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Olympic Champion Bob Schul’s Four Life Lessons for Runners

The 1964 Olympic 5,000m champion shares his life lessons any runner can learn from.

When most people think about the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, they conjure up images of Billy Mills coming from behind in the final lap of the 10,000m to win gold. But another American, Bob Schul, took gold in the 5,000m, a feat that hasn’t been replicated in the last 51 years.

Schul was born in West Milton, Ohio and became a standout collegiate runner at Miami University. He joined the Air Force in 1960 and due to the influence of his commanding officer, world-class distance runner Max Truex, he trained under the legendary Hungarian coach, Mihály Iglói.

Schul’s 5,000m win in Tokyo was just as dramatic as Mills’ and wasn’t decided until the final 300 meters of the race. Schul found an extra gear and powered past France’s Michel Jazy on the muddy track to claim the Olympic title.

The now 78-year-old Schul is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration, and shares his four top life lessons for runners below.

Learn from knowledgeable people.

For Schul, this was Iglói. “When I first ran under [him] for two weeks, I knew that this man could bring my body to a state where I could be one of the best runners in the world,” he recalls. But Schul cautions that runners must be judicious about deciding whom they choose. “You must be careful when you believe you have found such a person, that they are what you are looking for,” he says.

Believe in yourself.

Schul points out that self-confidence plays a big role in performing at a high level. He says we need to believe in how we feel about the training program we have chosen to follow and the progression we make as we continue to ask more of our bodies. “If a particular training session becomes easier a month or two after you first did it, then you can surmise your body has progressed,” he says.

Don’t give up.

Schul struggled with a persistent knee injury throughout his running career. He also had asthma. Outside of running, Schul also had difficulties, declaring bankruptcy on a business venture  in the early 70s. But through it all, he refused to make excuses or quit on himself. “I had to regroup and I reopened a shoe store because my credit was good,” he recalls. “I could have sat around and felt sorry for myself but that would have been worthless. Things will go wrong in most people’s lives and you must decide what you want to do and go about making things happen.”

Give back to those who seek your advice.

After he retired from running in 1966, Schul lived in California and began training runners without charging them for his services. Six years later, he moved back to Ohio and had runners approach him looking for help and his training group quickly grew to over 40 people. From that point, Schul’s coaching success blossomed as the Air Force sent him their 10 best runners for training. Schul helped turn these mediocre college athletes into some of the best runners in the country, including three sub-4 minute milers and a national steeplechase champion. “All 10 were willing to work and I must admit it was the most fun I have ever had,” Schul says. “You might think I only chose those who had run well or I thought had potential. That was not the case as I never turned anyone away.”