Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Marty Liquori Tells All in August 2011 Interview
Track guru Gary Cohen has just published the most extensive interview ever given by former Villanova legend Marty Liquori. It's a great read and we thank Gary for sharing it via his website here.
Here's the interview from Gary Cohen, with photos added courtesy of WhiteCat at RunMoreMiles.com
Marty Liquori — August 2011
Marty Liquori earned the Silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the 1977 World Cup in an American Record 13:15.1. He was ranked Number One in the World at both 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters and won a total of 14 national titles at distances ranging from the mile to 5,000 meters. Marty was a three-time NCAA mile champion in 1969, 1970 and 1971 while at Villanova University. He is one of five U.S. high school runners to run a sub-4:00 minute mile with his 3:59.8 at the 1967 AAU Championships. In 1968 Marty became the youngest Olympic 1,500 meter finalist in history at age 19. His Olympic chances were thwarted by injuries in both 1972 and 1976. Perhaps his most memorable race was winning the 1971 ‘Dream Mile’ against Jim Ryun, though he set his 3:52.2 personal best in finishing second to Filbert Bayi’s 3:51.0 World Record at the 1975 ‘Dream Mile.’ He won the Gold medal at the 1971 Pan Am Games in the 1,500 meters. Marty was a member of Villanova’s 1971 NCAA Cross Country team champions and nine Penn Relays champion relay teams. His stellar high school career at Essex Catholic (New Jersey) included winning the Eastern States Cross Country Championships and his team setting American records for both the distance medley and the four mile relay. Marty’s Personal Bests include: 880y – 1:49.2; 1,500m – 3:36.0; Mile – 3:52.2; 2 miles – 8:17.12; 5,000m – 13:15.06 and 10,000m – 29:08.9. A co-founder of the Athletic Attic chain of running stores, he went on to become an author and television commentator, working with ABC-TV at the 1972, 1976 and 1984 Olympic Games. Marty is currently a professional jazz guitarist. He resides in Gainesville, Florida with his wife, Debora, and has three children, Michael, Connor and Meredith. Marty was very gracious in inviting me into his home for over two hours for this interview.
GC: Whether it is as a runner, broadcaster, businessman or musician you seem driven to excel and to reach for your potential. Is this something you developed when you began running as a youth or was it instilled in you at an earlier age by your upbringing?
ML: What I have is the addictive personality which is both a blessing and a curse. Whatever I do I want to do to the best of my ability. The lessons I learned from running did make is possible for me to have success in other areas. There were many corollaries between running and music which I have concentrated on much more during the past dozen years. When I talk with fellow musicians I find that they don’t approach their craft the same way I do with my discipline. Also, because I was successful as a runner I believed I could also do well as a musician. Unfortunately it leads me to believe I can succeed at anything through consistent effort – even wind surfing. My personality is such that I can’t just do something a few times a year for fun – I have to achieve a certain level of competence. So now I know that I can’t take up golf as I’ll go off the deep and with practicing. I keep threatening to take up painting, but I’m holding back as music has become more than I bargained for. My wife is obsessive and so am I which does help because she realizes the focus it takes to do something well.
GC: Many runners have credentials that are only achieved by a select few. What does it mean to be one of only five United States high school runners to break four minutes in the mile?
ML: I think it blinds people to the rest of my career. I don’t consider it one of the top five accomplishments in my running career, but the public has a fascination with the four minute mile. There are dozens of African kids who have run that fast by the time they were 18 years old, so it isn’t really that big of a deal worldwide. What I did in high school is just that – what I did in high school. Only a handful of runners have ranked number one in the world at 1,500 meters which I believe that is a much more significant accomplishment.
GC: When you ran your 3:59.8 mile as a high school runner you finished in seventh place behind Jim Ryun’s World Record of 3:51.1. What were your thoughts when you found out you had broken four minutes?
ML: I had qualified for the final the night before with a time of 4:08 and in the final I was so far behind after three laps that I didn’t even consider I could break four minutes. But when I heard my time of 3:02 I just took off. I knew I could run a 58 second quarter mile and even if I died during the last 100 yards that I had to go immediately. I knew I had a chance. Afterward I was walking around for what seemed a long time, though it was probably two minutes, when Sam Bell came over and told me I ran 3:59.8. I called my coach, Fred Dwyer, and told him my time, and got congratulations. I did say to him though that someone would be doing it every year as this was four years in a row a high school runner had broken the four minute mile so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But Freddy said, ‘No, I think it’s always going to be something special.’ He was right as it didn’t happen again for over thirty years. However, there didn’t seem to be the emphasis in future years that we had in the 1960s. I was in California in 1967 for about a month of training and racing, had already ran 4:01.1 and 4:00.4 and didn’t even attend my high school graduation. Another fact is that the four minute mile was nine seconds off of the World Record when I was running and now is over 15 seconds behind the World Record. So this helped me to get into top races due to my times and my coach’s connections. Top high school runners these days can’t get into those big races.
GC: How good was Jim Ryun’s World Record race and could you have imagined the epic duels you and Ryun would have in the future?
ML: There are three points about that race which indicates Jim Ryun’s greatness: First, it was a dirt track; Second, there were no pace setters and third, he ran in the lead the entire way and was just barely under three minutes at the three quarter mile before running a crazy fast last lap. So that World Record was worth a lot more than a 3:51 if it was run on a tartan track with competition, pace setters or both. I couldn’t have imagined racing at the front with Jim Ryun as he was on another planet. I didn’t think I would improve as fast as I did in the next few years.
GC: Just as Ali-Frazier peaked interest in boxing in the 1970s and Borg-McEnroe invigorated tennis in the early 1980s, how exciting was it to you personally and important to track and field to have the Liquori-Ryun battle in the mile in the late 1960s and early 1970s?
ML: It was important to me and helped me because there was an American who was very good at running the mile and this took away a psychological burden. History is ripe with competitors from the same country coming along at the same time whether it was Arne Anderson and Gunder Haag in Sweden in the 1940s or Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram in England in the early 1980s. When there is someone in your own country to race against it makes both runners better. The interest in the United States was big because there were sports on television on Saturday and the entire country was tuned in to watch.
GC: The May, 1971 ‘Dream Mile’ that featured you and Ryun was hyped as much as any sporting event. How much anticipation was there on your part and what was your pre-race strategy?
ML: I felt I was unprepared for the race as it was early in the season in May and Jim had raced some good times out in California. Also, he had run 3:51 and my best time was about 3:56 so why would I feel I was ready to win. My best 800 meters was 1:48 and his was 1:44 so I knew he had more speed than me. Any strategy had to involve somehow neutralizing his kick.
GC: When you went through the half mile in only 2:03 how did you rearrange your race plan to attempt to win especially since Ryun had such great speed?
ML: Coach Jumbo Elliott and I felt that if he ran from the front that with every step he would get more confident so that is why I had to take the lead on the third lap and increase the pace.
GC: You both ran a 1:51 last half mile as you held off Ryun by a step in a personal best at the time of 3:54.6. Since you led and pushed the pace the final 700 meters, was the key to victory that such a long drive was necessary as Ryun’s quarter mile speed was two seconds faster than yours?
ML: I modeled myself after Herb Elliot’s style and he usually took the lead with around 600 meters to go. I had drilled into my mind that I didn’t have a good kick at the end and that I had to go early. The reality when looking back is that I wasn’t really a miler – I was a 5,000 meter runner. But when you are ranked number one in the world in the 1,500 meters the race directors want you in the 1,500 meters or mile which led to me running much of my career in the wrong race. In those days the mile was such a glamor event that it was better to be the fifth best miler in the world than the top 5,000 meter runner.
GC: When you entered the home stretch and Jim Ryun was on your shoulder, was it surprising that he was unable to drive past you with his fearsome kick?
ML: It was surprise, but when I go back and analyze the race, neither of us had a kick left since I pushed the pace so early and my strategy did play out well.
GC: Was that the turning point in your duels with Ryun or was it two years earlier when he won the 1969 NCAA Indoor Mile and you turned the tables on him by winning the mile at the NCAA Outdoors and AAU Championships?
ML: The 1969 NCAA Indoor Mile in Detroit was the turning point as I lost in a photo finish and realized that we were equal and that whoever worked harder could win from then on out.
GC: When you won the 1970 NCAA mile, a strong move at 300 meters opened up a lead that Dave Wottle couldn’t close as you beat him 3:59.9 to 4:00.1. What do you recall of that race or others with the future 1972 Olympic Gold medalist at 800 meters?
ML: In that race I shut down and eased up a bit since I had a good lead. I didn’t know anyone was closing so fast behind me. I’m unsure at the time if I knew who Dave Wottle was and, in another way, he may not have known who Dave Wottle was as far as his running potential. That was a breakthrough race for Dave as he lowered his personal best mile by six seconds. I remember one day talking about lifting weights with Dave and he didn’t while I had been for three times a week since my freshman year in high school. So I said, ‘How about trying the bench press.’ And he could press more than me! He was a great natural talent.
GC: The next year at the NCAA Indoor Championships, you duplicated what only Jim Ryun had done, pulling off a double victory in the mile and two-mile. How tough was it to balance your effort between the mile qualifying and two-mile one day and the mile final the next?
ML: The toughest thing was the problem with blistering on the wooden tracks. I didn’t wear socks and just taped my feet, so avoiding blisters was important. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to win the 2-mile, so that was a great meet to win both.
GC: Going back a few years, you made the 1968 United States Olympic team in the 1,500 meters as a 19 year old freshman. Was this a dream of yours and was it shocking for you to achieve it at so young an age?
ML: It came out of the blue. I had never seen the Olympics on television as during the 1964 Olympics my family was spending much of the summer on the New Jersey shore. I always felt in my career that I would be too young for the 1968 Olympics and too old for the 1972 Olympics. In those days if you graduated a year before the Olympics were held you probably wouldn’t be running as people back then got jobs and moved on in their lives. If they did keep running it was a real struggle. I never thought I’d end up training for four Olympics. I had just turned 19 when I was in the Olympics, but so was Louis Zamperini when he ran in the 1936 Olympics in the 5,000 meters so maybe that says something about Italians.
GC: You ran a well-placed qualifying round and made the final while running in the same semifinal heat as Kip Keino and Ryun, who won Gold and Silver medals in the final. What did you think of your chances in the final and how disappointing was it to have an injury prevent you from racing your best in the final?
ML: I felt pretty good in the first two rounds but I was running with a stress fracture in my foot which got progressively worse by the final. The team staff was focused on Jim Ryun and his chances to win the Gold medal and when I told them my foot hurt they had me put some ice on it but a shot may have helped me to finish better. I wasn’t ready to race for a medal though I could have placed a bit higher and for some unknown reason I was able to race well at altitude.
GC: Did you attend the opening or closing ceremonies and enjoy watching other track and field events, other sports and touring Mexico City and surrounding area?
ML: I went to the opening ceremonies but didn’t march in the closing ceremonies. I visited Acapulco for a few days as I felt that was better than staying around the Olympic Village. I didn’t do any cliff diving though we did watch the divers! I watched them previously on television and was impressed with them.
GC: Injuries knocked you out of the 1972 and 1976 Olympics while Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics ended your Olympic chances as you were 31 years old. What would it have meant to you to have the opportunity to race an Olympics when you were in top form?
ML: When they ran the second half of the 1972 Olympic 1,500 meters in 1:49 with a similar strategy like Jim and I had in the ‘Dream Mile,’ I was one of the announcers and was disappointed to not be in the race when I saw how it developed. When the race was over the producer said, ‘Okay we’re going to a commercial in three, two, one.’ I took off my headset and said, ‘Aw, shit.’ The producer said, ‘Just because I said ‘one’ didn’t mean we were off the air.’ Luckily we were. Looking back I don’t think anyone would have beaten Lasse Viren in the 5,000 meters in 1972 or 1976 as his scientific prowess was way ahead of us.
GC: During your running career major injuries reared their head at inopportune times. Was it a combination of your willingness to push to your limit, possibly racing too hard too often or ramping up your training too quickly after returning from an injury?
ML: Because I was injured during two Olympic years people think I had an injury-plagued career. However, I was only injured about three times. I had a body that could take a lot of training. When I was coming into the Olympics in 1972 and 1976 I could have eased my training made the team and raced fairly well, but that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to win the Olympics and I didn’t back off. I felt I had to complete certain workouts in order to win and I wasn’t aiming for second or third place.
GC: The May, 1975 ‘Dream Mile’ in Kingston, Jamaica was amazing as Filbert Bayi led the entire way en route to a World Record 3:51.0. Also, you (3:52.2), Eamonn Coghlan (3:53.3) and Rick Wohlhuter (3:53.8) all ran personal bests at the time. Could you possibly have won if you had pushed the third lap or if you and Coghlan hadn’t bumped with 350 meters to go - or was Bayi too strong that day?
ML: It was a really great race and all four of us ran very well. It was probably the last time the mile World Record was broken without a pace setter. Filbert Bayi did it 100% by himself. It was very hot at 82 degrees in Jamaica which was much tougher than a cool 50 degree day in Oslo, Norway. I was training in Florida so I was used to the heat, but it must have been a shock to Eamonn since he was coming from Ireland or Villanova University. Since it was the middle of May I felt like I wasn’t prepared as it was early in the season. My plan was to race strong at USA nationals in late June and treat that as the start of my racing season which would extend throughout August. For all of us to run PRs and for me to run my all-time best was surprising. There was no way Eamonn and I were going to catch Bayi. Until I saw the race recently on YouTube I forgot that I tried to pass Eamonn around the last turn and he had held me off. If I had made my move earlier or later I may have been a little closer to Bayi, but I would not have won. I ran a lot of races in my life and in the final 50 yards of that race my legs were more tired than in any other race.
GC: You moved up in distance in 1975, winning the Florida Relays 3-mile and AAU 5,000 meters and following it up with a 5,000 meter win at the 1976 Penn Relays. What were your thoughts on focusing on the longer distance with the upcoming 1976 Olympics in sight?
ML: My thought process was that since Filbert Bayi beat me in Jamaica and John Walker beat me in Stockholm, Sweden and they were going to both be in the Montreal Olympic 1,500 meters that my chances of beating both of them were small. I might beat one of them in a match race, but the odds of beating both were slim which made me think my chances of winning a Gold medal were better at 5,000 meters. In 1975 when John Walker was the first to break 3:50 in the mile, he worked it with the race organizers so that Rod Dixon and I weren’t in the mile. Due to this we ran the 5,000 meters and I’m not sure who won but we both ran around 13:23 at a time when the World Record was less than ten seconds faster than that. I figured if I ran the 5,000 meters I’d be the fastest miler and have the best kick so I moved up to the 5,000 meters.
GC: Despite a slightly injured hamstring muscle, you raced the 1976 AAU 5,000 meters which was just before the Olympic Trials and severely strained the hamstring. Why did you race when you already were qualified for the Trials?
ML: I strained my hamstring when I stepped in a hole while running on the University of Florida golf course, but it seemed like it was getting better and I had my arm twisted to run in the AAU Nationals. Dick Buerkle and I were running the 5,000 meters and I couldn’t resist the urge to kick, reinjured it and that was bad timing as the Olympic Trials were in a couple of weeks. I didn’t heal in time for the Trials but would have been fine in time for the Olympics.
GC: You ran a very strong race at the 1977 World Cup with an Olympic-caliber field as your American Record 13:15.1 for second place came up just short of Miruts Yifter’s 13:13.8. Was he just too fast to beat in the final kick as you did close to within a meter at the start of the final stretch?
ML: First, for background, I had called Barry Brown and told him that I was out of shape and over the hill. The reason was that I wasn’t hitting my repeat 200s workout. I usually would do 20 of them in 30 seconds early in the season and work down to 27s when I was in good form. I was only running 30s and didn’t feel I was ready to race fast. But Barry told me it was because of the Gainesville, Florida heat and that I would be okay. When I arrived in Europe I raced 1,500 meters the following day and thought I would finish poorly. I was just trying to get in a good workout, but took off with 300 meters to go and ended up beating some good runners by 20 meters. Two days later I raced 5,000 meters in Zurich against Miruts Yifter, 5,000 meter World Record holder Dick Quax, 10,000 meter World Record holder Samson Kimombwa and Henry Rono and in that race I was about 40 yards behind with a lap to go. Much like when I broke the four minute mile in high school, I looked at the clock and saw I needed a 60 second last lap to break the American Record. So I ran hard when the gun went off, flew by all of these guys, laughed to myself as I figured they would all get me back, but I ended up beating Yifter by 20 meters. This was the stupidest thing I ever did as now he knew who I was and came up with his plan for racing me. Ten days later at the World Cup he was right on my shoulder, got the jump on me and ended up winning.
GC: Speaking of international championships, you won Gold at the 1971 Pan Am Games at 1,500 meters in Cali, Colombia. What tactics led to your victory over medalists Bill Smart of Canada and your teammate, Jim Crawford?
ML: What I remember most was what happened before the race that coerced me to run and the travel delay in Miami. I was the favorite and had lots of pressure from the U.S. track governing body to run. I didn’t really want to travel from where I was racing in Europe, but back then track and field athletes had to listen to what they said. I went through processing in Miami and all of us were supposed to give a blood sample. They told me I had to if I wanted to be on the team. I said, ‘No I don’t,’ and there was about a two-hour standoff until they said I didn’t have to give a sample to compete and that it was just for scientific research. Later on when I told my teammates they were very upset and felt violated. These days people would say I’m taking drugs and that’s why I wouldn’t be tested, but I just hated needles and someone getting my blood under false pretenses. There was no respect for athletes back then as the attitude was that we should do whatever they track hierarchy asked. As for winning the 1,500 meters, the race wasn’t that memorable.
GC: Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine were also Gold medalists in Cali. Did you train with them or other teammates such as Mike Manley, Sid Sink and Jim Crawford?
ML: I hung around a lot with Frank and was good friends with Mike and Sid.
GC: As you mentioned earlier, you are on a short list of men to rank number one in the World at both 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters. What does this say about your versatility?
ML: For me it does say that my real strength was in the 5,000 meters. The 1,500 meters is tough to win in the Olympics as you must run strong in three races. The reason I was good in both races and so strong is that I ran about as many miles as most marathon runners did in those days. It would have been interesting if I had raced a marathon when I was in top form.
GC: Every great runner has to have a spark to get started in the sport. What led to focus your energy on distance running as your sport at Essex Catholic High School in Newark, New Jersey?
ML: When I was a sophomore in high school my coach came to my home and told my parents I should quit playing my guitar and focus on running as I had the talent to earn a track scholarship to college. When my parents heard the word, ‘scholarship,’ I didn’t have to work at the family gas station any more, I could train all summer and I went down to the beach to run on the nice sand surface. Now American kids don’t think they can get track scholarships and that they will be awarded to foreign runners in the distance races, but at my high school three or four guys every year earned a track scholarship so I saw it as an achievable goal.
GC: What was your training in terms of mileage as you progressed through high school and what were the main points you learned from Coach Fred Dwyer that helped you mentally and physically to excel?
ML: Everyone at my high school who was a distance runner ran at least 40 or 50 miles per week. By my senior year I was running 80 to 85 miles a week and running two workouts a day. I had an advantage as my high school coach was a great coach and had run close to a four minute mile. My Coach had been coached by Franz Stampfl so he also knew coaching principles from outside of the United States. We raced often as in the northeast there were many indoor track meets on weekends where we raced against as many as 20 schools – so the competition was excellent. Coach Dwyer was an old school coach who knew that a runner had to be very dedicated. One example is when there was a day when I was supposed to run 15 miles. He called my home to check and my mother told him I had run 13 miles because it had started snowing. Coach told my mom, ‘Make him go back outside and run the other two miles before you give him dinner.’ There was a mental aspect of ‘Don’t quit.’ He was the authority figure and I did have faith in him as he was a great coach and had been a great runner. He was able to tell me why we were doing different workouts and this helped me believe in the training and coaching.
GC: You had some great individual success winning the Eastern States Cross Country Championships in a course record at Van Cortland Park and as a member of American Record high school distance medley and 4 x mile relay teams. Compare and contrast winning at that age as an individual and as part of a foursome.
ML: Cross country was important and the focus of my life. The year before I had bronchitis and fainted in the home stretch so it was important to race well at Eastern States. When I broke the course record at Van Cortland Park records were being broken all of the time so it didn’t seem like it would last too long. Being part of a team has lasted my entire life. A few years ago I went back to my high school and saw some of my old teammates for the first time in over 30 years. One of my teammates who is making zillions of dollars on Wall Street and who had run a 49 second quarter mile on the distance medley told me, ‘Thank you so much – that’s how I got my college scholarship, life really picked up after that,’ and so on. My other teammates made similar comments and they were all appreciative as I was the key member of the relays. It was exciting at the time but I didn’t realize the impact it had on their lives.
GC: Are there any other races or running-related stories that stand out from your high school years?
ML: A funny instance occurred one day when I was a freshman as Coach Dwyer was standing along the track at a meet and said, ‘Look at that kid – he has a good stride – why don’t we have some kids like that?’ As the kid came off of the corner a religious brother was there and said, ‘That kid is on our team.’ The kid was me. Another interesting memory concerns my first time running the mile. My freshman year my best time was only about 2:09 for the half mile. When I came back for my sophomore year I told Coach Dwyer I wanted to run the mile. But he said I wasn’t strong enough so I didn’t run it indoors. However, when we started racing outdoors he let me race the mile in a meet in Washington, D.C. That first time I ran the mile I ran 4:19 when the New Jersey State record was 4:17, so that was a huge breakthrough. Then there was the race that really changed things my last year in high school. The pivotal race my senior year was when I ran a 4:04 mile at the Penn Relays. At the time I was a 4:13 miler, was planning on going to Penn and being an Ivy Leaguer. The guys recruiting me from Harvard and Penn were telling me that if I went to school there I could become the first sub four minute miler in the Ivy League. This was the wrong thing to say as I wanted competition. Coach Jumbo Elliott told me that if I came to Villanova I would be the fifth fastest guy on the team. I wanted to be a Rhodes Scholar and to go to Penn, but Coach Dwyer said, ‘There are a lot of lawyers in the world, but you have a special talent.’ So I backed out of my commitment to Penn and went to Villanova. In retrospect I don’t know if it is the smartest thing to pass on what was supposedly a superior education because of athletics. There are Olympic Gold medal winners who have sold their medals because they were broke, but in my case the ‘running thing’ did work out. Would I recommend to my son to make that choice? Probably not.
GC: While at Villanova you won multiple NCAA individual championships and were part of nine championship relay teams at the Penn Relays and an NCAA Champion cross country team. How much did you enjoy winning relay events and winning in cross country as a team?
ML: Being part of nine Penn Relay championship relay teams was much harder than running a sub four minute mile in high school. That being said, I was on very good teams and got the baton in the lead in eight of the nine races. In some of the relays I didn’t have to run all out, except in the 4 x 800 meter relay. Each year in the 4 x 800 meter relay I basically had to run a personal best for our team to win the race. It was over-reaching for me as I wasn’t blessed with great speed. Chris Mason got me the lead every time. There was a big group of us that raced together and who won many relay gold medals. The distance medley relay was very dominant and won about a dozen years in a row including my three years. The Penn Relays were definitely the highlight of our racing season. At Villanova I sacrificed a lot to do things for the team. I hurt my chances for the 1972 Olympics the previous fall as I was slightly injured for the NCAA Cross Country Championships and really got hurt in that race. But it was great to run for a team. Years later when the top American miler was thinking about leaving college and turning professional I told him that he would be able to make money, but he could never go back and be part of a team.
GC: What did Coach Jumbo Elliott add to your knowledge base in college that further developed you as a runner and what changed in your training as far as mileage and key workouts?
ML: When I started at Villanova I had so much confidence in my high school coach’s program that I wasn’t initially happy with what Coach Elliott was prescribing. I even called Coach Dwyer to tell him that Jumbo wasn’t giving me the eight repeat 800s I needed and our longest repeats were only 400 meters. Coach Dwyer told me that I was strong, needed to work more on my speed and that I should listen to Jumbo. Coach Elliott was a psychological master and an argument could almost have been made that he didn’t always follow the latest coaching techniques. Jumbo liked to say he used the K.I.S.S. method of coaching which is ‘Keep it Simple Stupid.’ He felt that we should all know enough by our sophomore year that we could coach ourselves if necessary. There were some runners who were running over 100 miles per week at Villanova, though I know it was on their own accord as Jumbo was mainly setting the track workouts. I didn’t increase my mileage until I was training in Florida with Barry Brown several years later when I moved up to the 5,000 meters. At that time I would run 16 to 17 weeks in the fall of over 100 miles.
GC: You were mostly self-coached after college. Could a coach or advisor possibly have helped you with some slight improvements or to lend an objective eye that may have helped you to incorporate more rest and recovery to minimize injuries?
ML: It was a mistake to coach myself as I needed an objective view point. Sometimes Florida distance coach Roy Benson would offer advice, but I really could have used a coach to keep an eye on me. There were times when I may have been planning 15 repeat quarter miles and an objective coach would have told me to end the workout after 12 of them as I wasn’t running well and should just go and warm down. There were times when I had a sore hamstring and would try to run through it and a seasoned coach could have increased the chances of my taking some rest days or easy days to ensure a better recovery. But I had had two of the best coaches in Coach Dwyer and Coach Elliott and I felt there wasn’t anyone else for me to go to that was better than them. Jumbo didn’t give me any workouts after college as his thoughts were it was time to get a job, start a family and stop running. Also, it would have been hard for a coach to set my training schedule because of my job responsibilities. With everything put together I would have been hard to coach. I did train with Pete Peterson a bit before the 1968 Olympics when I was racing in California and I did consider running in California under his program, though I ended up coming to Florida after graduation from Villanova. One of the things that kept me running was the mental challenge and I enjoyed coaching myself, though in those days I was the only 1,500 / 5,000 meter runner who was coaching himself. The good thing was that in Gainesville I did get to do some training with Barry Brown and other runners. I ran for hours with Barry and he was my ‘sounding board.’ He did get on me about not resting enough and I could have taken that advice.
GC: What were the major differences between Coach Elliott’s program that allowed you to race many quality races for months at a time and the Lydiard method you used toward the end of your career that brought you to a great peak for a much shorter period?
ML: The Lydiard philosophy as I understood it was more of putting your eggs in one basket, but if you got sick or injured then you were out of luck. I was more like the New York Yankees trying to win over 100 baseball games in a year while runners like Lasse Viren didn’t care about 1975 or 1977 – just peaking for July of 1976 and the Olympics. The most important thing to me when I ran was winning often and to get a World Number One ranking. I had read Lydiard’s book and was peaking for a short period of time in the summer rather than running so many races like I did in college. So I was following a Lydiard training program which I kind of taught myself and had success with it. I incorporated the idea that I would do my ‘miler workouts’ and race 5,000 meters. I looked at it that if I was running ten races a year I wanted to win eight or nine of them. I didn’t train to win one race or to set a World Record – I trained to win a lot of races. What I needed was speed to win tactical races. I had a goal of running the last lap of every 5,000 meters in 55 seconds or faster.
GC: The United States is seeing a resurgence in middle distance and distance running though we aren’t seeing Olympic Medalists and number one world rankings as in the 1960s and 1970s. Why were U.S. runners so successful then and would bringing back the mile rather than the high school 1,600 meters and collegiate 1,500 meters stir more public interest?
ML: We are back ‘in the game’ in distance running and people need to realize that outside of Africa the United States is the greatest distance running country in the world. Countries that used to be on par with us such as Finland, England, Germany or New Zealand aren’t any more. We are doing many things right. We do have good nutrition and doctors. The Kenyans just have numbers. They have 200 plus guys at five separate running camps running three times a day and all 1,000 of them have lived their lives at 7,000 or 8,000 feet of altitude. Some very good runners will come out of that and we just don’t have those numbers in the United States. Andrew Wheating wasn’t a great runner in high school but he has developed. There may be more great runners like him, but we never find out about them as they are involved in other sports. It is a public relations problem for track and field to not emphasize the mile in the United States as everyone in the public knows about the mile. When someone finds out I ran a 3:52 mile they are really impressed. I’m more impressed with my 5,000 meter time which was maybe third in the world whereas my mile was about fifth. The mile is a magical thing so they should go back to it. Maybe we should get Congress to pass a law that we have to run the mile (laughing).
GC: Two quotes from 1969 are of interest: First, ‘For several years running has been No. 1 in my life, but now being a good husband and making a good marriage have become No. 1.’ Second, ‘Track is the most important part of my life.’ The former is by Jim Ryun and latter is attributed to you. Do runners need that focus to reach their potential?
ML: You do have to be 100% focused and those who are can perform on a different level. It is the same with my music today where those who practice eight hours a days are way ahead of us who play three hours each day. But you do pay a price for it. I always admired guys like Rod Dixon from New Zealand who had kids and still raced very well. I didn’t think that was possible for me – it was all or nothing. In our defense most of us did hold down full-time jobs, though many were teachers. It is just mind-boggling to my running contemporaries that today’s top American runners are full-time athletes with shoe contracts and many still have trouble breaking 13:15 for 5,000 meters.
GC: Is there a race or event in your running career that you believe left an impact on the sport?
ML: When I was running in the Millrose Games they asked me why there hadn’t been a sub-four minute mile at their race. I told them because they held it at 10:00 at night and the place was filled with cigarette smoke. So Bob Hersh, who was the announcer, told me, ‘I’ll make you a deal Marty – I’ll announce all night that we are going to have an attempt to break the four minute mile and people need to smoke outside in the Garden.’ So I agreed and he announced it repeatedly all evening. When the race happened it was incumbent on me so run a four minute mile so I changed my style and ran for time. Tony Waldrop just sat on me, came around the last turn, passed me, broke the four minute mile and ended my five year and 13-race string of winning at Madison Square Garden. I did learn from that race not to let others influence my race plans as the outcome would be less certain to go my way. One funny thing is afterward they asked Tony how he felt about breaking my streak and he said, ‘What streak?’ He didn’t even know about it. But at future track meets they continued making announcements about not smoking in the race area. That was a small thing I did which had a positive impact on the sport which few people know about and may have had more of an effect than my racing.
GC: After your racing days were over did you have any reunions with former competitors that were especially memorable or humorous?
ML: When Kip Keino and I were running the Miami Mile when he was around 50 years old and I was 45 we knew couldn’t run fast the whole way so we waited for the last 200 meters and told each other we would really go fast in the final 100 meters. Then we really started sprinting. I thought, ‘We can’t run a fast mile, but we can still sprint.’ However, later when I saw the video I thought, ‘It’s just two old guys trying to sprint!’ But in our minds we still thought we were fast.
GC: You did some coaching – how rewarding was it to help others succeed or push their limits?
ML: I didn’t have much experience in coaching except with runners who were very good and just needed some tweaking sort of like when a very good tennis player has a coach help with his serve or backhand. I got satisfaction out of helping Sydney Maree when he was at Villanova and he went on to break the World Record for 1,500 meters.
GC: You started your broadcasting career early due to the injury which prevented you from racing at the 1972 Olympics. Was this an instance where you made ‘lemonade out of lemons’ and in some respects there was a bright side to your inability to compete?
ML: One of my goals in running was to become famous for the reason that I wanted to become a sports announcer. When I got hurt and was asked to join the Munich Olympics broadcasting team my mother said, ‘What are you crying about? You got what you wanted and have a chance to be a broadcaster.’ My life has been rather lucky in that when I lost one thing, the next turned out to be better. You see runners sticking with their sport for life because they are good at it and don’t want to try something where they aren’t too good. But I don’t mind that – for example, in music I was probably embarrassing myself when I started back playing several years ago but the learning process was so much fun that I stuck with it until I got to the point where I played reasonably well.
GC: With the recently deceased Jimmy Carnes you started the Athletic Attic running specialty stores in 1972 which grew to over 250 locations. How well did the store do initially and was it equal parts of skill and good timing that allowed you to crest the wave as running gained popularity?
ML: In 1972 we didn’t foresee the running boom. What we did think would happen was a ‘leisure boom’ as when we were competing in Germany we saw that many people were wearing running shoes and Adidas warm up suits as leisure wear. The name was an accident as we were going to name the store the ‘Adidas Attic’ since I was an Adidas athlete. Then their lawyers got involved and said we couldn’t use the Adidas name. Barry Brown came up with the name ‘Athletic Attic’ because we were in the attic of another store. Adidas were the most popular shoe, but in the next few years popularity switched to Puma, Onitsuka Tiger and then Nike. So it was good we weren’t tied to one shoe name. I had read Ray Kroc’s book and got many ideas for franchising from his thoughts about what they did to franchise McDonald’s restaurants and we applied many of the ideas to Athletic Attic. As an aside, I was just looking at possibly bidding on a Ray Kroc autographed copy of the book on eBay.
GC: For more than the past decade you have rekindled your interest in music and regularly play guitar with a jazz group. How relaxing is it to play and rewarding to improve?
ML: When I do something I like to enjoy the process and the end result. In running the process of running 15 miles isn’t as enjoyable as winning a big race. In music I feel I can practice for four hours and it is still fun. My actual musical performance with my group compares to getting together with my team for a track meet. Then after racing or playing a gig everyone wants to sit around and review what we have just done. After racing we would talk about how the race had transpired and after playing music we talk about various songs we just played. When running I was attracted to the science of planning what I would do to improve in the next year. Likewise with music I would plan to do something new like studying how Wes Montgomery played so I could try out some of his guitar licks. For me all of my hobbies turn into businesses due to my personality. Someone asked me to sing a song for his wife at an Italian restaurant and then the owners asked me if I would like to play on Sunday nights. Then I started playing on Thursday nights and added a horn player and bass player and for the last ten years we’ve had a four or five piece band. Now we get hired for other events so it has become a business. When I started playing music I made a pact with myself that I would only do it as a charity and not take money and I started playing in old age homes and backing some lady singers, but when I kept getting offered money to play I decided I might as well get paid for it.
GC: What is your current health and fitness program and what are your future goals in this area?
ML: For the past ten years or so I’ve mostly done mountain biking. I raced for a couple of years, but got frustrated as competitors who were lifelong cyclists could always out sprint me at the end. I decided, ‘why am I going through this pain’ as it is so hot here in Gainesville in the summer. I’m not running as the joints in some of my toes are very worn out from the high level running which is why I initially got into regular cycling. There isn’t cartilage left in some joints so even soft surface running doesn’t help. I also have a garage full of fitness equipment such as elliptical trainers that I use.
GC: Is there any advice you would give to children and adults who wish to succeed in running or other sports?
ML: There is much knowledge out there now that can help those who are getting started and a novice can’t read too much. That means that knowledge can trump the kid who just goes out, works hard and follows others. A runner does have to do a lot of hard work to succeed, but it has to be the right work as the state of the art of running is very good. A runner can’t just do a lot of volume as we did a generation ago. It used to be that an advanced runner who was averaging 100 miles a week would beat anyone doing 60 miles a week as both were doing the same track workouts. Now most top level runners do pretty high volume so a runner has to have knowledge of what will help him to improve. Many young runners in the United States don’t know the history of our sport which can hurt them when they face international runners who are students of track and field. Our youth may know which team won the NCAA basketball tournament the last five years, but their international competitors know who won the 1,500 meters in the past five Olympics and what tactics were successful. In summary, most people should spend more time sitting and reading about running to complement their training.
GC: What excites you about the future in your career, personal life and the ‘golden years'?
ML: The great thing about music is that I can keep playing for many years. I play with guys in their seventies who have played with greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and in some ways they are playing better than ever. So it is something I am excited about and enthusiastic about getting better all of the time. If I was still running and racing I wouldn’t get too thrilled about holding off old age and getting slower at a slower rate. I’m also excited about watching my kids grow up.
GC: Are there major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of running and taking the plunge into broadcasting, business and music that you would like to share with my readers?
ML: I’m not sure who first said it, but I believe that half of the challenge is showing up. Whether it was broadcasting or music or running, I had to get out there. You may be overwhelmed at first but you have to put yourself in that place. Anyone who accomplishes anything goes into it with some insecurity. They may look secure – Britney Spears may look confident in her dance moves, but she has done them in practice thousands of times to get ready and I am sure still has nervousness when she appears on a stage. I see where some people hold themselves back because they are afraid to take the plunge. In running people will say things like, ‘I’m not in shape yet’ or ‘I haven’t lost enough weight yet.’ But they just have to get out there and do it – run that marathon or whatever is their goal.
ML: I am a big car fan. I enjoy sports cars and have done a bit of racing. But it was quite expensive so I decided it was better to wreck model cars instead! Another interest of mine is philosophy
ML: At Villanova my nickname was ‘Minga,’ which was Italian slang. Part of the reason was when my teammates were at indoor meets like at Madison Square Garden and they yelled it, I would always know it was me. My teammate, Dick Buerkle, gave me that nickname but no one has called me it in over 30 years.
ML: Fahrenheit 451
Favorite TV Show?
ML: The Colbert Report for the past eight years. I also enjoy watching the first 15 minutes of Cramer’s show on CNBC every day. Currently, I like ‘Outsourced’ which is funny and educational. When I was a teenager I liked watching ‘The Smothers Brothers’ which wasn’t on until 9:00 pm and, unfortunately, Coach Dwyer would call my parents to make sure I got to bed – that was a real sacrifice when I had to miss that show to ensure I got enough rest. I’m not too sure about the future of television as I enjoy watching YouTube, getting on a thread and seeing where it leads.
ML: The two musicians I followed were Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins, both of whom I have over 100 of their albums. I also have a strong interest in many guitar players.
ML: As far as being influential in my life there are ‘Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonalds’ by Ray Kroc and ‘Psycho-Cybernetics’ by Maxwell Maltz which is about the mind and focusing. I also liked ‘Positive Addiction’ by William Glasser and ‘The Joy of Running’ by Thaddeus Kostrubala which were written early on in the running boom. I don’t read much fiction. I would be one tenth as educated without all the plane trips I took as only on those long plane trips would I tackle books like Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand or a lengthy James Michener epic. Most of my education was forced upon me by lengthy plane trips.
ML: A Corvair. My father owned a gas station so I had a bunch of different cars including several Thunderbirds.
ML: Two cars I’ve had since buying them new are a 1972 Mercedes 2-seater and a 1983 Porsche - so I don’t tend to jump from car to car.
First Job and Subsequent Jobs?
ML: I worked at my dad’s gas station which I consider not just my first job, but my last job. Running was enjoyable and wasn’t a job. My time with Athletic Attic wasn’t a job as I was my own boss. I don’t consider broadcasting a job as it was always fun. Now I play music which isn’t a job either as it is fun. I’ve worked out of my home for the past thirty years so I’m not an ‘around the water cooler’ guy. I feel like I never really had a job as I never worked in an office.
ML: My wife is Debora. My parents are still alive, live in Gainesville and have been married for 62 years. I have a brother, Steve, and two sisters, Lynn and Genevieve, who all went to Boston College. I have two sons, Michael and Connor. My daughter, Meredith, was just accepted to the University of South Florida to work on her PhD in Latin American Studies.
ML: I wasn’t a pet owner for most of my life, but Deb and I had two cats for about 15 years up until six months ago. We haven’t replaced them and I sort of enjoy not having to let them in and out of the house throughout the day.
ML: I’m not a breakfast guy, but my favorite would be cappuccino and a scone – but that’s not healthy. Actually, I’m rarely up early enough for breakfast. Even when I was running I would get up around 9:00 and by the time I ran and showered it was 10:30 so it was almost time for lunch.
ML: Unfortunately for me I have never met any food I didn’t like. You could tell me it was snails and eel and I would probably like it! I’m Italian so food is important and I do like everything.
ML: I like red wine. I’d like to drink more beer, but I can’t because it is hard to keep the weight off. One of the great things about travelling around the world was enjoying the great beers in places like England, Russia, Germany and Finland. My only memory of doing something with Steve Prefontaine was drinking beer with him in Munich.
First Running Memory?
ML: The farthest back I can remember is during my freshman year in high school when I forgot my running shorts for cross country team practice, had to run in my boxer shorts and was pretty embarrassed.
ML: The runner I studied was Herb Elliott as there was a book out about him, we had the same strengths and weaknesses and I modeled my race strategy after his tactics.
Greatest Running Moments?
ML: The ‘Dream Mile’ against Jim Ryun stands out – people would say I’m lying if it wasn’t that race and they are right. There are also some Penn Relays that were memorable when I anchored the 4 x 800 meters and we won races where it was hard to win. Also, setting the American Record for 5,000 meters in Stockholm was big - it was such a shock since I wasn’t training well and was ready to give up my spot on the U.S. team. I also got satisfaction out of helping advise Sydney Maree with his training when he was at Villanova and he went on to break the World Record for 1,500 meters.
Worst Running Moment?
ML: The worst was when I ran at the 1976 AAU national championships with that injured hamstring. First, because when my hamstring went I knew I was blowing my Olympic chances. Second as it was my own fault as I never should have been racing that day. Finally, I should have just gone ahead and let Dick Buerkle win. In three seconds it all became clear that there would be no Olympics for me that year.
ML: Before I started running I saw myself as a musician and thought I might play in New York because some of my neighbors caught the bus and played in Broadway plays. College wasn’t a given, but I thought about going to Julliard.
ML: Sometimes running fans would be talking to me at races and one time it continued with a fan as I walked into the bathroom. I went into the bathroom stall and sat down on the toilet while we continued the conversation. I thought the guy was on the other side of the door but when I looked up he was standing on the toilet in the next stall and hanging over the edge talking to me.
ML: Adidas had provided me with spiked shoes for a track meet; I stripped a spike and couldn’t get it in. The Adidas rep said he would try to find me another pair to wear in the race. He borrowed shoes from Richmond Flowers, a hurdler, that were specially made out of kangaroo hide because Richmond had some unique foot problems, but they were my size. When the gun went off someone stepped on one of the shoes and ripped out the side. I ran the mile, finished in 4:00.8 and was really worried about what Richmond would say as he had probably waited six months to get his specially made shoes. I was really apologetic, but he was excited and said, ‘I’ll save these forever – someone ran 4:00.8 in my shoes!’ So, surprisingly he was thrilled - though I was embarrassed.
Favorite Places to Travel?
ML: Any place in Italy.