The Athletic Biography of Buddy Edelen
by Frank J. Murphy (1992)


Leonard "Buddy" Edelen was one of the best American runners that people have never heard of.  He set the world record in the marathon (2:14) in 1963.  Edelen also won the 1964 U.S. Olympic marathon trials; was the first American to break 2:20 for the marathon; was the first American to break 30 minutes for 10,000 meters; and was a Big Ten champion in cross-country and the two-mile at the University of Minnesota.


Edelen made the most of his native talents through discipline, intelligence, and hard work.  This is not unusual in distance running.  Many of America’s most accomplished runners, such as Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, were solid but not phenomenal athletes in high school and college.  In 1955, Buddy Edelen’s fastest mile of 4:28 marked him as the best prep runner in South Dakota -- but not necessarily much more than that. At that time, the U.S. high school mile record was 4:17 and falling fast.  It was 4:12 by 1958, and continued to drop steadily until Jim Ryun ran an astounding 3:55 in 1965.  That record stood until 2001, when Alan Webb rang up his 3:53 for a new high school mark. (In 2001, according to DyeStat.com, the top 100 high school milers had personal bests ranging from 3:53 to 4:18.)


Edelen grew up through a somewhat troubled childhood in the Midwest, mostly in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) area.  After college Edelen took what amounted to little more than a subsistence-type job teaching in England so he could train hard and race internationally against the world’s strongest competition.  After college, Edelen was mostly coached by mail by Fred Wilt, who lived in the U.S.

Although the book is not really conclusive about this issue, it appears that Edelen overtrained, and that this led to his career-ending sciatic problems.  In Edelen’s only Olympic competition, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he finished sixth in the marathon as he struggled against the injuries that resulted in  his premature retirement soon afterward.

In the last newsletter, I reviewed another book by Frank Murphy (The Silence of Great Distance: Women Running Long).  I enjoyed both books for the way they went beyond races, times, and results.  The Buddy Edelen biography is interesting in terms of Edelen, his personality, and his life, as well as its insights into what a world-class athlete experienced in the 1960s.  There are numerous photos in the book, which add a nice touch.  Amazon.com has it in paperback for about $12.

Mike Dooris, February 2002