An Original Ultrarunner
by Dick Vincent, October 1991
When I first heard about Jack Bristol's death, I was stunned. I walked around in a fog, feeling a little loose in the stomach all day. It wasn't that Jack and I were great friends. I've lost closer buddies and haven't felt as strange. But over the years I've grown to like and respect Jack a great deal. His body was built like many runners, but his long hair scrubby beard and gleam in his they told the shaper observer this was an exceptional animal.
Jack was one of those people that in many exhibited traits we all want to have. He was spontaneous, fun loving, and daring. He was a friendly guy who liked to meet new people and respected any level of runner who was willing to give it a good try. A bit of a daredevil, Jack was not afraid to take a chance in a race, and if the bottom fell out --- well, no excuses, he'd get them the next time. Where's the beer? More times than not, though, the bottom didn't fall out.
Jack was born in Connecticut and ran for Bethel high school in the mid 60s. His cross country team was state champions in the 1967 and the track team won states in1965 and 1967. Even then Jack was training "strangely." Jack and Dean Perry would sneak off on weekends or after school and knock off 20 mile training runs. In those days, few high schoolers ran farther than two or three miles. "We had a little joke between us", Dean Perry says. 'That we were on the cutting edge of reality.'
Jack went on to Ohio State. His love for long runs never faded, and in 1974 Jack and Dean Perry organized the first Lake Waramaug Ultramarathon. It was the first time anyone finished a 100km race in the U.S. Park Barner won the race in 7:30:42 with Ted Corbitt. Jack was second in 7:40:15 with the granddaddy of ultrarunning third in 7:52:37. Those times would be impressive even today. Jack and Dean continued to organize the Lake Waramaug 50 mile and 100km races for the next 10 years.
Jack founded the Bethel Bananas Running Club in the '70s. The logo on the back of the singlet, "Boogie till ya Puke," exemplified his running philosophy. Jack ran anything, it didn't matter the distance, the type of terrain, or how many people were in the race. He always gave it his all. One mile, 100 miles, what's a few miles among friends.
One year Jack and Bert Meyer went to the Cross Massachusetts run. Ironically, they read the date on the application wrong and showed up a week late. "What the hell," said Jack, so off they ran. Jack went through the marathon in close to a PR --- sub 2:30. Wow a 5:35 pace per mile and most of a state left to hang on.
Nobody is really sure of Jack's Pr's, but he's got some impressive credentials whether or not they are his best times. In 1974 he took tenth place in the London-to-Brighton run (53 miles) in England in 5:44:20. He's run over 130 miles in 24 hours (how far, no one I talked to was sure, but they felt it was close to 140.)
Jack Bristol's stories run rampant in the running circles. He did unheard of things like running a 100 mile in Flushing Meadow Park in New York, then jumping into the car and running Mt. Washington race the next day. He insisted upon running down the mountain after the race and somewhere along the way his knees locked up and he ran off the road crashing into the rocks. His friends scraped him up, gave him a beer, and took him home.
One hot summer day after a long, hot race near the Connecticut coast, Jack and Paul Fetscher were relaxing with a few beers. After some time, Jack suggested they go run 20 miles, but Paul opted for a nap in the hammock, and quickly fell asleep. Somehow Jack managed to carry Paul to the water and throw him in. "Hey Paul, since you're up let's go run 20 miles." They did.
It's interesting how this sometimes wild man and sometimes ornery competitor could have such a tender side. A fellow that lived in Jack's neighborhood was suffering from lupus disease. His health deteriorated and his home was in a state of disrepair. He would soon have to sell it. Jack began showing up to paint, put up storm windows, chop wood and even do the grocery shopping. No questions asked. That was just something that needed to be done.
Around 1987 I lost contact with Jack. He felt out of the racing circles and the word was that he wasn't running. A year or so ago, a friend ran into Jack and said he had put on 30 pounds or so. He was having personal problems, and running wasn't part of the program. I never did see Jack again.
Clayton "Jack" Bristol lived near Lake Waramaug in Connecticut. He trained there; he raced there. I guess it was home. It seems fitting that it was there early this year he left us and went on to other worlds.
I remember catching Jack in a race once. It was the fall of 1981, and I ran Jack down in the last mile of the Berkshire Marathon. He had run London-to-Brighton the previous week, and after leading this marathon for much of the way... Jack was hanging on. Once again he was on the "cutting edge of reality." We were about to finish by circling the cinder track, and I ran up alongside of him and said, "Hey, Jack are we going to run in together?" His hair was blowing in the wind, and he had that squint-like-grimace on his face. Then he smiled --- almost chuckled ---and said, "Get out of here, this is something I gotta do alone."
Goodbye ol. buddy --- going to miss you. And remember, "boogie till ya Puke."
Special thanks to author Rick Favier and to editor Dave Varnish