Monday, March 14, 2011

Remembering Herb Lorenz

Note: Author Vince Phillips (pictured right with Herb) ran for and was a life long friend of Herb Lorenz.
Quick: name all American distance runners with both a 4:02 mile and a 2:17 marathon in their resume. Whatever short, distinguished list you were able to generate was just reduced by one. On February 27, 2011, Herbert Joachim Lorenz, arguably one of America’s greatest distance runners of the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, and absolutely one of its greatest masters runners ever, passed away at the relatively tender age of 71.

Born in Franfurt, Germany on April 7, 1939, Lorenz’s early years were shaped by the ravages of World War II. His father was killed in the conflict when Herb was just five years old and his widowed mother re-married when he was nine. When his mother and step-father moved to the United States, Herb stayed with his grandparents in the small village of Kronberg, When Lorenz was fourteen, his mother sent for him. Traveling with his few worldly possessions in a small bag and even less English in his vocabulary, he came to his new home aboard the SS United States and eventually settled in the small country town of Pemberton, New Jersey.

Not afforded the assistance of today’s English as a Second Language courses, Lorenz sat in the back of the room, paid close attention and eventually learned the language. When required to run a mile in gym class, he cruised the track in 5:30, with his classmates far behind. His school had no track team at the time, but when word of Lorenz’ mile got to one of his teachers, the teacher decided to form a team. The “team” was Herb. As a sophomore in high school he finished second in the state in the mile and as a junior he finished fourth, running both races in the 4:30’s—all on the basis of his own, self-coached training. His senior year was more pre-occupied with getting into college than running and he ended up at Trenton State College—now The College of New Jersey—where, still virtually uncoached, he demonstrated his vast potential and range with bests of 49.7, 1:54, 4:12 and 9:30.

At a time when most runners ended their careers upon graduating from college, Lorenz continued to train and race, and in 1964 he moved back to South Jersey with his new wife Irma, took a job as a shop teacher at Burlington Township High School and began a coaching career that was to last nearly four decades and be at least as successful as his own competitive career. His runners not only earned many individual and team honors during this time, but also benefited immensely from the lessons of character that Herb imparted. Inspired by Lorenz, many of his athletes went on to become teachers and coaches themselves.

Throughout the rest of the ‘60’s he was a regular in AAU national track races at 3 and 6 miles, became the dominant distance runner on Middle Atlantic road racing scene (supplanting two-time Olympian and South Jersey native Browning Ross in that role) and was twice a member of national teams sent to compete in the World Cross Country Championships. In 1969, he won the famous Berwick, PA “Run for the Diamonds” in a course-record 45:18. At the urging of ultra-marathoner Harry Berkowitz, Lorenz moved up to the longer distances. In 1971, he just missed making the Pan-Am team in the marathon, losing only to winner Kenny Moore and novice-marathoner Frank Shorter in the trials. In 1975, he set an American age-36 record of 2:17:43 in the Boston Marathon and in 1979 he won the master’s division of the Beantown classic with a record 2:24:41. He went on to set American Master’s records of 30:41 for 10K, 47:18 for 15K (roads), 47:59 for 15K (track), 1:04:42 for 20K, 1:07:54 for the half-marathon and 1:19:58 for 25K. He was three times awarded the prestigious Nurmi Award by Runners’ World magazine, was inducted into the Road Runner’s Club of America Hall of Fame in 1989 and continued to run mind-boggling times well into his 50’s.

Recurring injuries and debilitating medical issues finally slowed him to a stop. For the past several years, Lorenz had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia, an extremely rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As he had done in so many races over so many years, Lorenz battled as valiantly as he could right up until “he crossed the finish line.”

Herb Lorenz is survived by his wife Irma, his son Eric and daughter-in-law Chris, his daughter Diane Stansbury and son-in-law Will and grandchildren Danielle and Brian Lorenz and Randall and Jason Stansbury. He is also fondly remembered by a vast number of his former high school athletes and fellow competitors not only for his phenomenal running achievements but even more for his enduring qualities as a truly humble and selfless human being with a great sense of humor; never particularly comfortable in the lime-light, always willing to help others and quicker yet with his unforgettable laugh, Lorenz was the antithesis of the embarrassingly chest-thumping, self-promoting athletes who unfortunately hold sway with so many of our young people today. He will be missed by anyone fortunate enough to have ever spent any time with him, and future generations of high-school athletes and runners will be poorer for never having known him.

The family requests that any contributions honoring Herb’s legacy be made to the Herbert Lorenz Scholarship Fund, c/o PO Box 1542, Medford, NJ 08055. A scholarship will be awarded to an outstanding South Jersey runner.

Written by Vince Phillips. Courtesy of Runners Gazette Magazine

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