25 Kilometers and Jesse Owens in West Berlin

I used to fancy myself a runner. I was not fast or gifted, but for a number of years I ran nearly every day and was, at least, in shape. I have the Army and my friends Jim and Olivia Partridge to thank for my short-lived, mild obsession. Jim and I were both in the Army, and we went through the Russian basic course at the Defense Language Institute together. He and Olivia were fast, gifted runners, and overall a bit psycho (in a good way) about fitness. I bought into the running program for a few years, and I'm glad I did. By the time I arrived at Field Station Berlin in August of 1983 I was easily maxing the 2-mile run portion of the Army's PT test thanks in no small measure to Jim and Olivia. When the French 25k rolled around in the spring of 1984 (the race was at the time sponsored by the French occupation forces in West Berlin), I was ready to give it a shot. My goal was to finish in under 2 hours, about a 7:30/mile pace.

The weather was perfect for the race. First thing in the morning on race day a bunch of U.S. Military types, including me, boarded buses at McNair Barracks for the trip to the race's starting point just outside of Berlin's Olympic Stadium. The race went well. I managed to run the whole way without stopping, and I finished a couple of minutes under 2 hours. The course took us through the nicest parts of West Berlin, but the best part of the race was the finish. The last quarter mile or so had us running through a tunnel that led onto the track at the Olympic Stadium. A small crowd was in the stands, but by the time I entered the stadium, more than 40 minutes behind the leaders, few were paying attention to the runners. In spite of the sparse attendance and attention, that last 300 meters or so was an incomparable thrill. After all, this was the same piece of real estate that Jesse Owens, with dignity, grace, speed, and strength, used to so utterly destroy the racial nonsense that was at the heart of Hitler's program. I was allowed to run that same oval and feel the surge of history still present nearly 50 years later. I felt every bit of it, and I decided to stretch it out a bit, to kick the last 150 meters, to finish in a modest blaze of speed. The moment seemed to call for it, demand it even, so I started to pick up the pace. Big mistake. Having operated at the same steady pace for nearly two hours, my hamstrings instantly revolted at the idea of taking things up a notch. Fortunately my brain caught the signal from my hamstrings in time, and instead of doing a face-plant and writhing on the ground in agony, I simply returned to my steady pace and finished, content to slowly absorb all the moment had to offer.