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Bob Ottum
September 29, 1980
His physique seems better suited to the backfield than the blacktop, but the record shows he's America's finest road racer
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September 29, 1980

Herb Lindsay Comes On Strong

His physique seems better suited to the backfield than the blacktop, but the record shows he's America's finest road racer

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There is absolutely no narcissism in any of this: Lindsay and the others don't oil their torsos and loll about in front of full-length mirrors, admiring the sweep of their pectorals. Instead, Lindsay concentrates on, say, the action of his hip joints, figuring out whether the goo inside has heated up enough for him to shift gears. The more one hangs around Lindsay, the more sense it seems to make. If one came across Lindsay and associates on a plane, it would be no surprise to hear them say, "I'm taking my body out to Lynchburg, Va. to run a 10-miler," as if each of them were a chief mechanic of a marvelous racing machine. In fact, it is this single-minded concentration on the racing body that provides the connecting links in the life and fast times of Herb Lindsay.

One of his earliest memories is of bounding across an open field, supported between an older brother and sister, with his feet pedaling furiously but only occasionally touching the grass. Perhaps it was a case of psychological imprinting: they finally put the kid down, and he has been more or less on the run ever since. For one thing, Lindsay's early life in Grand Rapids and Reed City, Mich. wasn't just a childhood, it was a saga. First, he was the youngest of six. "There were three girls and two boys, and my mother was pregnant with me when my dad died in 1954," he says. Then Mrs. Lindsay married a man named Kaverman, a widower with five boys and one girl, and Lindsay went from being the sixth of six kids to the 12th of 12 and, later, the 12th of 15. "Our family reunions are pretty, um, entertaining," he says.

With platoons of hungry children on hand, there were certain realities a boy had to come to grips with. The Lindsay-Kavermans all lived in one big house in the country, and the clanging of an old schoolhouse bell was the call to supper. But when the sound of it rolled a half mile or so across the hills, "that meant that you were already late," Lindsay says, "and you'd have to wheel and sprint for home." Not just sprint, but hightail it. Open-field, run-for-the-porkchops records were set in those days that will never be broken.

By the time he was a senior at Reed City High, Lindsay was an official whiz at cross-country (the state champ in 1971 and '72), the two mile (a then state high school record 9:22) and the mile (4:24). He had also discovered that he is nearsighted, which accounted for the teammate running behind him at the cross-country meets yelling, "Bear left, Herb!" It also explains part of his ferocious look; Lindsay's still trying to get things into proper focus.

After weighing offers of track scholarships from several colleges, Lindsay settled on Michigan State, partly because the program looked pretty sound—and partly because a really great-looking girl friend went there. It later turned out that she was more interested in demonstrating against the Establishment than she was in Lindsay, but one must remember that there was a lot of that going around in those days.

But this jilting was more educational than heartbreaking. As a side effect of his natural earnestness, Lindsay wears something of a Rudolph Valentino look, which one hardly ever sees anymore. This is an inherent ability to lounge around not doing much of anything—and with nothing on your mind—all the while seeming to seethe passionately from deep-set eyes. Something in this, perhaps an implied promise of sexual mayhem, totally disarms women of all ages. If Lindsay ever learns how to flare his nostrils, he'll be unstoppable.

So with one girl off to the student ramparts with sandals and hand-lettered signs, it wasn't long before Lindsay was going full blast at varsity track, indoors and out, and cross-country, and dating four coeds on alternate evenings. "It was insane," he says, meaning that it really wasn't too bad at all. Finally, he took the only course open to an athlete in serious training: he cut two of the girls.

Still, when Lindsay talks about his college years, there is a certain wistfulness in his voice: sure, he was a certified Big Ten track ace. But outside the conference, who knew? Who cared? On that circuit in those days, being Michigan State's big gun meant running an awful lot of anchor legs on four-mile relays (at a respectable 4:01 or so), galloping along just behind Craig Virgin of Illinois at cross-country meets and never getting in the mileage necessary to become a good distance man. There was a time when Lindsay held Spartan records at two miles (8:38.9), three miles (13:14), 3,000 meters (7:51.2) and 5,000 meters (13:52.2)—but he never got ink. And try this: "For a time at Michigan State, I was a contemporary of Magic Johnson," Lindsay says. "Occasionally we'd see each other in the gym. And now he's doing in his field what I'm doing in mine, and yet..." Lindsay lets that one hang there. "...if I walked up to him now and said hello, he wouldn't know me."

Chances are very good that Lindsay is right, but that is as sad as this story will get. After all, take away the 600 thou a year from the L.A. Lakers and the TV exposure and the celebrity and the fancy cars and the glittering wardrobe and the instant recognition, and what has Magic got? Can he outrun Viren at 15 km.? Lindsay figures his turn will come in whatever modest spotlight is beamed on road racers, and he's ready to suffer the indignities of anonymity until it does. It doesn't occur to Lindsay that he'll ever become anything but a world-beater.

Besides, these are the good years. Lindsay now lives in Boulder, Colo. with his wife Terry. They have been married for 2½ years and have a modest new house on the outskirts of town, two Chevy Novas, two bicycles, cardboard boxes full of running shoes and a tight budget. He keeps in touch with his huge family through The Lindsay Newsletter, handwritten and duplicated for everyone. They have put off having children for now; Terry is a dental assistant, and Herb works for Frank Shorter Sports. The hours on his job are loose and adjusted to fit his training schedule. It is all part of a grand plan in which Boulder will one day rule the world.

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