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A Track & Field Historian Runs And Honors Those Who Run

November 12, 2022 4 min read 8 Comments

A Track & Field Historian Runs And Honors Those Who Run

Photo: Mike Fanelli said "I wasn't a great athlete", but check out who he beat to the finish line in this 15k in 1980. That man in blue behind Mike is the great Henry Rono, the most decorated of Kenya's fleet of distance runners. 

 

 

Summary

*Mike, 66, has boxes and boxes of material illustrating the history of track & field in the U.S. 

*Geezer Jocks can learn about consistency in his 114,411 running miles.

*He sets an example of respect for other Geezer Jocks.

 

By Ray Glier

Mike Fanelli, 66, has profound respect and a sense of responsibility to track & field in the U.S. He holds the canons to the early days of the sport in a collection of approximately 4,000-odd artifacts and clippings that go back to the 1860s. No other individual can dig into a treasure like this and present a rich history of the sport. Mike has never sold anything on eBay because it is cherished, every last piece.

Yet, the number in his collection—4,000—does not itself make Mike an authority on the sport.

It is this number: 114,411 that establishes Fanelli as “the guy.”

As of Nov. 5, when Geezer Jock spoke with him, 114,411 is the number of miles Mike has run since 1970 when he was a freshman in high school. Yes, that’s a palindrome. Yes, that’s a lot of miles on those tires.

It is not “approximately” 115,000 miles, or “close to” 115,000.

Fanelli has kept a detailed training log for these 52 years. It was exactly 114,411. It is how he measures himself, how he stays consistent and true, and keeps his spirit humming. Running motivates everything else about his life.

“Running sets me up for the rest of my day,” Mike says.

We can all learn from this devotion and discipline. We just need a smidgen of what Mike has, for instance, to keep up with our weight training and not a skip a day. We need his piety to the sport to help us show a little more strictness on those days we feel laggard.

What we need most is his sense of duty to the people who made the sport. Next time you are at a track meet, or Pickleball Tournament, or in a 3-on-3 basketball game, think about what the competition would be like without other Geezer Jocks to play with. Revel in them. Be Like Mike.

“I make sure that as a part of my daily training I make a point of considering those people that came before me,” Mike said. “If they can no longer run, I try to stay in motion for them.”

Every day is a version of All Saints Day for Fanelli, that day when he beatifies the souls that made the sport, living or dead.

**
Once upon a time, Fanelli ran 90-110 miles a week. He was good, not great, he said. Mike ran everything from the 400 to the 100-mile ultra. In all, he competed in more than 1,000 races.

Fanelli ran a marathon in 2 hours, 25 minutes in Eugene in 1980. That’s pretty stout.

“Oh yeah,” said Mike, “you think that’s good? I finished something like 51st out of 80 people.”

He chuckled over the phone. “Those guys were a whole different deal than me,” Fanelli said.

Maybe in running they were on a higher shelf, but as far as being an ambassador for track & field, Mike has few peers. He is the founder of the Greater San Francisco Track Club (1979). Fanelli was trusted to coach three USA teams in international events and he coached-up 14 runners so they were good enough to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials. He also worked in sports marketing and helped athletes get contracts.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t competitive. After all, Mike set the City College of San Francisco school- record for the 10,000 meters in 1979, and again in 1981. And that 2:25 marathon was pretty slick, too.

But his biggest impact is on the sport, in general, and what running does for our total health.

Mike said he generally runs seven days a week, but he pushes himself really hard just twice a week to try and reach an anaerobic threshhold. His message for Geezer Jocks is to focus as much on recovery as the run at our age.

“I do a lot of alternative stuff, every single night,” Fanelli said. “For instance, I'm going to soak in at least a half a pound of Epsom salt. I take supplements for my good health. I eat just twice a day.

“What’s important now is not only being active, but have some moderation. I used to run 90-110 miles a week. Now, it’s more like 30. Just be clear with yourself where you are, how much you are doing, and be consistent.”

The biggest thing he does for his health is keep the training log. We can learn a lesson of focus from Fanelli by keeping the log.

We can also learn a lesson of devotion and not sinking into the shadows as we grow older because we feel less important. Mike is selling real estate these days in wine country in Sonoma County, California, but his passion remains honoring the giants of track & field.

And they honor him, too. A native of north Philadelphia, Mike was invited back to Philly to be Master of Ceremonies for a reunion of the 1969 USA Track & Field Indoor Championships.

Likewise, he honors giants like John Carlos and Jim Ryun with his historical treasure of their feats.

“My collection,” he says, “keeps their story alive. That’s what’s important to me.”

 

Mike after a recent run through wine country.


8 Responses

Joseph Voss
Joseph Voss

November 20, 2022

Michael is one of the most impressive individuals that I have ever known. I am so proud for him and his accomplishments, and the positive impact he has on so many people!

Mike F.
Mike F.

November 18, 2022

Humbled for the kind words…SO very much appreciated 👌

Ward Freeman
Ward Freeman

November 15, 2022

“Be Like Mike.” That sums it up nicely.

Karl Machschefes
Karl Machschefes

November 15, 2022

We were teammates, ran together, and even tied for first in the Bay to Breakers, okay a practice run, but the full course.

Tim Silano
Tim Silano

November 15, 2022

great article on a treasure to the running community, thank you!

Mike Lavigna
Mike Lavigna

November 15, 2022

Humbled and inspired!…..Run, Mikey, run!!🤗

Elmo Shropshire
Elmo Shropshire

November 13, 2022

Great story on a legend of the sport of running. Fanelli is also an inspirational coach and arguably the greatest race announcer ever!

Dixon Hemphill
Dixon Hemphill

November 13, 2022

Another great story. I too have kept a running log for all the 50 plus years I’ve been running.

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