The career that I have been lucky enough to have over the past nearly three decades has been influenced by many people. Key were Bob Anderson, who founded Runners’ World, Stan Singer, the RW New York Sales manager, who taught me how to sell, George Hirsch, who founded the Runner and combined RW and The Runner magazine, and Fred Lebow, who challenged me to focus on my job at Runner’s World.
It was December 1985, and I was at a reception at the USATF Convention. Fred and I were chatting about what I wanted to do with my life. I had told him that I was considering finishing my master’s/Phd studies in Holocaust studies. I had told him that I was not sure that the running business was for me. Fred listened intently…
and then he got irritated with me. In that lovely Transvaal accent, Fred told me to focus on the sport of running, I could go to school one day, but you can’t do too many things at one time. I believe at the height of his irritation, there was still concern-it was the reproach of someone who had been there.
In Run for your Life, the Fred Lebow Story, we finally have a tribute to Fred Lebow done by people who knew him, worked with him and loved him.
The movie is directed and produced by Judd Erlich, in association with Brooklyn Film Networks(
Fred is the man who invented the major city marathon. He changed our sport forever with the 1976 race. Bill Rodger’s win in 2:10.55 and Frank Shorter’s second place gave the race the elite lustre needed, but the nearly 4,000 marathoners who ran the 1976 race changed the sport forever.
Fred Lebow was the dreamer, Allan Steinfeld was the practical one. In watching Allan speak about Fred during the movie, I felt I was seeing a man speak of someone who was a significant part of his life for nearly two and one half decades. Fred was dreamer, risk taker, race director, fund raiser and he was not really good at delegating. Thank god that many of Fred’s friend joined in running dream, and the New York Road Runners Club became the most prominent group in our sport. By the early 1980s, Fred and Allan were involved in most of the changes in the sport. One of the most insightful interviews is with Bob Bright, the impresario of the Chicago marathon in the 1980s, and while a rival of Fred’s, they were close and knew that the sport needed both of them.
An honest history of an individual shows the gradations of the individual, and this movie accomplishes that well. Fred Lebow is seen for what he was: a Romanian Jew, who saw terrible things in his youth, who then moved to New York and worked in the garment industry. Fred was the king of knock offs-copies of great haute couture.
Fred Lebow was not truly alive until he found running, and the New York Road Runner’s Club. It was a love, hate, love relationship. During Fred’s tenure, he did not hold board meetings for several years. During the height of road running, Fred negotiated with Alberto Salazar, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Grete Waitz, among others. There were days where Fred infuriated all around him, but there were days of sheer brilliance.
As much as a movie can, Erlich caught the complicated persona of Fred Lebow, a man who gave the sport so much, and finished his race, the race he made, one time, with Grete Waitz by his side.
This is an intimate movie. That is what makes it a success. Today, we have row after row of memoirs in the local book store, it is unusual to find a movie or a book that is an intimate portrayal of the individual.
The interviews show Fred in all of his splendor, good, bad and in between. But for me, the most poignant moment in the film is Allan Steinfeld reminiscing about his dear friend, a man who knew that Allan was great managing the running world, as long as there was someone in front of him, stirring it all up. Fred Lebow knew what made Allan tick, as well as the other key players in this intimate circle.
Allan Steinfeld’s tears are real. Losing a friend at the height of the boom, in 1994, was real, tragic and all too human. Fred Lebow had reached for the stars, with golden wings, and was pulled back to earth after a hard fight, a human fight. In the end, he knew he was loved, and the love of his life, the ING New York City marathon, and the sport of running were forever changed.
When I visit New York several times a year, I make a point of walking for about 90 minutes in the park. I first ran there with Stan Singer, my good friend and mentor
at Runner’s World, in the late 80s and early 90s. Now, when I go, I see a park full of
runners, walkers, cross country skiers (on their rollers) and cyclists.
Fred Lebow would be happy with the current sport. Fred Lebow would be irritated, just a little bit also, and Allan would stand back, with a smile and a laugh after a Lebowian comment. And all would be good with our world…..
My recommendation-buy this movie–I give it 4 running shoes ( out of five).
For further information: www.fredlebowmovie.com
For more on the New York Road Runners, http://www.nyrrc.org
For more on our sport, http://www.runningnetwork.com
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