But there is another Walter Stack. Dale Carnegie would have benefited from a short course with this one. Looking for a volunteer to help in a DSERC race, he'll say, "We need someone who has a sparkling personality, who everyone loves, who is a champion in her own time." A lot of hands go up.
In 1970 Slack dreamed up his alltime outrage, the Double Dipsea. People were passing out all along the trail, so the following year he organized a rescue party to run back and pick them up, in effect, a third Dipsea. No one runs a Triple Dip-sea. "No one," screams Pax Beale. "He almost killed us all." In 1969, the first of seven times Stack has run the Pikes Peak Marathon, he went to Colorado early to train, and he ran the Barr Trail course a record seven times in nine days. In addition to the Pikes Peak races he has completed 38 other marathons, most of them in times ranging from 3:30 to 4:00, the same speed up the hills as down. At the DSERC they joke that if Stack were thrown from a plane at 40,000 feet he would fall at eight minutes per mile. And they would be the worst-looking miles ever fallen. "He's the toughest, worst runner on earth." says Beale.
Stack has finished five 50-mile runs and another, a 100-miler, in 17:20. Last March, at Maryland's JFK 50-miler, run in the rain on a raw, 32� day, he fell down dozens of times, wound up all bloody and bruised, and finished 34th. Of 1,355 starters, only 211 remained at the end. But except for the 50s and the one 100, any race that Stack has run has been a respite from his workouts.
His 17-mile morning run is the flattest of them; between jobs or on weekends he sleeps a little later and runs his torture courses. One takes him across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back, almost 20 miles. More than six of the miles are on hills that all but make one's ears pop, and the whole run is a series of waves and shouts to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who recognize him. Sometimes he will "do a Dipsea," as the DSEers put it. On Saturdays he starts on Collingwood Street in front of his house in the city's Eureka Valley section, on a hill so steep that sometimes cars cannot back out of curbside parking spaces and have to be towed. Stack runs out and helps push the cars uphill. After descending the opposite side of Collingwood he starts up Castro. A few more degrees of acclivity, and he would need ropes. And so it goes, half a mile up, really up, half a mile down, way down, up, down, up, down...to the top of Twin Peaks, with the whole city stretched away beneath, then down to Lake Merced and around, a 20-mile run before he reaches home again.
That has been Stack's life—Sausalito, Twin Peaks, the 2:30 a.m. routine while on the job—for 10 years now, 17,000 miles of running, in rain and sun and fog and pain, summer and winter. He never wears a shirt, even at 4 a.m. on February mornings when it is 38�. The Bay temperature drops to 46� then, but he never misses a day in it. He wouldn't take a vitamin pill at gunpoint, and when a friend tried to make plans with him for a race next year, he replied, without apparent concern, "Oh, don't count on it. For all I know, I might be deader'n a mackerel by then."
Walter Stack's favorite trivia question: "Has there ever been a prisoner of Alcatraz who survived a swim to shore?"
Wherever he goes in San Francisco the island is there, below and east of the bridge when he crosses it, off the hills of Sausalito, its lights blinking in his face at 4 a.m. as he runs on the municipal pier. Stack is not a contemplative man, but the sight of Alcatraz must make him think of how far he has come. The answer to the question, for him at least, is yes, in more ways than one.