"How do you feel?" someone asked. "Pooped," said Earl.
Three weeks later, his liver still not completely well, Young tried to overcome an eight-yard deficit against Villa-nova on the anchor leg of the 880-yard relay at the Penn Relays. He made up 7� yards by running 20.1—and strained his left knee. Bursitis developed in the inflamed joint and Earl was out of competition for a month, his usual merciless workout schedule reduced to pastoral jogs around the Abilene Christian football-stadium grass.
"I was about ready to write this year off," he says now. "I didn't see how I could get in condition for the big meets."
"If you think Earl was worried," said Jackson, "you should have seen me."
But Young tested the knee in the mile relay at Modesto on May 27 and ran an easy 46.7 lap. The next weekend, at the famed Compton Invitation, he received an answer to the other question which had been plaguing him: How would he react to tough competition in the 440-yard dash after spending most of an off-and-on season running only on relay teams? The answer was another medal. Coming around the final turn, Earl turned on the power to simply run away from a rather fancy field of quarter-milers and win by seven yards. The time, on a cool California night, was 46.3. The closest man to him was Mai Spence, one of the Jamaican Olympian twins from Arizona State. Keith Thomassen, the Santa Clara Youth Village runner who had previously done 46.1, best time in the world this season, finished fourth; and Ted Nelson, the schoolboy whiz, was fifth. Later Earl ran a 46 flat anchor as ACC regained a share of the intercollegiate mile-relay record of 3:07.6 it had lost to the University of Southern California a few weeks before. And last weekend, in the Meet of Champions at Houston, Young broke Glenn Davis' meet record with a 46.7 on a slow rain-soaked track.
Earl Young is not only big and fast and determined, but he is something of a physical freak. He has the abnormally low pulse rate of a great distance runner. The average dash man is as high-strung as a Thoroughbred, his heart pounding even when the body is in repose at something above the normal 72 beats a minute. Young's pulse is usually about 52. Once ACC's red-haired Australian miler, John Lawler, was wandering down the aisle of the team bus on the way to a meet, testing people's pulses. It is a hobby track men have, like politicians planting trees, and no one thinks much about it any more. But when Lawler reached Young, who was dozing in his seat, he came up with a count of 31. Three other team members checked and arrived at the same figure. "They told me," says Earl with a grin, "that I was breathing only five times a minute. Somebody said, 'Man, you weren't asleep. You were hibernating.' "
The way to run 45.5
In any event, Young thinks this is one reason he is someday soon going to run 440 yards in 45.5 seconds. "A couple of times a week, in workouts," he says, "I run repeat 220s. First, I start at 24 flat. Then I walk 220, then run 23.5. Then walk 220, then run 23 flat. I keep going down until I'm running in the 21s. If I can do that—if I can recover that quickly to run again that fast—then in a quarter-mile race I should be able to run the first 220 in 22 flat and finish in 23 or a little above. That's all that it takes to run a 45-second quarter. And on the second 220, you already have your speed built up. You just have to hold it.
"My problem has always been in running that first 220 too slow. I really have to concentrate on coming out of the blocks fast and opening up right away. I don't want to run 21.5, like McKenley and George Rhoden and Lou Jones used to do. I think that's too fast; 22 is about right for me. Then I try to stride down the backstretch, not easing up, not losing any speed, but trying to conserve as much energy as I can. Then, at about 300 yards, I try to lean into it a little and begin to dig. I don't shorten my stride and run harder. That isn't my style. But I try to reach out a little farther, try to go a little faster. At the 300-yard point in a 440-yard race, I don't believe anyone can really sprint. You don't have that much left. But you can make yourself go a little faster.
"Right now," says Young, "I don't think it's a question of finding the right track and the right day for me to do 45.5. It's simply a matter of getting into shape. Then I should be able to do it any time.