Untitled Document

Robert Letson

8th Finisher at the First Triathlon, September 25, 1974

In the 1970s, Dave Pain celebrated his birthday with a run/swim/beer. This could arguably be called the first triathlon. What made it popular was that Dave provided the beer, free, for anyone who joined him. And there was no admission fee.  I didn't drink beer, but the price was right, and a hot summer run followed by a cool swim provided the most refreshing feeling imaginable. It is not surprising that everyone who ran or swam began to celebrate Pave Pain's birthday.  My apologies if you say that "beer" is not an event. You are in good company.  Jack Johnston also thought that Dave's event wasn't enough, so he added bicycles.  Who would have thought anything would come of it?

In the first bicycle event, fate gave me a blessing on the far side of Fiesta Island, in the form of an old milk truck that passed slow enough for my bike to get sucked behind it, increasing my speed to 30+ mph until it lost me 1/2 mile later. I don't remember what place I got, but my fondest memory was that nice assist behind the milk truck.

We were young and foolish then, addicted to the natural high that comes with jogging, running, cycling, willing to try anything new.  "I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary life.

— Charles Lindberg

But, after three triathlons, my fear of extra expense for repair of bike and body led me to limit my cycling to commuting.


Ted Corbitt

My imagination was captured in 1965 watching a very fuzzy TV interview of two marathoners who were astounded to find themselves jogging with New York's most famous runner, Ted Corbitt, who had run the Helsinki Olympic Marathon, had set several world records C50 miles, 100 miles, 24- hours), pioneered the first long distance race in New York (a 30 mile event which later became the New York City Marathon), and was a physical therapist for handicapped children. Ted was quiet, shy, supportive. And he was black. Born on the same day as Jack E. Robinson.

8 years later the "gas crises" motivated me to begin fogging 9 miles to/from work, and participating in numerous running events. Jogging was fun, my health improved, and, hoping to run the 1974- Mission Bay Marathon, I measured it secretly, discovering it to be oversized by hundreds of yards, disclosed this to the race director, Bill Gookin, who immediately asked me to certify all the club's races, which led me to write directly to the chairman of the AAU National Standards Committee, Ted Corbitt.

Ted was the hub of measurement activity, and had documented all methods, good or bad- The bicycle method seemed best, which required using a steel-taped base line. A brilliant CALTRANS engineer, Frank Townsend, terminally ill with cancer, advised me to use electronic distance meters (EDM) instead of steel tape, and, amazingly, I was given 97 EDM measurements, by Rick Engineering, Hewlett Packard, Cubic Corporation, and the City of San Diego, to establish what is probably the best 1-mile base line in the US, on a bike path by Sea World Drive, a gift for all runners and cyclists, which continues to be used to measure road courses in the Mission Bay area. I call it "Frank's Mile". He died in 1975, almost the same month that another helpful civil engineer died, Bill Hargus of Point Loma, who had measured San Diego's first long distance road courses, and was a member of Ted Corbitt's committee.

Because Ted was impressed by the quality of Frank's Mile, be included me on His National Standards Committee, reviewing applications, and certifying hundreds of road race courses ranging from local fun runs to international events.

The inspiration for all of this was Ted Corbitt. His honesty. His sincerity. His simplicity. Life is action. When Ted could no longer run, he gave drinks to those who could- Ted died in 1997, leaving only words: "Keep moving; the rest will follow."