And Shorter is renowned for more than the marathon. He also excels in track events at distances ranging from two miles to 10,000 meters. He has run two miles in 8:26.2 (indoors) and three miles in 12:52, the equivalent of a 13:19 5,000, which he says could be his best time at any distance. Indeed, it is the twelfth-best time ever recorded; only seven men have run a faster 5,000. His personal record in the 10,000, in which he finished fifth in the Munich Olympics and was ranked second in the world in 1970 and 1975, is 27:46, the eighth-best time in the history of the event.
Very few world-class runners have shown comparable versatility. The most notable was Emil Zatopek, who won the 5,000, 10,000 and the marathon in the 1952 Games.
For all his put-downs of the Puritan ethic, Shorter devotes himself to running in much the same way as, say, an ambitious young attorney would pursue the practice of law. In some embarrassment Shorter reports how often his friends suggest he go into politics someday. This is not to say that in any way he misrepresents himself as a romantic. On the contrary, though few can pull it off, it is not against the law to have the best of both worlds. In a fascinating way, Shorter seems to have drawn strength from two generations: from his own passionate group that grew up in the turbulent '60s, and from the bunch in the '50s, who were more ambitious and detached.
He was at Yale during the Vietnam years when dreamy grown-ups, exemplified by Professor Charles Reich, were beatifying Shorter and his young contemporaries for leading us all to within a hairbreadth of the millennium with "the greening of America." Shorter, ever the scrambler, takes a somewhat less rosy view of his dear peers and the noble events of that time.
"We weren't any different. Just expedient," he says. "In the 1950s a guy would take a girl to a movie or football game, so that afterward he could take her back to his room and try to get her in bed. In my time, the '60s, a guy would take a girl to a peace rally or a march, so that afterward he could take her back to his room and try to get her in bed. Now the kids are going back to using the movies and the football games again, which means, of course, that they're nowhere near as idealistic as we were."
Certainly, Shorter, at 28, is influenced by the fact that he was among the last of the young men to grow up completely during the draft era, that time when all American boys came to maturity with the threat that they would either have to serve in the armed forces or figure a way to get out of it. It is impossible to calculate how greatly this imperative ordered the lives and minds of these young men, and still affects them. As long as the draft was there, it forced the best and the brightest of young Americans to be, well, scramblers.
Shorter himself went to medical school at the University of New Mexico after Yale, quickly dropped out when it interfered with his long-distance training and departed for Florida and a different discipline—law—one step ahead of Selective Service. Kids now feel obliged to rush into a vocation as soon as they leave college, but at that time, for those young graduates who escaped the Army, time was a gift to play around with. It was like finding two or three years in the street. Shorter took his two years and ran. He took a shot at Munich. And since things tend to work out for him, he won.
High spring has come to Boulder, and under the cloudless sky, in the mountain air soft and light, Shorter and his pals are getting ready for their big Sunday run. Twenty miles up and down the hills. As the cream of Boulder's long-distance runners assemble at the Shorters' they loll about, and Louise and Frank pass among them like houseparents. Soon, somebody says, "Hey, everybody's here! Let's go!" So did Mickey Rooney exclaim to Judy Garland, "Hey, we can put the show on right here!"
And off the little pack goes, up Lincoln Place toward Baseline, and then higher, over toward the Flagstaff foothills. One of the runners has brought his dog along, and he trails, a yelping rear guard. Another of the runners has brought his girl friend along, and she jogs with Louise some distance behind—squaws after the braves. Children and their dogs stop and stare as the strange little band passes.
Shorter has a clock in his head—virtually every mile he ran in the Munich marathon was a duplication of every other, each no more than a second or two off five minutes. Today he is setting a leisurely six-minute pace. For him, anything slower than a 5:30 mile is the equivalent of strolling for others. He can carry on a casual conversation at that pace, eat, drink, laugh, whatever, and never draw a deep breath.