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It must have helped to room with Kardong, a frolicsome soul, who was to finish fourth in the Montreal marathon. Kardong's gentle, tangential wit—at one time he espoused the nutritive virtues of Froot Loops and beer—has resulted in a nickname which he congenially uses. A friend returning from a long run once found on his doormat a message constructed of hundreds of tiny fir twigs painstakingly collected from the yard. In script, it read, "Dingy was here."
Now a sixth grade teacher in Spokane, Kardong is as free of anxiety as any sentient mortal can be. Yet, beside Macdonald, he seems a type-A compulsive. "It is just that I have never seen Duncan do anything on time," Kardong says. "It's one reason why he is to be treasured. He's just operating in a completely different time frame. He is correct when he says he is just now reaching maturity at 28. That doesn't have anything to do with the physiology of a runner. It just means he's finally gotten around to doing a few things."
Frank Shorter, for one, finds such a measured unfolding to Macdonald's advantage. "Patience really is a virtue in what we do," he says. "By that I mean having the faith in your own training and talent to carry you through the years it takes to improve. There is that certainty about Duncan. You know he's going to be a lot better. It's scary."
These observations of internal compensatory drives and inevitable greatness leave Macdonald cold. He believes his motives essentially are unchanged from when he began running in the eighth grade. "Basically, I just like it, and I like it best when it's fast. I don't get a particular thrill out of beating people. Although there are a few...."
"I'm not telling. It's all so tactical anyway. Only thing worse than leading all the way and getting outkicked is following all the way and getting outkicked."
Kardong insists on the last word on the subject. "Duncan is very competitive, but not in a normal way. He was famous for the intensity of his interval workouts. No one could stay with him. Still, he is so low key off the track that you suspect running may be his way of screaming."
In the Munich Olympic year, the scream was more of a moan. By 1972 his personal best for the mile was down to 3:58.4. At the Trials, Macdonald ran strongly in all his races, but despite the fastest last lap of his life in the 1,500-meter finals, he could not match the finishing speed of Jim Ryun, Dave Wottle and three others and finished sixth. Nevertheless, he toured Europe that summer and even showed up in the Olympic Village with a superbly forged pass. In 1973 Macdonald began medical school at the University of Hawaii. "By that time I figured I was a marathoner simply because it seemed to be my one opportunity to continue running," he says. "My right Achilles tendon [noticeably thicker than his left because of scar tissue] was being affected by work on the track." Macdonald won the Honolulu marathon that year in a modest 2:28, but the following spring the tendon needed surgery.
He recuperated in a shack in overgrown Palolo Valley behind Honolulu, a dwelling which began life as a bamboo pole between a couple of trees with a plastic sheet thrown over it. "Then it gradually grew up with layers of window frames and storm doors that we'd move around according to the direction of the rain," he says. "Still, it was only the size of a small living room and wouldn't pass any conceivable health code, what with the centipedes and mosquitoes." Macdonald tells of all this with the horrifying zest of a survivor, and, in fact, 1974-75 certainly was the nadir of his running life. "Yeah, I guess it was awful, slogging in my cast through the mud, fighting the cockroaches for possession of my medical books."
Eventually, Macdonald began to jog and then run again, somehow wedging in the time amid his studies. He now confides the lesson of his experience in combining training and medical school: "It can't be done." Pressed, he allows that if one is a distance runner who seldom needs a track or weight room, one might have a chance, although "there is a rather primal conflict between sleeping and not sleeping." Never a lengthy trainer—70 miles per week suits him nicely, while Shorter often does twice that—Macdonald napped every day in the medical library of his assigned hospital, snoring beside the bemused physicians. "When I enter my internship and residency, I'll have to cut way back," he says. Until then, however, Macdonald has been able to take some time away from school to run. Thus, he arrived at the summer of '76 in unusual condition: sound and fit.