"I don't think anyone will stay with those two," said Doris Brown Heritage, though she meant to try. Twice an Olympian, Heritage had won this race four times in a row through 1971. She is now 35, coaches at Seattle Pacific and is a member of every conceivable AAU and Olympic committee board. "I can barely run," she said. "I hurt my back and haven't been able to train."
Julie Brown of the L.A. Naturite Track Club, who was second to Merrill last year, did not compete. She developed a stress fracture of the tibia before the AIAW championship, tried to run anyway, and was carried from the course.
A field of 180 women started the open race. It was 86�, dry and uncommonly clear. After sweeping through the trees without mishap, Mills and Merrill went right to the front. They pulled away from all pursuers, who were headed by Cindy Bremser of the Wisconsin T.C. and Heritage. Down a corridor of green pines, Merrill took the lead. Mills stayed on her shoulder, running with a slightly longer stride and more arm movement than Merrill. Her expression was one of apprehension. "I guess you'd have to say my main sensation in races is fear," she said later. As they headed up the rising sandy path, Merrill shot ahead by five yards, looking fresh and strong. "I was focused, trying to run the best I could," she said. "In all the crowd, I heard only my coach."
Some 600 yards later, Mills had caught Merrill. Now it was clear that this would be a terrific race. Ninety yards behind them, Heritage moved into third, but she was running with a strangely arched back. Her face was pale, her eyes shut tight for long stretches.
Reaching another dusty uphill, Merrill again surged away from Mills. When they hit soft sod beside the campus bookstore, Mills closed right back up on her. "She kept bursting out and then slowing down," said Mills. "I figured I'd let her do what she wanted and run my own pace." With 800 yards to go, Merrill slowed and Mills passed her. "People were shouting at both of us," said Mills. "I knew that she was right there." Mills reached the last 120 yards with a five-yard lead. Then Merrill came on, lifting. "I could have kept going at that pace for a lot longer," said Mills, "but I just couldn't think how to sprint." Merrill passed her with 70 yards to go and won by 20 yards in 16:54.4. In the final steps she forced a smile, but her breath was raspy and she almost fainted in the chute.
Julie Shea of North Carolina State was third, 16 seconds behind Mills. Bremser held off Judy Graham of the West Valley T.C. for fourth, and said, "That was a killer. I wanted to quit that one so bad." Sixth was Brenda Webb of the Knoxville T.C. And Heritage? She faded badly over the last mile, stumbled in eighth and immediately swayed into unconsciousness. Officials carried her through the chute, her toes dragging. A few minutes later, her feet elevated, her neck cradled in ice, she came to. "I don't remember that last 880," she said. "Every time my knees started to buckle, I'd just try to straighten them out."
"Doris is a nail," said a friend. "When she goes down, you know the conditions are getting close to the danger zone."
In a few minutes she was up and jubilant at having led her Falcon T.C. of Seattle to second place in the team standings behind Iowa State.
Of the first dozen finishers, Mills seemed the least exhausted. "Three miles is maybe a little short for me," she said. "It doesn't seem right, kind of, to be up there battling for the lead, not when it's with Jan Merrill."
Merrill warmed down with still more bursts of rapid striding. While Higgins watched her, he discussed a protest that he had filed against having the first quarter mile go through all those trees. "We had the best runners in the U.S. here," he said, "and we took a chance on them being injured." Higgins also was hoarse from shouting for Jan. "You know, I only see one runner out there," he said.