September 30, 1931 ~ November 6, 2020
Born in: Los Angeles , California
Resided in: Palos Verdes Estates, California
With the Dodgers having won another championship, having enjoyed many thousands of trail runs and having shared his passion for running and life with so many, Bob Holtel finally put up his running shoes for good on November 6, 2020 at the age of 89. He was a teacher and mentor to many a burgeoning runner many who would tell you that he changed their lives. He was a bigger than life figure described in one article as the “One and only Bob Holtel”.
He was born Robert Leonard Holtel in Los Angeles September 30, 1931 to Alvin and Bessie Holtel. His dad was the head accountant for LA city schools and his mother a school teacher. From his dad he would get planning and organization skills that would help him succeed in his many accomplishments and from his mother the passion for teaching and mentoring people. He grew up in South Gate with his younger brother Jim. Bob worked at the old Dodger stadium selling hot dogs as a teenager sealing him being a lifelong Dodger fan. He started college at LA City College then took a two year stent as an Army Medic where he was part of the US Army track team in Europe. He completed college at the University of California at Santa Barbara while working summers at the standard oil station in Yosemite Valley of Yosemite National Park. It was this combination of nature and running that would resonate throughout his life. It was here in the valley he met his first wife Nancy who shared his love of the back country. They had two children Mike and Linda.
Bob’s first job was teaching and coaching in Azusa but after two years he decided life was better at the beach and took job at Mira Costa High School. He and Nancy rented a place on Ozone court in Hermosa until some volleyball friends mentioned they
should look at buying the house next to them in Manhattan Beach. Bob would be a fixture running in the soft sand along the beach in Manhattan and the South Bay. While running was his passion, he very much enjoyed volleyball and would run volleyball tournaments out of his home on 4th street with the same organization and enthusiasm he brought to all things he loved. The volleyball nets and balls were stored at his place and all were welcome there. He developed many good friends from his volleyball days.
After several years at Mira Costa he took a job as a teacher and cross country/track coach at West Torrance high school where he would finish out his career. Unlike many coaches at the time he would workout with his runners. He inspired them to win a number of CIF championships (two state titles and two runners would go on to be national champions) but more importantly he played such a large role as a mentor that a number of them would keep in touch with him throughout his life.
Just as he ran with his cross country runners, he would pace friends and acquaintances in races inspiring them with his passion for running and in turn change their lives as he had some of his students and runners. Those runners would also be lifelong friends.
He was among the original vanguard of ultra-distance runners as his personal passion for running pushed him to run longer and longer races. He started with marathons and running the trails of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and would push himself to run longer and longer distances until he was regularly running 50 and 100 mile races. His favorite 50 miler was the Catalina (Avalon benefit 50) which he did 15 times and his favorite 100 miler the western states 100 that he did 4 times. With a trail name of “ultrabuns” he would complete 90 ultramarathons and 154 marathon finishes. His lifelong passions of running and nature would push him to be the first to run the 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada over three summers (1985-87). He would run typical a marathon a day during this three summer trek which he chronicled in his book Soul, Sweat and Survival on the Pacific Crest Trail. Remarkably, he would repeat this running feat in the opposite direction to celebrate his 80th birthday.
His love of the wilderness led him to spend 17 summers as a volunteer wilderness ranger predominantly in the mammoth lakes area of Inyo County. Passing through Ashland Oregon on his first completion of the Pacific Crest Trail, he was taken by the beauty of the area so much that he would eventually purchase a second home there. He would spend summers in Ashland and winters in Manhattan Beach. This would put him closer to the less populated wilderness that he loved but return him to the warm winters and his friendships in the South Bay. He would use the transit in between the two to stop for running adventures and visiting friends along the way. He was always accompanied by his Corgis. His first was Sierra, then Cedar and Cinder. They would accompany him on his runs and gave him great joy. In Ashland, when he wasn’t running and mentoring new runners he would compete in spelling bees that a local pub would sponsor. He was an excellent speller, he loved to sing (think drinking songs not opera) and work in his garden.
He would move from Manhattan Beach to Palos Verdes to be closer to the running trails he enjoyed. He put in 198,000 lifetime miles running by his count and this would ultimately result in foot pain that limited his ability to run in his final years. He maintained his hearty laugh, his love of the wilderness and appreciation of life. His Catholic faith gave him comfort that ultimately he would be in better place. I suspect he is coaching a few more folks to the joys of running even now…
With the first rains of the season coming through Southern California this weekend, the air is crisp and clear. If you want to honor Bob go for a run, a walk and take in the beauty around you. If you have a Dog make sure you take him or her along too. Bob was not formal guy nor a fan of technology so no “Zoom” funerals in the current pandemic but we hope to have a celebration of life in the Spring giving you time to think of your best Bob Holtel story(and if you knew him there were many, almost all ending with a hearty laugh). For those wishing to donate in his honor consider Corgi aid (https://corgiaid.org/wp/donate/) or the Pacific or the Pacific Crest Trail Association that supports volunteers who help maintain the trail (https://www.pcta.org/donate/#donate).