Bacheler was over 6'5" in the 10th grade and a "mediocre" member of the Seaholm High School basketball team. He didn't even play center all the time. "The coach found out I couldn't rebound," Bacheler explains. Then in the summer before his senior year he got to making fun of some of his friends who maintained that cross-country was hard. He accepted a challenge to race one of them around the block, and won. That fall Bacheler went out for cross-country. Coach Kermit Ambrose tried to talk him out of it. "He thought I was awfully big and skinny to run," says Bacheler. "He just wanted to give me some workouts for basketball." But Bacheler persisted and found that cross-country was indeed hard, but to his liking. He went out for track that spring, finished third in the mile (4:28) in the state championships and won a modest grant-in-aid to Miami of Ohio. Aside from one five-month break in 1967 to do research for his master's thesis, The Biography of a Flower Bug (he is that rare case, a graduate student with the good grace to join in polite laughter over the title of his dissertation), he has been running steadily and with pleasure ever since.
By the time he graduated from Miami in 1966, however, his only notable accomplishments were finishing 11th out of 13 in the steeplechase in the '64 Olympic Trials and breaking the school record in the three mile run, which was held by Bob Schul, who won the 5,000 at the Tokyo Olympics. "Schul had asked that all his records be retired because nobody could touch them," Bacheler recalls. "I mean I don't know whether you know Schul—he's not too modest." Schul was also, says Bacheler, more intense than he and some other members of the team, who used to throw a football or a roll of tape back and forth as they ran in practice. "If I were talking to young people," says Bacheler, "I'd say it's nice to be in shape, it's fun running and just to enjoy themselves. The real serious people in college, they don't seem to be running anymore. Running can be very enjoyable. It's not something you need to grow out of."
Bacheler grew into it, as far as excellence goes. Fortunately, Florida Coach Jimmy Carnes chose Bacheler's graduation year to form the Florida Track Club to augment the Gators' track program. Bacheler got a research assistantship at the University and thus was able to get married, get started toward a profession and keep running. It was not until 1968, though, that he began showing Olympic potential. At that, he qualified for the Trials, made the altitude-training squad and ran a qualifying time in the 5,000—all by the skin of his teeth. At South Lake Tahoe, however, he was bothered less than most of the U.S. distance men by the shock of thin air; Bacheler believes one explanation may be that he was accustomed to the difficulty of running in Gainesville in the summer, when it is extremely humid. In the final trials he surprised everyone by easily finishing in a virtual tie with Bob Day for first place. And he felt so good in his heat at Mexico that he thinks he could have come in sixth or seventh in the finals, in which five of the first six finishers (all but Ron Clarke) were from high-altitude countries.
Since the Olympics, Bacheler has run the best American times in the two mile (8:31.8), three mile (13:25.2) and six mile (27:30.0) and has posted a personal best in the mile (4:01.3). With George Young retired and Gerry Lindgren struggling to come back from ulcers and an Achilles-tendon injury, Bacheler, at 25, could be the top American at distances of more than one mile for the next several years. He has beaten Lindgren in their only meeting this year and hasn't really been pressed so far outdoors. And this despite his anomalous conformation. When he says, "I am a little flangey with my elbows," he is talking about knobs that appear quite capable of drifting several feet out from his trunk (which itself has not much more meat on it than the average elbow), so he has an unusual amount of trouble fitting all of himself into the tight turns indoors. Outdoors, he says, "I am big and flat and tend to run a little bit like a sail." "Flat" is hardly the word, but he does present more of a surface to the wind than the average distance runner, who is likely to be 10 inches shorter. The force that holds moths up, then, holds Bacheler back.
But it by no means keeps him down. Bacheler runs for 50 minutes every morning and for an hour and 45 minutes every afternoon, even in pouring rain—covering 95 to 105 miles on the week of a race and 125 to 140 on an off week. During his five-month layoff he gained 30 pounds of flab, so he thinks he will run fairly regularly for the rest of his days. Each morning Bacheler is out of bed by 6:15 and on the road by 6:30. "When things are going well," he says, "and you're just waking up as you run, and you're going along at a good clip, and the sun is coming up, it's fairly enjoyable." Especially if you are holding a caterpillar you've never seen before in your hand.