Milestones: Walt Stack, 1908-1995

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Outside magazine, April 1995

Milestones: Walt Stack, 1908-1995
By John Brant

“I’m a real bag a hell today,” Walt Stack would joke as he ran along in a dogged shuffle, “but tomorrow I may be a dead mackerel.”

On January 19, after a long illness, Stack died at age 87 in a San Francisco nursing home. He left behind an international legacy in endurance sports that began in 1965, when, at 57, he started turning his morning workout into a piece of street theater as entertaining as it was arduous. Rising at 2:30 A.M., he’d bike to Fisherman’s Wharf and then run to Sausalito and back via
the Golden Gate Bridge–a 17-mile loop. He’d cap this off with a mile swim in frigid, tide-swept San Francisco Bay and then head for work, hauling 100-pound bags of cement up ladders at construction sites. Stack never missed a day of this routine and, regardless of the weather, never wore a shirt when he ran. His florid tattoos, leathery chest, and obscene wisecracks became the
stuff of legend.

A profile mainstay for running magazines and the star of a 1988 Nike ad, Stack ran more than 200 marathons and ultradistance events and inspired thousands of people, especially seniors and women, to take up aerobic exercise. “Walt was a union organizer,” says his friend and running-book author Joe Henderson, “and then he became a running organizer.” He’ll also be remembered for
an easygoing style summed up in his all-purpose credo: “Start slow,” he liked to say, “and then taper off.”

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