to eighth place. Bill and I both went to Nationals where I was about 43rd place and Bill was right behind me in 45th or 46th place. He was ahead of me most of the way. The only reason I placed as high as I did was because I was thinking, ‘I’m the number one runner. If he’s up there, I’m not running hard enough.’ We were green racers. We didn’t know how to race. At the start, we went out with the leaders in about 4:40 at Nationals. We got anaerobic and at three miles everyone was going by us. About the fifth mile we would recover, sprint the last half mile, and get as high as we could.
GCR: You mentioned that during your four years at Stout, you raced from the 880, mile up to the 6-mile. What was the lead up to your placing at Nationals?
BK I ran the 1,000 yards at an indoor meet against Chartran, who was a good half-miler with a time of 1:53. The other best half-miler in the conference ran for Stevens Point. They came to my school, and we ran a small meet. Coach Kamish decided we would run the 1,000 yards instead of the half mile on the meet schedule. He thought it would be good for me to run with those two guys. I was scared. You can’t believe how scared I was because my best half mile was a 2:04 or 2:03. I had run it a couple times without very impressive results. I was in the inside lane and John was in the second lane. Tresbiatowski was in lane three and there were a total of seven or eight guys in the race. Our indoor track at Stout was a tenth of a mile cement track. We would kind of slide around when we went through the corners. We had to wear flats and I knew I had to go as hard as I could. I was used to the sliding in the turns because that is what I did for four years while I did intervals. I took off and got the lead. I was running scared from the start and went through the quarter in fifty-seven or fifty-eight seconds. I didn’t look back. I kept going and I could feel myself tying up. I knew that everybody ties up in the half, so I had to keep it up. I ran the same time as when I got sixth place at indoor nationals. It was a two sixteen point something. John was a couple seconds back with Tresbiatowski ahead of him barely. Coach Kamish couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘You went through the half mile in 1:56 or so. Where did you get that speed?’ I told him that over Christmas break we didn’t have an indoor track down in Reedsburg so I would sprint up this hill that was about a quarter long. I would sprint up as hard as I could go and then jog back down to the bottom and get a two- or three-minutes rest. I would turn around and do it again three or four times. Three days later I would go to this straightaway we had on a sidewalk that was about two hundred yards long and sprint as hard as I could go. I would jog back and sprint again. I did that about ten times. Without knowing it, I was prepping myself well for the indoor 1,000 races. Most of the guys didn’t do intervals over Christmas break. They did over distance.
GCR: Was your 1973 NAIA Indoors 1,000 meters sixth place and two-mile second place your top college track highlight?
BK The indoor Nationals was around January 20th each year. I was already in good shape. Nationals were in Kansas City on a board track. It was around seven-and-a-half laps for 1,000 meters. Everyone else wore spikes, but I wore flats. I didn’t know how to race in spikes. In the qualifying trials, I was in last place but was passing people the last three laps as they were tying up. I made the finals and got sixth place. In the Conference finals, Coach Kamish wanted to treat me, so he bought me a new pair of spikes that I could wear in my races. I had never trained in them. I ran the 1,000 and got beat by two guys because I tied up in the spikes. That was ten minutes before the two-mile. I took off my spikes and put my flats on and was sitting on a chair in lane one when the referee was explaining to the runners that it was two miles and would be sixteen laps. There were about twenty of us in the race. He asked me why I was sitting down, and I told him I was very tired from the 1,000. I stood up and my teammates took the chair away. The first mile I was so tired that I ran 4:46 or so. I wasn’t last place, but close to it. Then I started recovering and I ended up running about two flat my last half mile. I caught Drews, but I did not beat him. He beat me by a second or so though we had run side by side most of the last quarter. I ran 9:03 and he ran 9:02. It was another race that registered in my mind that this wasn’t World Class, but it was a good time. I ran a 4:17 mile indoors, but only ran it once or twice. I was usually put in the two-mile. My college friendship I had with Bill Lemsky, who was a year younger than me, made him like my coach because he had very good coaching in high school and said that we weren’t training hard enough. He said we had to train eighty to one hundred miles a week in the summer.
GCR: MARATHON AND ULTRAMARATHON RACING You mentioned running the City of Lakes Marathon as a novice when you were in college. What are highlights of the 1977 City of Lakes/Twin Cities Marathon when you returned and won in 2:21:02?
BK I was down in the twin cities visiting with my younger brother who had come into town. I had no intention of running the marathon. I was doing training at Long Prairie and coaching track and cross country. I would go on a fifteen to twenty mile long run every Sunday. When I say I didn’t plan on running, I didn’t until five minutes before the start of the race. I filled out an application and paid my entry fee. Garry Bjorklund and Mike Slack had entered the race and they were running crazy miles to get ready for marathons. They had decided to move up from shorter distances and to do marathons. Garry was moving up from the 10,000 meters. Mike was a premier miler and 1,500-meter runner. They were planning to race the roads and were in a league by themselves. There was no thought in advance. I just jumped in with my number and started running. As we were going around the lakes a couple times in that figure eight, I started moving up and moving up. After about eighteen miles I heard that Mike Slack had dropped out. Someone said, ‘You’re in second place and Bjorklund is only about a quarter mile in front of you.’ I knew there was no way I was going to catch him, so, if I could hold on to second place, that would be very good. When I got up to twenty-two or twenty-three miles, apparently he had pulled out of the race. I was told I was leading and then I won the race. First prize was a plane ticket to run the Boston Marathon the next April.
GCR: How exciting was it to run the 1978 Boston Marathon with the strong competition, great crowd support and long history as you finished in 36th place in 2:20:29?
BK It was a great city and after winning at the City of Lakes, this is when I started harder training.
GCR: Later that year you won the 1978 Grandma’s Marathon in 2:18:42, and that has become a very strong and fast marathon. What was the competition like that day?
BK That day legitimized my thinking that now I was a sub-2:20 marathoner any time I go out to race. I concentrated after that on trying to improve and trying to get that time under 2:15. For the next several marathons, I would go out at five-minute mile pace, reach ten miles in fifty minutes, and then hit the wall. I ended up running 2:17 to 2:23 so often and had a lot of 2:20 to 2:23 marathons. Most of them were because I went out fast, didn’t run smart, and hit the wall.
GCR: You returned to the Boston Marathon three years later in 1981 and finished 28th in 2:16:02. How did this compare to your first time in Boston three years earlier?
BK This time was different because in 1981 I was running 120 miles a week and doing very serious track workouts where I would do ten times a mile in 4:50 with a 200-meter jog. I was in very good shape. I didn’t know how good. When the race started, a mistake I made was that I was nervous, was sipping on water, and drank too much. After the race started and the gun went off, I don’t remember the first three miles. I do remember looking next to my side and Bill Rodgers was running next to me. He ended up finishing third, just behind Craig Virgin and a minute or so behind Toshiheko Seko, who won. When I was running early in the race, my first mile was 4:45. I got a side stitch later in the race and got into what I call a survival trot. I remember going up Heartbreak Hill and they told me what position I was in, and it wasn’t good. Just before the top of the hill, I stepped in a pothole, my body jerked, and the side stich went away. That felt good and I could finally breathe. I wasn’t tired and a couple guys who ran by me were saying, ‘Don’t worry about that guy. He isn’t even sweating.’ They thought I had hit the wall, but I wasn’t sweating because I wasn’t working. I started running I suppose 4:50 mile pace and I ran the last 10k in about thirty minutes. If I had another mile, I would have placed much higher because the runners in front of me were close and I had a legitimate shot since my first twenty miles were easy.
GCR: What do you recall of the 1981 Grandma’s Marathon where your eighth-place finish in 2:15:20 was your all-time personal best and was only sixty days after your great last 10k in Boston?
BK That amount of time never bothered me. Sixty days between marathons was a lot for me. There were years that I would run three competitive marathons in thirteen days. The third one would get tough, but I would get faster in each one. I ran Sioux Falls once in 2:21 or 2:22. A week later I ran Twin Cities in that 2:20 area. A week later was the Ultimate Runner in Jackson, Michigan and that was one of the fun events where I ever competed. We race five events in one day with an hour between each event. We started out with a 10k, then an all-out quarter mile, then one hundred meters and a mile. In between there was an area in the gym to rest and to eat or drink. I never ate anything, but I did take fluids. There was a two-hour break after the mile, and we finished running a marathon. Don Kardong and Jeff Galloway ran it, and they were in very good shape. I was pushing these guys. I figured they may beat me in the quarter mile and mile but, at the end of the day, they had to run a marathon.
GCR: I do have records that show where you won in Sioux Falls, seven days later you ran Twin Cities in 2:20 and I do have your Ultimate Runner 10k results of 31:58 for third place and a 2:42 marathon to win. It doesn’t list the other three events. I knew you ran two races that day but didn’t realize you ran a set of five races.
BK They only let about a hundred people into the Ultimate Runner. They had legitimate runners. They had sub-four-minute milers. They had guys who ran 10ks in the twenty-sevens. And they had good marathoners. It was very neat because they used scoring tables like in the decathlon where we received points for each event. After each race they would post who was first, second, third and so on. The first year, when I got to the marathon, I was in eighth or ninth place and figured I would have to run a 2:20 marathon to win the event. And I was going after the win. I wasn’t aiming for second or third place. I was on 2:20 marathon pace and went through the half marathon in 1:10. The only problem was thirteen miles felt like twenty miles in a marathon. I had a voice in my mind saying, ‘If thirteen miles feels like twenty miles, what is twenty miles going to feel like?’ I started slowing up a bit. Another thing is that I never took fluids in marathons, and I was getting very thirsty. It was very humid that day, so I took some water. I got a side stitch again and was holding on. I slowed up the last few miles but was pushing hard because I knew the result came down to points. It wasn’t just that I had to win the marathon, it came down to how many points I scored and how that affected the tally. It was one of the best events that could have become a world class event like triathlons, but somebody needed to get a sponsor and grow it. The race organizers did a wonderful job. I competed there twice. The second year I ran, Alan Page, the former Minnesota Viking football star, called me up for advice because he was going to compete in a marathon. I told him to just shuffle along in the marathon and to drink his fluids. He thought the Ultimate Runner sounded like a great race. He finished the race.
GCR: Another unusual race where you competed was the Snowshoe race of eighty-three miles from Superior to Rice Lake over three days that you did multiple time including winning in 1979 while averaging an 8:15 mile pace to become World Champion in Snowshoeing. It seems unusual, but is it natural cross-training for ultramarathon running?
BK It is very good for everyone racing in track events even down to the half mile. What happened is that I was down in Menomonie at Stout after finishing my master’s degree and was working on a specialist certificate. I ran into this six-foot, two inch and two hundred fifty-pound football player who had turned himself into a marathon runner and ultramarathon runner. His name was Bill Lindsay and he lived in Elk Mound. He was doing a seminar on snowshoeing and told me I should try it. He told me about the snowshoe race that finished in Rice Lake and how you snowshoed thirty-six or thirty-eight miles the first day. He told me the next day everyone started together, and they accumulated your time from each of the three days. The second day was twenty miles over some monster hills. The last day was a 26.2-mile marathon on snowshoes. I decided I would train a couple of days a week and do the race. I would do five miles on snowshoes, and, on the weekend, I would run eighteen to twenty miles on snowshoes to get used to the longer distances I would face in the race. I did that a few times and I won the race the first year which brought me a bunch of recognition. The second year I won it again. The third and fourth year I came in second in that race. The last two years I was on a job in Atlanta, Georgia without snow to train. I would take my snowshoes out on a golf course and run three or four miles on grass a couple times each week. That was my training. I competed well because I was in good shape. I thought I could win but the guy who beat me those times was a cross-country runner I had coached when I was doing graduate work at Stout. He was a high school football running back turned runner when he went to college. He was five foot, seven inches and weighed about a hundred seventy-five pounds. After training with me for a couple of years at Stout, he got down to 155 pounds, which was a good running weight for him. He was stocky with strong legs, started running ultras and beat me those last two years. It was a prize money race, they had premiums each day for the winner, and it was fun. After that first day, we went out and celebrated a bit. I’m not going to lie – the next day I woke up and could hardly move. It was five o’clock in the morning. I thought, ‘You’re going to put snowshoes on and go twenty miles?’ I hurt so bad. The first thing I did was I got some ibuprophen out of my bag and took four of them. Then I sat in a hot tub of water for twenty minutes. I got up, started walking around, and the pain began to go away. I put my snowshoes on at the hotel and I ran up and down the hallway a bit. I felt pretty good. The second leg started at 7:30 in the morning. I went down to the start and there were about a hundred fifty in the race. People were showing up and it looked like a war zone with runners limping around and trying to get ready. Some of them came up to me and asked, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I feel great! I can’t wait to get started!’ That was to psyche out everyone. We got going from the town of Spooner and the first mile was up this long hill that was about a three to four percent grade for well over half a mile. I thought, ‘I’m going to take off, go as hard as I can to the top of the hill, get over the hill, and then I can let up some as I should have a two-hundred-yard lead.’ Of course, I did. Then I cruised the rest of the way, and I did the same thing on the third day. I used it as an advantage the next year. Since I had won the race once by over two hours, the second year was the same. The third year I wasn’t in shape to snowshoe and Joel got me. I was close to him on the third day but, once he got ahead of me, I couldn’t catch him, and he beat me by a few minutes. We were close competitors.
GCR: That’s a very cool story. Another is when you won the City of Lakes Marathon for the second time in 1979 in 2:19:26. What are high points of the bigger story of you meeting Janice and starting down a new pathway in life?
BK Jan and I are both getting foggy memories. I remember how I got Jan’s phone number because her mother gave it to me. But her mother couldn’t remember that. Jan wouldn’t believe that her mother would give me a picture and the phone number of her daughter and say, ‘She’s going to school down at the U. You ought to call her up and you guy should go out for a run sometime.’ That is what happened. I said, ‘Jan, do you think I made this up? Do you think I was looking for attractive girls at the race? I’m telling you the truth, so it is what it is.’
GCR: In 1980 you didn’t register for the City of Lakes Marathon but ran along with Jan for portions of the race. Is there a story behind that decision?
BK I went down to watch the race because I had just won the AMJA Ultramarathon in Chicago. I hopped in the race to help Jan as other runners were so close to her. I told the other runners to stay away from her and to give her some room. There was one guy who would cut in front of Jan, then she would pass him, he would catch up again and cut her off another time. After this happened a few times, I told him, ‘Either run fifty yards ahead of her or fifty yards behind her. But you’re not going to run beside her and cut her off. Otherwise, it will be the last time you do it.’ So, he moved over and was a non-issue. One advantage I had with marathon runners is I was a little bigger. Also, I could be very intimidating. I wanted Jan to run well.
GCR: We didn’t talk about the details of that AMJA Ultramarathon 50-miler. Can you take us through that loop course in Chicago where you were out at a very fast pace?
BK I remember some of the splits. The first ten miles was in 56 minutes and the second ten miles in about 57 minutes. I didn’t take any water. I don’t drink during marathons and, since it was a cool day, I didn’t feel like I needed any water. The next two ten-mile legs were about 58 and 59 minutes. After forty miles, around forty-two miles, I was very thirsty. Nole Natewood, who was the race director, had called an ambulance because he was afraid, I was going down. He was a heart doctor. They did have areas along the side to pick up a peanut butter sandwich, food bars, Gatorade or water. I just ran through and didn’t stop. But around forty-two miles I thought I needed something. I took a swallow or two of water. When I swallow, it is an ounce of water, so that was a couple of ounces. Within a few seconds, I had a side stitch. I was way under World Record pace and slowed to jog at about seven-minute per mile pace, but it didn’t go away. I thought if I stopped and walked fifty yards, relaxed, breathed deep and massaged my side it would go away, but it didn’t help. I had the lead bike in front of me. People were cheering and I was trying to run strong again. I got to forty-five miles and was slowing up big time. I thought, ‘I had a World Record but it’s not going to happen.’ I ran along, jogging and walking, jogging. Jan had a Diet Dr. Pepper, and I needed a drink, so I took a couple swigs. The same thing happened with a cramp on the other side, so now I had a cramp on two sides. I was walking and jogging slowly and guess I was running eight-minute miles. I don’t know because I don’t run that slow. I got to forty-nine miles, and someone read off my time. I needed a 5:00 or 5:05 mile for a World Record. I decided to try and run five-minute pace and if I pulled both sides, so be it. But I was not going to cross the finish line whining about a side ache and miss a World Record by twenty or thirty seconds or a minute. That’s what I did. I kind of feel sorry for the cyclist because I’m sure I was breathing very loudly for that mile. But I did everything I could to keep running fast. I crossed the finish line. Noel ran up to me and said, ‘You set a World Record.’ I said, ‘I’ve got to get back to the hotel and have some breakfast.’ I had eggs and bacon and orange juice and more orange juice. I just kept eating and drinking. That’s all I could think about doing.
GCR: What were similarities and differences the next year at the 1981 AMJA Ultramarathon in Chicago where you won again in 5:05:15?
BK It was a perfect day again. There was a runner in the race, Don Paul, that I had passed at Boston the year before. He was a writer from San Francisco and ran three seconds behind me in 2:16:04. He had also raced a 50k race in around 2:51. Don was a legitimate runner. He came up to me before the race and said, ‘Your record is going down today.’ He took off and was running sub-2:20 marathon pace. I decided not to let him get away, but to relax and run right behind him. That is what I did. I thought that, if he stayed on this pace and hit the wall, I would hit the wall too, but I’ve got more experience and can hold on longer than he can. At twenty-three miles he pulled aside and said, ‘I’ve strained my hamstring,’ and he dropped out. I thought to myself, ‘That son of a gun – I don’t think he had any intention of finishing.’ I slowed down and almost got caught by Brunerd Heindrich who ran about 5:10 that day. He knew I hit the wall and could see himself gaining on me because there was a loop on the course. I figured if it came down to a sprint, I could outkick him. Alex Ritell was also in the mix. The year before he was third in 5:10 or so. I won the race, but it was ugly.
GCR: At the shorter 50k distance, you had wins in November 1981 in Tucson on the track in 2:52:47, in December 1981 in Peoria in 2:57:13 and then in Tallahassee back-to-back in 1982 and 1983 in 2:51:53 and 2:53:45. Did you like the 50k distance where you must have been going through the marathon in 2:23 to 2;25 to run those low-2:50s times for 50k?
BK The distance was like a marathon. That first 50k was on the track and I did quite a bit of training on the track. I ran repeat 200s and 400s at the University of Minnesota on their indoor track and loved that workout. I didn’t do long intervals. I did short intervals. I went down to Tucson with the idea that I could set the World Record for 50k on the track, and I knew I was in shape to do that. I didn’t realize that Tucson, Arizona was about 2,500 feet above sea level. The race director was a thorough statistician. I asked him if they could start the race a half hour earlier in the morning because I noticed that when it was about 9:30 the sun would come up over the mountains and the temperature would climb from fifty degrees to eighty degrees in five minutes or less. Also, on a track in the sun, runners get very hot. But they wouldn’t consider changing the start time. I tried very hard to get them to change it, but they wouldn’t so I decided not to think about it anymore. I got on the track and started running eighty second quarter miles. It felt very good. I thought that if I stayed on that pace, it would be a 2:20 marathon and I could hang onto that pace. There were four other runners, and I would gain a hundred yards on them every lap. Every fourth lap, I lapped them. I was like a clock and stayed on that pace for twenty-eight miles. Then the sun came up over the mountains and it seemed like in a lap it was 83 or 85 degrees. Suddenly, I went from running 5:30 mile pace to 6:30 pace. I finished the race in a good time, but it wasn’t a World Record, and I was disappointed about that. In Tallahassee, the course had a nice, little two-and-a-half-mile loop that we ran fifteen or sixteen times. I like loop courses, but what I didn’t like was there were six ninety degree turns every lap and there was one turn where we ran out and did a 180 degree turn. I went to the race director and asked if there was any way he could change the course. ‘This is going to slow me up three or four minutes on these turns. But he couldn’t because it was certified. I decided to quit complaining and to get out there and race. The same thing happened as I was on a very good pace until about 26 or 27 miles and then the humidity caught up to us. I didn’t get the record, but Jan got it there one of those years. It was a legitimate record because it was a loop course.
GCR: On top of running those 50k races, you doubled the distance and won the 1982 Edmund Fitzgerald 100k in Duluth in 6:50:43 and repeated in 1986 in 6:53:20. What was it like stretching your racing out to 100k?
BK What prompted me to race 100k was that I had set the World Record for fifty miles and thought, ‘100k is only twelve miles further.’ I was going to try to run under six hours for 100k which had never been done. It is very seldom anyone got below seven hours and, if they did, it was 6:40 or 6:30 at the fastest. I knew I was in the best shape of my life. I went to Duluth ahead of time and told my friend, who was the General Manager of the Radisson, ‘We need to get the racecourse certified. If you fund the race for a thousand dollars and give us some hotel rooms for runners, I will attempt a World Record.’ On race day, he and his wife were there to watch. The race started at seven o’clock in the morning. It was dark. Unfortunately, the course was point-to-point, and we had a twenty-five miles per hour headwind. I was well under World Record pace for fifty-two miles. We ran past this fish house that sold salmon and I was out of energy. I had been pushing the wind by myself for fifty-two miles. I realized I had twelve-and-a-half miles to go and thought, ‘You have half a marathon left. You’re never going to make this.’ I slowed up and I walked about fifty yards. My friend came up to me with some smoked fish and a quart of milk. I ate the fish, drank the milk, and jogged the rest of the way. It was still a win and a good time. Even if I had had no wind and set a record, I don’t know if it would have counted since it was a point-to-point course. In the future, they made it into a relay race which was very popular for about twenty years. They would get about a hundred or a hundred and fifty teams with seven runners on a team and that turned out to be very good.
GCR: In 1984 and 1985 you raced many marathons and had a half dozen marathons in that 2:19 to 2:23 range where you mentioned you were so often before your second Edmund Fitzgerald 100 kilometer win in 1986 in 6:53:20. Were many of those marathons races where you were trying to break 2:15, went out hard and had a late-race fade?
BK I was 34 or 35 years old and started running races where I hadn’t been before. I got calls from many race directors to run in their events. I drove to South Dakota one time on the morning of the race and registered. They thanked me because they had been inviting me for several years. The race was in Brookings, South Dakota. It was raining and thirty-four degrees, just freezing cold. The weather that I like the least is rain and cold. I don’t mind the heat and humidity, but not rain and cold. Anyway, I ran the race and won it in 2:21 or 2:22. I didn’t break 2:20, so I didn’t get the bonus money. (Note – Barney ran 2:21:27) At that point I would sometimes run for the money to try to qualify for a bonus. But those races were all in the spirit of running races and events where I hadn’t been.
GCR: You and Jan raced in Switzerland. What were highlights of you racing the forty-two-mile race while Jan did the 10k?
BK The second year I went to Belgium to run their 100k race I got tripped up after about 35 or 40 miles from behind by a Swiss runner. They start the race at eight o’clock at night. By the time we got to forty miles it was midnight and was dark and raining. I got tripped and landed on cobblestone bricks right on my back. I was stunned. All I could think about was getting up and jogging. I ran another five miles but then I froze up and dropped out. I couldn’t run the rest of the 100k race like that. The runner felt so badly about tripping me. He was a mountain runner and called me after he got back to Switzerland. He told me they had a race called the Swiss Alpine Marathon that was forty-two miles long. They invited Jan and me to run the race and said the race organizers would take care of all our expenses and put us up in a hotel. Jan and I hadn’t been to Switzerland, so we decided to go there. She didn’t want to race forty-two miles, but they had a 20k race and 10k race, so she opted for the 10k race. We started the race in Dabose. The first 10k was on paths down to sea level and then we started climbing. The first year we went through the 10k in under thirty-one minutes which was faster than five-minute mile pace. I wasn’t leading at 10k because some of the runners went crazy and sprinted down the hill. I passed people toward the end of that first 10k and was in tenth or fifteenth place after 10k. The climb after that wasn’t serious, but we were climbing. The paths were about ten feet wide, and the surface was bark and very soft. It was easy to run on like a soft treadmill and the cushioning was so good. Once we got to the steep part of the mountain, we had to go over Cerdic Pass, which is ten thousand, five hundred feet above sea level. When we reached the top, there was snow up there. All this was new to me as I hadn’t run a mountain race. At the top of Cerdic Pass, I was in about ninetieth place and was just running to finish. The last ten miles were downhill, but not too steep, so we could run fast. As I was blowing by people, after five or six miles, I thought that I couldn’t be too far behind because nobody was running the five-minute miles I was running. I finished around the track in Dabose, which is a training site for Africans and Europeans who wish to train at altitude. It is about a mile high in altitude. I ran the last four hundred meters around the track and finished in tenth place, a few minutes behind the Swiss runner who won. All around the track they had beer tents with free beer we could drink. So, we just sat and drank beer for three hours while we waited on Jan. She won her race, and they flew her in a helicopter from her race to the top of Cerdic Pass. She was able to see me run over that stretch, though I didn’t know it at the time. Then they flew her down to the finish. I did it twice, but the second year I did the 20k race because I didn’t want to do the 42-miler again. She ran the 10k and we just went for the vacation. The people there were fantastic. Their races had around five thousand runners. The first year we were warming up on the track and a group of fifty Germans were pointing at us and laughing. I asked my Swiss friend why and he said ‘They are laughing at you because your legs are so skinny. When you run in the mountains, your legs get very big.’ I told him, ‘I noticed that. These guys legs are tree stumps!’ They were laughing because they didn’t think I would last long, or Jan would either.
GCR: You continued running strong in the late 1980s through 1992 though your times gradually got slower. Did you ever think about racing one hundred miles?
BK I did run Western States one time. I don’t remember what year it was, but it was in the mid-1980s. Jim King was running the Edmund Fitzgerald 100k and I beat him by a bunch. He is a great mountain runner and had done Western States in about sixteen hours. He won it during his racing career three times. He was a very nice guy, and, after the 100k, we were talking and he said, ‘Why don’t you come out and run Western States?’ I said I would, but I’m always afraid of races like that which may not be well-marked. He assured me that no one ever gets lost. The race director called me and said, ‘Jim King told me that you might be interested in running.’ I said, ‘Yes, but I’m concerned that I might get lost.’ He told me to just follow other runners, but I said, ‘I don’t usually follow. I lead. I must know where I’m going. Do you have the whole course lined so that I cannot get lost?’ ‘No, we put ribbons in the trees and bushes about everyone hundred yards and you can’t get lost.’ I didn’t like this, but they were paying all expenses, so my friend and I flew out there. We warmed up and went to the start of the race. It was at one of the ski resorts and the first few miles went up a fire road. Jim King was there, and he took off when they fired the starting gun. I took off running and decided to run behind Jim. The course had lots of left turns and right turns, and we got two miles up the first hill and were close to the top. Suddenly, I couldn’t see Jim. I got to the top and had to go right or left. The left turn was downhill so I decided that was easier and I should run that way since I didn’t know where I was going. I ran for forty-five minutes. There was nobody. No water stops. Nothing. So, I turned around and ran back up that hill. I was lost for about two hours. I got on the trail again and was running. I got to the first official checkpoint, which was after more than thirty miles. They said, ‘You’re doing great! You’re in eighty-sixth place.’ I ripped my number off and gave it to them. ‘I got lost for two hours. I was lied to.’ I was very upset. I got back to the car where my friend was and he said, ‘We’re going to go back to the hotel, sit by the pool and I have a case of beer. We are going to sit and drink it.’ So, that’s what we did.
GCR: What a tough end to the Western States 100-miler. Were the race organizers apologetic and did anything similar happen in any other races?
BK That was a lesson learned. Of course, they apologized profusely. From that day onward, I made it a point when I talked to race directors that, when a runner gets lost on their course, it is not the runner’s fault. It is the race director’s fault because they didn’t mark their course right. I also got lost in Charlotte one of the years I was running their marathon. I was leading the race after about twenty-three miles. Someone was pointing one way and I took that right turn and went down the road about a quarter mile. I didn’t see anything resembling a race, so I turned around and ran back. I saw runners heading toward me and knew I had been directed the wrong way. I got back on the course, and somebody said, ‘You’re in eighth place. You’re doing great! Keep going.’ I was quite mad because it was a prize money race. I thought, ‘You’ve got three miles. You can get these guys.’ I worked my way up to third place. They paid six or seven places, so I made a couple thousand dollars, but I was upset because I would have won the race easily. But the course wasn’t marked properly, and I took a wrong turn. It should be impossible to get lost on a racecourse. If there is a tricky turn, there should be cones on both sides of the road so nobody can make a mistake. If a course isn’t marked well and I still get through it, I still tell the race director that a better job needs to be done.
GCR: MARATHON AND ULTRAMARATHON TRAINING Since you raced frequently and did so all year long, was your training consistent throughout the year or were there periods with more focus on distance, tempo, hills or speed?
BK That is very insightful. Once I started working at Normandale Community College, I was a coordinator and I taught. The school year went from about Labor Day to Memorial Day. So, for those months, my training would be eighty to a hundred miles a week until I got to the two- or three-week Christmas break. If I were working on speed, I would do a couple speed workouts per week. If I were getting ready for longer races, I would up my mileage to 120 to 130 miles those weeks. In the summer I had time off so that is when I would run 120 to 150 miles per week. I would do lots of long runs. I would run a thirty-mile run every week on Saturday. Sometimes I would look for a 50k race to take the place of my long run. I would always race to win, but ultras were easy for me to win. I didn’t run them hard. I also did a lot of road races, usually 5ks or 10ks, but didn’t taper for them. I would let up the day before the race or for two days, but I always had tired legs. That is another regret which is what happens when you coach yourself.
GCR: You mentioned a couple of workouts earlier that you did such as the ten repeat miles in your Boston Marathon build up and repeat 200s and 400s on the track indoors in the winter. Were those some of your favorite workouts, were there others in the mix and did you do fartlek running and hill repeats to keep sharp?
BK I did a lot of hill repeats. I would do fartlek, but not as much. I liked to go to the track. The track intervals I liked were 200s and 400s. I could be talked into doing those any day of the week. If another runner called me up to do twenty hard 400s, I would run with him. I was praying that Garry Bjorklund or Mike Slack would call me up and ask me to join them to do some workouts because I wanted to train with some runners who were better than me, but I never got the call. When I did the ten repeat miles, that was on a day when I could not find a half marathon race or a ten-mile race where I could get to and race. I would always pick racing over intervals on the track. My training was always subject to what was going on at work. It took a back seat, but I still got in very good training. My focus wasn’t as laser-focused like as it was in 1981 and 1982.
GCR: Did you continue doing snowshoeing as cross training throughout your top competitive running years?
BK Yes, I did, but I didn’t do any more twenty-mile days with snowshoes. That was done only to get ready for that snowshoe race. On a regular basis I would snowshoe a couple of days each week in the winter when we had snow. I would go anywhere from three to six miles. The best time would be if it snowed six or eight inches. It would be hard to run on the roads because they were being plowed and it was dangerous. I would get my snowshoes, go to a golf course and run around the golf course a couple times in snowshoes. When you run a quarter mile in a foot of snow with snowshoes, it is like running a sixty-second quarter mile. You are anaerobic. When you stop, you can’t get your breath back. I would put my hands on my knees or walk in circles for a minute and go again another fast quarter. I would look down the golf course at a long fairway and go hard until I got to the next green. I would stop again and do ten or twelve of those. That was like doing a dozen repeat quarter miles on the track about as hard as I could go. I was completely anaerobic. The beauty of the workout was, after finishing, it didn’t hammer your legs. There was lactic acid in the quads though. In the spring, when we changed from snowshoe repeats to running hills, we would bound up the hills without effort because our quads and lifter muscles were bigger and stronger. One thing I have noticed the last fifteen years is that my legs have gotten skinny. I don’t even run so I’ve lost much of the muscle, to say nothing about my conditioning.
GCR: These days athletes do a variety of things to supplement their running. Was weight training, chiropractic care, massage, yoga or stretching a part of your routine through all or part of your running career or were you primarily running and snowshoeing?
BK I was running and snowshoeing. In 1985 we started a landscape company, and we did snow removal in the winter. I wouldn’t plow, I would shovel. There were times when it would snow a foot. I would tell the guys to plow, and I would go behind and do any shoveling that needed to be done. I did this for eight hours straight and did that for thirty years. We didn’t get many big snowfalls, but it was work. I remember the late Alex Ratell used to tell me, ‘All running a marathon boils down to is physically doing work for two-and-a-half hours.’ It’s challenging work and you must train your body to work for that amount of time. So, if I were shoveling or wheelbarrowing for a landscape project, many days I would finish work and I wouldn’t run that day. I was tired and could hardly stand up. Those were great workouts. The disadvantage is that I put on muscle weight in my arms and shoulders and that weight didn’t help me for a marathon or ultra. But at that point in my career, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, I was sustaining my fitness so that I could run a marathon in 2:28 or 2:30 or I could run a road race and run respectable. If Jan and I went to Bloomsday or Bay-to-Breakers, I might be in the top thirty runners, but I wasn’t in the top ten. Many of those races I ran for fun, but for Jan it was serious racing because she was improving at a very rapid rate those years. From 1980 to 1992, Jan had a few setbacks that we got a handle on and straightened out. Early on, when we first met, Jan would look at my training and try to mirror it. I told her she couldn’t, or she would get hurt. Sure, enough she got hurt. We would sit down and put together her training based on the race schedule she wanted to follow. We wrote down the races and, if it were a major race like Bloomsday, we would train specifically for that race. We would put in some 5ks and 10ks to do as a speed workout or tempo workout. Jan didn’t taper for those races. She was like me in that, rather than do ten repeat miles on the track, she would much rather race a half marathon or ten-mile race. We did them together and those races were always fun.
GCR: WRAPUP AND FINAL THOUGHTS We have talked a bit about your kids. All six of your children are athletes, with five running cross country and track distance events while the sixth hurdled and played football. How much fun was it watching them all train, compete and develop the characteristics that athletes learn like teamwork, camaraderie, overcoming adversity and striving to reach their potential that set them up to be successful in life?
BK It was fun. I didn’t have any problems with John, Joe, or James. The hardest part for me is that I felt the girls didn’t get trained hard enough by their coaches in high school and college. Jan and I made an agreement that we weren’t going to say anything to them about their coaches. I think Jan would have trained them harder. I would have trained the girls harder. I didn’t feel they were training to their potential. But I was at a point in my life where I was focusing on my company and teaching, so I was working two full-time jobs. I didn’t have the time and I don’t know if it would have worked out anyway to coach the girls, so we didn’t. Now, Sarah’s coach at the Bowerman Track Cub and Bit’s coach at the University of Minnesota are both good. Bit is finally being coached as an elite runner. Since she was a walk on athlete, her first three years at Minnesota she was just one of fifty girls and the top one or two received all the attention. If you treat someone as if they are the fiftieth runner, there’s a good chance they are going to be the fiftieth runner. You need to take them aside and motivate them and say, ‘Do you realize that, if you step it up by doing several tougher components of training, you can be a top runner?’ I never heard that from any of those coaches. One of the aspects of coaching that I learned from videotapes that I showed in my Management and Hospitality classes was the Pygmalion theory. I used that from day one with my coaching after graduate school. I first heard of it in a Psychology class. I showed it to all my business students and used that to encourage them. Of course, the motivation and encouragement we give someone must be realistic. I can’t go to my son, Joe, and say, ‘If you truly work at it, you can win the one hundred meters in the Olympics next year.’ The second part is that the athlete must have confidence in you as their coach. What I have found is most athletes, ninety percent - in high school, college and beyond college – have a lot of confidence in their coaches. That isn’t usually the problem. The coaches need to look their athletes in the eye and say, ‘Do you realize how good you can be?’ I’ve done that with all my kids. I don’t do it often, but I tell them, ‘You are becoming the athlete that has always been there. Just go for it.’ My youngest son that is playing football has a very good coach at St. Thomas. He thinks this coach is Vince Lombardi. That is how much respect James has for his coach. When I am using that strategy, I must ensure I am not supplanting the coach. I do it from a mentoring perspective. I know James has the athletic ability, the intelligence, the attitude, the body – everything to be a professional football player – if he wants to be. What he is lacking now is a great season. First, they need to throw him the ball because he will catch it. When he gets his two hundred, forty pounds rambling down the field, he is going to gain a lot of yards. If he does that two or three times a game for ten games, he is going to have a lot of Division I coaches looking at him and wanting to sign him if he enters the transfer portal. Great characteristics of James are that everybody loves him, he is a natural leader and is full of what coaches look for in great athletes. One thing he is lacking is confidence in his ability to be great. He knows he can be good, but says, ‘Dad, you have to realize I’m playing college DI football, not high school anymore.’ I told Joe the same thing, that he had the ability to be great. The only difference is that Joe believed it early on. When I told Joe he was great and could make an Olympic team, he believed it. Joe matched his confidence and ability with demanding work and sacrifices he had to make. James is about three-fourths of the way there. He is one good season away from saying, ‘You know, dad, I think I could be very good at this if I do it for a couple more seasons.’ I have told James twenty-five times since high school that he is as good at football as Joe is at running. Everybody knows how good Joe is at running, including James, so I say, ‘You’re just as good at football. It’s a different sport, but you’re as good.’ I think I’m about ninety percent there with him believing that and proving that. The acid test will be in a scrimmage, then in a game he will pull off a couple big game catches and then the confidence will skyrocket. Then we will see the transformation.
GCR: How important was it for you to set a good example for your kids as they found their own pathways?
BK All the time I try to display the best me I can. There are a couple times each year where I lose my temper, but I don’t cuss or swear as a practice. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t, but that’s not the way that Jan and I communicate to others or to each other. The kids have picked up the garbage language at school and say, ‘Everybody talks that way.’ I say, ‘No, they don’t. Not educated, smart people. When you talk to me, I don’t want you to talk that way. If that is how you must communicate, then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.’ I make this teaching moments. I don’t put up with it and that gets to be their attitude after a while. What I am most proud of is the character and the moral values that all our kids have. It doesn’t mean they have to vote the way I do in elections, because I think some of them do vote differently than I do. I’m a very progressive person. We want our kids to be independent, we want them to think, but we want them to be good people. That goes beyond everything else. And we want them to embrace religion and embrace their character and understand that people are watching them all the time because they are role models long before they realize it. Joe realized it in high school and so did James. The girls did it without saying anything about it with their display of professionalism and being very, very good persons. To me, that means more than anything.
GCR: What is your current fitness routine and some of your goals for the future in terms of staying fit, working with the running community, your professional career, charitable work and potential new adventures?
BK I backed off from running because one of my hips hurts, even though I have had two hip replacement surgeries. In December we were curling, and I was doing the broom as the sweeper. I tripped, fell on my hip and think I did some internal damage. I’ve been limping and walking and doing stairs for some movement. I’ve been doing weights for fifteen minutes at a time. It’s no fun walking and doing stairs when I’m in pain. We do have appointments set up with my orthopedic specialist and we, hopefully, will do an MRI to see what it looks like inside. Jan thinks it is a tight muscle, but I know what that feel like, and it is more, though I don’t know what is wrong. If they can put point A and point B together and fix it, then the goal is to maintain my fitness level and keep my weight under 180 pounds and run a few miles a few times each week. The goal certainly is not to race. Once a person gets to a certain age, and I am over seventy years old now, that heart rate only gets up to 135 beats per minutes and it feels like I am going to blow out a lung. It’s not fun, especially when I’m only running seven-minute mile pace. The joy comes in that I like to work out, I like to go for a walk, I like to do some stairs and I like to do weights. Everything is to keep this body in shape. I would like to be healthy and live another ten years. People tell me, ‘No, you will live to be a hundred.’ I tell them, ‘It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.’ There are people who drink and smoke and have never done a bit of work in their life and they live to be a hundred. We can whine about it and say it’s not fair, but they have good genes. I know, if I take care of my body, I have ten nice years left. What do I want to do with those years? I want to watch my kids develop in all aspects of their lives. I want to watch this little grandson I have and, hopefully, I’ll have many more grandkids. I want to watch my son-in-law run a business and do it better than I did because I’ve trained him for eleven years. I also would like to relax a bit. It doesn’t bother me if I miss a workout some day or two days in a row or three days in a row. That doesn’t bother me anymore. If I put on weight, that bothers me. I don’t want it to get up to a point where I have a thirty-pound paunch in front of me and think I’m going to run a 2:20 marathon. I don’t live in that world, but I want to be able to work out some and feel good about it. I’m still competitive. If I can play Sequence and beat my wife a couple times in a row, that is nice.
GCR: When you are asked to sum up the major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of running, balancing life’s components and overcoming adversity, what you would like to share with my readers that will help them on the pathway to reaching their potential athletically and as a person that is the ‘Barney Klecker Philosophy of How to be Your Best in Life?’
BK The better you get at something, the easier it gets. The easier it gets, the more fun you have. The more fun you have, then you decide that you wouldn’t mind doing it for five or ten years. And then you see where it goes.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I don’t play a lot of cards or games but do enjoy them. I picked up playing Sequence over this past Christmastime. I like to play a little blackjack, but don’t like going to the casino. The boys like me to take them once or twice a year so I will go with them. I always challenge them to see if they can make money. I give everybody a fifty-dollar bill and I start with fifty dollars. I tell them we will report back in thirty minutes to see who made money. Of course, they all show up with nothing and I have two hundred fifty dollars. That is a learning opportunity. ‘Dad, how did you do that?’ I tell them to come and watch and look at my cards. Joe was the first one to pick up how to play better and then James and they have gotten good at it. We have fun with it without getting hooked on gambling
Nicknames My good friends called my ‘Bunky’ which was after Archie Bunker. Joe will call me that occasionally. He was the first one that stopped calling me ‘Dad.’ Just to make me mad he would say, ‘Hey Barney, how are you doing today?’ That didn’t set very well with me. But I know that’s his sense of humor and the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. His racing mentality, his training, his mental outlook mirrors mine so much
Favorite movies I like dramatic, mafia-type movies and comedies
Favorite TV shows I love comedy. ‘All in the Family,’ ‘Seinfeld, ‘Big Bang Theory,’ and now one I have started watching is ‘Schitt’s Creek.’ The more Jan and I watch it, the more we laugh together. It seemed weird at the start because we weren’t around those types of families, but then we realized that now it is close to reality
Favorite music I like 1960s and 1970s rock ‘n roll. I also like some of the early rock ‘n roll from the 1950s. I absolutely hate hip-hop and that garbage. I just don’t get into it. I like Frank Sinatra, big bands and jazz – I love that kind of music. I remember about twenty years ago that I was doing consulting work for an individual. After about four o’clock, when work was done, we would go home and have a drink. He would ask me if I wanted a beer and I said, ‘Sure.’ And he would put on Frank Sinatra music. It was okay and then it got where it was very okay and then I truly enjoyed listening to Sinatra. When I got home, I bought ‘Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits’ and I played that CD every day at five o’clock. Jan almost started to resent it, but the kids loved it. To this day, now they are young adults, and they love Frank Sinatra. They have all played musical instruments, so they can listen to big band music with appreciation. My favorite, all-time rock ‘n roll band is Led Zeppelin. I like Steppenwolf and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I can listen to The Beatles for twenty minutes and then I have to switch. I can listen to Led Zeppelin’s top five albums every day. When I go on drives, I put Led Zeppelin and listen, and I can drive for ten hours. I’m with somebody, like this friend I was driving with on the way back from Palm Springs, he liked to listen to big bands and jazz, so we had a rule in the car that if either of us didn’t like what we were listening to, then we would listen to something else. We both like many diverse types of music. The kids are that way, especially James, my youngest. He plays violin. He likes every type of music, even country and western. Two of my girls also like it. I think it’s because their husbands and/or boyfriend like it, so they do too. That says a lot for the way they were raised, their character and their willingness to listen to several types of music
Favorite books Since I retired eight years ago, if I go over to my side of the bookshelf, there are fifteen books on politics, especially conservative politics. I follow the national elections and have been a Republican for many years. Another area is I have about a dozen mafia books. I’m a big reader of Bill O’Reilly books. I have all his books and have read many of them more than once. I read his first book after I listened to one of his interviews a few years ago because I thought he was a very interesting guy. He has books like ‘Killing Kennedy,’ ‘Killing Patton,’ ‘Killing the Sioux,’ ‘Killing Jesus’ and ‘Killing the Mafia’ and, once you open them up and start reading, you can’t put them down. Every book was fantastic. He provides a historic perspective that is his perspective and what most people believe. One mafia book I like was written by Chuck Giancana, and he waited until his brother had passed away before he wrote the book. He said that, if he wrote it before his brother had died, his brother would have executed him and his son for writing the truth
First cars I got a 1973 Pontiac LeMans. It was a brown, two-door. I called it ‘The Bullet Car.’ It was deep brown and had louvers coming out of the back, side windows. I had an unpleasant experience with it because, about forty-five days after I bought it, the paint started cracking on the hood. I took it to the dealer, and he said, ‘I’m sorry. The paint is only under warranty for thirty days. There was nothing I could do about it. So, I had to get the car painted on my nickel and said, ‘That is the last General Motors car I will ever buy.’ I had a good friend a few years later whose father owned a Ford Dealership and a Dodge dealership. I bought a Chrysler truck when I started my lawn and landscaping business. I soon discovered that Ford built a heavier duty, more rugged truck, so I switched over to Ford. Then we drove all Fords – minivans, trucks and SUVs – for the next thirty years. I like Fords. They are well built. I love the dealer
Current car When Jan semi-retired a year ago, we leased her a Lexus 450 hybrid cross-over and we love the car. I’m a nut for new cars. Over the years, we bought Subarus because they are very affordable and very durable. Jan and I decided that, when our kids each graduated from college, we would buy them a thirty-thousand-dollar car. If it were more than that, they would have to foot the difference. Five out of the six kids chose Subarus. If they took the car that Jan was driving that might have five or ten thousand miles on it, they got that car even though it may have cost us thirty-five thousand. So, we like durability and value. We have made good investing decisions over the years in the stock market and gained wealth so, being a competitive person, we set goals and achieved those goals
First jobs My first outside job I had, along with my sister, was scrubbing chicken cages at Christmastime for thirty-five cents an hour. She was probably twelve years old, and I was eleven. That was a horrible job. We put on old clothes, it was freezing cold, and we went to this chicken farm at eight o’clock in the morning. They get rid of all the egg-laying chickens once a year. They gave us a wire brush and we had to go underneath the cages and scrub them. It is horrific work. It stinks. At the end of the day, the worst part of it was that our mother would have us take our clothes off out in our barn, run up to the house, take a quick bath, and then put on clean clothes for supper. The next morning, what we did was wear those clothes down to the barn and put on the old clothes that we had worked in the day before. And we wore those work clothes all week. That’s what we did. When we got home, we repeated the process. Part of that job was learning demanding work and getting paid a nominal wage, but we did learn how to do hard work. Another job I had was more pleasant. My uncle was a trucker, and he had a little farm of four acres with a few cows and a few pigs. He didn’t have any equipment to get the hay. What he would do is pick me up in his truck and we would go to another farmer to buy hay that we had to get from the fields. My uncle would stop, I would grab the bales and put them in the truck. I’d jump up in the truck and stack the bales. Then I jumped to the ground again to get the next bale of hay. We could fit about thirty-five bales in his truck. That was a lot of work for a twelve-year-old kid. When we were done filling the truck up, we would stop at his favorite bar on the way back to the farm. It was about a mile-and-a-half away from the farm where we got the hay. He would buy me a seven-ounce Coca-Cola and he would have a beer. Then we would go back to the house to unload the bales. He would throw the bales from the truck into the barn, and I would roll them back and stack them. I’d run back and get another one until his truck was empty. Then we would go back and get another load. Before we went back, his wife would have strawberries and milk with whipped cream which I loved. We got more loads of hay and did that for four or five hours in an afternoon. That was a pleasant job, and he would pay me twenty-five cents an hour. So, at the end of the day, I might get a dollar
High school jobs In high school, after we sold the farm, we moved down by the Wisconsin Dells and my first job was bussing tables in a very nice four-star resort in the Dells called the Dellview Hotel. I also learned how to do the front desk work. When I turned eighteen, my first job when I came back from college was at the hotel and they promoted me to a waiter. I had to wear a tuxedo. I waited on tables. That is why I decided to go to hospitality school. Working at a hotel was not challenging work. It was very pleasant, I received very good tips and people would say ‘thank you.’ I loved it. That didn’t make my dad happy because he wanted me to major in agriculture. I didn’t think there was anything I could do with that other than run a farm. My dad seemed to think that was what I was put on earth to do and that isn’t what I wanted to do. Our relationship was strained for several years because he also thought running was a waste of time, though for me it wasn’t. It was tremendous and I got may positives from running. When I became eighteen, I went my own way. The good news is that my parents never bothered me about what I decided to do because they probably had too many other kids to worry about. I sort of took care of myself. I never depended on them for anything, nor did I get anything. The expectation wasn’t there. We knew our parents weren’t going to pay for college or buy us a car or give us money every week. There were kids at college who would get a twenty-dollar bill in the mail every week but, for us, that wasn’t going to happen. And we didn’t go on vacations when we were growing up. We didn’t know what a vacation was. Vacation was Sunday if we didn’t have to do any extra work after church. We fed the animals, that’s all we had to do, and we could go out and play. That was our vacation
Pets We have three small dogs. Our cockapoo is named ‘Maggie’ and is fifteen years old. We have a Shih-Tzu Poodle named ‘Mudge’ who is ten years old. We have another Shih-Tzu Poodle named ‘Pongo’ who is three years old
Favorite breakfast Pretty simple farm food. I like eggs, omelets, fried potatoes and most cereals. I’m easy to satisfy
Favorite lunch Soup and salad. When I was running, it was as many carbohydrates as I could eat. For ten years, while I was working, I think every day we went to Wendy’s. I’d get the number one or the number two. Now, when I go there, I just have a little single burger. I don’t like their French fries. I do like McDonald’s French fries once a month with their fish sandwich. I’m not a big fast-food junkie. I like pizza, but I couldn’t live on it. I don’t like the thin crust, but I like the thick full crust. I love lasagna and Italian food
Favorite meal I still love pasta. Before Jan left this week to go to her retreat, she made a big pot of beef stew and I’ve eaten some of that every night for dinner. I can eat the same thing every day and be very, very satisfied. I take the beef stew and add some carrots, corn and beans. I added some horseradish sauce- whatever I think will taste good and it usually does. The boys like it, but the girls don’t. When I make goulash, I will keep adding to it as there is less and less left. It might start with a quart and a half of goulash with a recipe that my mom used to make. When it gets down and I have about a third of it left, I may add spaghetti sauce and chicken, beef, or salsa. It is different and I keep adding to it, so it lasts. Bit will say ‘it’s the only dish you can make that grows and grows and grows. I never comes to an end’
Favorite beverages I like to have a couple of beers every night. I like ales and am an IPA guy. I like a little red wine now and then. Sometimes, if we go out for a special dinner, I’ll have a margarita. That may be half a dozen times a year. But every day, its beer. When I’m working with the boys, I’ll have a Gatorade
First running memories When I go back to grade school, there was one day where they would have a track meet. In fifth grade, I remember I was in the long jump. I won that and set a school record of thirteen feet, seven inches. That was a Sunnyside school record until the school was merged with another a few years ago. My first high school experience down in Reedsburg was the long run on the first day of practice. In track we had to run two-and-a-half miles out to Lighthouse Rock, turn around and run back. So that was five miles. I am not kidding you – that was harder than any ultramarathon I ever ran because I had never run before. Of course, the coach was the wrestling coach and the next day he said, ‘Okay, now that we got our base in, we’re going to do an interval day.’ He had us do some quarter mile repeats and half mile repeats on a road. Then coach says, ‘now we’ve done intervals, so we can race.’ One day of base training and one day of intervals and we were ready to race. Of course, when you’re ignorant and don’t know anything about running, you assume the coach knows. To me when I looked back, that was very amusing. Unfortunately, some of that probably still happens today
Running heroes Obviously, Frank Shorter when he won the Gold Medal in the marathon in Munich. Steve Prefontaine. I never met him or knew him, but I watched the way he ran, and I liked the way he ran and his attitude. I did get to know Frank in the last five years. We run in to each other at races and I have found out what an educated, smart man he is. I found him to be a likeable guy who is very intelligent. Garry Bjorklund is a great runner who I reach out to every few months, especially for advice for Joe. After Joe got his mile time down to 3:59, I had called Garry and he said, ‘Let me stop you. Joe is faster than I ever was. In the 1970s and 1980s, if you ran anything under fourteen minutes for 5k, you were one of the tops in the country. Now you have to run under thirteen minutes. He does workouts I could never dream of doing’
Greatest running moments The 50-mile World Record I set was one of them. Running the 2:15 marathon at Grandma’s Marathon in 1981. Winning the snowshoe race a couple of times, only because it was something different and I liked it. The other one that seems a bit odd is from my senior year of college. In the outdoor track season, I only ran the mile once. The rest of the time the coach had me in the 3-mile or 6-mile. I loved the mile, and I ran a 4:13 mile. This is a ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ thing. If I had one more year of college, I believe I could have broken four minutes. Joe is the first one to say, ‘Not even maybe. You would have done it.’ That means a lot more than me saying it because this is a guy who ran a 3:54 mile in New York. He knows what it’s like. Another one that comes to mind is when I won the Olympic Sports Festival Marathon in Colorado Springs. It was a championship event where they divided the country into north, south, east and west. There were full teams from each region with three competitors in each event from each of the four regions. We competed as a team. There were a total of twelve in each event – the mile, the hurdles, the long jump, the marathon – they had a full meet. They scored the teams against each other. I was selected in the marathon and won the race. My two marathon teammates from my region and I were the only marathon runners that did not spend a large amount of time training in Boulder at altitude. The other guys lived in Boulder or Albuquerque or went up to altitude to train. The race started away from Colorado Springs and ran 26.2 miles to Colorado Springs which was at 7,300 feet of altitude. I used the strategy that my advisor-coach gave me. It made sense so I did it. I won the marathon, and I got this Gold Medal that looks like an Olympic medal. They did that Olympic Sports Festival several times. I don’t know why they did away with it as it was a very positive competition
Worst running moments There are two that easily come to mind. One is Western States when I got lost. You don’t train hard for an event and then don’t have a course that is properly marked. I told them that the ribbons in their bushes were unacceptable. Only the first fifteen runners need to know the course, especially if they aren’t from the area. Everyone else is following. Another race that was very disappointing was getting tripped in Toureville in Belgium in 1980 at the World Championships for 100k
Childhood dreams We were big Green Packer fans since we grew up in Wisconsin. Once I was in junior high, I was going to be a professional football player, a quarterback. I could throw the ball. I was durable. I was athletic. The only problem was that, when I started high school, I was four feet, ten inches and I weighed eighty-eight pounds. When I was a senior and transferred to Reedsburg, I was going to go out for football, but I was five feet, eight inches and a hundred thirty-five pounds. I was still too small. Once I got to college, during my sophomore year I was about six feet tall and a hundred fifty-five pounds. I told Coach Kamish I wanted to go out for football in the fall and try out for quarterback. He was the head track coach and the head football coach. He said, ‘Klecker, have you looked at your legs? With those little toothpicks, if you get hit once in the knees, your running career will be screwed up and so will your football. You can come out for the football team if you want to and you can practice, but you will never play a minute of competitive football on my team. On the other hand, I’ve seen what you have done your first two years here as a runner and I think you’re going to be a very good runner in the future.’ He was a shot put and discus man in college and those were his credentials. He readily admitted he didn’t initially know how to coach runners, but he read books and talked to other coaches. The strengths he had were that he could motivate, and he could discipline. Good runners need to be guided. So, I took football as a dream that wasn’t going to happen
Funny memories one Do you think I’m going to tell you something so you can write about it and print it? You’re not as smart as I thought you were! One story would be the one I told you about after running a marathon after that five-mile cross-country race my senior year. You just don’t do that. It tells you a bit about how the coaching was back then because they didn’t tell you what to do back then
Funny memories two I ran a marathon in Singapore which was the first time I was out of the country. I flew to Singapore on a Thursday and flew back on a Sunday. I was teaching class the Wednesday before the race and the Monday afterward, so I was gone for four days. I flew there, ran a marathon, got tenth place and flew back
Embarrassing moment one There was one in college. When we used to get done with our workouts, a lot of times when we got to the college diner, maybe eighty percent of the time, we were the last students to arrive before they closed it down. There would be about ten or fifteen of us track guys who would get our food and sit down at the table. We had a race walker on the team and his name was Fred Kuhn – he was Jewish. In college you know how it is with kids giving each other a tough time. My friend, Bill Lemske, and I came up with this jingle, ‘Fred Kuhn had a dollar bill, and the dollar bill blew away.’ And everyone else would say, ‘Hey!’ Then someone else would say the jingle and we would say ‘Hey!’ This went on and on. We thought it was a lot of fun, but Fred didn’t like it so well. When I said it, Fred was okay, but when Bill said it, Fred said, ‘Bill, if you say that one more time, I will stab your hand on the table with my fork.’ Of course, Bill puts his hand on the table and repeats the jingle and Fred stabbed Bill in the hand as hard as he could. Bill jumps and screams and Fred says, ‘I don’t like the jingle. Don’t do it anymore’
Embarrassing moment two We went down to outdoor Nationals that year in Arkadelphia, Arkansas near Little Rock which was about an hour away. There were about fifteen of us from our school at Nationals. Fred Kuhn was doing the 6-mile race walk. All the walkers were on the line, including one woman because she was the only woman and there wasn’t a woman’s race walk. No one had a problem with that. Everyone sort of thought the race walk was a necessary evil because it was an Olympic sport but didn’t want to have it in the program. Fred religiously trained by walking seventy miles a week. There were awards and points for the race just like for any event. There were about twenty-five walkers in the race and Fred was holding his own. He was halfway up the field and was passing a few people. He got up to about sixth place with three laps to go and it looked like he was going to get in the top six. Everybody on our team was in the stands yelling for him. On the last lap with a hundred meters to go, we were yelling, ‘Go Kuhn! Come on, Kuhn!’ There was no thought at all that we were in the south and his name sounded like a racial slur to those who didn’t know we were yelling his name. That thought didn’t cross our minds. We got a lot of stares from the crowd that was there. They must have thought we were total jerks. When we were done with the meet, our coach came up to us and said, ‘I know Freddie’s last name is Kuhn. Don’t ever use that. Call him Fred. Cheer for Fred. Do not say Go Kuhn, because that sounds bad’
Favorite places to travel Jan and I both love road trips. If we drive out west, we will get on I-80 and see the farms. I love seeing the mountains when we drive through those areas. Road trips are fun. When I drive out to Eugene, Oregon this summer, I’ll drive my Ford Expedition and that’s a twenty-eight-hour trip out there. And we will have a fun time. Overseas, we like Switzerland. Jan and I have both got used to five-star resorts. Not only is there a lot of thought put into a premium product and services, like room and services and ambiance, but also consideration to privacy and freedom. I’ve been to Thailand. I don’t like congestion and busy, busy cities. For those reasons, I don’t like New York. I can handle Chicago because we can get in and out of the city and we are only seven hours away by road. I like to travel where it isn’t overly populated like Boise, Idaho. When it is forty degrees below zero here in the winter, I like to go to Palm Springs when it is ninety-five degrees. I like to go for the heat and humidity, sit alongside the pool, and do nothing. If I want to go for a little walk, I can. If I want to run, I can. But I don’t make a schedule of activities. Jan, on the other hand, will schedule her day and I don’t like to do that when we are relaxing. I tell her repeatedly that she over-schedules herself. I tell he that I just want to come home, relax, have a couple of beers, and sit by the fire and watch the news. One thing Jan and I like is that we are both independent which is why she is up in northern Minnesota by herself at a retreat. She said I would love it and that it had snowed six inches of beautiful snow and that I would love it. I could not be further away from there. That’s not a vacation for me. I told her I would rather go to Stillwater in prison for a week because at least I would be able to talk to people and experience something different. I do not like being isolated, but she cherishes it, which is okay as long as she doesn’t assume I like the exact things she does. On many things we are different, but on the important areas of character and moral values and raising kids we are one hundred percent together