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Gerry Lindgren — February, 2012
Gerry Lindgren is one of the greatest U.S. collegiate and high school distance running champions and record setters. At Washington State University he won 11 of a possible 12 NCAA Championships including three cross country titles, two indoor two-mile victories and three outdoor double wins in the 3-mile and 6-mile. In 1964 Gerry was the first American to defeat the Russians at 10,000 meters at the annual US-USSR dual meet. He raced in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics 10,000 meters despite a severe ankle injury and finished ninth. He won the 1964 Olympic Trials 10,000 meters over eventual Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills. At the 1968 Olympic Trials he finished fourth in the 5,000 meters and fifth in the 10,000 meters while battling an Achilles tendon injury. Gerry’s bad luck continued in 1972 as he was hit by a car while training for the Olympic Trials and was unable to compete at his best. His collegiate personal best times include: 3,000 meters – 7:58.0 (1965); 3 miles – 12:53.0 (1966); 5,000m – 13:33.8 (1968); 6 miles – 27:11.6 (1965) and 10,000m – 28:40.2 (1967). All were Collegiate Records and the 6-mile was a World Record. While at Spokane, Washington’s Rogers High School, Gerry won State titles in cross country and the mile in both his junior and senior years. He established national high school records in 1964 in the mile, 3,000 meters, 2-mile, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. His 8:40.0 indoor two-mile record still stands 48 years later. His high school personal best times include: 1,500 meters – 3:44.6; mile – 4:01.5; 3,000 meters – 8:06.3i; 2 miles – 8:40.0i; 3 miles – 13:17.0; 5,000m – 13:44.0 and 10,000m – 29:17.6. Gerry was inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame in 2004 and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2006. Currently he is involved with the Hawaii Running Project and does personal coaching. Gerry coached the University of Hawaii's women's track and field team from 2005 to 2007. He self-published ‘Gerry Lindgren's Book on Running’ in 2005. Gerry currently resides in Honolulu, Hawaii with his dog, Peku.
GCR:When we look back at successful running careers what stands out are usually fast times and championships. Your high school records in 1964 in the 2-mile, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters are still in the all-time top five nearly 50 years later and your 11 NCAA Championships in Cross Country and Track is possibly the best ever. Where does this put you in the group of top American distance runners?
GLI’m probably up there someplace as there have been many good distance runners since then and maybe I was able to inspire other runners. I’m surprised that I’m up there still as I’m old and my records should have been gone a long time ago, but they are still there at or near the top.
GCR:You were known for running huge mileage totals that no U.S. distance runners match and may only be attempted currently by eastern Africans. Are runners stuck in a box where they just can’t fathom training that much when they should just run more and not talk to themselves about why they can’t?
GLObviously that is the problem that we have now. When I was running I didn’t even keep track of how far I was going. I’d just go out and run. I had no concept of time or distance. When Ron Clarke was writing his book on running he asked me how many miles a day I was running and I had no idea. So we went back and tried to figure out approximately how far it was and we came up with 40 miles or more on many days. He said, ‘that couldn’t be right,’ so he interviewed my coach instead and my coach came up with the same figure. Ron wrote in his book that I ran 25 to 35 miles a day because he said that anything more was just too much for people to believe. But if you’re not tracking time or distance you can do almost anything. When you start tracking miles you wonder, ‘can I do this’ or ‘will I hurt myself’ and you open yourself up to a lot of problems because of the way you are thinking.
GCR:When you were a youngster were there any local runners whom you admired and who inspired you to become a runner and racer?
GLWhen I was in junior high school there were a couple kids in high school who were running great mile times and they got down to around 4:30. They would fight each other every week and were both Rogers High school kids – Jim Jewel and Barry Robinson. Barry would win one week in maybe 4:33 and then Jim would win in 4:30 or so and they would battle back and forth. For a little kid in junior high who couldn’t run at all it was an amazing feat and when I got to high school it made me want to try running cross country.
GCR:Let’s go back to your high school days when you started running. How athletic were you as a teenager and how did you progress initially in training during your sophomore year?
GLWhen I started running in cross country I was the slowest kid on the team. I couldn’t keep up with anybody. I was so slow and the whole team needed to get in better condition so the coach would keep us on the track where we did quarter mile intervals. I was so far behind that I would still be running when the other runners had finished each quarter mile and were resting. I was so angry that I wanted to quit. The kids on the team really didn’t like me anyway because I was so skinny and small and wimp. When we would start intervals someone would punch me or kick me so that I knew they wouldn’t want me on the team. One time I was so angry that when the gun went off I just took off as hard as I could go. I led maybe a third of a lap, completely collapsed and ended up dead last again. That was when I decided I was going to quit and wasn’t going to do this anymore. I was going to tell the coach the next day that I was quitting, but he showed up at my World History class and asked the teacher if he could speak with me in the hall. He told me that when I took the lead everyone had picked up the pace and ran that quarter mile 15 or 20 seconds faster than on any of the others because nobody wants a wimp in front of them. He said that when everyone gets in shape I may not make the team, I may not letter and there may not be a future for me in the sport, but now when everyone was out of shape I could help to make a better team. So being a little wimp who hadn’t done anything it was like a light in a tunnel. So with this wimpy body of mine I had always hated myself for being small and uncoordinated so it really turned me on. From that point on I started running as hard as I could each run to get the team to run faster. I forgot about my own running and focused on the team.
GCR:What do you remember from time trials to make the team and your first racing experiences?
GLJust before the season started we had a trial run on the mile and a half course behind Rogers High School and I ran the course and beat everybody. It was the first time I beat everybody and it had only taken two weeks for me to go from last runner on the team to first runner on the team. It was extremely surprising to me. We had a practice dual meet with Shadle Park High School which was the closest high school to us just before the season started. In the meet I started fast and got a big lead and then the front runner form Rogers passed me. I tucked in behind him and stayed there, determined that he wouldn’t beat me. Four runners from Shadle Park went by but I stayed behind him and held that position. At the end of the race I was second on the team which I was very happy with. But the coach was very disappointed as I had let four guys go by without trying and said if that is the kind of runner I was going to be that I shouldn’t be on the team. It lit a fire under me that I couldn’t just try to make our own runners better but every time I run I have to try to win. After that I ran my guts out in every race and tried to be an example to other people and did whatever I could to inspire other people. I never thought about how tired I would get.
GCR:What did you do in training that sophomore year winter and spring which showed us your promise on the track with a 4:32.2 mile but also resulted in a broken bone in your foot?
GLIt was a stress fracture which was kind of rare back then except for those in the military who may have been marching too much. So maybe I was running too much. It’s hard to understand why it happened but it did and really messed up my season. When I ran that 4:32 it was a sophomore record and the guy I beat ended up running in the state track meet while I was on the sidelines on crutches and disappointed.
GCR:Again you broke a foot bone your junior year, but amazingly came back three weeks after getting off of your crutches to outkick Jim Simons in a State Record mile of 4:18.3. Why do you believe you got injured again and was it sheer mental will that propelled you to victory?
GLI suffered the stress fracture early in the track season so I got back in time to run a few meets. It was the same exact injury as the year before. I finished fourth in a dual meet against North Central High School of Spokane. Since I was in the top four I was able to run in the all-city race. My third place at the all-city race gave me the last qualifying spot for the district meet. The night before the district meet one of the guys who beat me at the city meet sprained an ankle. So I ended up second in the district. At the state meet I took off and the guy who had won the city and district meet got a lead. I chased after him and caught him at the tape. He let up just a bit too soon before the tape and I had a photo finish victory – I was just lucky I guess.
GCR:During the summer of 1963 you narrowly beat California state champ Tracy Smith in a mile race at Eugene, in 4:12.9. What were you doing in training that gave you such an increasing combination of endurance and the ability to sprint at the finish and compete at the national level?
GLThat race was a miracle for me because I took the airplane and contracted the flu before the race. I was so dizzy I could barely walk and I had to race the next day. I went to the track in such a condition that I didn’t think I could run. But the gun went off and somehow I felt great. Something happened – maybe it was adrenaline. I took off and ran as fast as I could. The fans in Eugene were laughing in the stands as they had seen high school runners go out way too fast – they were just waiting for me to die out. But on the last lap the Oregon state champ tried to pass me and I held him off. Then the California champ came up and we were in a photo finish again. He leaned for the tape too soon and it allowed me to win. The time ended up the best in the nation that year. I hadn’t done anything special or different in training. It was just adrenaline and a surprise. Every time I raced I didn’t care about winning. I wanted to make the other runners better so I took off too fast, ran hard and made them work. I expected runners to go by me, but it just wasn’t happening. I was almost sad when I went across the finish line and won races as that wasn’t what I was there for. I was there to inspire other people.
GCR:Your senior year of cross country established that you were at another much higher level as you broke 9:10 on the Shadle Park course four times with a best of 8:59.5 and won the State title in 10:47, shaving 19 seconds off of your junior year time. How did you not only get faster, but maintain consistency while avoiding the foot injuries which had been problematic the previous two years?
GLAll this time I was running 25 to 30 miles a day and when you are running that much your body can do anything. On the roads I would chase bikes and cars and do anything I could to run faster. When racing I surprised myself as I would go out extremely hard in the first half mile and get a big lead. Then I would try to set records for others to push for so that they would have to work hard to be better. By the time I was a senior I knew I was a good runner and had fun with it.
GCR:In a two month period from just after Christmas of 1963 to mid-February of 1964 you raced three indoor two miles that were increasingly impressive. You started out with an impressive performance, beating high school runners, Jim Ryun and Robert Gamez, handily in 9:00.0. Please describe that race which was your first big two-mile win.
GLIt was amazing – a miracle for me. I had no idea I could run races like these and they were calling me ‘the guy with the iron pace.’ My coach would give me splits to run and I’d be within a half second at the mile. Before the race with Gamez and Ryun I was so scared I was urinating down my leg. We took off and I tried to get my big lead. Gamez was right beside me and Ryun fell at the start. He has a disability where he has something missing in his inner ear which affects his sense of balance. If he is barely tapped he can go all of the way to the floor before he realizes he is falling. I was in the middle and Gamez bumped me, I barely tapped Ryun and down he went. I just ran and got out in the lead. Gamez let me go as he must have figured I was one of these crazy kids who went out too fast and I probably would have as I was really tired three quarters of the way through. But the announcer came on the public address system and said I was on track to set a new American record for the high school 2-mile and I needed the fans’ help. Everyone was cheering and the adrenaline came for me and I lapped Gamez and Ryun. I was impressed that Ryun got up after falling and finished so well. My coach thought I should run a 4:30 first mile to be where I should be. At first I was disappointed to run nine minutes since I had run 8:59.5 in cross country but we found out later that the Shadle Park course was quite a bit short of two miles – maybe only one and three quarter miles. So it was a big jump but I didn’t know that.
GCR:Next you finished in an amazing national high school record of 8:46.0 behind Steeplechase World Record Holder Gaston Roelants of Belgium. What stands out from this race which was your first against top U.S. and World Class competition?
GLI knew in that race in Los Angeles I would be running against college guys and other runners who would pick up the pace the second mile so I had to remember that. My coach told me I needed to go out in about 4:25 and might need to run faster the second mile. Sure enough I was right on 4:25 the first mile. Then one of the guys cut me off and I had to slow down. This happened several times and pretty soon I was running in last place. I sprinted like mad, was passing people and the crowd was going crazy. With about a quarter mile to go I moved into second place and way up ahead was Roelants. I chased him down and was right behind him with a lap to go. He looked back and saw I was there and sprinted like mad. I couldn’t keep up with him and I got beat. I was upset as it was the first time I had been beaten my senior year. But 8:46 wasn’t too bad.
GCR:In your next race you pushed the pace against Australia’s Ron Clarke and finished second in lowering your national high school record to 8:40.0. What do you recall from that race and how much of a battle did you have with Clarke?
GLIt was two weeks later when we went to San Francisco where I would face Ron Clarke and my coach told me I would have to run about a 4:20 first mile. Sure enough I ran 4:20 and was leading Ron Clarke. There were a few times Ron tried to take the lead because he is a lead runner but I wouldn’t let him go by. I had learned from the previous race that runners would get up on the banked turn and then sprint fast on the straightaway so I watched out of the corner of my eye and sprinted myself so he couldn’t get past me. The crowd was booing him for trying to fight past me. Finally with a half mile to go Ron passed me with a sudden burst of speed. I tried to go with him but every lap I lost a bit and he ran 8:37 while I was behind at 8:40. I couldn’t have run any faster. Now everyone thinks that if you run slow you will have more energy at the end, but that isn’t so. If you wait you have less energy at the end. In order to have energy you have to use some of it up. I had very little energy the first time I took the lead in a run. It always surprised me how much energy I could muster out of this body.
GCR:Was it surprising to you that you, a high school runner, was running so strongly against the world’s best runners?
GLIt surprised the devil out of me. I never thought I could beat any of those guys. I wasn’t even thinking about winning or losing. All I was thinking was that I had to make them work hard to be better runners. I knew I couldn’t win against them but I wanted to use my speed to do some good. Never in my biggest imagination did I think I could beat some of these guys – it just happened that way.
GCR:In May at the Washington State meet you won and established a national prep mile record of 4:06.0 with splits of 60, 62, 60 and 64 seconds. Were you really aiming for sub-4:00 mile that day?
GLWhen I ran against Jim Ryun indoors he had told me that his goal was to run sub-four minutes in high school. I thought the guy was crazy. How could a high school guy break four minutes? I didn’t even think about it. But I did have a ‘postal competition’ going with Ryun. One week he’d run maybe a 4:15 mile in Kansas. Then I’d run 4:14 in Spokane. Then he’d run a 4:13 or so and I’d run a 4:10. Then I didn’t hear anything more until I ran a 4:09 at the district meet. When I was lining up at the state meet to run the mile a kid ran across the track and told me Ryun had just ran 4:06.6 for the mile. I was shattered because the national record at the time was 4:08.3 by Dennis Carr of Southern California. My coach had showed me that record when I was a sophomore and I couldn’t believe a high school runner could be so fast. I figured now I could run that because I had done 4:09 so that is what I was trying for. All of a sudden Ryun ran 4:06.6 but I thought I’d give it a go anyway. And somehow I came out with a 4:06 flat.
GCR:It seems that you and Jim Ryun were having a postal battle sort of like Barry Robinson and Jim Jewel had on the track at Rogers High school when you were in junior high.
GLI never thought of it like that but I guess we were.
GCR:At June’s Compton Invitational you broke the existing U.S. record for 5,000 meters in 13:44.0 though you finished second to Bob Schul who set a new U.S. Record of 13:38.0. What strategies did you implement against Schul and the other older seasoned racers?
GLI hadn’t raced any of these guys. I knew that Bob Schul was a kicker and that Bill Bailey was another very good runner who was also in the race. A Canadian, Bruce Kidd, was also racing and he had high school records in the 2-mile and 5,000 meters until I broke them. There were a lot of amazing runners. I was a little nobody and scared to death. I took off fast to see what happened. Bruce Kidd had a strategy to run fast on the straightaways and slow down on the turns to try and break other runners’ rhythm and to see if that worked. When he tried to pass me after a couple of laps I held him off. The crowd was getting excited as a race was developing. Bruce Kidd didn’t like it as he wanted to lead and didn’t want a high school kid in front of him and to get in his way. Then he came up on me and gave me an elbow in the gut that hurt so badly that I almost had to stop. And so he went past me. Then I got by him but he gave me an elbow on the other side. He kept doing that and I was more interested in fighting off his elbowing than running the race. I had no idea what our lap times were. After about ten laps of this Bruce Kidd got tired and dropped way back and it was over for him. They rang the bell for the last lap and I was ahead of everyone. I thought, ‘these guys are the best in the world – I shouldn’t be here.’ So I slowed and waited up and seven guys ran past me before I started my sprint. With 300 meters to go I started sprinting, passed some guys and ended up in fourth place.
GCR:You followed that up with an Olympic Trials 10,000 meters qualifier at Corvalles, Oregon and a second place finish to Schul in the 5,000 meters at the AAU Championships. How was it moving up to twice the distance at 10,000 meters?
GLI was still tired out from the Los Angeles meet, but we wanted to see how I would race at 10,000 meters. My instructions were to run behind the leaders like the Russians did for four miles and then to sprint a lap because that is what the Russians usually did. So I followed the leader just like that, sprinted away and won the race. Afterward I had a terrible stomach attack and was dry heaving so I swore I would never run the 10,000 meters again. After finishing second to Schul I qualified for the Russian meet at 5,000 meters, but we had lots of 5,000 meter runners and not many good 10,000 meter runners. Sam Bell, the coach at Oregon State University, had been there when I sprinted and was the coach of the team for the US-USSR meet. He said that even though the Russians were known as the world’s best in the long distances that I could run in the 10,000 meters with them for four miles and sprint a lap. The Russians had been calling us ‘lazy Americans’ and by doing this I could show them that we weren’t. That was my whole goal for the meet when I trained that summer.
GCR:After racing so strongly with these top runners at Compton and the AAU Championships were you thinking more confidently about your chances to make the U.S. Olympic team?
GLHere’s what happened that first started thoughts about the Olympics. After the indoor track season, the local sportswriters and broadcasters club in Spokane invited my coach and me to their next luncheon. My coach would always speak first at these events and I would follow. He was saying some comments to the effect that he didn’t know how I got so fast or what I might do next as I surprised him. Then he said, ‘There is a lot of water that has to go over the dam between now and then, but there is a place on the Olympic team for Gerry.’ We had never talked about this at all. He talked about how I should be able to make the U.S. team at 1,500 meters or 5,000 meters or possibly even at 10,000 meters. After that was published when I was out running people would roll down there car windows and yell things like, ‘Good luck Gerry, I hope you make the Olympics.’ I was very surprised as I hadn’t been trying to make an Olympic team or win a Gold Medal – I was just trying to make people better runners. I didn’t really think about making the team when I raced – I just tried to do what I could and whatever happened, happened. I had this dream ever since I started running and got over the pain of the first month when I wanted to quit. I was having so much fun running that I wanted everybody to run. I wanted to get everyone into running because it was such a joy. You get this ‘runner’s high’ and it is amazing for your body. That was a personal goal that I always had. If my races could inspire people to run and to run better that was what I wanted to accomplish. The races took care of themselves and I have no idea why I was able to run so fast.
GCR:With the ‘Cold War’ in effect between the U.S. and Russia you faced off in July in the 10,000 meters in front of 50,000 fans in Los Angeles against Leonid Ivanov and Nikolai Dutov in the US-USSR Dual Meet. What was the combination of personal drive, national pride and the cheering crowd that brought you to make such a forceful move with ten laps to go?
GLThe ‘Cold War’ was trying to influence third world countries to go with a communist government rather than a democracy. One of the big ploys in their literature was that we were ‘lazy Americans’ and they cited this track meet as one of the examples. My instructions were to run with the Russians for four miles and then to sprint a lap because that is what the Russians usually did. So I got into this race and was scared to death. Each event had two competitors from each country and the other American fell off the pace very early. I followed the plan and ran behind the Russians for four miles. I knew they were getting ready to make their move and I was wound up inside. I thought I would sprint a lap, then I would die and they would run away from me. As we got closer to four miles the first Russian got about 10 or 15 yards ahead of the second Russian and me so I was trying to determine if I should move up with the first Russian or stay where I was. My high school coach Walters yelled that it was time to go and at that time the second Russian also stumbled a bit. So I took off and went by the back Russian and caught the first Russian and went by him. There is a classic picture from Sports Illustrated of me going by and the Russian with a surprised look on his face. Then I went into the lead and had to show them that we weren’t lazy Americans so I ran my fast lap.
GCR:How did you extend that lead to win by a huge margin as you set a personal best time of 29:17 on a hot 93 degree day?
GLI didn’t want to look back because my coach always told me not to do that but I could hear the crunch of the spikes and knew one of the Russians had to be right behind me. So I had to run another fast lap and fight him off rather than let him go by me. So I pushed for a second lap and the crunching sound was still there. I made a motion to Coach Sam Bell to tell me how far ahead I was and he said that I had 120 yards. I knew this couldn’t be true because I still heard the crunching sound of the spikes. I was trying to sprint the last two miles and I almost fell one time when I lost my balance. I couldn’t figure out why the Russians didn’t go by me. With a lap to go it was beyond what I could have imagined because I had thought before the race that they were going to lap me. But by even finishing on the same lap with them would be the biggest victory I could have hoped for. Coming off of the last corner I could see the finish line and I was thinking that maybe only one of them would go by me. I was sprinting as hard as I could and then I broke the tape, looked back and I couldn’t believe it as there was no one else even on the straightaway. I couldn’t imagine what was going on. Coach had always told me to jog after my races so I knew I could do more and so I started jogging and I heard the crunching sound again. It was my own track shoes as I was so inexperienced that during the race I didn’t realize I was hearing the echo of my own feet hitting the cinder track. My whole purpose for being a runner was to help others want to run and by beating the Russians it gave Americans a feeling that they could run well. Bob Schul told me later that he was inspired and thought he could win in the Olympics after seeing me beat the Russians. Billy Mills said he was inspired by what I did. Many American runners started producing as they felt if a little kid like me could run like that against the Russians that they could too.
GCR:You capped a stellar year of competition by winning the Olympic Trials 10,000 meters in September in another personal best of 29:02 as Billy Mills was 45 yards behind you. Describe the whirlwind of that year as you rose from top high school runner to Olympic Trials Champion and one of the best in the World?
GLI was completely overwhelmed by this time and had been for quite a while. Beating the Russians was ‘impossible’ and lots of the things I was doing were ‘impossible.’ I didn’t know what to think. I was completely bewildered. Making the Olympic team meant I would be at the world competition where it didn’t seem like I would be able to compete at that level. Everyone had expected me to sprint a lap in the Olympic Trials like I had against the Russians, so I took off after four miles. But I only sprinted for half a lap. Then Billy Mills came up on my shoulder and said, ‘I’ll help you with the last half a lap’ and so I had to run like mad to keep up with Billy. And so we kind of became partners because we were helping each other. There were five of us still together and I told Billy that we needed to break away. I didn’t want to have all of us together on the last lap fighting for position, so Billy and I pushed another lap. Then we ran along for a mile and the others started catching up. I told Billy that we needed to do another fast lap and he couldn’t so I ran ahead and got away from Billy at that point.
GCR:As you prepared for the Olympics and arrived in Tokyo what were your goals and what did you realistically think of your medal chances?
GLWhen I got to the Olympic Village everyone was trying to predict the races and even though I had never beaten Ron Clarke, who was the World Record Holder for 10,000 meters, they had me as the favorite. My time wasn’t even within a minute of him. Before we went to Japan the entire United States Olympic team was training at Cal-Poly and went to a cross country meet at Mt. Sac. All of our Olympians from the 1,500 meters and on up ran this four mile race and I was overcome with fear and took off as hard as I could. I imagined that they all had knives and that if they caught me they were going to slit my throat. So I ran the whole race in fear. The course was very hilly, there was loose dirt in places and we had to grind our way over the course. I ended up running 16:08 which is still the course record. This was a 4:02 mile pace so my thoughts for the Olympics were to run at this pace and make everybody run hard. I was going to make it so that anyone who won would have to set a World Record and it would be a good record.
GCR:How disappointing was it when you stepped on a stump while training and hurt your ankle? How bad was the injury?
GLIt was terribly painful. It was so painful that I couldn’t step on it. I turned my ankles a lot when I ran as they were very weak. Sometimes when I turned an ankle and was 20 miles from home I would just have to run home on it and by the time I got home I couldn’t remember which ankle I hurt. So that is what I tried to do this time. I just kept running on it and it didn’t seem to be getting better.
GCR:Didn’t you have some sort of run-in with the U.S. coach that forced you to seek treatment elsewhere?
GLSince it was hurting I broke off from the guys I was running with and went back to the Olympic Village and went to the training room. The head coach, Bob Giegengack from Yale University, was kind of a pompous guy as each day he took a morning nap in the training room and didn’t let anyone use the training room while he was napping. I came in just when he was starting his sleep, so the trainers couldn’t do anything for me and told me to come back in the afternoon. When I went back he was just coming out of the training room and told me I was faking my injury. He forbade them from looking at me. He said that I was trying to get out of the workout and that he would send me home if I didn’t work out with everyone else on the track. We did most of our training in a park next to the Olympic Village track called Yoyogi Park that had broad wide paths where I could get in some good sprint training. He hadn’t seen me on the track so he assumed I wasn’t running at all. He refused to let the team physicians see me. The only shoe companies back then were Adidas and Puma and they both tried to get as many athletes as possible to run in their shoes. The rep with Adidas arranged for me to see a German doctor who was a sports medicine specialist and nothing like this was around in America. He looked at my ankle and told me to put ice on it and to elevate it above the level of my heart and to rest that way for hours at a time. So that is what I was doing. When Giggenback found out what I went to a German doctor he was really rattled, said that I had no faith in American doctors and threatened to kick me off of the team.
GCR:You gamely finished ninth on your gimpy ankle which must have been a huge disappointment from at least being able to compete with your best effort.
GLThat was the biggest disappointment of my life. I was in tears out there. Before the race the German doctor had taped my leg to isolate the injury and I was able to run but the tape was hurting so badly that I removed it before the race. In the beginning I took off with everybody and it was an easy pace. I was running up in the front with Clarke, Mills and Gammoudi and everyone else. After about 3,000 meters I thought I was either going to see what happens or not and that I couldn’t just sit and wait. I took off into the lead and ran my race. I sprinted but the pain went up my leg and into my back and I was through. Many runners went by me and it was terribly disappointing. I even felt badly about being there because my job was to make it so everybody raced well. I was so set to do that and then I couldn’t.
GCR:Though Billy Mill’s Gold Medal performance surprised nearly everyone, he was your roommate in Tokyo and didn’t he actually tell you that he believed he could win Gold?
GLBilly came into our room when I was lying down with the ice pack on my ankle and said, ‘Gerry, I can win the Gold Medal! I can win the Gold Medal!’ His eyes were so wide with excitement. For a day and a half I listened to this as he said he knew he could beat everybody but me and now that I was injured he could win. We were good friends and have always been good friends.
GCR:The next step for you was transitioning from high school to college. How did you select Washington State and what is the story about you considering Oregon but not being recruited by Oregon Coach Bill Bowerman?
GLCoach Mooberry from Washington State and Coach Bowerman were good friends. I found out later that there had been correspondence from Coach Bowerman to Coach Mooberry that stated he wouldn’t recruit me if I was going to go to Washington State due to their friendship. I sent my transcripts to Oregon and hoped to go there as they were the good team for milers. They didn’t have anything to do with me and it made me feel that I wasn’t worth anything. Washington State was a good place to train as there were just miles of roads between wheat fields with rolling hills.
GCR:In retrospect was going to Washington State the best move as it could have been more difficult to train with your high mileage and individual regimen under Coach Bowerman?
GLCoach Bowerman was a stickler for doing things his way and if you didn’t follow his way he was hard to get along with. I think I really lucked out because Coach Mooberry didn’t have a strict regimen to train distance runners so a lot of what he did was to let me just do my own thing. Many times I would do a 10-mile run where I headed out of town one way and came back another way across a golf course the last half mile where I could sprint across the grass to finish a run. I found many great paces to train. One highway had a wide side where I could run 17 miles down to Lewiston including a 3-mile downhill grade and then turn around and run the 17 miles back including the 3-mile uphill grade. It was a great workout. So these are just examples that going to Washington State was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
GCR:In the 1960s freshmen still couldn’t compete in track so your first year competing at the NCAAs was your sophomore year in 1966. You won the indoor 2-mile in 8:41.3 and followed that with double victories at the outdoor NCAA 3-mile in a meet record 13:33.7 by over 10 seconds on Jerry Lawson of Kansas and won the 6-mile in 28:07.0 to beat runner-up Geoff Pyne of UCLA by 13 seconds. Does anything stand out from those three NCAA victories?
GLThat indoor 2-mile was pretty much a solo race. My reputation preceded me and everyone let me go. I just took off and after the first mile it was my race. At the outdoor meet I had to look ahead to the AAU meet which was only four days later so I didn’t want to run too hard at the NCAAs. So I just ran with everybody for a while in both races and then when I put in a hard lap everyone would kind of fall behind. In both races I just held the lead and when I decided it was time to go they just let go and no one tried to challenge me.
GCR:As a junior in 1967 you repeated all three wins with an NCAA indoor 2-mile win in 8:34.7 and wins in the outdoor NCAA at altitude in Provo, Utah in the 3-mile in 13:47.8 by over 10 seconds on Glenn Ogden of Missouri and 28:44.0 to beat Oscar Moore of Southern Illinois by 13 seconds. What are your particular memories from those three NCAA victories and what was the effect of Provo’s 7,000 plus foot altitude?
GLBefore the race in Provo I was walking toward my dormitory and I saw three of the competitors I would face walking my way. I leaned against the fence and acted like I was terribly out of breath. They came up to me and asked what was the matter and I told them ‘I ran race pace for only two laps on the track and we are going to die in this altitude.’ They must have believed me because when we started racing we were almost walking as our pace was so slow. I picked up the pace a little bit and they didn’t go with me. The altitude slows you down, but you shouldn’t slow down your effort. When running at altitude you should just let your pace slow down naturally. So I was able to pull off a couple more victories.
GCR:Your senior year at the 1968 indoor NCAAs Jim Ryun handed you your only defeat in NCAA competition in the 2-mile. How did that race develop and what were the key moves?
GLI was suffering terribly with ulcers my last year or two in college and they were extremely bad that winter. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run in that race because I couldn’t get my stomach settled enough to warm up. Kansas was contending for the team title so their coach, Bob Timmons, put Jim Ryun in the two mile to get some more points for the team. When we started out Ryun stayed right behind me and everyone else let go so it was only a two-person race. All I wanted to do then was to make sure that Ryun had a good victory. So I ran the first mile as hard as I could and near the end he took off in his sprint and there was nothing I could do to challenge his awesome sprint. I was just left behind.
GCR:Did you enjoy racing Jim Ryun and do you wish you had had the chance to race against him in some mile races while in college?
GLI went to college thinking I was a miler as I had set the best time high school time in the world at 4:01.6 before Ryun ran faster. But my college coach said I couldn’t run the mile because I didn’t have the speed. I did have the speed but they came up with reasoning that since I did so well at 10,000 meters that I couldn’t run the mile. I never had the chance to run the mile again except sometimes maybe doubling back after I ran the 3-mile. Ryun had the chance to run the mile and did well so that always stuck in my craw because I thought I could have been a good miler. Ryun’s competitors would let him lead or let him sit behind them and then went he went no one would ever go with him. I thought ‘Why don’t they give every ounce of energy to make him do better.’ Maybe they could have made him run 55 second quarters and he would have got a better record – but others didn’t think that way.
GCR:So if you were racing the mile in races with Jim Ryun he still may have won but he would have had to run 3:48 or 3:47 to do so?
GLI think he would have beaten me but it would have been good for him because he would have been way below 3:50 I’m sure. If he had to run faster to win he would have.
GCR:As a senior at the outdoor NCAAs at Cal-Berkley you three-peated in the 6-mile and 3-mile and had some competition from Steve Stageberg and Harry Pearce. How tough was it to pull off three consecutive wins in both long distance races?
GLThat 3-mile in that meet was one of the miracles and my whole life has been filled with miracles. I had injured my Achilles tendon in the 6-mile and I could hardly walk. In the 3-mile it was so painful that I couldn’t even hold the lead. When the gun went off for the last lap I was in seventh place and way out of it. But my team was in the running for the team championship and I figured if I could get by one person I could at least score a point. So sure enough my body responded and I went by one guy to move into sixth place and score a point. Then there were two guys running together not that far ahead of me and I sprinted past them to move into fourth place. Then I got one more guy and was in third place and, lo and behold, the two front runners were right ahead of me and neither one was sprinting. With 220 yards to go they were waiting on each other because both of them figured they could out sprint the other. So I sprinted by them for the lead and just couldn’t believe my good luck.
GCR:USC just beat Washington State 58 points to 57 points for the 1968 NCAA team title. How focused were you and your teammates on winning that title and was it tough to miss by a single point?
GLSome of the guys on the team were upset about it but I thought we made a good effort to make USC work hard. So I thought we did well while several of my teammates really wanted to beat USC as they were a perennial powerhouse in track and field. But for a little school from the Pacific Northwest to give them that much competition was an honor.
GCR:Let’s switch gears and discuss your collegiate cross country highlights. You won your first NCAA Cross Country title in 1966 at Lawrence, Kansas on a clear windy day by 10 seconds over Iowa’s Larry Wieczorek with only two other runners within a minute of you. Did anyone offer any resistance or was it mainly a solo run?
GLBecause that summer Billy Mills and I had tied for the World Record for six miles I felt the other runners had a lot of fear. Tracy Smith, who I had beaten back in high school, was at Oregon State and he was good competition for me. In a race at Washington State I wasn’t up to par from a sprained ankle and Tracy beat me. So we went to the NCAA meet and it went out very fast as I ran the first mile in 4:18 and was in about sixth place. In the middle miles I finally got out to a good lead but Tracy Smith ran me down. With about two miles to go we were running up a big hill and he whacked my leg because we were that close and it scared the devil out of me so I sprinted the last two miles. I won comfortably but it wasn’t an easy victory.
GCR:The next fall you repeated your NCAA X-C title at over 7,200 feet of altitude in Laramie, Wyoming with temperatures below freezing finishing 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Arjan Gelling of North Dakota. How did the combination of altitude and cold affect your racing that day?
GLIt was COLD! (Laughing with emphasis) Runners were dressed for the cold with long johns under their uniforms and gloves and hats. I just wore my normal running jersey and shorts and I was freezing! (Laughing again) Because of the altitude I just went out with the front runners. Through four miles there was a pack of six or eight of us. Then I kind of took off and everyone was afraid to go with me. I wanted to test the altitude to see if it was that bad to run in so I pushed for a while. When I came through the finish I had time to spare and was able to get my warm-ups on before the next guy came through. It was so cold and frigid to death! The only way to keep warm was by running!
GCR:After a redshirt season in 1968 due to Olympic Trials preparation you raced your final cross country season in 1969. How much of an eye-opener was it at the Pacific 8 Conference meet when you and Oregon freshman Steve Prefontaine dueled to a near dead heat?
GLThis guy scared the devil out of me as he was pretty tough. When we had the dual meet with Oregon I had been injured as usual and he caught me and beat me. Going into the conference championship he had a big head. I took off and had a big lead going up the first big hill at Stanford on their golf course. Near the top of the hill there was Pre going ahead of me and I had to catch him going down the hill. Through the whole race I’d sprint to try to get ahead of him and he would sprint with me every darn time. Approaching the finish line I was depleted and there was nothing left. With about 200 yards to go he saw the finish line and it seemed he was forcing me into the crowd as they were right up against us on my side. That’s how we ran the last 200 yards with me trying to fight him off. He leaned at the tape and I was straight up and it was an amazing finish to an amazing race.
GCR:Take us through the 1969 NCAA Cross Country meet in Van Courtland, Park in New York and the major strategic moves during the race. How tough was it racing a confident Steve Prefontaine and defending champ Mike Ryan of Air Force who came in second only two seconds behind your 28:59 win with Pre a further 11 seconds back?
GLBefore the race started I told Pre that he would have to run the mile of his life the first mile because in the NCAA cross country meet everyone went out way, way too fast. In Provo they didn’t do it as much though because of the altitude, but they had the previous year in Kansas. The first mile had quite a bit of uphill running but everyone was out very hard and fast. I was in about tenth place at the mile and I heard 4:08 called out. Then runners started putting on the breaks as they must have thought they were out too fast. I ended up around a mile and a half in the lead as we ran through a wooded area of trails. Pre was right behind me on one side and Ryan was right behind on the other side. I remembered that when we ran around corners we would slow down so I had to pick it up after each corner to get back into my pace. They were right behind me and I would gain a few steps after each corner. When we came out of the woods I had a big lead on Mike Ryan who was also way ahead of Pre. That’s the way the race went and we finished in that order. Ryan made a moved to catch me near the end. He was a long way back and I saw him coming. I thought that if he got close I would sprint but I was tired and kept watching. I didn’t care as long as I stayed ahead but he was a lot closer than I had anticipated. He came on with a really good sprint.
GCR:Only three men in the history of the NCAA Cross Country Championships have been victorious three times – Henry Rono, Steve Prefontaine and you. What does it say that this group is so small and the racing style of the three of you was that you all liked to race hard and fast whether it was a close race or if you were way out front?
GLI never thought I would win three times as I was just out there to inspire people and don’t know how that happened. By the time I was a junior or senior in college I had had so many good experiences in running and set so many records that I was favored to win so it wasn’t such a big deal. The NCAA was a place that had some very good individuals and Rono and Prefontaine were on top of their game. All three of us ran hard and I can’t understand why so many runners don’t just go out and do that with what they’ve got. I see these races where guys try to break my 2-mile indoor high school record and they just stay back and run a certain pace. I say, ‘Why?’ They should just go for the race and the record will fall by itself.
GCR:What is the truth to the story of you encouraging or inspiring a young Steve Prefontaine to run before he had started running?
GLI got him into running when he was a softball player who had been cut from his team because he was too uncoordinated and slow. In Coos Bay where Steve was from the softball team was everything as it was the main sport in the area and when he didn’t make the team he was terribly despondent. I had friends I was staying with at Reid’s Park 15 miles up the coast. Their son had made the team and they were telling me how despondent Pre was about not making the team. So I thought I would run down there to Coos Bay and see if I could cheer him up. They gave me directions to his house so I ran down to Coos Bay and knocked on his door. Pre came to the door and looked at me with big eyes and said, ‘You’re Gerry Lindgren – I know you! You’re just a wimp!’ He compared his hip height to me and saw how skinny I was and he was saying excitedly, ‘I’m going to be a runner – I can beat you! I’m going to kick your ass!’ He just kept going on and on. So I guess maybe I inspired him a bit.
GCR:In 1965 when you were a collegiate freshman and ineligible for NCAA competition you and Billy Mills had a dog fight over six miles at the AAU Championships with him nipping you at the line but both of you breaking the 6-mile World Record in 27:11.6. Despite not winning, how was it to race strongly against Mills and what do you have to say about the NCAA-AAU feud where the NCAA had said you would be ineligible to compete in college if you ran that race?
GLThat was during the time when the NCAA had its athletes boycott the AAU National Championships as the two groups had been fighting for years. Since I couldn’t run for Washington State at the NCAA meet because I was a freshman, it didn’t make sense for me not to run at the AAU meet. I declared that I was going to run at the AAUs. I wasn’t doing it to break the boycott – I just wanted to run. The NCAA threatened me and I also sprained my ankle so when I went to San Diego and Billy Mills and I tied for that World Record it was really something.
GCR:After the injury sustained in Tokyo at the 1964 Olympics it was a long four years before your next shot at the Olympics, but an inflamed Achilles tendon contributed to you not being in peak form and placing fifth in the 10,000 meters and fourth in the 5,000 meters at the 1968 Olympic Trials. How hard was this to stomach that you wouldn’t even have a chance to compete at Mexico City?
GLI was looking forward to going to the Olympics for a second time because the first time in 1964 I was just a kid and didn’t realize the kind of competition I was getting in to and I didn’t really appreciate it. By 1968 I understood running much more and really wanted to make the Olympic team. When I got the Achilles tendon injury at the NCAA championships and it hurt so badly in the 3-mile some of the meet officials told me that if I trained at Echo Summit at the pre-Olympic high altitude camp there would be trainers who could help me with my injury. When I went up there they didn’t have team physicians. They just had some part-time trainers who weren’t very experienced. I wasn’t able to recover enough from that injury to train properly and get in good enough shape to make the team.
GCR:In 1969 you roomed with Frank Shorter and Kenny Moore during an AAU tour of European Meets. Do you have any fond memories of particular races or fun social times?
GLIt was a fun time. Kenny Moore was always writing things down and I would tease him because he would get out his note pad and say, ‘I have to write that down.’ He must have been thinking about writing a book and wanted to remember what was happening. There were fun competitions but it was very intense because every three or four days there was another race. It was kind of taxing and by the end of our time in Europe we needed a break.
GCR:It’s interesting that Frank and Kenny became such great marathon runners. How do you think you would have fared as a marathon runner if during your top competitive days when you were running high training mileage you would have raced some marathons?
GLI avoided the marathon because it seemed to me it was a ‘crazy man’s race.’ Running the marathon wasn’t so popular and it was weird people who ran long distances and won the marathon. I finally ran two marathons as race organizers kept asking me to compete. I was running my first marathon and about halfway I was supposedly running at a pace that would take me under two hours for the marathon and I couldn’t understand why everybody was a good mile behind me. After 24 miles they were telling me that my pace was still under two hour pace. But the last two miles I fell apart and they must have been the slowest of my life as I ended up around 2:16 which was way, way slower than I was running. Another time I ran a marathon in Spokane and got to within a couple hundred meters of the finish line in about 1:58 and then I passed out. Back then in marathons they didn’t have aid stations – you just ran. I was used to running lots of miles because I went out all the time and ran all day. I was used to the mileage, but maybe the speed was too much.
GCR:Speaking of running all day, what can you tell me about some of your very long training days including running 88 mile long runs to the top of Mt. Spokane and back?
GLI wasn’t thinking of mileage. I was using my legs for transportation as they would get me to the top of the mountain and take me back. There was a lake that was 57 miles from Spokane in the other direction. I would run out to the lake, go for a swim, take a little nap and run home in the afternoon. Whether I was training or running I would just do it. You can do more if you don’t think of it as running. Here in Oahu I have run around the island which is 147 miles. If you are going for a 147 mile run you’d probably die after 20 miles. However, if you aren’t going for a 147 mile run but you’re just going around the island and enjoying the sights and the fun you’re having, you just enjoy!
GCR:During your high school and college years how much base training did you do in terms of mileage, number of times you ran per week and long runs? How much did it vary during the season when you were racing?
GLWhen I think back because I wasn’t as good as other people when I started out, I knew that I had to do more to help lead the pace. So I started getting up early in the morning and running five or six miles of easy running that wasn’t even taxing. Then I would run with the team after school. Then in the middle of the night I started getting up at one or two o’clock and running a 10-mile run so that would give me extra mileage. I did this so I could run as well as the other runners but it turned out a lot better I guess. I think the people who are slower and not as athletic have the chance to do better than those who are athletic and have ability because if you have the ability you don’t have to do a lot of extra work to ‘get there.’ If you have to do extra work you develop an ability to do more so that you can get where you want to go. So in some ways it is much better to be slow than to be naturally fast. In running it is always the person who does the most work who gets to where he wants to be.
GCR:What is the highest weekly mileage that you sustained for at least two or three months?
GLOne time when I was in college there was a physiologist who was writing a book and he talked to me several times as his supposition was that the human body couldn’t take more than about 20 miles of running in a day. He said it eventually would break down after a couple of weeks and I told him that wasn’t true. But he insisted he was right and I was wrong. I got together with him and ran 50 miles every day for six weeks. He would ride along in his car or on a moped or bile to make sure I did at least 50 miles. Sometimes I did a 25 or 30 mile run in the middle of the night and he documented that I was running that far. In the end when he wrote his book he left it the way he had written it and I asked him, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said that he needed to sell books and no one would buy it if it said you could basically run forever.
GCR:We have talked somewhat about your coaches, Jack Mooberry at Washington State and Tracy Walters at Rogers (WA) High School. What did each of these coaches do to contribute to your success as a person and a racer?
GLTracy Walters was an amazing influence on me. He helped me with the skills I needed to succeed not only in running but in life. He is the one who taught me that I don’t have to run to do something for myself. That is, rather than trying to be somebody; I should be trying to help others to be somebody. He helped me to understand life and what it takes to run well. My whole career was due to Tracy Walters. My college coach, Jack Mooberry, gave a lot to me too in that he didn’t know as much what to do so he allowed me to do some crazy things in training that other coaches may not have let me do. He understood that I was at the point in my career that I knew what I had to do and I just had to go out and do it.
GCR:What were some of your favorite intense training sessions?
GLOne of the best training runs I did which I learned from Ron Clarke and that I passed on to Prefontaine and other runners is a 10-mile run where the first mile is as hard as you can go. I would try to break four minutes, but I never could run it that fast – the best I did was a 4:07. It was terribly intense as when I got to that point I wondered if I would survive. Then from there I would try to run a time trial for the rest of the ten miles. There were places where I would check my watch and try to be ahead of my time from the last time I did that run. I competed against myself every step of the way. It’s great for the body because in a hard race you can take off with confidence as you have been there before. Most of the runners I competed against had never been there before. So I would be in oxygen debt and they would be in oxygen debt but it wasn’t as intense for me as I had been there while my competition hadn’t. It’s a terrible imposition and a great advantage. On the track Coach Walters got me running three lap intervals with the first lap at 10.000 meter pace of about 70 seconds, then the second lap as hard as I could sprint followed by the third lap back at 70-second mode. It would just kill me to not slow down on the last lap as it was awfully intense. We would do seven or eight of these in a workout and it would just kill me. Sometimes he would throw in a half mile or quarter mile instead of the three quarter mile to throw my body off as I would readjust to the different distance and not get to accustomed to what I was running.
GCR:As the years have gone by training has become so scientific that it seems runners are much more focused on what they can’t do versus what they can do. Do you think that too much knowledge has become a limiting factor in running performances? And what are your thoughts on weight training for runners?
GLI think that if you just go out and run you will get better. I wonder about runners who do weight training to get more upper body strength which is just the opposite of what a distance runner needs. Only the countries that don’t do weight training have good distance runners any more. Our runners in the U.S. want to have good upper bodies and it gets them away from the important thing which is to run. Pre always did weight training and I used to love it because when we got into a race and ran real hard his whole body would tense up time and again when we ran intense sprints to try and break away from each other. He was too tired and couldn’t keep it up.
GCR:With the luxury of hindsight, is there anything you could have done differently in training and racing focus that may have resulted in better performances?
GLIf I had it to do all over again I would probably keep up training for the mile in addition to my distance training. I was a good miler but I got into distance training because that is what our country needed at the time. I think I could have run much faster in the mile if I had been able to keep up my training for it. I had that one cross country race at Mt. Sac where I ran a 4:02 mile pace for four miles and if I had been able to keep up that type of running maybe I could have been closer to four minute pace for six miles.
GCR:Who were some of your favorite competitors and adversaries?
GLRon Clarke was as he was the World Record Holder for almost all of the long distance races. And if someone else broke one of his records he would come back and run a race and beat it. I really liked racing him because every time he would give me the toughest race I ever had. He was the one guy I liked to race the most. He was an amazing runner and tough as hell. He did a lot of things that other runners wouldn’t do such as the mid-race spurt that I learned from him. He said there is a time when you can sprint and win the race, guaranteed, every time right after about two thirds of the way into a race as it is too far from the finish line and everyone thinks it is too early. He used that so well on me in the beginning and I learned how to implement it in my races.
GCR:In your book, ‘Gerry Lindgren’s Book on Running,’ you have ‘15 Rules to Run By’ which include concepts such as running unselfishly for the benefit, happiness and welfare of other people, proving yourself worthy, racing with your heart, being humble and appreciative, training and racing aggressively, dreaming enormous dreams, focusing and that reward is greater than effort. Would you comment on your ‘Rules to Run By’ and the feeling that encompasses them all?
GLMost people get into running and the first thing is they want to be a great runner. I think that is wrong. They want to win races and that is wrong because it is a selfish motive. It inhibits your ability to achieve. If you are running because you are going to help somebody else you can do so and it will make your running better. It gives you something rather than taking away from others. I’ve always thought that there is great energy to be had when you are giving to other people. When I started running I wanted to show courage. Even though I had very little courage as a little kid, when I tried to give my courage away I suddenly had more courage than I ever thought I could have. It’s because what you try to give is much more important than what you try to get for yourself. Whereas if I am trying to win races, which I was doing when I was getting beat all of the time, is very limiting. You have to work much harder and get less out of it when you are just trying to win races.
GCR:After you finished your collegiate career at Washington State, how difficult was it mentally and physically to maintain the drive and training necessary to compete at the highest level?
GLWhen I was a senior in college the Vietnam War was going on and they had a draft list based on your birthday and I was like number 317 out of the 365 days. So for all practical purposes I was not going to be drafted. But somebody in the Pentagon decided they wanted me to run for the Army. They asked me to come in for a physical which I had to do every year to justify my limitations due to my ulcers. So I went in and they drafted me and put me on an airplane to North Ft. Lewis. I was on what they called ‘temporary duty’ and was supposed to run for the Army. Of course I had these terribly active ulcers and no way to get any relief. I was kind of on my own. There were some prisoners at a stockade that were fed at specific times and I would run by at meal times and eat with them. Then I would disappear afterwards. That period messed up my running very badly. Finally they threw me out of the Army because my ulcers had gotten so much worse. I had no continuity so I had to start my training all over again. Then running was kind of hard. I ran a few more good races but wasn’t able to train the way I would have liked.
GCR:Your final attempt to make an Olympic team was thwarted in 1972 when you were hit by a car while training. After a stint with a short-lived pro track circuit it was time for life after competitive running. How hard was it to transition from high level training and racing to a more ‘normal’ life?
GLIn 1972 I trained hard for the Olympics as I thought it was going to be my big year. I was finally going to come back and do all of the things in the Olympics that I wasn’t able to do in 1964 or 1968. When I was lying on the ground underneath that car my knee was messed up really badly and I knew I was out of it and it was a terrible feeling at the time. I knew from the beginning that it was suicide to go pro with the ITA as the way it was set up we would just be running against the same guys every week to get a time. It wouldn’t provide the competition to help us run well. But at the time the AAU was very restrictive and something had to be done to help athletes. So I went pro with the idea that maybe I could help up and coming runners so that they could be more financially able to train. So that was the goal of pro track and it ended up working extremely well because the AAU eased up on money restrictions. It ended up good for other runners but for me it was a disaster because it ended my running career.
GCR:Speaking of 1972, I remember when I was a teenager seeing you on television wearing a ‘Stop Pre’ t-shirt. What’s the story behind that?
GLWhen I went to the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon in 1972 the fans were all yelling. ‘Go Pre,’ because they were all Pre fans at the time. One of the guys covering the meet had an idea of printing a ‘Stop Pre’ shirt which he distributed to other reporters. He wanted to get it down on the field and asked me if I would wear the ‘Stop Pre’ shirt during my warm up before the race. I said, ‘Yea, I think that would be kind of funny.’ It caused a commotion in the stands and was quite funny as people seemed to like it as it was comical to break up the tension. After the race Pre took the shirt out of my warm up box where I had my clothes, put it on and ran around wearing it.
GCR:You worked for a while in the 1970s with Glen Turner as a motivational instructor. How rewarding were that ventures?
GLGlen Turner’s enterprises were right in line with what I was doing as he was trying to motivate people. That was my whole motivation for running – to help others do well. I started out with a cosmetic distributorship and it was at a time when he was getting in trouble with the law as they said he was selling the right to sell rather than products. I had bought a franchise and was selling cosmetics with girls going door-to-door on routes in Spokane and doing quite well. So when he needed to show that people were actually doing his business rather than earning high dollars by bringing other people in he would look my way since I was doing well. He flew me down to his Orlando, Florida offices on a Lear jet. I told him he needed a motivational program and he thought it was a good idea and asked me to do that for him. I helped him come up with the motivational company that he called, ‘Dare to be Great,’ and I was one of his first motivational instructors as I spoke all over the country trying to motivate people to have a positive attitude and to live a good life. It was a lot of fun.
GCR:Next you opened a running store, Gerry Lindgren’s Stinky Foot. Was it enjoyable to stay connected with the running community?
GLMy running store was kind of an afterthought as I had always thought it would be a good thing to do as then I could continue motivating people to run well. I opened the Stinky Foot store in Bellevue, Washington and I ended up with five of them on the west coast and they all did well for a while.
GCR:Around 1980 you left your life behind and moved to Hawaii where you’ve lived now for over 30 years. What was the impetus for such a big life change and how has it turned out for you?
GLI got in trouble with the President of the United States in 1980 when he boycotted the Olympics and the press called everyone asking our opinion. Many runners thought that if Jimmy Carter thought it was the right thing that it was okay. But I said there are athletes who have given up at least four years of their lives to represent the country and it wasn’t right to use the Olympics for political means. It was never political and wasn’t supposed to be political. I guess I said too much because a couple of days later the IRS came in and closed my stores as they said I hadn’t paid all of my taxes. I closed for a while and then Immigration Department people came in and did a similar thing. So that’s how I ended up in Hawaii which ended up being a good thing for me. It led me in different directions and I have been able to do many things here that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d stayed where I was.
GCR:You’ve done coaching with individuals and at the collegiate level. How rewarding is it to contribute to others’ success as runners versus your own success?
GLIt has been good for me as that is the direction I wanted my life to go I all along – contributing to other people.
GCR:What do you think about the mental healing properties of running?
GLOn my website during the last few weeks I have been experimenting along those lines. You probably know that the great sprinter, Lee Evans, has had some health problems with a tumor in his brain. So I asked some other runners to mentally prepare when we start a run to break up the tumor on his brain by running on it. When we started doing this he was in a serious life-threatening situation in a hospital. When he went into surgery a couple of days later the tumor had shrunk and when they did the operation he is fine. We tried through our running to give our effort to heal somebody else. It was running unselfishly for the benefit, happiness and welfare of Lee Evans. And I know I was running faster than I had in the past year and many other runners were telling me they were getting in some tremendously good workouts but they didn’t even think about it as they were thinking about Lee Evans and what they could do to help. That I think is the key – if you do something for someone else you have a lot more energy than if you are trying to help yourself.
GCR:You are involved with the Hawaii Running Project which uses running as a healing process. This reminds me of Back on my Feet which Anne Mahlum started in Philadelphia and has expanded to several other cities to help men at shelters use running as positive motivation in their lives. What are your thoughts on running and its effects on the disadvantaged?
GLI’ve seen running do some great things for a lot of people which is why we got into this project. I have seen those who are despondent with many problems in their lives start running and then they start thinking when they are running not just about what they can do for themselves but for other people and it changes their lives. I like that and the entire concept of it which is why this whole project came about. It is a learning process but that is what I hope to do – to have a process by which people can achieve.
GCR:What is your current health and fitness regimen?
GLI run every day though I’m only getting in four or five miles each day on the average. I run in the late mornings or afternoons during the week and longer on the weekends when I’m not working. I’m not in that good of shape – I was running in Kapolei Park the other day and a snail zipped by me – so I’m kind of slow! I train on the track and they time me with a calendar rather than a stopwatch now!
GCR:What are some of your goals for the future in terms of fitness, coaching and the possibility of age group competition?
GLI’ve been out of competition for 10 or 15 years now where I haven’t run races at all. It’s a little bit because they are expensive and I can’t afford them and also because I’m not that motivated to race. I’m still trying to keep in the running circles by motivating others. I wrote my book, I coach online, I’m on Facebook and I try to help other people as much as I can. I do hold training sessions and have helped some high school runners to do well at the Hawaii State Championships as they were running workouts I supervised.
GCR:You were out of the public eye for many years but have re-emerged with Facebook postings and some speaking engagements. Do you hope to expand your connections with the running community?
GLI just want to be of service. If I can then that is why I am here. I want to help to change a lot of the things that need to be changed in our world. I want to help runners to get as much out of running as I did. I’m trying every chance I get to be a helpful influence on other people. You know me – I’m a small, wimpy guy and can’t do a lot – but I sure want to try.
GCR:A quote from your book is that ‘Running set Gerry free.’ Please discuss this as it may relate to your family, friends and self-esteem.
GLI felt restricted by this wimpy body of mine as I am very small and very skinny. There wasn’t much I could do athletically and I was from an alcoholic family where it was very difficult when I was growing up. When I was running, I was just ’me.’ I could control my own life. I could pick it up or go slow or rest. I could sprint and it was all up to me. The harder I worked the freer I was of all of the inhibitions that were placed on me by my own wimpy body and problems that were cast on me by parents and family and others. So there is a freedom in running that allows you to do things that others would have never thought to do. There is a healing process in running that suddenly you are free and nobody else is holding you back. That is why we started the Hawaii Running Project because so many people are held back by what others think of them. When you run there is a freedom to it that is just beautiful.
GCR:What are the major lessons you have learned during your life from working to achieve academically and athletically, the discipline of running, your racing success, and coping with adversity that you would like to share with my readers?
GLIt’s not the running so much but that you are living your life for something greater than yourself. If you are determined to leave the world a little better place than when you got here and you forget about your own problems, the problems can only exist if you allow them to. If you forget about the problems and concentrate on what you can do then the problems disappear and what you can do becomes very, very big. I have been able to do many things that people said were impossible to do. It’s just because I did it. That is what I want to do as a human being is to get people to understand that we can do a lot of things that we think we aren’t able to do if we take control of our own self.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsMostly just running. I’m into some cultivation of plants. I’ve created a jungle in my back yard with a koi pond and tropical plants everywhere. Bamboo is covering everything. I’ve also been trying to grow fruit trees in public areas like abandoned fields. I’ve tried mangoes and papayas so that when they are mature people can come and harvest the fruit crops, but it is slow going
Nicknames: ‘Gerry’ is my nickname. People called me many different things. In high school the newspaper reporters called me ‘The Spokane Sparrow.’ In college a trainer jokingly called me ‘Stud.’ But I’m just me
Favorite moviesI like Forrest Gump. That was an extremely good movie. He had many handicaps but didn’t measure himself in comparison to other people. He just went out and did what he wanted to do. And it turned out pretty good
Favorite TV showsI don’t watch much television
Favorite musicI’m a great Beatles fan because they did so well. Mozart has always been a classical favorite
Favorite booksZecharia Sitchin’s chronicles which talked about ancient writings of the first civilizations on earth. He has written books which have interpreted ancient writings and how life existed in those times so they are very interesting. Betty Shine is a healer in Essex, England and has a book, ‘Mind Magic’ that discusses about how the mind creates the future and how we can heal people by our mental processes. It’s one of the areas I’ve gone into recently
First carFor a long time I didn’t have a driver’s license because I was afraid that if I could drive I wouldn’t run. I could run for ten, twenty or up to a hundred miles and it was a good way to get around. I even ran to college at Washington State a few times which is 90 miles south of Spokane. I finally got an old 1956 Chrysler New Yorker when I was in college. It was an old junk car that was usually parked on the side of the road with something broken down
Current carAgain I have an old Chrysler that someone had to sell when they were leaving town in a hurry. It’s a Chrysler Town ‘n Country that isn’t that good of a car, but it gets me around. I’d like to have a Smart car, but I don’t think I can afford one
First JobWhen I was a junior high school kid I had a newspaper route that had only 16 customers over a two and half mile route of running. I would run my paper route
FamilyI came from an alcoholic background and my family kind of broke apart at an early age. My oldest brother joined the Navy as soon as he turned 18 and could get out of the house. My whole family kind of fell apart and it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me because again I was not hindered any more. It is sad because I have broken away from family ties and even most of the people I knew in high school and college. I have gone my own way and been busy doing my own thing and didn’t have time to be social. But that’s life – you have to do what you have to do I guess
PetsI have a dog, Peku. She’s a cross breed between a Tasmanian Devil and a Jack Russell Terrier – some type of genetic research project that they were going to put down so I took her home and she is the cutest little thing you ever could imagine
Favorite breakfastI like good cereals that I mix together with fruit and nuts that are good for me and I use soy milk
Favorite mealTofu steak. I’m trying to be vegan as much as possible but I’m what is called a ‘cheating vegan’ as I eat some vegetarian foods. I don’t want to be strict on anything as I don’t believe it’s good to be too strict. Sometimes I haven’t eaten any meat for quite a while and I see a good deal on Salmon and I jump on it. I don’t want to be rigid
Favorite beveragesSoy milk as that is what I drink most of the time
First running memoryBefore I became a runner I was in a Boy Scout troop and they held a winter carnival that had a special two-mile race up the mountain where I ran a mile up the mountain and turned around and ran back. And I won the darn thing. That was a long time ago and was probably the first time I really could run. There were so many guys ahead of me in the race that died and I ended up running in the lead. I tried to keep from falling and made it back down the mountain way ahead of everybody else as they were all falling down
Running heroes Ron Clarke because he could run every distance so well and had so many of the World Records
Greatest running momentsThe 10,000 meters in the meet against the Russians has to stand out because of the impact it had on other people – so that race was a big one. Another huge moment early on was the first time that I ever made it to the top of Beacon’s Hill when I was just a little guy starting out. It was a hill near my school but I would always have to stop somewhere on the side of the mountain because it was just too far and I couldn’t make it. It was about a mile and a half up and the final third was very steep. After coming up that far it is very hard to keep your legs moving without stopping to take a rest. The first time I made it to the top was in the depths of winter and it was in the middle of a snow blizzard. Those were terrible conditions and I couldn’t believe I made it to the top. That was a personal victory for me that I never felt afterwards
Worst running momentThe Olympics in 1964 as I couldn’t do what I was made to do. I couldn’t inspire; I couldn’t help other people and I couldn’t do any of the things as a runner which I had built myself up for. It was terribly, terribly disappointing for me
Childhood dreams and memories No dreams that I can remember. I was in a mode where at times when we didn’t have much food. One time when we had chicken for dinner I snuck a drumstick and put it underneath my pillow in my bed and for a few days took bites from it as it was so good and such a delicacy
Embarrassing momentThe first day I went to Rogers High School as an incoming sophomore. I came up to the big front doors and tried to open them. I could get the door open maybe three inches but that was all. I tried several times. Inside students walking the front hall saw my struggle and gathered. I started to leave. A girl walked up to the door, opened it easily and went in. I went back to the door and tried again. I just could not get that door to open! Inside a large crowd had gathered in laughter. Finally a rather small girl approached the door and opened it easily. As she went in I slipped in behind her. The cheer was enormous. That was terribly embarrassing!
Favorite places to travelOne of the bad things about living in Hawaii is where do I go to take a vacation? What could I like better? I like to spend time in the mountains in the Koolau range that runs through Oahu. It has great hiking trails and grand views overlooking the mountains and valleys. There are pretty places that are some of the nicest places I have ever been on earth and I really appreciate going to them