"Start Slow and Taper off."

Walt Stack's advice on running a marathon.

Before becoming the world's most famous senior-citizen distance runner, Walt Stack 
(who died in 1995 at age 87) first got into shape the old fashioned way: He worked 
as a hod carrier, ferrying supplies to bricklayers, stonemasons, and the like on his
broad shoulders. But in 1965, at 57, he decided that eight daily hours of hard labor 
just wasn't enough. So he ran the first of what would eventually become 62,000
lifetime miles, crafting a highly visible training routine that made him a San Francisco institution - though many a Bay Area commuter was heard to mutter that he instead should've been committed to one. "I'm going to do this till I get planted," he'd say, and indeed he nearly did. Every day for 27 years, until sidelined by failing health in 1993, Stack would set out on his bike and ride the six hilly miles from his Potrero Hill home to Fisherman's Wharf. There he'd strip off his shirt - to display the tattoos of peacocks, wild horses, and bathing beauties muraled across his broad, rawhide chest - and run over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back, 17 miles. Next, Stack would jump into the Bay near Alcatraz Island (sometimes accompanied by sharks) for a one-mile swim in choppy water he called "colder than a landlord's heart." Perhaps even more impressive than his daily routine, however - and a timeless reality check for those who may feel compelled to boast of their fitness exploits - was the perspective with which he viewed it. "All this work I'm doing," Stack once said in the
midst of a bridge crossing, "it don't mean shit."

Walt Stack (1908 - 1995)

...at finish of Pike's Peak Marathon
with Alexander and Creveling (1976)
"I run 17 miles every morning. 
People ask me how I keep my teeth  
from chattering in the wintertime.
...I leave them in my locker."
Just do it !
Walt Stack from a Nike Commercial
Blue of eye with cheek of tan,
Blessings on the DSE's First Man.

With inspiration for all who dared
(The grubby jokes were never spared.)

Len and Buck and Ruth and Stu
And Sister Marion, they all knew

Walt, with several minor flaws
Unique-a rebel with a cause.

Those who didn't run or soar
With Walt beside the Bay missed more

Than just a legend in our time;
But also lost the chance to climb

With winged feet the heights of charm
With Walt, whose character so warm 

Is with us still throughout the land,
On mountain trail, along the sand.


 Walt and his challenge to Gail  
     In the late 1970's or early 80's, Sports Illustrated sent a writer to do a story on Walt.  the writer followed him around for a week, talking to friends and getting to know his habits and routine.  when the article came out, Walt hated it.  But there was a great line that I remember from that article which had to do with one of Walt's physical traits, his steady gait.  It seems almost regardless of the distance, Walt ran 8.5 minute miles.  So the SI writer wrote:  "Walt Stack's pace is so steady, if he fell out of an airplane he probably would fall at the speed of 8.5 minutes per mile."

     At the DSE races, Walt was a frequent master of ceremonies and presenter of ribbons to the top finishers and you never know quite what to expect.  At one of the Sunday races there was a runner named Gail Gustufson who had been training for an important marathon and was doing quite well.  She mentioned that she intended to finish in a time that everyone who know her thought was unrealistic.

     Well, Walt heard about the prediction and after handing out ribbons one morning, he said, "I hear Gail's going to break a record in the marathon next week.  Come now Gail, if you run that fast, I'll kiss your ass at the Ferry Building at high noon and give you an hour to draw a crowd!"  Laughter broke out and the gauntlet had been thrown.

     Now to everyone's surprise Gail ran the race in the time she had predicted.  So the next week when Walt went up to present ribbons, people were calling out that Gail would be at the Ferry Building at noon, and Walt was expected to be there.

     As noon rolled around a huge crowd of runners gathered along with some curious tourists and other spectators.  Of course we were wondering what would happen and how would Walt handle it?

     What only a few people knew, was that Gail and a friend had rented a jackass costume and ere off in a hiding place.  As Walt walked up, the "animal" appeared, turned, and directed its hindquarters toward Walt.  In the typical Walt Stack style, he walked over an planted a big kiss on its behind.  Then Gail and the friend stepped out of the costume to roaring laughter and shouts.  God only knows what would have happened if she had actually dropped her shorts!  Anyway, there was one heck of a party afterwards.
                                                                                            Logan Franklin


 Walt and the Japanese Doctor        
     Walt Stack and I did the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii.  I believe the year was 1982.  Walter had a hell of a good time, but during the bike ride which was the final event, he was several hours past the cutoff.  That didn't bother Walter, because he had a contingent riding merrily along with him, keeping him supplied with beer.  The next day at the awards dinner another older participant, a medical doctor from Japan, came to our table to inquire as to how Walter had fared.  Walt replied "Oh, I was okay once I got out of the hospital."  The puzzled doctor asked, "Why were you hospitalized, Mister Stack?" to which Walt replied, "To get that damned bicycle out of my ass."  Typical Walt Stack.  The good doctor walked away, still puzzling over it.
                                                                                           Joe Oakes
 Pre-race Walt joke    
     Walt's definition of a smart ass--"Someone who can sit on an ice cream cone and tell you the flavor."
                                                                                            Harold Heringhl
 Walt and Lime Rock    
     My relationship with Walt Stack could better be described in a book than in a few paragraphs; but he was definitely one of a kind.  The very mention of his name reminds me of two words, "Lime Rock."  The DSEers who often ran near me as I passed Walt going the other way may have been puzzled why he always yelled "Lime Rock is in the other direction!"

     It began back when Walt co-sponsored me into the Dolphin Swimming Club in 1970 so that I could qualify to swim the Golden Gate.  On my first attempt, I got ever so close to the finish line at Lime Rock on the Marin shore but the tide had other ideas and I got washed away.  Actually I think I swam perfectly-Lime Rock is what got swept out to sea.  Needless to say, there was much celebrating the following year when I hit that slimy rock right on the bull's eye.  I even brought back some moss from its surface for proof and today it still stands encased in plastic on my trophy shelf.

     I also reflect on the great trips on the uses we chartered for the Avenue of the Giants Marathon.  Walt really was the life of the party.  His jokes and stories were often a bit off color but he never offended people who were sensitive if he knew there world be a problem.  He got quite wild at times but always a real gentleman when it was appropriate.

     Thank you Walt for all you gave to the running community, and for all you gave me as the first blind runner in our club.  Thanks to Walt, I have always felt welcome.

     P.S.  Walt Stack single handedly set in motion a fund-raiser to send me to my first Boston Marathon in 1971.
                                                                                            Harry Cordellos

 A saint he wasn't, but he stood by his friends.  
     Others may choose to describe Walt's more blatant antics so it is left to them to discuss their observations of his barracks language, political affiliations, and eccentricities.

     However, for me, there was so much more to the man than the obvious.  In spite of his transgressions, and there were many, he was both proud and ashamed.  The DSE may have been his unconscious and convoluted way of fulfilling atonement and compassion.  Behind his overt personality and extremes, he had that special stamp of manliness on which he stood up for his beliefs and gave accountability for a life of adventure and misadventure.

     Walt and I came from worlds apart.  It was as if we had each flown in as space aliens from different planets for our Sunday DSE runs.  Somehow we became dear friends in spite of our mutual dislike of the other's convictions and affiliations.

     A saint he wasn't but he stood by his friends, labored honestly in the field of human suffering, and took his responsibilities seriously.  Could anyone have asked more of him?  I doubt it.  I think of him daily and wonder what he could say about each of us if he were writing this?
                                                                                              Len Wallach

 Walt-Justice of the Peace    
     We have many fond memories of Walt but one that we won't forget is when he helped to officiate at out wedding in 1976.  We had heard him say many times that he was licensed to marry people and had done so often.  So when planning out wedding we asked a colleague of ours and Walt to conduct the ceremony jointly.

     We had a brief rehearsal but come the morning of the wedding, as we were going over everything one last time, we realized that Walt was much more nervous than we were.  On inquiring why, we discovered that in fact he had done this only once before and wasn't at all sure about getting it right.  By now and with guests already assembled, it was too late to make any changes and so throughout the ceremony we held our breath and crossed out fingers hoping that he wouldn't get lost, wouldn't come out with one of his pithy phrases or suddenly digress into one of his infamous stories, a potential disaster since our out-of-town relatives had never met of experienced anyone like him before.

     But all went smoothly; a few pauses were anxious moments for us but he restrained himself and got through them successfully without launching into some raunchy comment and everyone present had a good time.  Unlike the first wedding he conducted, this one had lasted through many years-so clearly he did good work!  Later he went on to conduct marriages for a number of other runners and was pleased and proud that he was a part of so many happy occasions.
                                                                                              Theo Jones

 Ya just gotta love that guy     
     I have many fond memories of Walt.  I was never formally introduced to him but know him through the DSE races.  He spit out old salty brine like a retired drill sergeant and when he was at a loss for appropriate words he was inappropriate.  I remember time and time again at the end of our races during the award ceremonies how he always invited the winning females to a congratulatory kiss from the grand Pooh-Bah himself, and the mixed reactions he received.  Ya just gotta love that guy.  It was sad in the end just like the tough guy he was his body kept ticking but his mind was gone, and then so was he.  I remember all the friends who came to his wake/gathering/funeral.  They had so much to say.  Someone suggested that I speak too.  I was embarrassed.  I didn't know him well enough.  And I still think what would I say?
                                                                                             Fred Haber
 Walt had the spark    
     Walt was a lovable and industrious man, who even at the age of 81 had enough energy that belied his years.  The story goes that he and a couple of other fellows met at a house in '66 and drafted the plans for the club; Walt being a member of the Dolphin Swimming Club.  It is sort of confusing that S.F.'s first running club came as an "offshoot" of 3 swimming and boating clubs, but "whatya gonna do?"

     Walt stayed president for about 15-20 years, and then passed on the helm.  But he continued to attend most of the races, and still ran, and most important deply cared about the club.

     We have probably had about 10,000 runners pass "thru our doors", and a spark for most of them was probably Walt Stack.  Even at the age range of 70-80, he did more marathons and 50 milers than anyone I know.  He beat me in 2 marathons, passing me in the last 3 miles both times.  What energy!  One time we did a 50 miler on a Saturday and then ran a marathon the following Sunday.  I passed him at about the 15 mile mark and he shouted, "You're an animal Stratta!" at which I shouted back, "What do you claim to be-Human?!"  Walt laughed at that one, as we had always laughed at his many crude jokes.

    Walt will forever have it, and we are his children.  It will certainly be a beautiful memorial to a great man.  There will never be another Walt.
                                                                                            Tony Stratta

Running Saga of Walter Stack

The Running Saga of Walter Stack

By: Bob Bishop
Format: Hardback
Printed: 1978
Pages: 109

Stack took up running when he was 58 and went on to fill the “bionic geriatric roll that so many television networks and newspapers inevitably seem to recycle.” How he got to that point is a story that can only be summed up as trading a bunch of negative addictions for a bunch of positive ones. Indeed, one loses track of how many times this former 2-pack a day smoker (for 35 years) went in and out of jail. Even the FBI kept a detailed file on him as an admitted and active communist. Stack called Pikes Peak the “Wimbledon, World Series, and Super Bowl of running” and was very active in getting women to run up it. It was he who was the impetus for the group that call themselves the “Peak Busters.” It’s a neat story of a neat man that needs a second chapter — he finished his last Pikes Peak race in 1989 (11 years after this book went to press) at the age of 81. In all he had 19 Peak finishes and in the early 90’s he was the starter of the race several times before he passed away on January 19, 1995 at the age of 87.

Pikes Peak results for ‘Walter Stack’

Pos Div Mpos Mdiv First Mi Last Age City State Asc Dec Time Grp Sex Race Year
1/1 22 22/28 WALTER STACK 61 SAN FRANCISCO CA 3:56:37 2:40:33 6:37:10 60-64 M M 1969
1/3 36 1/1 WALTER STACK 62 SAN FRANCISCO CA 4:19:49 2:40:11 7:00:00 60-64 M M 1970
99 1/2 49 1/1 WALTER STACK 63 SAN FRANCISCO CA 4:03:15 2:58:45 7:02:00 60-64 M M 1971
99 1/3 36 1/1 WALTER STACK 64 SAN FRANCISCO CA 3:46:13 2:53:47 6:40:00 60-64 M M 1972
122 2/6 WALTER STACK 66 SAN FRANCISCO CA 3:57:10 65-69 M A 1973
158 2/4 93 2/2 WALTER STACK 66 SAN FRANCISCO CA 3:46:28 3:20:39 7:07:07 65-69 M M 1974
202 3/5 103 1/2 WALTER STACK 67 SAN FRANCISCO CA 3:58:12 3:26:48 7:25:00 65-69 M M 1975
317 1/1 157 1/1 WALTER STACK 68 SAN FRANCISCO CA 4:23:21 3:21:39 7:45:00 65-69 M M 1976
375 2/3 162 1/1 WALTER STACK 69 SAN FRANCISCO CA 4:35:00 2:25:00 7:00:00 65-69 M M 1977
443 1/2 258 1/1 WALTER STACK 70 SAN FRANCISCO CA 4:30:11 3:34:53 8:05:04 70-74 M M 1978
503 1/1 WALTER STACK 71 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:30:51 70-74 M A 1979
459 1/1 WALTER STACK 74 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:11:01 3:52:37 9:03:38 70-74 M M 1982
494 1/1 WALTER STACK 75 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:13:44 4:27:20 9:41:04 75-79 M M 1983
832 1/1 WALTER STACK 76 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:29:46 75-79 M A 1984
902 2/2 WALTER STACK 77 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:35:13 75-79 M A 1985
917 1/1 WALTER STACK 78 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:51:50 75-79 M A 1986
955 2/2 WALTER STACK 79 SAN FRANCISCO CA 5:52:20 75-79 M A 1987
1102 1/1 WALTER STACK 80 SAN FRANCISCO CA 7:11:07 80-84 M A 1988
1117 1/1 WALTER STACK 81 SAN FRANCISCO CA 8:21:45 80-84 M A 1989