"But beyond that," continues Porter, "it's a question of priorities. Rather than chase the bucks in weekly road races now, I want to have a few good peaks. I want to take care of my legs. I want to take a lesson from Carlos Lopes."
Lopes, from Portugal, is the world-record holder and 1984 Olympic champion in the marathon. He concentrated on cross-country and track until 1982 and made the marathon his own at age 37. Lopes is also the defending world cross-country champion and thus a Porter target as well as example.
Porter's tea cools rapidly, one of the effects of Alamosa's 7,540-foot elevation. The town (pop. 7,000) is the commercial center of the San Luis Valley, which stretches 125 miles from Saguache County in the north into New Mexico in the south. Lying as flat as water between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west, the valley is known for its potatoes, hops, barley and 40-below-zero winters. Manassa, the birthplace of Jack Dempsey, is 20 miles south of Alamosa.
The café patrons send Porter off with waves and blessings. He ambles a few blocks, still in his morning-run purple tights. The grass, tree trunks and dust of Alamosa all are shades of gray. The wind is rising. "The one thing everybody asks," says Porter, "is why am I here? Well, I like it here. It's flat and high. And when you're a runner it's important to isolate yourself, to get away from the crowds. If I lived in Boulder everyone would know every time I made a left turn. Here no one knows a thing. Adds a little mystique." Shows a little orneriness.
Porter grew up in Evergreen, Colo., a piney community near Denver. His father was a district manager for Mountain Bell. Porter began running in high school. "I wanted the 220 or the 440, but the first guys to volunteer got the sprints. I was too shy to raise my hand. The leftovers got the mile."
He ran 4:29 as a senior, along with thousands of others, and was recruited by no one. He went to Metropolitan State in Denver for a year, then transferred to Adams State in Alamosa. "We always got beat by them so terribly, I figured this must be the place to learn. The next year, here I was."
He learned. "On the first day, I thought I was a stud. I'd trained maybe 10 miles all summer. I also thought the warmup jog was the whole workout. Then we headed out of town for 10 miles of Indian running, where you take turns sprinting to the front of the pack. I made it there twice." He wobbled back to the campus long after everyone else, hotter, sicker and wiser than he'd ever been.
The coach at Adams State since 1965 has been Joe Vigil, a powerful, resonant man, intimidating of visage, which makes his warmth all the more effective. "He's never had the luxury of recruiting great talent," says Porter, "but if you could measure how far runners come under a coach regardless of where they start, there would be no one better." The coaching fraternity apparently agrees. TAC has put Vigil in charge of the mission to Neuchâtel and elected him coach of the distance runners on the 1988 Olympic team.
"I have total faith in his knowledge of me," Porter says. "After I got going, I became a work addict. Coach Vigil's job then was to slow me down."
From the café Porter ventures into downtown Alamosa. Ron Seybold and Charlie Bocock see him and come charging over. They fuss about Waco awhile, and the old days. "Pat used to work for the local mosquito control board, spraying," says Bocock, a local businessman who also worked for the board then. "Everybody had to have periodic blood tests to see how much chemical buildup, how much Malathion, he had."