An oral history of the Jackrabbit 15 road race

Howdy, friends.

Here’s a column I wrote for today’s paper about a local race. I ran it once, in 2007, with the Scott Jamison in this article. I’ll post my personal column about it later.

Intro

 The Jackrabbit 15 is a 15.202-mile road race from White to Brookings. It begins in White and finishes at the Campanile. The race began in 1963, as the whim of the then cross-country coach Tom Woodall. It’s billed as the oldest road race in the Midwest and celebrates 50 years this year.

How it started

Tom Woodall, 77, SDSU coach 1962-1965: In 1963, distance running wasn’t what it is now. We had just placed third in the NCAA national championships in cross-country, and so the idea was, in the off-season, I thought it would be a good thing for the guys to keep running.

Lyle Koistinen, 69, of Sturgis, originally from Lake Norden, went to SDSU and ran cross-country: He (Woodall) was just trying to keep the rest of us in shape for track and to create a little interest

Woodall: I took them out to White. I had 12 or 14 guys, so we took them out in a couple cars, dropped them off and said, ‘we’ll see you at the Campanile.’

The field for the first Jack 15 was members of the South Dakota State cross country team. Eleven members completed that Dec. 7, 1963, which finished in a blizzard.

Koistinen: Back in those days, a 15-mile run was just about unheard of. If the coach says we’re gonna do it, we’ll do this run.

Woodall: I knew they were very fit and could do it. They were getting along fine, and there is a turn about halfway through, and as we headed south, the weather turned cold. Before you know it, we had a near blizzard on our hands. These guys were in shorts and T-shirts. And distance runners have this mindset: If we start something, we’re going to finish it.

Koistinen: We kind of ran in a pack at first. We took turns leading because that wind was so strong. Then we took a left and then the wind was to our back. Then things got really good. It was kind of blowing us along. I guess some of us were better for running with the wind than others, and the pack started spreading out a little bit at that time.

Woodall: So I drove up and down the road talking to them, and they said, ‘it’s cold, but we can make it.’ I kind of stayed in the back for some runners. And then I realized, some of the strong runners, like Lyle (Koistinen), were a mile ahead, and if I didn’t hurry up, they would get to the Campanile before I did.

Koistinen: I got a good gust of wind and I kind of got out a little ahead of the pack there. We were all about the same quality of runners. We were a bunch of farm boys who came into town to go to school and do a little running. I was first, in 1:34:52. The people who were farther back, the roads were starting to get icy. It was difficult for them to run.

Woodall: That night there was a home basketball game, and I told the announcer we had 10 or 12 guys who ran a 15-mile run, so they introduced them, and of course the crowd went nuts because they didn’t know anyone who could run 15 miles.

Early history of famous runners

In 1964, Woodall reached out to regional runners to grow the race, including Buddy Edelen.

 

1964 Jackrabbit 15. Photo courtesy of Prairie Striders.

Woodall: Buddy Edelen was a runner from Sioux Falls, and 1964 was an Olympic year. I got this idea, and said, you know, we’ve never had a footrace on roads like other states, and I thought, I wonder if we could have the same route, and invite Edelen? Everyone knew about him. He said, ‘yeah, I’ll do that.’ Turns out, that was the second annual Jackrabbit 15.

 Dick Beardsley, 56, currently lives in Austin, Texas, holds the men’s record for the Jack 15:  You look at the people who have run and won that race over the years, and there are some big name runners.

Start of the 1964 race on June 6, 1964. The winner, Buddy Edelen (1), tucks in his shirt. Edelen ran the race between the Olympic Trials and the October Olympics. The second-place finisher, wearing No. 2, was Ron Daws, who ran in the 1968 Olympics.

Woodall: There were 2,000 people at the finish line (in 1964), to see anybody who could run 15 miles, especially a South Dakota guy who was going to the Olympics. I know Look magazine ran his picture on the cover. I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘my gosh, that’s on the road from White.’

 

Buddy Edelen crosses the finish line in the 2nd annual Jack 15, held June 6, 1964. The 1964 Olympic marathon runner finished in 1:25:46, six minutes ahead of 1968 Olympic marathon runner Ron Daws.

Dave Graves, race co-director and vice-president of Prairie Striders Running Club: Rod DeHaven ran it when he was 10, as quite a young man. We’ve had a couple Olympic marathoners. Dick Beardsley holds the course record, he set that in 1980, when he was at his peak, at 1:14:54.

Mike Dunlap: 55, of Sioux Falls and now of North Carolina: That was his breakthrough race. He went from being a national class runner to a world-class runner at the Jack 15. He was a different guy. That was the first race where he kind of separated himself from the regional guys.

Lyle Claussen, 65, owner of Bartling’s Shoes in Brookings: He was the highest quality runner who ever ran the Jack 15.

Beardsley: I was just coming off the 1980 marathon trials. I don’t remember anybody in the race but Warren Eide. He and I ran pretty much together from White until we made that turn to come south. Then I was feeling pretty good and I put in a couple surges and was able to break away from Warren. It was just one of those days for me that things were just clicking. I remember looking at my time and it was the first time I had ever run a race that far averaging under 5:00 pace. It gave me so much confidence.

Jim Monfore, 80, retired doctor, of Lake Andes:  My second son, Jay, was a good runner. When he was 15, he ran that thing and he got beat at the tape, and the guy that beat him was an adult. And he said, “Who the hell is that kid, anyway?” That guy was Ron Daws. He was the Olympic marathoner in 1968 in Mexico City, and he was from the Twin Cities. He wasn’t from that far away.

Woodall: Daws was no slouch. He was a great distance runner.

Claussen: In those early years, Ron Daws was always top in the race. You look at the times in those early years, their times today would win the race almost every year. It was competitive. It was just different. Running was in a different realm in that era in time. If you were a runner in that era, you were pretty serious.

Kristen Johnston, of Sioux Falls:  I ran a mile with an 11-year-old Addison DeHaven, while his dad, Rod, quietly cheered him on. Marie Sample (Olympic trials qualifier) won the women’s race that year (2007).

Dunlap: Unfortunately it seems like it has lost its luster. Everyone has a half marathon or a marathon. White and Brookings probably aren’t destination races. People go to Twin Cities or Chicago.

Christopher Kopp, originally from Box Elder and an SDSU graduate now living in La Jolla, Calif., won the race in 2004:  It probably doesn’t get the caliber runner it could because it’s in September and the college runners are in season.

Woodall: Amateur guys used to come to White to run, and now they go to Chicago or Boston. Kenyans send over a dozen guys you’ve never heard of.  Things have changed.

The Course

In its 50 years, the course has only changed once, though it’s moved from Spring to Fall.

Graves: It’s always been right out of White, and it used to take Highway 30 over to old Highway 77.

Bob Bartling, 86, has run the race 34 times: For probably 15 years, the course started on the south side of the sidewalk on Main Street of White, S.D. Then you ran a half mile south. Then you turned west and went to highway 77. And that straight stretch was 7 miles long. Then at highway 77 you turned south, left, and go to the Campanile. And the finish line is the north side of the sidewalk. It’s an easy course to describe.

Woodall: I’ve been around distance running. I’ve run Boston, I’ve run Pikes Peak, I know the territory. The truth is, the run from White to Brookings is the most boring thing you can do. There’s nothing to it. The biggest thrill is seeing the Campanile and that’s the finish.

 

Bob Bartling, 86, is the founder of Bartling Shoes in Brookings, SD. Bartling brings cones to the Campanile on SDSU’s campus to illustrate the finish line of the Jack Rabbit 15. Argus Leader photo.

Graves: Marking the course, you don’t need a route map, let’s put it that way.

Claussen: When running first started, it was not uncommon to have odd distance road races depending on where they were because they would run point to point. Or they ran a loop. Whatever it happened to be, that’s what it was.

Bob Bartling: Eventually the governing powers of running decided courses had to be accurate. Well, there were some people on that certification committee that thought the measures weren’t quite accurate, so they should have a safety factor built in. So on the Jack 15, we added one part in a thousand, and had to add a half a block.  And that addition was at the start line. So we aren’t at the south side of the sidewalk anymore. We’re north of that.

Graves: A few years back, they did some road construction, so they used a county road about 2 miles farther to the south, and it’s stayed there ever since.

Bob Bartling: Now you go 3.5 miles south before you turn onto the gravel road for 2 miles. Then we go 7 miles west again and hit highway 77. We’re using quite a lot of the old course route. Definitely the last 5-6 miles are the same finish.

Scott Jamison, 55, of Wentworth, has run the race 24 times: To me, I know the other road got kind of busy, but I liked it the way it used to be. I mean it is calmer and easier, but I just don’t like those kind of changes. I’ve gotten used to the new way, too. I can still call it new.

Bob Bartling: The only factor in initiating a change in our course was safety. That’s the only reason for it.

Bob Bartling: The terrain – there is a mile, and it’s probably between mile 10 and 11, that whole mile goes uphill. The landmark at the top of that hill on highway 77 is a set of three silos, and you can see them all the way up that hill. It isn’t a terrible hill, but it gets to you at that stage of the race.

Jamison: Twenty-five of them later, I still get fooled when I cross the highway, thinking, I’m done now, and boy that’s a long 2/10s up that hill and over the top, and by then I’ve usually given up looking at the tower. I’ve learned not to look at it from 3-4 miles away when it looks like it’s right in front of your face.

Bob Bartling: You just keep staring at it and you feel that perhaps some truck foundation moving company has come and tied a rope around it and pulled it toward Sioux Falls. For most people, for an hour you just stare at that dumb Campanile.

Johnston: My sister, Julie, an SDSU alum, would show up at random country corners with my son, Sam, cheering us on and reminding me to keep my eye on the Campanile.

Vicki Nelson, 52, of Sioux Falls, ran the race 9 times and won it 7: Some of those days were just horrendous. This one can be really unforgiving.  On a windy hot, day you are going to have a tough day. I think that’s part of the allure of the race. It doesn’t meander like others. This one has its own unique thing to conquer.

The weather

Jamison: A half marathon just seems easy if you do a lot of running. And if you go the Jack 15 when the wind is in the wrong direction or it’s a bit hot, that last 2 miles you can feel it. If you want a little taste of what it’s like to finish a marathon, a bad day at the Jack 15 will give you that.

Beardsley: The biggest problem you can have out there is the wind.  I don’t mind the heat, snow, cold or rain. But when I have to run into a headwind, you have to work so much harder. In 1980, I was fortunate. That’s why that record might stand, that was probably the best year to run. It was 56 and cloudy.

Bob Bartling: He realizes what advantage that was to him that day. He’s really, really, really good. But he’s not 4-5 minutes better than the next 10 runners, Beardsley. He knows that. He just picked the right day.

Claussen: If you look at the times when the records were set, or on any given year, you compare times. You look at the runners who have run it a lot, their times can vary 4-5 minutes with the wind.

Bob Bartling: Both course record holders, they never came back. They knew better. What if they hit a south wind? Their reputations would be damaged forever

Runners are weird, women uncommon

Dunlap: Nobody knew what they were doing. It was the 70s. I remember picking up hay bales the day before the race. Because that’s life. Towards the end of the race, I got cramps in my forearms, and all at once it would just jerk up in a cramp because I had fatigued my arms so much the day before throwing hay bales. Usually runners cramp up in their legs. At the time it was very disconcerting, and now it’s just idiotic.

Claussen: Back in that era, we ran 70 miles a week, every week, and if you didn’t run 70 miles a week, you weren’t considered. You didn’t have 5-hour marathons. Somebody would have to be sick to run that pace.

Bob Bartling: The running scene has changed a lot.

 Woodall: The women always wanted to look nice. They were told their uterus might fall out. And now, probably every race in the country is probably 60 percent women.

Ruth Rehn, first woman to run/win it., 68, live in Pierre, was in graduate school at SDSU in 1974: I wanted to be the first woman to run it, and then when I saw another gal, then my goal was just to be the first woman to finish.

Bob Bartling:  She was our first woman finisher. That of course also made her the course record holder automatically. She only held the title for one year, then a Volga girl ran a faster time.

Rehn: What I remember was that everybody was very polite, but I felt like I was a strange commodity. Like I was at a family reunion but I wasn’t part of the family. Prior to the race and people doing prerace stretching and that, people didn’t even know what to say with me. Someone came up and said how do you like your running shoes.  I remember they were blue with some red stripe on them. I said, well, they’re fine.

Pat  Welch, Valley City, North Dakota, 58, ran in 1974, and finished 2 seconds behind Ruth Rehn: I ran with my husband the whole way. We were behind Ruth. That was first race I’d ever run in my life, so when we caught her, I ended up visiting instead of “hi, and see ya” like another athlete would have done. My husband was trying to get me to go, and he finished between us. I didn’t know her at all, and we didn’t talk afterwards.

 

Pat Welch, finishing the Jack 15, in 1974. Submitted photo.

Rehn: All I could remember was my end goal was to make sure I finished ahead of her. I remember exerting as much effort as I could right at the end to make sure. I didn’t remember how close she was. I knew she was close.

Welch: I was still in college when I ran that. We were the first women to run it. And nobody even mentioned it.

Rehn: I remember the article in the paper, the only comment was there were two women that finished the race. The article had very detailed notes on the men, and for us, it was, ‘two women also raced.’

 Runners helping runners

Dunlap: I won the high school division. I got a trophy. And that was huge. In 1974, a junior in high school, 1:30, and in 1975, a senior, ran it in 1:26. I trained harder. And I ran with Lyle Claussen.

Claussen: I never looked at myself as a really good runner. I mean, I ran OK, but I was never super outstanding. If I could run with Mike or any other person and help them along, and I can remember doing that in quite a few races, and sometimes those people helped me along, too.

Dunlap: I just remembered it was so hard, it was so far. And Lyle, the year I won the high school division, Lyle and I tied for like 6th place in the race overall. He basically shepherded me. Not only did we ride together, we ran together. I was so thankful.

Bob Bartling: That’s the thing about running, there’s lots of levels. Even after you get to very good levels, there are a few levels higher than that, too. It’s quite a game, competitive running.

Nelson: The first year I ran it, I think I was in the best shape of all my years. There was this woman Jane Wipf in the race, and Bob said, “Oh, just take it easy.” There was no way I could beat her. ‘You don’t’ really have a chance against her.”  I took second.

Bob Bartling: (on Vicki Nelson) She’s tough.

Nelson: I was just coming back, and I was a master’s runner. Owen (Hotvet) sort of twisted my arm that day, and said, ‘hey, you can run with me.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not in shape,’ and he said, ‘Give it a try.’ So I sort of tagged along with Owen and he paced me the whole race. And I ended up having a terrific day. I’m pretty sure I ended up accidentally winning the Jack 15. That sort of kicked off my thinking I could be a master’s runner for a while.

Dick Bartling: I ran the Jackrabbit 15 for the first time at age 15 in 1974. I was in fairly good shape from my 9th grade track season, but had only done one 10-mile training run to prepare.  My dad, Lorne Bartling, who was 59 at the time, had taken up distance running five years earlier with the other charter members of the Prairie Striders. It was his 5th Jack 15.  I started the race at a conservative pace and was running with Mark Steen, 20, of Brookings. As we turned the corner at the half way point to head south toward Brookings, Mark said “let’s see if we can catch your dad.”  So, we picked up the pace and caught up with him at about 9 miles.   Without Dad’s encouragement, I would’ve slowed significantly over the last 5 miles.  We ended up crossing the finish line together in 1:49, six minutes faster than his previous best.  He went on to run 1:48 the next year at age 60, which still stands as the record for 60 and over.

Longevity of the race

 Graves: It’s the oldest road race in the Midwest. Don’t ask me to define what Midwest is.  We’ve never missed a year.

Woodall: I encouraged people to keep it alive. I said, ‘road running is going to be popular one day, and you will like saying you had the first road race in South Dakota.’

Dunlap: It’s such a part of South Dakota running lore. If you are a runner in South Dakota, you have a Jack 15 story. You get to run into all your friends. It’s like a family reunion.

Nelson: When I think of the Jack 15, I think of Owen and Bob. They are the two most passionate people about this race.

Graves: We’re blessed with some people way back in the early years who took running very seriously.

Woodall: There is something about the Jackrabbit run. Maybe it’s the hokiness of it that draws people. But I think it’s the staff and camaraderie that draws people to it.

Kopp: It’s great that they have people who are dedicated to keeping it going. A lot of times you see these road races and they come and go, and they are around for 10 years and then they’re gone.

Jamison: We got down to the point there, there were some years when there were 20 to 30 people, and I worried they wouldn’t bother with it anymore. There would be 20 people in the race and 10 of them were close friends, guys like me who just didn’t want to give it up.

Beardsley: It says a lot about the racing community in South Dakota.

Jamison: For years, we just went up there and jumped off a school bus or carpooled and hoped somebody would drive a car back.  There used to be a café in White, and we would go eat after the race. I never had to actually run back to get my car, but it was close.

Beardsley: It’s never been a race that attracts a thousand people, but it’s one of those races, if you are a halfway serious runner at all you want to tell your kids, I ran the Jack 15.

Jamison: I’ve gone there knowing it’s a bad idea, but I’ve gone anyway.

The book

Nelson: This race is really Bob. He’s really detail-oriented. That book will keep the history of the race alive.

Bob Bartling: No other race in the country has anything like that book. Most of them can’t because they have too many entries every year. It’d be like the NYC phone book. It can’t be done. I have a lot of friends who direct major races and they are just sick when I send them that. They’d give anything to have that.

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This entry was posted in Columns, Jackrabbit 15, Race report, Running. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to An oral history of the Jackrabbit 15 road race

  1. Brenda Kleinjan says:

    I’d like to get a copy of the photo of the 1963 race – both my father, John Kleinjan, and my godfather, Rich Rust, ran in the race and I have heard about this race several times over the years…

  2. Leah Brink says:

    I’m running my first Jack 15 this weekend! This was a great historical perspective of the race – I’m going to enjoy it so much more now that I read this. Thanks!

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