THEN AND NOW: Ten runners from Dos Pueblos High posed after setting a national 24-hour relay record in 1971 (top photo). Standing: Dale Nickel, Craig Bjorkman, Joe Szerwo, Doug Hopwood, Terry Baker, and Gil Rocha. Kneeling: Tom Kelsey, Joe Lambert, Tom Phillips, and Carl Udesen. They set a new national record a year later. Seven of them got together recently for the 50th anniversary of their feat (left to right): Nickel, Kelsey, Szerwo, Lambert, Phillips, Hopwood, and Rocha. | Credit: Paul Shanklin

Starting at 10 a.m. on June 9, 1972, Gil Rocha ran a mile, four laps around Dos Pueblos High’s 440-yard track, in five minutes and four seconds. He carried a baton that he handed to Tom Phillips, who also ran a mile, in 4:53. The baton was passed to eight more runners — Dale Nickel, Joe Szerwo, Joe Lambert, Tom Kelsey, Craig Bjorkman, Carl Udesen, Mark Pruner and Doug Hopwood, who finished his mile at 10:49 a.m.

Then it was Rocha’s turn to run again, starting another cycle of miles by the 10 DP distance runners. And so it went for the rest of the day and through the night — with Phillips and Lambert consistently cranking out sub-5:00 miles — until exactly 10 a.m. the next day, as Nickel was rounding the final turn of the team’s 1,106th lap.

The Chargers had run 276 miles, 769 yards — the distance from Goleta to San Jose — breaking the high school record in the Runner’s World 24-Hour Relay. The previous record was 271 miles, 1,217 yards — established in 1971 by a DP team that included nine of the boys who ran in 1972.

Credit: Tom Kelsey

“It was the hardest thing we’d ever done,” Hopwood said, “and we did it again.”

Kelsey read about the 24-hour relay in Runner’s World magazine and convinced his teammates that they should go for the prep record at the end of the school year when all were in shape from the track season. They were well trained by their coach, Gordon McClenathen.

“He taught us all about commitment, hard work that pays off, and so much more,” Phillips said. “I know that I speak for all of us when I say that those life lessons we got from Gordon have gone with each and every one of us as we went our separate ways, and made us the men we are today.”

Bill Trimble, then the head track and field coach of the Chargers, arranged a reunion of the men with McClenathen, a runner himself for most of his 87 years, at Stow Grove Park last month. Phillips said the event “rekindled the comradeship we had 50 years ago.”

It also brought back memories of those long, sleepless days and nights of running in circles. “It seemed like my eyes were closed for five minutes before I had to go out again,” Rocha said. Bjorkman recalled that after the 1971 relay, which went from noon to noon, “I went to bed at 2 p.m. and woke up at 8 the next morning” — an 18-hour nap.

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Parent shone headlights on the track at night. To Nickel, the uneven track was like a moonscape. “I saw the tops of asphalt bumps,” he said. McClenathen timed every mile while also massaging cramps out of the runners’ legs. June 10, 1972, was the last day of school, and that morning the track was lined by students and teachers who shouted encouragement to the tiring runners, most of whom put in 28 miles. “I’m sure that contributed to the adrenaline they needed to finish the relay,” Trimble said.

The Dos Pueblos record still stands, as far as anyone knows. The 24-hour relay proved too daunting to engender repeated attempts. It has gone the way of the Pony Express, a heroic endeavor from another time.

TRAILS AND HILLS:  Cross country produces motivations like those that drove the boys through those miles 50 years ago — running for the team as well as yourself. “We have a strong team culture,” said Phoebe Wolfe Lyons, the leader of the pack at Dos Pueblos, where the running tradition has spread across both genders.

Coach Jen Brown said 72 “hardcore runners” train and compete for the Chargers this fall. The girls’ team is fast and young — only one senior in the top 25. In Channel League meets this fall, the DP girls have swept as many as the top seven places. The top five all have cracked the 20-minute barrier in three-mile races.

Phoebe Wolfe Lyons | Credit: John Dent

The Chargers, hoping to qualify for the state finals this fall, tested themselves in the sweepstakes race at the prestigious Mt. SAC Invitational last weekend. They finished as the third-best team in Division 3. Three juniors led the way on the notoriously hilly course — Wolfe Lyons (19:07), Elliot Gleason (19:58) and Sarah Dent (20:17), followed by freshman Ruby Heinrich-Linthicum, and junior Reese Wahlberg.

Other results at Mt. SAC included Cate School senior Anna DiSorbo running 19:08 in a girls’ individual division; Santa Barbara High sophomore Blaise Snow clocking 16:02 in his first big-time race; and San Marcos winning a D3 boys’ varsity race, led by seniors Jacob Snodgress (16:06) and Ethan Dwelley (16:25).

Following this week’s County Championships in Lompoc, the Channel League Finals will be held on Wednesday, November 3, at Dos Pueblos on a course that circles the softball fields and winds through oak woodlands.

HITTING THE STREETS:  Get ready to lace up your running shoes for the return of the Santa Barbara Half Marathon and, for those not inclined to go 13.1 miles, the Independent 5K, on Sunday, November 7. The pandemic that prevented such events from happening the past couple years also brought about a change that will enhance the experience. State Street has become more pedestrian-friendly, and both courses will send the runners on a final mile through the heart of downtown, with the finish line just short of the Highway 101 underpass.

The popular Wine Country Half Marathon drew a capacity turnout of 2,400 runners to the Santa Ynez Valley last weekend. It featured the appearance of Arroyo Grande’s former prep phenom Jordan Hasay, who’s now 30 years old. She finished second overall (1:20.06) behind Santa Ynez native Connor Reck (1:16:12).

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