If you've ever met someone not involved in the running world, on first mention that you are on the HS track team, the standard response typically is, "What's your mile time?" It seems over the years, that question has creeped into politics anytime a candidate claims he/she is an active runner. Sometimes, the responses are outright bogus. Look no further than the last election cycle to hear Paul Ryan's claim that he ran a 2-hour, 50-minute Marathon, later debunked by Runner's World. And then sometimes, there is some truth.
What's Your Mile Time, Bernie Sanders?
Flash forward to 2016, and you now have Bernie Sanders vying for the Democratic Nomination as a Senator from Vermont. However, Sanders hasn't always lived in Vermont. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. Growing up, he attended PS 197, and eventually went to High School at James Madison, still in existence today. And it just so happened, Bernie Sanders was the Captain of the Track Team.
Madison was a member of the PSAL, which had been in existence since
December 26th, 1903. As such, Sanders would have competed in what would
eventually become the Brooklyn Burrough Championships. That means his results have to be somewhere.
Bernie speaks fondly of his time as a runner in New York City. Below, you can hear his claims that he ran 4:37 for the mile back in High School. Now remember, these were on the old cinder tracks with track spikes that looked a little bit different than the modern iterations. Simply put, 4:37 is mighty impressive at the time.
What's Your VCP Time, Bernie Sanders?
Van Cortlandt Park has been labeled the oldest cross country course in the county. The Catholic High School league has been running their championships there since 1927 (yes, we have results for every year in the archives), despite originating as a destination XC course in 1912. So surely, Bernie Sanders had to have been tested on the backhills of VCP.
Well, we did some digging, and sure enough, "The Bern" has been tested on the cowpath like millions of athletes over the past 104 years at Van Cortlandt Park.
Again, as Bernie claims, he was good, but no superstar. Taking 15th his junior year, Sanders clocked 15:18 on the hallowed hills in the Bronx. Van Cortlandt Park was a very different place back in the day, before the railroad ties and manicured trails led to the significantly faster times of today. For comparison, the CHSAA Intersectional meet was won by well-known Tom Dempsey of Archbishop Stepinac in 13:26.0. We'll let Bill Meylan do the Speed Rating on Bernie, but it proves that he is a true-blue PSAL runner.
Showing "New York Values"
It's no secret that Bernie Sanders is a different kind of candidate. Agree or disagree with some of his talking points, it is clear he has been saying the same things for years. Well, his "democratic socialist" side even showed in his running days, as told by a former HS Teammate,
Slavin, who ran track with Rep. Sanders, I-Vt. -- "one of the best runners in the city" -- shared a story he thought spoke to the character of the self-declared socialist even then.
In those days when two runners from one school competed, they would almost always finish together. "Bernie had already won a few races, and this other guy had never won a race in his life," Slavin explained. "So the two of them were finishing together, and Bernie just pushed him ahead and let him finish first."
"I mean, that's the kind of guy he was," said Slavin, now an economist who still lives in Brooklyn. "Never boastful, and he had a lot to boast about."
The Finish Line
Well, it looks like this is one thing in the political race that is full-on truth. Bernie Sanders was a star runner for James Madison High School in the PSAL as a child, before moving on to Brooklyn College in 1959. Eventually, Sanders would move to Vermont, citing time spent at Boy Scout Camp there as a driving force. However, you can the kid from the city, but you can't take the city running roots from the kid.