Today, Saturday January 31st, is the annual George Davis night track and field alumni event at UMass Lowell and that got me thinking about the history of the little, not so little anymore, college in the scrappy city that I went to. UMass Lowell has had only two directors of track and field and cross country in the programs history. First was George Davis and he passed the torch onto Gary Gardner in 2003 and he remains in charge today. I am one of a lucky group of athletes who had the opportunity to run for both of these men.
George started the program from scratch in the early 1970's and built it into a regional and, in division 2, national power. The school and the program are in a stage of great change and growth. I recently met up with fellow alumni Ruben Sanca for run on campus and I had to look closely to find the UML I remembered amongst the seemingly dozens of new multi million dollar buildings. The track and cross country programs jumped up to division 1 last year and are really just beginning that transition that takes place over four or five years.
Now you may be wondering why I chose to do a list of top distance ALUMNI. I'm guessing you know why I would focus on the distance running tradition given my own predilections and those I assume of anyone reading this blog. The Alumni part is more self serving. Simply I get to be on the list. If I did top athletes based on performance while in school I would not be anywhere near the list. My name is not on a single top 10 list indoors or out at UML. The school has had literally hundreds of All Americans. I was not one of them. There are dozens of athletes from the track program who are in the schools sports hall of fame. I am not among them.
Also I would actually have to you know do real research to do that list versus basically doing this on off the top of my head. Never underestimate my laziness.
I have decided to not make this an ordered top 6. I instead have decided on a King and his court jesters format. I went back and forth on this more than I care to admit but in the end I'm pretty set on this. These are athletes from different era's and with different focuses it is hard to put one in front of another with the exception of Bob Hodge, who should be recognized as above the rest, it would be very hard to place one runner above another. Also I realized there was a possibility I might have to rank Ruben above me on the list. I don't think it would have come to that but he has made an Olympic team so the possibility was there. Now it isn't that I don't like and respect Ruben. You have to understand he was an athlete at UML when I was a coach. On top of that I think now that we are training together more an important part of our dynamic is him wanting to show once and for all that he is better than me and I think it would be a disservice to him if I were to do anything that might take away from that motivation.
So without further ado here we go the king and his jesters….
The King. Bob mother @#$%ing Hodge. Aka Hodgie-San. A true legend of the early days of professional road running. Bob has a website and you owe it to yourself to check it out http://www.bunnhill.com/bobhodge/ it goes into far greater detail than the pittance of info I will give you hear and it has some great stuff from and about other great runners. In fact I found my first Canova schedule, one for Rodgers Rop, off of his page and used it to design my marathon debut training!
Bob has a lifetime marathon best of 2:10:59 run in a battle with New Zealand legend and Olympic Silver Medalist Dick Quax at the OTC marathon in 1980. He also finished 3rd at the 1979 Boston marathon in 2:12:30 finishing behind only immortals Bill Rodgers and Toshito Seko. If that was all he had done Bob would be at the top of this list. Instead this is just the short quick description of Bob that is most often given. Lets take a few paragraphs to look at what is left out.
Bob qualified for and competed in multiple world cross country Championships. Competed on the track in Europe had PRs in the 13:40's and 28:20's on the track. Broke 29 for road 10k's on a regular basis and ran 47:26 for 10 miles as well as mid 32's at the Falmouth Road race multiple times. Bob was also a two time USATF national road 20k champion and national road 10k champion. A real road warrior Bob was a regular in the lead packs of the major road races of the early to mid 1980's but his real top performances generally came in the marathon.
In 1982 Bob won the Beppu marathon in Japan. Think a marathon on the level of Houston or Twin Cities in the USA and followed that up with a 2:11:52 5th place finish at Fukuoka in the fall of that year. Fukuoka at that time was like if you rolled London and the world championships today into one race. It was really where the best went.
Later on Bob would finish 6th at the 1986 Boston Marathon and 7th at the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. In fact in 1986, a 'comeback' year for him after a year of semi-retirement Bob would run 3 marathons in the 2:14 to 2:15 range and considerate them all conservative efforts.
Perhaps though one of the best ways to sum up Bob for this list is that at the 1984 Olympic Trials in rather warm weather Bob, who had dug himself into a hole by failing to properly recover from a workout effort 2:17 marathon he had run a couple months prior to qualify for the trials, struggled to a 2:18:10 18th place finish. He was upset enough with this effort to basically decide on what would thankfully be a temporary retirement. The rest of the guys on this list would be pretty happy with a 2:18:10 18th place finish in an Olympic Trials. It might not be our best day but it wouldn't be too bad either. For Bob it was grounds for retirement!
Now for the jesters in chronological order because why not.
Vinny Fleming. Vin was a couple year's older than Bob and they ran together at UML. Yes I know it wasn't UML back then, deal. Vin was the division 3 national champion in cross country while at UML, yes they were d3 back then stop trying to get me off topic! In 1977 Vinny finished 5th at the Boston marathon in 2:18:37 about 10 seconds in front of the much more famous Tom Fleming. This was Vin's most striking performance. He would continue to compete at a high level for anther decade though I don't think he ever went the professional route. I know he worked for New Balance for a stretch but I don't think he ran for them. There is a great picture of him at the New Haven 20k in the lead pack. It is him, Bob Hodge, Bill Rodgers and Joseph Nzau the first kenyan to break 2:10 in the marathon. Vin has on running shorts and shoes, that's it. Everyone else obviously runs for a shoe company. Photo here http://www.whalesandwolves.com/images/running/newhaven.html
Vin was the 1983 USATF, yes I know it wasn't USATF back then again stop trying to get me off topic!, National 25k Champion. Given that he was a good but not world beating runner in his era results for Vin are tough to find but I know along the way he won the 1982 USATF New England track 5k in 13:55.5 and ran under 60mins at the New Haven 20k.
Dave Dunham- My wife likes to make fun of my somewhat encyclopedic memory of distance running stats. Dave makes me look like I'm not trying. He has a great blog http://ddmountainrunr.blogspot.com Dave was probably the best in college of the men in this list, including Bob. He also has certainly the most varied career of all of us. Dave Qualified for two Olympic Marathon trials, 1992 and 2000. He was a serious force on the New England road racing scene for more than a decade and is the most successful running in the USATF-New England Grand Prix history. He was in fact utterly dominate in what could be considered the most competitive era of the mens open section of that series. Yet for all this Dave's love of the sport has always been focused outside the main stream. A multi time winner and course record setter at the mount washington road race. He was a national class runner who moved to make USA mountain running teams before it was cool.
Some stats on Dave. His personal bests include 2mile - 8:52, 5000m - 14:08, 4 mile - 18:47, 5 mile - 23:27, 10k - 29:17, half marathon 1:05:02, marathon 2:19:28, 50k - 2:57:36. The 50k was an American record at the time but it was later not ratified because the course was, wait for it, 50meters short. I'm sorry but 50m over 50k is not short it is the hair on a knat's ass and doesn't matter. It is like someone telling you your mile best isn't legit because the course was 16centimeters short.
The thing is these bests are sort of asides with Dave. The real impressive thing about him has always been how prolifically he races and races well. Not only in terms of the quantity of races but in terms of the variety of those races. He is as likely to have run a great track 5k as a incredible mountain or ultra race. He has probably raced multiple times in a weekend more than anyone you could ever hope to meet and he seems to be showing no signs of slowing.
Daves best finish at a USATF marathon championship was 10th, in 1999 and he finished 20th at the 1992 Olympic Trials.
Dennis Simonaitis- I have a confession to make I didn't know what order to put Dave and Dennis on this list. I know they ran at UML together but I don't know who was older or younger. When I was at UML Dennis had the indoor 5k record, 14:11, Dave had the outdoor record 14:11. One can imagine some of the workout battles!
Dennis was one of the great 40+ runners in american history. He qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials marathon with a 2:18:52, after he was 40. His best times after the age of 45 are 5k-14:45, 8k-24:14, 10k -30:08. I only bettered one of those last year! Not my best year by any means but I'm a DECADE under 45!
As an open runner Dennis was damn good. He ran 2:14:14 at the 1989 Twin Cities marathon and had track bests of 28:38 and 13:46 and competed on the track at the 1988 Olympic Trials. He also ran competed in the 1992 marathon trials. I don't know if he was at the 1996 trials but if he was I feel super guilty about not qualifying for the 2012 Trials because UML would have been represented at the 1980, 84, 88, 92, 96, 00, 04, and 08 trials. Which would make me the loser who broke the streak. So hopefully he didn't qualify for 1996. Yes that is how my brain works.
Nate Jenkins. That is me. I have PR's of 2:14:56, 1:04:14, 29:32, 23:26, 4 miles 18:50, 5000m- 13:56, 3000m- 8:08. I represented team USA at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in the marathon. I was ranked 8th in the USA in the marathon in 2007 by track and field news. I finished 7th at the 2008 Olympic Marathon trials. I had a 2:15:28 marathon debut. I qualified for 2 USATF indoor national championships in the 3000m. I hope that I will improve on and add to these credentials over the next few years.
Ruben Sanca- Ruben has a great blog as well, http://rubensanca.blogspot.com , As I mentioned above Ruben ran at UML while I was an assistant coach there. He is the first athlete on the list to be entirely coached by Gary Gardner during his time at UML. Though given that all the major distance records at UML have been shattered over the last few years one can assume this list will have to keep growing in the coming years in order for me to be able to keep myself on it. Ruben is unique on this list in that he has duel citizenship. He went to high school in the USA and is a citizen but he was born in and retains citizenship with Cape Verde. He has represented Cape Verde at the 2011 World Championships in the marathon and at the 2012 Olympics at 5000m and he has set at least eight Cape Verde National records at distances from 3k to the marathon.
Ruben's personal bests include 3k-8:07, 5k 13:56, 10k 29:57, half marathon 1:05:24, marathon 2:18:43. He also ran 2:19:05 at the Boston marathon last year. Not too shabby for the youngest man on the list which also makes him the most likely to do more to improve his resume than the rest of us old farts. I mean I admire Bob Hodge but if he sets a lifetime best in the near future I'm going to be wanting to see some drug testing done.
So all and all you have quite a little list here from a small little school that gets all its athletes from a very small circle. In fact I am pretty sure that I grew up farthest from UML of the entire crew. It was a full 45 minute drive from my house to my dorm! It will be very interesting to see what the current and future athletes are able to do now that the program is so much better support and the level of incoming athlete is getting much better. At the same time to any of the whippersnappers who are there now who are planning on taking me down remember two things. One I am the one writing the damn list so I get to be on it forever. I may add you but the list will just get longer. I set the minimum standard for entry and I plan on setting it at such a level that I get to stay part of the party. Second well just reread what some of these guys did. Pretty bad ass. You are young and may not appreciate yet how hard some of this stuff is, I know I didn't at your age, but with time and miles you will gain a respect for just how good these performances are.
Finally if you have any info or corrections on any of these fellows please let me know with a comment or email and I can update/fix this.