A Runner Looks at Fifty: Thoughts on Mark Nenow


On September 5, 1986, Mark Nenow, running in the Ivo Van Damme Memorial, ran 27:20.56, breaking the American record of Alberto Salazar. Nenow had run 27:28 in Oslo in July, in a 10k against Said Aouta. Nenow raced from 1981-1989, with 1985-1989 his best years, Nenow was unquestionably one of the best distance runners ever to don a U.S. racing vest...

There are several reasons for doing this column about Mark Nenow. First, he is turning fifty this week. Second, he will not like it and send a thoughtful, but short email, and third, his friends asked me about writing a piece on Mark.

I have known Mark since 1986. I met him at the New York City marathon with Bob Bright, the impressario of the first era of the Chicago Marathon. Nenow had just run twice under 27:30 and many wanted him to run a marathon, none more than Bob Bright.

Nenow is a man of rare character. Acerbic wit, self-depricating humor, Nenow has made his career in footwear, first at ASICs, then Nike, then Brooks and now, Columbia. A husband and a father, Nenow has never spent much time talking about his career, but he had many followers in the track geek congniscenti.

Mark Nenow as a good runner in high school, running 4:22 and 9:17 for one mile and two miles. Running at the University of Kentucky, Nenow ran high mileage and found a program, about 140 miles a week, that worked for him. Running long on Sundays, a 22 mile run, then two a days the rest of the week, Nenow learnt from his experience: when a runner gets in shape, the pace drops and, if he or she can stay healthy, the level of fitness can rise to great levels.

Mark burst on the scene in 1982, running a 27:36.7 at the Mt. SAC Relays, to Gabrial Kamau's 27:36.2. This was an improvment of 54 seconds for Nenow. Mark would go on to setting the American record on the track and also the world road record for 10k, with his run of 27:22.

So, why are we giving Mr. Nenow so much trouble? Seems that a little group got together this past weekend to celebrate Mr. Nenow's upcoming birthday. Among the folks there were his past partner in footwear wars, Kirk Richardson (now, the President at Keane Footwear) and few of the other felons from that time period. Nenow and Richardson truly missed their callings. Picture Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin ( without the booze issues), and you get a picture of the cuts and digs that go back and forth. My favorite ten minutes at Nike during my visits over the past decade were getting Nenow and Richardson together for five or ten minutes. The laughter was not gut wrenching, but close.

So, truly, why are we harassing Mark Nenow? Is it because we have heard the rumor that Mark Nenow, now an executive at Columbia Sportswear, is starting to train in earnest again? Nope. Is it because we want a pair of Columbia shoes? Nope.

The real reason is because, besides his amazing world class running talents, Mark Nenow has always been a nice guy. A real human being, who would take time to talk to people and who could laugh with the best of them. That is how we like our heroes; a sense of humor and a real person. That is why Mark Nenow is so unusual. Twenty years ago, Mark Nenow took a few minutes with a young RW employee (me) and talked running. He was patient with my questions, and he could have blown me off. That was not Mark Nenow.

Happy Fiftieth, my friend. I wish you fifty more!

For more on Mark Nenow, a superb interview, please click: http://www.trackshark.com/interviews/2006/mark_nenow.php

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