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A Look at the Man - Forrest Jamieson

By Michael Elsesser


"The runner is much more than a point-producing, time-recording

machine.  He's an artist, as much as a man who plays a violin or

writes poetry.  The runner must be allowed to develop his running

as an art form." Forrest Jamieson, to Runner's World Magazine

"Booklet of the Month" No. 3 September 1971


Within the pantheon of track and field coaching legends, probably the name least recognized today belongs to Forrest James "Jamie" Jamieson.   Long-time observers of the San Francisco running scene remember him as the "father" of local high school distance running, having founded the first Peninsula cross country team at Palo Alto (Paly) High in 1952.  However, his influence cuts a much broader swath throughout the pages of American recreational running.  To best appreciate Forrest Jamieson's impact, we shall return to his youth, to an era when the mile was the longest distance run in high school track programs and cross country teams challenged marching bands for halftime entertainment honors at Friday night football games.

Born in 1919 in Bend, Oregon (coincidentally - or maybe not - a current hotbed of teenage running talent), Forrest moved with his family to the California Central Valley town of Galt (near Sacramento) in 1925.  Vast networks of criss-crossing country roads provided fertile running venues; Forrest would soon develop 55-second quarter-mile speed by running between telephone poles while delivering the Sacramento Bee newspaper on his childhood paper route.  After competing on Galt High's first cross country team in 1935, moving to the 880 yard and one mile "distance" events during the spring track season was natural - and highly successful, since his sit-and-kick tactics garnered a near-miss second-place finish in the mile run at the 1936 California High School State Track & Field Championships.

It was during his prep track days that Forrest befriended a younger competitor from nearby rival Stockton High.  Many years later, editor and publisher Bert Nelson would profoundly influence the world of track and field.  **** Graduation from Galt in 1937 was followed by two successful years as a "do-everything" sprinter/middle-distance runner at Sacramento City College.  Forrest's versatility as a 50 second quarter miler/4:30 miler/10-flat two miler caught the attention of Franklin "Pitcher" Johnson, track coach at Drake University who was recruiting in Northern California while interviewing for the head coaching position at Stanford University (a job he was offered and did accept).  Johnson saw in Forrest the ideal relay specialist, a runner capable of handling relay legs from the 440 distance on up while scoring occasional points in the open 880 and mile.  Forrest accepted the track scholarship offer; off to Des Moines he went.

Through his participation on Drake's cross country team, Forrest became acutely aware of the popularity of this autumn sport throughout the Midwest and East Coast.  (Indeed, Bill Easton - who became Drake's head coach a year later - hailed from Indiana, a state long embracing of harrier talents.  Indiana University was twice AAU national champion in the 1930s, also winning NCAA Division I titles in 1938 and 1940.  Drake would later dominate collegiate cross country during the war years, winning NCAA championships in 1944-1945-1946.) Forrest also recognized the important carryover conditioning effects of fall turf running into the winter/spring track season, which became clearly evident in the spring of 1941 when he helped lead Drake to a relay circuit trifecta, winning the 4x880 relay at the Texas, Kansas and Drake Relays.

Drake was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.  Once a year, in early spring, each conference school would hold a dual track and field meet with a local non-conference school for the benefit of it's freshmen, who were ineligible to compete in all NCAA varsity sports at the time.  To determine the best freshman team in the conference, each school would mail ("post") the results of each freshmen meet to conference headquarters, which would then tabulate the results and announce the school rankings and best marks.  Years later these paper, or "postal" meets, provided the inspiration for Forrest's signature innovation as a distance running coach.

Forrest met and married his wife Ruth while at Drake; he graduated in 1943 with his B.A.  in Liberal Arts/English. 

World War II beckoned; three years of naval service - first as an enlisted chief petty officer, later as a commissioned officer - took Forrest on tours of duty to New Caledonia, Okinawa, Pearl Harbor and other landmarks of wartime fame.  During this period, Forrest's running background found him serving his country as "Chief Athletic Specialist", responsible for maintaining the physical fitness and preparedness of his ships' crews.

Putting ashore for good in 1946, Forrest enrolled in the San Diego State College (later University) teachers' accreditation program; he received his California teaching credentials a year later.  He served as an assistant coach on the track and field team during this period.

Riding the initial shock wave of America's post-war economic boom, Forrest accepted his first teaching position at newly opened Chula Vista High School in San Diego County.  Here, in the fall of 1947, Forrest Jamieson launched his head coaching career by founding the school's (boys) cross country program.

Cross country was not new to Southern California.  Contemporary records indicate that Southern Section championships (including San Diego County schools, which did not form their own section until 1960) date to 1926.  However, few multi-team invitationals were held, in part due to the paucity of high schools offering cross country as an interscholastic sport.  Rather, most races were dual meets, oftentimes scheduled to start and conclude on tracks during halftimes of football games.

Effective? Probably.  Demeaning? Forrest certainly thought so, and set about to implement his own solution.

It seemed logical to him that a regularly scheduled series of meets, held at a single racing venue central to all participating schools, was a more reasonable option.  Thus was born the "Center Meet", an invitational meet held two or three times each season, every year, offering each runner the opportunity to guage his progress over the span of his high school running career.  In the fall of 1948, following a year of promoting and browbeating, Chula Vista hosted its first Center Meet on the grounds of San Diego State College.  As the post-war economic boom accelerated, more schools opened and more cross country teams sprang forth; Forrest's Center Meets flourished.

Coach Jamieson returned to Northern California in 1950 intent on pursuing his Master's Degree at Stanford University, but found himself instead consigned to naval duties at to the onset of the Korean War.  Forrest returned home in late 1951 to resume his Stanford studies; by spring 1952 he was teaching and coaching track and field at nearby Palo Alto High School.  In autumn of that year, Paly had its first cross country team.

Cross country on the San Francisco Peninsula was non-existant at that time.  Indeed, throughout the entire San Francisco Bay area, only Balboa, Poly (now closed) and Lowell of San Francisco, Lincoln and Tech of San Jose, Hayward, Bishop O'Dowd and El Cerrito in the East Bay, and Tamalpais in the North Bay are known to have offered the sport following the war.  Even Stanford University had no cross country team.  But it did have a beautiful, verdant, oak-studded golf course located midway between San Francisco and San Jose.  Just the perfect venue for a Center Meet.

With the assistance of Jack Weiershauser, then head track and field coach at Stanford, Forrest convinced the University's administration to open its golf course each fall to the local high school harriers.  These Peninsula Center Meets grew in popularity to 1200 meet participants, eventually overwhelming the local golfing community which persuaded Stanford to kick the kids off their course following the 1963 season.  Fortunately, through the dedicated efforts of former Carlmont High coach Loren Lansberry and former College of San Mateo coach Bob Rush, a permanent home nestled in the Belmont foothills overlooking the Crystal Springs Reservoirs was secured, where the tradition of holding Center Meets on the last three Thursdays in October continues to this day over the rustic, sepentine trails of Crystal Springs International Cross Country Course.

Stanford University, under new head track and field coach Payton Jordan, reinstated cross country as an intercollegiate sport in the fall of 1956.

The decade of the X50s proved kind to Forrest Jamieson and his thinclads at Paly.  Winning and record breaking continued unabated, each success breeding an ever-growing crucible of talented runners to continue the cycle.  Two mile, four mile and distance medley relay records and nation-leading times were the order of the day.  Paly's cross country teams were consistent North Coast Section champions, captained by a succession of elite harrier stars.


Great coaches beget great athletes; Forrest's legacy will forever be linked to the career of Ron Larrieu, arguably America's first teenage distance running prodigy (predating Gerry Lindgren by a decade).  Ron Larrieu helped catapult Palo Alto's cross country team to national prominence while gaining personal glory as Northern California's Premier harrier throughout his junior and senior seasons.  However, Larrieu's defining prep moment occurred on the track in late March 1956 when - with virtually the entire San Francisco Bay area track community in attendance - he raced two miles in 9:39.3, breaking the national scholastic mark of 9:44.3 set 31 years earlier.

That effort was true history in-the-making, as it represents a clearly defined launching point for recognition of the two mile run as a legitimate and necessary addition to high school track programs throughout the country.  Until then, distance running on all levels in the United States was so neglected that the 9:44.3 from 1925 was not even officially recognized in the high school record books.  Indeed, high school officials discontinued the two mile run in the early 1930s following a decision to lower the prep eligibility age limit from 20 to 19.  They believed the strain of running such a long distance was too much for a teenager to handle.

This process for acceptance of the two mile run was fully realized by the 1970s, when elite high school boys broke 9 minutes on a seemingly routine basis.


Ron Larrieu emerged in the early 1960s as one of the country's top distance specialists, ultimately representing the United States in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.  In retrospect, Ron and (younger sister) Francine Larrieu were true pioneers, standard bearers for generations of American distance runners throughout the past four decades.

Paly's wildly successful distance running program brought similar recognition to its coach.  The name Forrest Jamieson became synonymous with winning and records on the prep level.  He was respected nationwide by his peers as a builder of character as well as a molder of champions.

Possibly the zenith of Forrest's first decade as coach occurred in June 1956 when Brutus Hamilton, Forrest's close friend and CAL Bears head track coach, chose him to chair the high school segment of the 1st International Track and Field Coaches Clinic held on the UC-Berkeley campus.  Financing from the US State Department helped fly in coaches from around the world, bringing international fame to all in attendance.  The original, unvarnished transcript of Forrest's presentation, "Cross Country for High School Coaches as I See It," a 15-page distillation of his administrative and coaching philosophies then extant, is included in this appendix.

By the mid-1950s, head coach Bill Bowerman had built the University of Oregon cross country and track and field squads into national powerhouses.  Bowerman himself was gaining legendary status as a coach and technical innovator, constantly tinkering with running surfaces and new shoe designs.

With Stanford's harrier program revived under Payton Jordon, Bowerman brought his team to the Stanford Golf Course in the fall of 1957 - and his first encounter with Forrest Jamieson.  Their lasting friendship would soon have profound implications on American recreational and competitive distance running.

Hungarian runners, under internationally renowned coach Mihaly Igloi, were all the rage in 1955-1956, setting and resetting world distance records and winning major international races.  A move was afoot following the 1956 Hungarian uprising to bring Igloi to the United States (which eventually did occur) in an attempt to improve elite American distance running.

Forrest Jamieson had a different idea.  If he could help runners such as Ron Larrieu develop world-class talent, why couldn't other high school coaches throughout the country do the same? Seeking to further develop American distance running talent at the grass roots level, while concurrently promoting interest and participation in the sport of cross country, Forrest began the process of organizing and promoting a nationwide series of "postal meets", two mile races run on tracks following the conclusion of the cross country season.

This variation on postal track meets from his Drake years would determine an unofficial national high school cross country team champion: simply total up the times from the top five runners from each participating postal meet team; the team with the lowest aggregate time would be the winner.  Standardized track surfaces and the two mile distance would ensure the accuracy of this nationwide competition.  Coaches from around the country would mail or telex their team and individual times to a central reporting body; results would then be tabulated and announced soon afterwards.

Forrest first approached SPORTS ILLUSTRATED - and was promptly sent packing.  A more sympathetic ear had to be found - and was, just a few miles away in the adjacent town of Los Altos.  There, Bert Nelson, Forrest's former high school rival, was editing a small, growing publication titled TRACK AND FIELD NEWS, a magazine he co-founded with his brother Cordner in 1948.  Nelson readily agreed to promote Forrest's postal meets.  Postal meet directors would mail results to TRACK AND FIELD NEWS, which would tally up the results and report the top teams and individuals in its January issues.

Through this format, Forrest annually challenged the nation's top high school cross country teams to match the marks put up by his Paly squads.  With publicity offered through the magazine and the PALO ALTO TIMES newspaper, the first two mile postal race competitions were launched throughout the United States following the conclusion of the 1957 cross country season.  1957's national winner was Morningside of Inglewood, CA in 50:25.5 (10:05.1 per runner); Paly placed second in 51:14.2.

Paly's John Northway took individual honors in 9:47.0.  Within a few years, nation-leading marks dropped significantly below 50 minutes (sub-10:00 two mile average for five runners).  Like the Center Meets, postal competitions exploded in quality and popularity, rivaling sectional and even state meets throughout the country for prominence as the "peak" meets of the year.  Eventually, schools competed in up to four postals yearly in an attempt to beat competing marks.  Even three mile postal races were run during the "boom" years of the late X60s and X70s.  Again, Forrest's instincts for promoting and nurturing young American distance talent had proven right on target.


As the coup de' grace, California officials finally added the two mile run to the state track championship format in 1965.

By 1959, Forrest Jamieson had garnered a lifetime of achievements during his twelve years of coaching.  Seeking a change, and wishing to take advantage of travel and teaching opportunities abroad offered through the State Department, Forrest, Ruth and their three boys boarded the Pacific Orient Liner bound for the South Pacific.  This year-long sabbatical had been brewing for years, stirred not only by Forrest's interests in the region's youth fitness programs, but especially by the phenomenal performances of Australia's elite middle distance runners - Herb Elliot, John Landy, et.  Al.  - trained by mercurial coach Percy Cerruty.

Before anchoring in Australia, the Pacific Orient berthed in New Zealand for the first two months of the journey.  While conducting coaching clinics throughout Kiwi land, Forrest received word of a shoe cobbler in Auckland, a former runner renowned throughout this island nation for his revolutionary coaching methods employed by the country's top distance runners.  Though their first meeting was a bit icy and restrained, Forrest's lifelong friendship had begun with Arthur Lydiard, mentor to Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and many others who would gain lasting fame a year later at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.

Forrest was astounded to discover that, in this relatively small city of Auckland (population 600,000), on a geographically isolated chain of South Pacific islands, there resided a close-knit clan of some seven of the world's greatest distance runners, all living and training within a few miles of Lydiard's home.  Equally impressive were the Auckland-area citizens' "joggers clubs", encouraged and inspired by Lydiard to run 50-60 miles per week, just for the health of it.

Forrest's fortuitous introduction to Arthur Lydiard, a man now judged to be one of the most influential figures in the history of distance running, would challenge and dramatically alter his approach to training American high schoolers.  Their meeting would ultimately usher in a golden new era in the annuals of American distance running.

Arthur Lydiard was a show cobbler by trade.  In the 1950s, before Olympic glory allowed him to cash in on his name, being a shoe tradesman was his full-time profession.

Forrest remembered good friend Bill Bowerman's show design tinkering after meeting coach/cobbler Lydiard.  Jamie wrote Bowerman, who corresponded with Lydiard throughout 1960.  In January 1961 Bowerman sent star miler Dyrol Burleson down to New Zealand to compete on the Kiwi summer track and field circuit and receive firsthand knowledge of the Lydiard training ssystem.  A year later, Bill Bowerman traveled to New Zealand to meet the now famous coach of gold medalists Peter Snell and Murray Halberg.

Like Jamie, Bowerman was struck not only by Lydiard's revolutionary training methods, but by how certain of these concepts -specifically, slow running over long distances, or "jogging" - were being used every day by the local population.  Upon returning to the US, Bowerman promoted jogging as a health-enhancing exercise to the citizens in his hometown of Eugene.  To these track-mad fans, here was a way to vicariously experience the activity they loved as a sport.  Bowerman found himself preaching to the choir; in short order, people of all ages were jogging around the streets and trails of Eugene.  Bowerman then wrote Jogging, which described his ideas on slow distance fitness running.  The jogging craze in America had begun.

Oh yes, Bowerman's shoe tinkering.  It is unknown to this author exactly what advice Lydiard offered in regards to shoe design.  What is known is that many years later, Bowerman's outer sole "waffle" design led to the formation of a small enterprise known as Blue Ribbon Sports.  In time, the company changed its name to a certain goddess of Greek mythology; it no longer is a small enterprise.

Following his sabbatical, Forrest returned to Palo Alto High School and resumed his coaching duties in the fall of 1960.  He remained Paly's coach through the spring of 1963.

Forrest parlayed his contacts in the State Department to further international coaching assignments that continued throughout the 1970s.  Mexico, Papau New Guinea and New Zealand (several times) were interspersed with teaching and coaching positions at St.  Francis High/Mountain View, Pt Loma High/San Diego, Terman Junior High/Palo Alto, and a final stint as head coach at Palo Alto High in 1971-1973.

The Jamieson family moved to the San Diego area in 1973, where until 1984 Forrest worked six months each year in an administrative position at the Del Mar Race Track.  He spent the other six months coaching high school and undertaking various state department assignments, usually in the South Pacific, frequently New Zealand where he had developed quite a following.  In 1984, 37 years after founding Chula Vista High's cross country program, Forrest put down the whistle for what he thought would be the last time.  In 1987, Forrest and Ruth Jamieson "retired" to the Central Valley town of Lodi, near his boyhood home in Galt.

However, by 1990, feeling an itch for coaching again that he just couldn't scratch away, Jamie signed on at Tokay High School in Lodi - but not as a distance coach.  Long aware of a camaraderie unique amongst pole vaulters, he volunteered his efforts as the school's new pole vault assistant.  A year later, with the opening of Bear Creek High School in north Stockton, Forrest accepted his last paid coaching position by starting, for the third time in his career, the school's cross country teams.  The somewhat sad and telling circumstances surrounding these two positions is retold in the following reprinting of an article on Jamie which appeared in the June 1991 publication of Joe Henderson's Running Commentary.

To this day one can find Forrest Jamieson involved as ever, volunteering his efforts as a timer at high school cross country competitions and as a pole vault official at prep track and field meets throughout the S to ck ton-Lodi region of California.

Technological innovations, changing population demographics, competition for talent from other sports, Title IX, different training methods: these factors and many others have dramatically altered the San Francisco Bay area running landscape since Forrest Jamieson blazed the first trails back in 1952.  The (belated) 1987 introduction of California's State High School Cross Country Championships, plus huge mid-season interstate invitationals and the continued success of the Kinney/Foot Locker National Championships begun in 1979, have conspired to relegate most postal meets to the pages of history; postals were, quite literally, victims of their own remarkable success.  Center Meets live on at Crystal Springs, though attracting only local entries as they compete for talent with the hugely popular Stanford and Mt SAC Invitationals and other meets drawing regional talent.

Forrest Jamieson's singular goal was to improve both the status and quality of distance running in the United States by starting at the grass-roots level with the high school runner.  The explosion in popularity of cross country and two mile track racing in the 11960s and 1970s remains testament to his vision, resourcefulness and unflagging determination.  The popularity of jogging as a fitness exercise, medically verified in Dr.  Ken Cooper's 1968 best-seller Aerobics and by numerous other scientific studies before and since, can be traced to the 1959-1960 conjunction of Messrs.  Lydiard, Jamieson and Bowerman.

In many ways, this retelling of Forrest Jamieson's career is the story of the post-war "modern era" of distance running in America.

One minor but noteworthy item from the history books: it is recorded that Forrest Jamieson captured second place in the mile run at the 1936 California state championships.  His time of 4:31.5 established a new Galt High School record.

Sixty years later, it still is.

"I don't coach, I coax.  I don't demand.  I just try to persuade.  There's a difference."

National High School Sports Hall of Fame

2013 Inductee Forrest Jamieson

"The Founder of the Postal"

The First Prep National Team Championship

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