Bob Anderson, founder of Runners' World, the RBR Interview, by Larry Eder

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2011SanJoseHalfMarathon-1243[1].jpg
Bob Anderson, RNR Half Marathon, San Jose, courtesy of Bob Anderson

This is a special interview for me. Bob Anderson is the founder of Runner's World. He ran it from its start in 1966 until he sold it to Rodale Press in 1985. Bob is a lifetime runner, and also a life time entrepreneur.

As with any entrepreneur, there are good things and there are not so good things. Bob had new ideas each and every day. Those were the good things. Some of the ideas worked, and some did not. Those were the bad or tough things.

Many great writers, editors and media savvy people came through the doors of Runners World. Amazing people like John Brant, Danny Ferrara, Dan Gruber, Tim Gruber, John Schenone, Jewel Chu, Vern Walther, Catherine Cassidy, all come to mind. Amby Burfoot, Bob Wischnia, Marty Post, Joe Henderson, Joan Ullyot and George Sheehan were also some of the great people who came through the doors of Runners World.

Before I worked at RW, I purchased running shoes through Bob's store, Starting Line. At the time, I met Angel Martinez and Mark Schilling. Angel would give me deals when I got shoes for my team at Bellarmine. Angel later helped build Reebok, among many other brands. I also believe I met Peanut Harms at a RW event in the late seventies.

I was fortunate enough to spend several years at RW. I started in Ad production, and then worked in not only ad department. John Brant was first editor to let me write something, in a regional issue of California edition on Don Bowden, the first American to break four minutes for the mile.

I will always be grateful to Tom Walsh, the VP of Circulation at Runner's World who helped me get my first interview at RW. Derek Clayton, the VP of Advertising was my boss. Tough, but fair, Clayton had a great sense of humor. He also told me that the reason I was hired for my job was that I sent a thank you note for the interview.

After Rodale purchased RW, I spent three more years at RW, working for Mike Perlis, who gave me opportunities in all the departments at RW, from circulation to advertising to promotions. He called it special projects. Mike knew I was going to leave RW before I did.

George Hirsch was my boss for two years when the Runner and RW combined. I am honored to count George Hirsch as both friend and mentor.
I know, however, that I drove George crazy during my two years with him. He was, as he is, always gracious, but he let me know when I crossed the line. Which I did, with high frequency. 

For Bob Anderson, I have always been grateful for him giving me my start in publishing. I have also grown to appreciate his journey. Joe Henderson told me one time, that he was always grateful to Bob for giving him his opportunities in running.
I feel the same way.


 I am grateful to my start with Bob Anderson and Derek Clayton at Runners' World. I loved my time there. I also look on that era as the most uncomplicated time of my life. In many ways, I miss that time. Running with Gerhard Behrens in the mornings, going to races (most weekends, I raced about 30-35 times a year then) with my ex-wife, Christine.

Running at lunch with Danny Ferrara and Danny Gruber. Getting Big Gulps for breakfast with Danny Gruber. Looking at strange pictures sent from readers about their aerobics garb. We were in the vanguard.

One of the people I miss the most is Bob Small. Bob was the VP of Printing and publishing at Runner's World. Probably the snappiest dresser I ever met, Bob was class through and through. I never saw him get angry. He had a wonderful laugh. And he was one of the few people I could go to when it was a tough day. He had been there, he knew what to say.

I tell friends sometimes, that I will write a novel about the sport during the 70s-80s. I have the name of the book too.

I do know this. Without that experience, I would not be working in running media two decades later. 

Bob Anderson's journey is fascinating. Going from a high school track athlete to a publisher before his high school graduation. Bob is still as competitive as they come, but he seems quite happy, with his business Ujena, his family, his grand kids, and his running.

In giving up the magazine he birthed, Bob was able to get back into running. Makes sense somehow.....

  

RBR, # 1. How did you get started running?

Bob Anderson: I started running in 1962 when I was 14.  My older brother Bill was on the track team and I gave running a try.  I loved it from the start.  By March I was able to run eight miles and in May I ran my first race.  600 yards in 1:39.  I wrote down everything.  Ran the 880 in AAU Junior Olympics June 9, 1962.  Finished 4th but was not given a time.  The next year I trained harder and place 1st in the 880 AAU Junior Olympics with a time of 2:08.5 June 1, 1963.  Running was already the most important thing in my life.
 
RBR, # 2. How was high school running?


Bob Anderson: I did not like school.  Taking tests was never my thing and my grades were barely passing.  However, I had running.  Coach McGuire taught me how to push the limits.  We did workouts like eight sets of six quarters averaging 72 seconds.  I liked cross-country the most.  In my senior year I placed third in our tough regional meet on a hilly course.  My time was 10:14 which Coach McGuire estimated was 25 seconds slower than if we were running on a cinder track.  In track I ran a 4:41 mile.  There were no road races in Kansas in those days.  But I was already dreaming of running a marathon but didn't know what I should do.  My coach could not help me but I found a publication called Track & Field News.  There I learned about Browning Ross's Long Distance Log.  I subscribed to both and read every word many times over.

RBR, # 3. How was college running?

Bob Anderson: I was one of our top runners in high school but in college everyone on the team was a star.  I never fit in and dropped off the team.  Our coach at Kansas State only paid attention to his stars.  We never clicked.  But I had already started Distance Running News and I didn't need to be on the team to get out of running what I wanted.

RBR, # 4. How did you get idea on RW?

Bob Anderson: In high school I was already writing runners around the country.  I got addresses from Browning Ross.  I sent out a letter that said I was 17 and I wanted to run a marathon but I didn't know how to train.  I got back responses from people like Ted Corbitt, Arne Richards and others.  They gave me more names and addresses.  I then started something I called the Marathon Statistic Bureau and started keeping track of marathon times.  I was getting tons of information.  It was so exciting getting mail from runners and coaches around the world.  Then on a bus to a cross-country meet my senior year (October 1965 - we were headed to Wichita and running against Jim Ryan) I told a running mate that I was going to start a magazine about running and call it Distance Running News.  He thought I was joking.  How could a high school senior start a magazine. I wrote more people like Hal Higdon and  told them I was launching in January, 1966.  I published two issues in 1966.

RBR, # 5. Who was original staff?

Bob Anderson: I was the editor and my best  friend and high school running mate Dave Zimmerman was my circulation manager.  Arne Richards was my Editorial Board Chairman plus the many runners who wrote articles for me.
 
RBR, # 6. How did you finance it early on?

Bob Anderson: I started out with $100 I had earned babysitting and mowing lawns.  The first issue was printed on seven 8 1/2 times 11 inches sheets of paper.  I would fold them in half, put two staples in  them to have a 28 page magazine.  Runners starting sending in their $1.00 for a one year subscription and some people like Tom Osler and others sent in another $5.00 to help me out.  I took in just over $700 the first year which covered all my costs.  I never had to put in additional money nor did I borrow any money from anyone.

RBR, # 7. Did you really try and sell it to TFN?

Bob Anderson: In 1969 I came out to Los Altos, California to meet with Joe Henderson.  Joe had been writing for me as I expanded to more issues.  Joe was working for Track and Field News.  He set up a meeting with the publisher Bert Nelson.  I needed to reach more runners.  A major break  for Distance Running News was when Bert Nelson agreed to rent his mailing list to me.  I had already started selling books and stop watches.  I did a mailing to their 10,000 subscribers in the fall of 1969.  I asked people to subscribe and to buy books and stop watches.  I had just enough money for the mailing.  The response was amazing.  I had more business than I could handle.  I had 10,000 subscribers by the end of 1969 when I moved to California.

RBR, # 8. How did Shoe review evolve?

Bob Anderson: Jeff Johnson was working for Blue Ribbon Sports and also taking some amazing running photos.  He asked if I wanted to do an article about running shoes.  This was April, 1967.  The 17 page article was very well received.  Four brands were covered including adidas, New Balance, Tiger and Puma.  The "best" training shoe with 16 points was the Tiger Road Runner and the "Best" Racing shoe was the Tiger Marathon.  Even though Jeff was the writer I believed what he was saying.  At the time these were the best shoes for distance runners.  I was willing to put it in print.

RBR, # 9. Tell us about running circa 1970?

Bob Anderson: Running back in 1970 was so different than it is now.  I had moved from Kansas to Mountain View California on Christmas of 1969.  One of the key reasons is that everything was in slow motion in Kansas.  There were very few road races and just getting things done from a business standpoint was slow.  In California there were so much more going on.  The races were many and the quality of the performances were good.

RBR, # 10. Tell us about running circa 1975?

Bob Anderson: Then in 1972 things really changed.  At the 1972 Olympic Games Frank Shorter won the Gold Medal and finished more than two minutes ahead in the Marathon.  This brought so much attention to running and our circulation for our magazine now called Runner's World (since Jan 1970) climbed.    By 1975 running was getting a lot of attention.  Runners like Steve Prefontaine captured the hearts of many.  His death in a car accident May 30, 1975 shocked the running world.
 
I had spoken with Steve six months prior and I wanted  him to share his ideas about running at the world class level.  Here is what I said in an interview in Runner's World December, 1975 issue, "I talked to Steve about six months prior to his death.  He was very concerned about the way athletes were treated in this country.  His main point was the you can't be a world-class athlete without making a job out of it.  Here he was supposed to be competing for the US and the US wasn't backing him.  He was putting in all the time, and the US was taking all the credit.  The US would not even give its teams good housing, yet the US was always there to take credit for the medals. "  We never published the article because it was delayed and then it was too late...

RBR, # 11. When Running took off, say 1977, did it surprise you?

Bob Anderson: It did not surprise me that running took off.  Our circulation was growing and we were already above 350,000 by 1977.  Kenneth Cooper published a book Aerobics in 1968 and it was well received.  It got millions of people out jogging.  The timing on his book was perfect.  America needed to get out the door and make exercise part of their life's.  This book did that.  However, jogging is not as addictive as racing.  How many people have been jogging for 10 years or more?  However, how many people have been running for 10 years or more.  At Runner's World we pushed racing and this was the foundation of our message.
 
I wrote this in the December, 1979 issue of RW,  "At the beginning of the decade, it would have been absurd to imagine a runner being paid $50,000 or more by a shoe company to wear its product in competition.  Paying a runner $5000 to enter a road race would have been science fiction.  Running has grown tremendously.  It has matured.  As much as some runners resist change, I've found many of those changes refreshing.  So much so that I can honestly say I enjoy running more today than I did 10 years ago."

I went on to say, "The basics have not changed in 10 years.  In order to run, you put one foot in front of the other.  The difference is that now I can perform that simple process with a lot more people-people who understand the joy I derive from running."
  
RBR, # 12. 1980-tell us about that?

Bob Anderson: By 1980 the business world started noticing running.  Companies like Perrier Water started sponsoring running events.  The New York City and Boston Marathon were major events and names like Bill Rodgers and Grete Waitz were in the news regularly.  In 1981,  the movie,  Chariots of Fire,  won Best Picture and brought even more attention to running. Running was now in the limelight.  There were races every weekend in many cities around the country.  Runner's World circulation had climbed to nearly 500,000.  Many of our writers had become very famous like Dr George Sheehan, Joe Henderson and Joan Ullyot.  Dr Sheehan on Running made it to the New York City Times best Seller list for paperbacks.  We had published more than 15 of Joe's books and Joan's book about women's running became a classic.

RBR, # 13. Did the Runner starting surprise you?

Bob Anderson: George Hirsch started a magazine called New Times in 1973 but he too was hooked on running.  He was educated in the publishing field and enjoyed reading Runner's World.  He thought he could do it better.  I was a college dropout and was publishing the largest running magazine in the world by far.  At the time only Track and Field News was in the game on an international scale.  He got backing and launched the Runner magazine in 1978.  He hooked up with Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Marc Bloom and Marty Liquori.  George is a very competitive guy and he went after us.  However the Runner magazine never came close to our circulation.  But it was the second biggest running magazine in the world.

RBR, # 14. Tell us about Fred Lebow? Did you know him well, did you almost sponsor NYCM?

Bob Anderson: I had met Fred many times.  We did talk about Runner's World being more involved with his marathon but it never worked out.  However, we did many promotions around the New York City Marathon.  Fred had a vision that worked out beyond his wildest dreams.  The running world owes Fred a big thanks for everything he did.

RBR, # 15. Tell us about RW 1980-1984?

Bob Anderson: It was so exciting to have built Runner's World in a major magazine.  We printed over one million copies of the 1984 Olympic Issue and it was nearly 400 pages in size.  Marathon world record holder Derek Clayton was my advertising director and we were doing so many exciting things.  We had created National Running Week, Corporate Cup, RW Indoor Track Meet, 24-hour relay, Fun runs, expo at major marathons, etc. We were not only a magazine spreading the word about running.  We were promoting the sport in so many different ways.  We were turning people on to running.  On to racing...

RBR, # 16. Tell us about sale to Rodale?

Bob Anderson: I had 350 employees and my whole life was consumed with work.  I had never worked any place else in my life and I just didn't know how to handle it.  I was learning as I went along.  What suffered was my family.  During the week I would go into the office about 7am and not be home until 8pm or later.  My personal running suffered and I was not spending enough time with my family during the week.  I loved my kids so much but I just was not there during the week. However, on the weekends I made sure I did spend time with them and my wife.   But it was not enough and my wife Rita asked for a divorce.  The bottom line I had to sell Runner's World and dissolve the company to settle the divorce.

RBR, # 17. Was it hard to let go of RW?

Bob Anderson: It was very hard to sell RW.  It was my baby.  I gave birth January, 1966 but it had to happen.  Several companies were interested in buying RW and I finally decided upon Rodale Press.  Not only because they came up with the most money but I really thought they would continue spreading our message.  It was time to let it go and Rodale Press was the right choice.
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Bob Anderson at Clarksburg Country Run, photo from Bob Anderson
 
RBR, # 18. Your running seems as good as ever, do you enjoy it still?

Bob Anderson: I love running and racing more than ever.  Since selling Runner's World I have been able to focus on my own running.  It is ironic that I started the magazine because I loved running and racing and I wanted to make it my whole life.  But I just did not have enough time to run.  On hind sight, I just did not make the time for running.  Today I run or walk at least 30 miles per week and have been doing this since October 2008.  I let nothing get in the way.  There are a lot of days I really don't have the time but I just make it.  I should have done this when I was publishing RW.   I am going to hit 33 races in 2011.  This year I finished third at the Carlsbad 5000 in my age group finishing in 19:53 and placed first in the Clarksburg PAUSATF Half Marathon championship November 13 in 1:30:37.  At age 53 I ran the Cal 10 mile in 59:17 and at 51 I ran 35:24 for 10k.  In 2012 I am going to run 50 races to celebrate 50 years of running and racing.

RBR, # 19. Miss RW?

Bob Anderson: I really don't miss publishing RW.   It was very exciting to have created and build RW but it was taking me away from what I love even more: running.  So much of my time with RW was about publishing.  I love publishing too but running more.

RBR, # 20. Where is running at now?

Running is now big business which is good and bad.  It is great that now a good runner can be rewarded for all the work it takes to be great.  Times at the top are amazing.  A two hour marathon is now possible.  But a lot of school running programs have been cut.  Alot of people are not learning how to push their bodies.   A lot of times people are running are not that good.  The gap between the top guys and the middle of the pack is getting wider.  But the numbers continue to grow and that is good.  Will it continue? I hope so but there needs to be some changes made.

RBR, # 21. Where is running going?

Bob Anderson: There are so many great races out there.  The Rock and Roll guys as an example really put on great events.  The New York City Marathon, Boston, Chicago, etc. are all super events.  Events now are like rock concerts.  There are also a lot of good smaller events.  Shoes are better than ever and there is everything available to help make running more enjoyable than ever.   The one thing that concerns me a bit is that racing and running good times is the most addictive part.  The thing that keeps people out.  We need to make sure we keep telling people how they can get the most out of training.  The masses need help in running faster.  Most have never had a coach.
 
RBR, # 22. Did you know or meet George Hirsch?

Bob Anderson: I have meet George Hirsch several times.  He is a very talented guy and he was a good runner.  But for some reason he just never hit it off with me.  I never could understand why.
 
RBR, # 23. What would you tell someone wanting to do something in running today?

Bob Anderson: If you really love running you will figure something out.
 
RBR, # 24. Tell us about Ujena?

Bob Anderson: I started Ujena in 1984 before selling RW.  We were also publishing a women's FIT magazine and we had a hard time selling advertising.  So we decided to manufacture women's swimwear and sell it.  It worked.  We were one of the first companies to sell swimwear by mail order.   Ujena today is a family business.  My daughter is the president, my son-in-law is our VP sales, my wife Catherine is our PR director/customer service, my son is in charge of our video department.  I am our CEO and our chief photographer.  I love photography and have been doing it since 1968.  Since the beginning of Ujena, we hold an event called the Ujena Jam.  It is a model and photographer search.  At the event, all models and photographers are required to finish our Ujena 5k run/walk.  Many have started running based on this program.

RBR, # 25. Tell us about Ujena fit club?

Bob Anderson: We just started the Bob Anderson's UjENA FIT Club in August, 2011.  I have gotten very concerned about the number of people that are not fit and I thought we could put together something that would serve as a support team.  Our message is simple - "Our goal is to get and keep as many people FIT as possible and out the door regularly. We want to make fitness as important as brushing your teeth daily. Fitness is a positive addiction with great side effects.   Our key motivational program will be issuing thousands of dollars to members based on their performance in our selected GO FOR IT! races, UjENA FIT Club sponsored races, posting daily workouts in our FIT Log and by members age-graded rankings."

We already have members like Meb Keflezighi, Sharon Vos,  Michael Wardian, and Honor Fetherston on our rooster.  Right now we just over 250 members.  It is free to sign up unless you want to help support what we are doing.  We are small right now but we hope to grow into a major force in the running and fitness world.  The main sport we are pushing is running.  We want to award runners of all ages dollars for performing well.  I love getting medals and ribbons but there is always something special about being awarded dollars.  And the more members we have the more of an impact we will make.

RBR, # 26. What do you think of American running?

Bob Anderson: We need to set up more running camps like they have in Kenya.  There is a lot of talent in this country but we need to organize and make it easier for up and coming runners to move up to the next level.  There is too big of a gap between those at the top and those who have the ability to be there.

RBR, # 
27. Any favorites?

Bob Anderson: I like the program that Alberto Salazar has going.  He has a lot of good runners.  How can you not like Ryan Hall? He has done some amazing things.

RBR, # 28. Do you hear from Derek Clayton (VP/Advertising)? Bob Small (VP/Production)? Lew Karchin (VP/Creative Director)?
 
Bob Anderson: Really don't hear from the guys much.  However, Derek was over a few years ago and it was like no time had passed.  I saw him once in Australia on a trip there about 15 years ago.
 
RBR, # 29. Your favorite race to run each year?

Bob Anderson: My favorite race each year for me has to be the Carlsbad 5000.  This year will make 19 in a row.  My best time there was when I was 49 and I ran 17:08.  I hope to get under 19:45 this year at age 64.  There are so many races I love.  Like I said before I am running 50 of them in 2012 and I hope to do each one close to 80% age-graded.  I love racing and doing well.

SanJoseHalfMarathon2011-1049[1].jpgBob and his family, RNR, San Jose Half Marathon, courtesy of Bob Anderson





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