Mile News

The Amazing Herb Elliott

November 10, 1958

Led by a fanatic and driven by private furies, Australia's fantastic Miler finds solace and satisfaction in pushing himself beyond endurance

By Don Connery, Sports Illustrated

On a primeval, wind-swept beach at Portsea, a curling tongue of scruffy Cape Cod land 60 miles south of Melbourne, a slender Australian clerk with a Dick Tracy nose and a tanned body of sinewy steel sprints a final hundred yards and slumps to the golden sand. Dragging in his footsteps like the exhausted survivors of a desert march come a boilermaker, shoemaker, architect, draftsman and a panting Dalmatian.

Catching his breath after the chill morning's 14-mile gallop down a sandy road, round and round the rolling Portsea golf course and along the broad beach, the leggy clerk revives suddenly. He kicks off his trunks and moldy track shoes, and plunges into the frigid waters of the Bass Strait. The others follow dazedly and thrash with him in the foaming breakers. Then he leads them, clothing in hand, in a naked single file through a forest of looming, unruly sand dunes. At the largest dune, he grunts at the 60° slope, then alone churns up the grueling 80 feet. (On another day, more refreshed, he had mounted the dune a record 42 times in succession.) Muscles now worked to the limit, he leads the troupe of young athletes through scrub and roots and over barbed-wire fences to a clapboard, "ski hut" surrounded by rusty barrels, empty paint cans and orange peels. They dart into a cold shower, then collapse into bunks and sleeping bags. But within half an hour, as if someone had turned on the juice, the clerk is up again. Refueling on raw carrots, cabbage, brown bread, cheese and milk, he cuts around the stunted tea trees to a grove marked "muscle tougheners" and begins hefting barbells and heavy slabs of rail.

Thus does Herbert James Elliott (far left), 20, world's fastest man, owner of the world Mile and 1500 meter track records and already preserved in wax at Madame Tussaud's, work off the problems and frustrations of success with deliberate tortures of the body. A man who seems to find in prolonged and superhuman effort the isolation from the public and private furies which possess him, Elliott is the prototype of the modern super-athlete who seems destined to go far beyond the limits of what hitherto has been considered tolerable for the human physique. For him, this Saturday morning workout was only the beginning of two grinding days of running and exercising at a fitness fanatic's homemade commando course. For four days during the work week, resting only on Friday, he had lifted weights and run 10 miles every day through Melbourne's abundant parks. Now he would run some 50 miles over the weekend before hacking off his brief beard and returning, in his gray Austin, to the Monday morning files and adding machines of the finance department, Shell Chemical (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. His next race was months away—not until February next year. He would not run abroad until March. But Herb Elliott acted as if tomorrow were already here.

"Too many runners make the mistake," he says, "of thinking their hard training should begin when the racing season starts. But now is the time of year when they should really be training hardest. When the season is on, I just relax and do a little jogging."

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Tags: percy cerutty (5) , herb elliott (17)

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