By Pete Hitzeman
We all know that the 5 Rivers Running Team is the best little running team in the world. But our story begins long before the first group of runners got their hundreds in at Oakwood High School in 2007.
World Class Roots
It starts in rural Ohio just after World War II, with a skinny, asthmatic farm kid from West Milton named Bob Schul. Schul took to running as a boy, and became a force in high school track, posting a personal best of 4:34 in the mile. He continued his development at Miami University, where he broke the school record as a sophomore, with a 4:12 mile.
Schul joined the Air Force in 1960, where as luck would have it, one of his first COs was Max Truex, who had placed sixth at the 1960 Olympic Games in the 10k. Truex introduced Schul to a legendary coach who would change the face of American running. Mihaly Igloi was a Hungarian defector and leader of the Los Angeles Track Club, and an early pioneer of something called “interval training.”
Igloi pushed his athletes through two workouts a day, each of which would sometimes last hours. Rather than a stopwatch, Igloi directed his runners with words like “fresh, good, fast good, hard, and very hard,” each linked to a percentage of perceived maximum effort. He primarily used distances between 100 and 400 meters, with a jogging recovery in between, and also taught his runners something he called “swing tempo,” where they would accelerate through an interval.
The Los Angeles Track Club met twice a day, seven days a week, with runners logging 12-18 miles per day. On Sunday, they got to trade one track session for a “play run.” Before long, runners from the LA Track Club were setting records and bringing home medals all over the world. The success of Igloi’s runners spawned imitation from the likes of Billy Mills, Joe Douglas, and one Bill Bowerman at Oregon, who went on to found Nike.
For Bob Schul, the speed work he found in California would carry him all the way to the top step in Tokyo, where he scorched the field with a vicious last-lap kick to win the 5000m at the 1964 Olympics.
Giving Back and Keeping the Flame Alive
The jogging craze of the 1970s, spurred by the outgoing New Zealander Arthur Lydiard, took the spotlight off of interval training in favor of long, slow distance. Frank Shorter’s 1972 Olympic Gold ignited America’s love affair with the marathon, and the magic of track work passed from the public eye.
But Schul kept Igloi’s legacy alive and well. After retiring from competitive running in 1966, he decided to pass on what he had learned from Igloi, for free to anyone who showed up. After moving back home to Ohio in 1971, he soon had a team of over 40 runners. In 1978, the Air Force sent their ten best runners to Wright Patterson Air Force Base to train with Schul, and from them he produced three sub-4-minute milers and a national steeplechase champion. He also served as the cross country coach at Wright State University from 1996 to 2007.
Bob Schul’s Racing Team became a force to be reckoned with on the roads in the 1980s and 90s, competing annually in relays like River to River. On that team was a certain Dale Fox, who had returned to running after a ten-year hiatus. Under Schul’s tutelage, Fox became a nationally competitive Masters runner, recording PRs of 17:24 in the 5k, 36:10 in the 10k, a 1:19 half marathon, and a 2:58 full. As a Grand Master, he won his division at the 1999 Dayton River Corridor Classic, posted another division win at the Pensacola Fiesta 10k in 2002, and took second in Grand Masters at the 2002 and 2004 Music City Half Marathon.
Work took Fox to Pensacola in 2002, where he missed the camaraderie of Schul’s team. So he founded and coached the Emerald Coast Racing Team, who found success under his guidance, some reaching national class status. After moving back home to Ohio in 2006, he wanted to get back to Schul’s workouts, but he had also discovered his passion for coaching. Schul himself was retiring, and encouraged Fox to start his own team.
5 Rivers Running Team is Born
In 2007, Fox went on a run with Jeff Lucas, who he’d met in 1995, John Haviland, Tim Schroeder, and Rich Davis. He told them the details of the vision he had for a local running team, and asked if they’d like to help. The men all agreed they’d show up to practice.
Dale and his wife, Pat, put their heads together and named the new group “5 Rivers Running Team.” Each part of that name was carefully chosen: the number 5 rather than the word, to avoid confusion with the local MetroParks; and “running” instead of “racing” to set the tone of inclusivity.
Two weeks after their first meeting, Dale presented his small group with a mock-up of the club website, on which, much to their surprise, he had named each of them as officers. The first president was Jeff Lucas, with John Haviland as vice president.
The first workout was held on Tuesday, July 10, 2007 at Oakwood High School. It was attended by Jeff, Tom Collier, Chris Tetlak, and Matt Roessner. Conspicuously absent was Coach Fox, who had decided to call off practice due to thunderstorms in the area. The other men waited for the storms to clear and ran anyway. Here was Jeff’s workout from that day:
10x100m, 6x160m, 400m
8x100m, 4x400m (89, 87, 89, 88), 800m
The team practiced again on July 31, with Jeff, Tom Collier, and Jason Reinoehl. Coach Fox finally showed up for a full practice on August 14, 2007. Joining Jeff, Tom, and Jason were Mark Janicki, Ray Olfky, Matt Roessner, Clem Boyd, Ken Luke, and Kimber Porter. Jeff ran the following workout with Kimber:
2800m warm up
10x100m, 6x160m, 400m
8x100m, 6x300m (76, 67, 64, 68, 64, 60), 400m
10x100m, 5x160m, 400m