As I walked briskly through Rio last night, about midnight, trying to get to a secret cafe open till 12:30 AM, I ran into one of my writers, Jeff Benjammin. Neither Jeff nor I are known for the brevity of our conversations, but, as Jeff was rushing for the bus, and I dreamt of a kebab and heart of palm salad, we kept it quick. Jeff reminded me that half of the reprobates who inhabit the iconic walls of New England summer road racing would be in Woods Hole on Sunday, and it would be great to post the piece on the Mystery of the 2 mile steeplechase. I was, I must say, apprehensive. Anything that involves a story from Fred Doyle, Bill Squires has to be suspect. Then, I heard the name, Billy Threadgold, and my hair turned grey, I took a deep breath and inhaled from a large paper bag six times, clicking my heals together, and noting, “there is no place like home.” Dear god, I have come onto an alternative universe.
But, I kept an open mind and have posted it.
Now I am curious, as I now know about the two mile steeplechase, I want to see if Tracy Sundlun does, indeed, have part of a World record for the Swedish Relay. Of that second WR, Olympian and former AR at 5000m, Duncan McDonald, once noted that watching Tracy Sundlin run a leg of the Swedish Relay was one of the most humorous experiences of his existence. The humor in the two mile steeplechase is the number of true characters who have come out of the woodwork to suggest that it did happen. We shall have to see now.
The person who provides the photographic proof, I will take snipe hunting.
The Mystery of America’s 2-Mile Steeplechase Record Holder
“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
This past June, this writer had the pleasure of meeting Mark Duggan at the 40th Annual Litchfield Road Race. A running legend at UMass Boston (where he would hold school records from the 2-mile up to the 10K) the 1976 Division III NCAA Steeplechase Champion and 4-time All-American and Greater Boston Track Club athlete would then go on to a successful career working in some of the top positions at Nike, both on the national and international level.
Nowadays Duggan, who serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the New Hampshire Special Olympics, is still is a staple at many of the big races in the New England area, still enjoying running to this day.
It was during our encounter that Duggan presented me with a quest. “I believe that I still might be the American Record Holder over the 2-mile Steeplechase,” he told me. Before I could say Evan Jager, my brain kicked in with Duggan’s statement- he had said the 2-mile steeplechase, not 3000 steeple! Duggan then recalled a story almost 40 years ago where GBTC Coach Pete Squires, seeing that the track and field world was going metric, decided to put on a 2-mile steeplechase so that hopefully Duggan could get the record and seemingly hold onto it forever! But as far as details about the race, who was in it and how it happened, Duggan couldn’t recollect exactly how it went down.
So, when I returned from Litchfield I began a quest to find out. It sure wasn’t easy. Despite reaching out to key GBTC members of the past, it seemed that while some knew about this plan by Squires, they either weren’t sure if it happened or any details pertaining to it were not forthcoming. “I have no memory of this, but it does sound like something Squires might have done,” recollected Bob Hodge, a GBTC stalwart who was a great marathoner during the years of the “Running Boom”.
When I approached Boston Marathon Historian Extraordinaire and GBTC runner Tom Derderian, he surprisingly echoed the same thoughts as Hodgie-San. “All I can say is the same, that I heard about it,” said Derderian. “Not in any way can I produce a document. I don’t even know the approximate time, date or place.” Derderian did provide encouragement though. “I will be eager to see your work.”
Encouraged, I still kept on the quest. My next contact (or victim to this amnesiac episode) was Bill Rodgers, who also remembered something but with no details either. “Why not call Coach Squires?,” he suggested.
Why not? Although 84 years old, the animated Squires ( who still runs 25-30 miles per week) surely could conclude this mystery. However, after a nearly 90-minute phone call, which consisted of great recollections of his beloved GBTC runners and other great anecdotes (“I drove them all everywhere to compete and I went through more cars than I ever thought I would!”), I still couldn’t get verification. “By the mid 70’s they were all going metric,” said Squires. “I remember the AAU was fighting for it.” Squires did remember the track distance attempts by Rodgers, “especially that 25,000 meter record!”, he said. “I actually think that the yards records were more competitive back then than the meters…more people ran them.”
One contact who got back to me after I spoke with Coach Squires was Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivary, who was also a GBTC member. “Interesting, but I’m not aware,” he said. “Maybe Fred Doyle would know something?”
So it was off to Fred Doyle, a 4:05 miler back in the ’70’s for the GBTC. Doyle, who has worked for Nike, Saucony, and has just recently created a company called Athletics East, helped fill in many blanks!
“After 1976, the track distances were all going metric, except the mile”, he said. “Squires looked at Duggan and said, “Hey wouldn’t it be great to have an American Record Holder on the club?” According to Doyle, the record for the 2-mile steeple at the time was held for many years by Charles “Deacon” Jones. Squires then asked Doyle if he could help push Duggan in the race and try and snatch the record from the 1956 and 1960 Olympian. But first there was the logistical challenge. “Squires had to petition to make it part of the New England Championships,” said Doyle. Squires also petitioned to put in the 3- mile event as well, which Doyle won over Duggan. “I believe I ran 14:13 that day,” recollects Doyle.
Squires great challenge in getting the steeple done required some out of the box thinking, a quality that Squires possessed (and still possess!) in large amounts. “We had to run the Steeple over at Boston College,” recollected Doyle. “It was an oversized track which was 466 yards long.” The water pit however was located on the inside of the track. “The race had to be 7 laps, and Coach Squires measured it and got it certified,” said Doyle. There was another unusual dimension in this race. “We had to do the water jump on the first lap to make sure we covered all 35 barriers,” said Doyle.
Finally, a field of 8-10 runners took off, with Doyle pushing the pace as planned. “At 5 1/2 laps Duggan made his move. He pulled away and beat me by 8-10 seconds,said Doyle. As for the time, Doyle believes it was “around 9:52”.
So the painstakingly mystery may be solved. Or is it?
With the upcoming Falmouth Road Race taking place in a few weeks, perhaps GBTC runners, alums and New Engkand running aficionados could try and piece together more on this mysterious record. Our key figure will be there as well, in the person of American 2-Mike Steeplechase Record Holder (?) Mark Duggan!