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John Lovesey
June 01, 1964
A forgotten expatriate, Buddy Edelen returns to Yonkers to prove he is the best American marathon runner ever
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June 01, 1964

Straight Man In A Twisty Race

A forgotten expatriate, Buddy Edelen returns to Yonkers to prove he is the best American marathon runner ever

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Marathoners are a breed unto themselves, and Buddy Edelen (he pronounces the name eedalen), the forgotten American who has run the fastest and third-fastest marathons of all time and may become the first from his country to win the event in the Olympics since Johnny Hayes's victory in 1908, is no exception. He runs races minus socks. Whenever he eats a beef sandwich he first removes the top layer of bread to rip all the fat from the meat. In competition, before pinning an identifying number to his chest he will tear off any excess paper from around the actual numeral itself, on the theory that the least amount of weight or wind resistance to overcome is best for his time.

His eccentricities begin early. His first action upon awakening each morning, even before he springs out of bed, is to reach for his wrist and check his pulse to see that it is throbbing along at a steady 38 per minute. His pulse, his weight, his hours of sleep, details of his workout and numerous other items concerning his well-being that day will be carefully recorded on paper before he turns in that night and eventually mailed to Fred Wilt, the old Indiana long-distance runner. Wilt is now an FBI man but he has never lost his taste for track, and in what spare time he has left from chasing down bank robbers and most-wanted criminals he carries on a voluminous correspondence with coaches and athletes around the world. He has coached Edelen by mail since 1960, and last Sunday the thousands of words and hundreds of 15� postage stamps seemed eminently worthwhile. In a U.S. Olympic marathon trial, Edelen fought off humid, 90� temperatures on the hilly 26-mile 385-yard Yonkers, N.Y. course and won by almost four miles, thereby becoming the first track man to be selected for the U.S. Olympic team.

Hardly a facet of marathon running exists that Wilt and Edelen have not investigated at some time, including running in training without taking a breath. Edelen reached a stage where he could exhale and sprint 300 yards before gasping another lungful. He once tried running to music by carrying a transistor radio, but the problem was keeping the set on the correct station as he pounded along. "I would love to run to the music of Quo Vadis," says Edelen, "but I get bebop." Wilt even had Edelen hypnotized, planting the suggestion in his mind that pain is pleasure, but the precaution was useless. If Edelen had not already become convinced of that masochistic theory he probably would not be running marathons in the first place.

Edelen's odd behavior could, with little trouble, guarantee him a place in the first ranks of health faddists. This, however, is exactly what he is not. Like almost no other finely conditioned athlete you have ever heard of, Edelen drinks beer almost every day, smokes occasionally to calm his nerves, has a fine sense of humor and pursues—and is pursued by—pretty European girls, who often grow quite emotional over "Boody's" light brown hair, hazel eyes, long, pointed ears and narrow, whimsical chin. A Midwesterner who went with a gang of roughnecks in his youth, skirting the edge of juvenile delinquency, Edelen has taught English to English schoolchildren at King John's School in Thundersley since 1960, and by living the way he does has done more to enhance the image of athletics in England than any other performer since Chris Chataway, who smoked a cigar in front of the Russians after beating iron man (and ulcer ridden) Vladimir Kuts.

But all is not just fun and games for Leonard Graves Edelen IV, a former resident, among numerous places, of Sioux Falls, S. Dak., where high schoolers spent their Saturdays this spring washing cars to raise money to bring him to Yonkers. At 7 a.m. on a damp English morning an alarm clock breaks the silence of his bed-sitting room in Westcliff in Essex, and he rises. Normally he would sleep naked, but to keep warm in his cold room he goes to bed wearing his running shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. This is useful because when he gets out of bed all he has to do is pull a sweat shirt over his head and put on his soft running shoes. Bunched up slightly, as if to ward off the chill, he next moves across the room, which is decorated with trophies, to a stove. He brews himself enough coffee for two cups, makes some toast, on which he spreads honey, and reads the morning newspaper. About an hour later, after pinning his door key to his shorts and pulling a woolen hat down over his ears, he goes downstairs to the street.

As Edelen snaps into action he looks somewhat like a surprised rooster in full flight. His feet peck at the ground with a precise rhythm, but he seems to be sitting back on his heels, and his arms frequently move as if they are in a transport of their own. The style is ugly and defies logic, but the pace is as regular as a Beatle beat.

The run takes him to school, where he has left the clothes he will teach in that day. It is four and a half miles long and most of it steadily uphill. When he arrives after 25 minutes he does 25 to 30 situps in the school gym before taking a shower. At lunchtime all he eats is a single cheese sandwich. If he ate more, he says, he would not be ready for the training runs he takes after school.

Each Sunday, Edelen goes for a 23-mile run in the morning, and then generally increases the total mileage for the day to 28 by going out in the evening to do a steady two-mile run followed by 10-times-110 easy strides followed by a two-mile run home. On Tuesdays he follows his run home from school with roughly a dozen quarter miles at about 64 to 65 seconds each, with a minute's jog between. After school on Wednesday he does a 15-mile run at a faster pace than the 23-mile run on Sunday. He totals about 120 miles of running a week, and when it is warm he sometimes has a swim in the sea. Frequently his training carries him from Westcliff-on-Sea into neighboring Southend, which is a minor sort of Coney Island, with gaudy signs advertising amusements, novelty hats—on which are printed slogans like "I am a Virgin (Islander)"—fish and chips, eels and oysters. In the summer when the promenade is crammed with holiday-makers, the sight of Edelen grinding out his relentless schedule provokes occasional laughter. In a rare moment of bitterness Edelen remarked: "You wonder where the hell they were in January."

Edelen's evenings are spent either with an English family or in a local pub. He drinks beer because his stomach cannot take food too soon after his vigorous workouts. Normally he manages two or three pints of his favorite drink, Guinness stout, which contains a mixture of vitamins, mineral salts and protein that not only replaces Edelen's lost body fluid but provides sustenance in an easily assimilated form. It also helps Edelen, an insomniac, to sleep and, as Edelen points out, England's national health service prescribes Guinness for nursing mothers.

Before dropping into bed each night Edelen cooks his main solid meal of the day, normally just a piece of grilled meat or fish. The only other usual items of his diet are a few peanuts and chocolate. Despite this, he seems almost absurdly convinced that he is a compulsive eater, but his concern is understandable. Marathon runners have to be thin, since a thinner body gets rid of heat more quickly.

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