Updated May 1, 2009
Marc Bloom first came into prominence with the Harrier magazine, then his wonderful collaboration with George Hirsch and the Runner magazine. Bloom is a keen observer of our sport-he loves it and challenges it to be better. Bloom’s mentor was and is James Dunaway, editor of American Track & Field and one of the best and most prolific writers on our sport in North America. Bloom is now one of the key role models for another generation of running media. His lessons have been hard won.
Bloom’s writing in the Runner gave us an quite intimate view of a generation of American distance running personalities that we have missed for nearly twenty years. Bloom’s heart has been in the Harrier, his salute to the purity and importance of high school cross country. As Track & Field News is the Bible of our sport, Bloom’s the Harrier is the Talmud–how to run well, celebrating the good ones and challenging us as coaches and athletes to be just a bit better.
Over the past twenty years, Marc Bloom has written books, edited special newsletters for various clients, published the Harrier, and also written some of the best meet programs for both Foot Locker and Nike events. He is now, the prolific one. Marc Bloom is one of my favorite writers, but I miss him most as a wordsmith and editor at the Runner, where Marc managed one of the best magazines on our sport ever, in its most formative years (the Runner).
Marc Bloom has written a timely book: Young Runners: the complete guide for Kids running from 5 to 18. We wanted to get a few minutes with Marc to ask him his thoughts on a variety of subjects. His response, shown in its complete form below, is both entertaining and educating. I hope you concur!
1. RBR: How did you get started in our sport?
Marc Bloom: Running high school track and cross-country at Sheepshead Bay of Brooklyn in the early â€˜60s, I became more interested in the performances of others than my own, and in 1964 started corresponding with Track & Field News. At 17, I was so excited when the editor sent me an official press card; and so naÃ¯ve: I thought it would get me into the Olympics. Before long I was writing up meet stories and doing features on people like Marty Liquori. I fell in love with writing and the journalistic process and at Baruch College in New York I became sports editor and managing editor of the weekly paper. In 1966, I started writing for The New York Times and soon other publications like the early Runnerâ€™s World (getting $5 per page at first). Those were the good old days, if I may say so, when I proudly walked through airports carrying my portage Olivetti Lettera 32, filed stories with Western Union or dictated them by phone or walked them into the office, where editors out of central casting would scrutinize every word. After college, with the Vietnam War raging, I became a teacher to avoid the draft while continuing track journalism and various related projects on the side. Basically I had two jobs for the next nine years: teaching English and creative writing (which I enjoyed) in a Queens junior high while doing all the track work. During this period I also started â€œThe Harrierâ€ cross-country magazine.
2. RBR: You became a running icon with your writing in the Runner magazine, telll us about those days?
Marc Bloom: I got my big break in 1978 when George Hirsch, the noted publisher and running advocate, called me in to help with the pilot issue of his new national magazine, The Runner, which began monthly publication that fall. Within a short time, I left teaching to take a full-time position and was soon named editor-in-chief. It was a great time in both running and journalism and probably the most rewarding period of my career. I learned a lot from George, an excellent publisher who became a good friend. We would go out running a couple of times a week at lunch time. He would always say he wanted to go easy, then he would hammer me. We had a small staff committed to excellence in writing, photography and design and readers and the running community at large responded with great approval. I did not edit by focus groups or surveys but by instinct. If there was a story that I personally liked then I felt all runners would enjoy it. That approach seemed to work. Oftentimes we took chances, risks, if you will, because thatâ€™s what we felt great magazines did. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not. I always felt that a good magazine had to surprise its readers with every issue. In the mid-â€˜80s, as the running market evolved, financial issues began to develop and in 1987 our corporate owner at the time, CBS, sold us to Rodale, which had recently acquired Runnerâ€™s World and was of course a health and fitness company. The Runner was merged into RW. It was a traumatic time for me. I was invited to be a part of the merger but after working 24/7 for nine years, and commuting four hours round-trip from my New Jersey home to Manhattan, I need to cool out, take stock and get closer to things at home. My kids were getting older and I decided to work independently out of a home office, which I have done for the last 20-plus years. In 1988, I starting writing for RW, establishing a relationship with editor Amby Burfoot and re-connecting with George, who was then the RW publisher. All of that has worked out wonderfully on both a professional and personal level and I continue writing for RW to this day.
3. RBR: How did you become involved in the Harrier?
Marc Bloom: I started â€œThe Harrierâ€ in 1974 because at the time there was virtually nothing to be found on cross-country, which I happened to love; it was at the bottom of the running food chain, somewhere just above race walking in stature. I covered high schools and colleges more or less equally and started doing national high school team rankings and naming all-American teams. I put out 10 issues a year and acquired a loyal audience. At the time, most of my track nut friends paid no attention to cross-country because the non-uniform performances did not fit into any â€œlists.â€ Track nuts live and die with lists. After four years, when I became editor of The Runner, I had no time to do â€œThe Harrierâ€ and sold it for a song to a coach who was a chief correspondent of mine. The publication passed through a number of owner hands in the next decade before I retrieved it in 1989 and resumed publishing itâ€”this time focusing mainly on high schoolsâ€”which I continue to this day. The Super 25 National Rankings took on a life of their own and became a driving force in the sport, leading to the creation of major events like Great American and Nike Cross Nationals, which I work on by doing weekly regional rankings with my colleague Rich Gonzalez of California.
4. RBR: how did you become involved in high school coaching?
Marc Bloom: Working on â€œThe Harrierâ€ put me in contact with high school coaches around the country and their great efforts inspired me to seek a coaching position in 1997. I loved the idea of working with kids and seeing if I could produce a good team. I got the boys cross-country position at St. Rose, a Catholic high school in Belmar on the Jersey Shore, about a half-hour drive from my home. I coached for five seasons and it was an extraordinary experience, which I wrote about in â€œGod on the Starting Line,â€ published in 2004. Iâ€™m still in touch with some of the boys I coached toward the end of that period, who were on the 2000 and â€™01 squads that won state parochial division titles.
5. RBR: Why did you write your new book, ” Young Runners”?
Marc Bloom: I wrote â€œYoung Runnersâ€ to help address the childhood obesity epidemic and to try and put all the good advice on kids and teenage running in one place in a user-friendly way. In my research I traveled the country and interviewed dozens of experts on the front lines of kidsâ€™ health and running and found a lot of terrific programs and concepts, all of which are in the book. I cover all ages, schools, running clubs and teams, training and racing, nutrition, with medical viewpoints on specific health issues and practices. I also cover male/female differences and have a special chapter on an autistic boy in my town who runs on the middle school team. Thereâ€™s more about the book on: www.marcbloomrunning.com
6. RBR: What are your concerns about young athletes?
Marc Bloom: My main concern about young runners is that they do too much too soon, prompted by the competitive urges of parents and some coaches who may treat kids more like adult runners with over-reaching performance goals. The book calls for patience and long-term goals, and letting kids be kids. Children are natural runners. They love to run for fun and to enjoy it with friends. There are many excellent ways to nurture those instincts. However, as in all aspects of life and certainly throughout sports, over-the-top â€œhelicopterâ€ parenting can spoil that, especially as kids get older and more competitive opportunities, not mention possible college scholarships, present themselves. There is no such thing as a 10-year-old running â€œstar.â€ Youngsters need to develop, physically, emotionally and socially, before we can regard them with future greatness. Even then, the main purpose of running is for life-long health and well-being. This rush for greatness has particular impact on young girls, who face an array of health issues as they go through puberty. This female issue has been something of a crusade of mine, and I devote entire chapter in the book to â€œthe female body.â€
7. RBR: Should we have mandatory aerobic exercise each day, kindegarten through high school for kids?
Marc Bloom: Of course schools should have daily P.E. and aerobic exercise for kids, but itâ€™s not going to happen so letâ€™s not go barking up that tree. With our current financial crisis, the problems facing schools, and the misdirected mania over testing, P.E. will continue to be piecemeal. But as I write in the book, that limitation does not have to prevent schools from developing good running programs. My chapter on â€œhealthy schoolsâ€ focuses on an elementary school in Virginia in which a dynamic, part-time P.E. teacher has created a wonderful running program. I went down there to watch his classes. The kids were terrific and most did not even have running shoes. The adult running boom was created by dynamic people with good ideas. We didnâ€™t have a lot of money back in the day. The same can be done with kidsâ€™ running. Money and corporate sponsorship are of course welcome, but a few good people with little resources can make a big difference.
8. RBR: How much exercise should young athletes do?
Marc Bloom: Once kids are of school age, 5 or 6, they can do some token running, maybe up to a half-mile a couple of times a week, and increase to a maximum of 3 to 5 miles a few times week at age 10 or 11. Thereâ€™s no good reason for an 11-year-old to be running more than 15 miles a week. Young kids love to run fast and should be encouraged to do that with sprints, relays, games and such. Donâ€™t make it â€œspeed work.â€ Racing should be short, like mile fun runs, maybe a 5k for older kids. The various programs like Marathon Kids in which the younger children do a little at a time to accumulate 26.2 miles in a certain period are excellent. And all the efforts to integrate running with reading, writing, nutrition and good deeds are exemplary. Middle school kids can work up to 4 or 5 miles a number of times a week while still emphasizing speed. High school kids may start off doing 20 to 30 miles a week and work up to 60 or more as seniors, depending on growth patterns, ability, interest, etc. I recommend that even the best high school runners do not run year-around all four seasons for all four years. Last weekendâ€™s two biggest stars from the two national indoor meetsâ€”Lukas Verzbicas (5,000 record-breaker) at Nike Indoor in Boston and Robby Andrews (800 record-breaker) at National Scholastic in New Yorkâ€”prove the point. As a freshman, Verzbicas avoids specialization by doing triathlon in addition to running. Andrews (who lives a few blocks from me) played basketball as a freshman and soph, skipping indoor track for two years, and has been coached expertly for the long-term by his father.
9. RBR: What do you think of Lukas Verzbicas, the young man who ran 14:14.42 for 5,000 meters indoors?
Marc Bloom: I guess I hit the timing jackpot with Verzbicas as I had a cover story on him in the form of a Q&A in the â€œHarrierâ€ issue that came out shortly before the nationals. Heâ€™s clearly a phenomenon. Had he not been injured last fall, he might have won Foot Locker as a freshman. Thatâ€™s plain crazy! With his family history, background from Lithuania, off-the-charts times as a freshman and triathlon focus, heâ€™s one of the most intriguing high school athletes weâ€™ve ever seen. Itâ€™ll be interesting to see how he develops. Heâ€™s very smart, humble and seems to have the right approach. His biking and swimming have obviously had an effect on his running success.
10. RBR: What is the future of US distance running? Can we win medals internationally?
Marc Bloom: I join others in the view that U.S. distance running is in a great place right now. The calls years ago for team work in the form of campsâ€”as Bob Kennedy advocated in the â€˜90s when he was training with Kenyans in England and Australiaâ€”has obviously come to fruition with Alberto Salazarâ€™s group and the Mammoth team and others. Our two Olympic marathon medals in 2004 were a start. Iâ€™ve never been a big fan of top runners rushing into the marathon before fully developing their track abilities, but I guess Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein are proving me wrong on that. They ran well in Beijing and can only get better, as long as they race selectively. We inherited Bernard Legat, a great symbol. Matt Tegenkamp has much more to give. Alan Webbâ€”sorry for the Monday morning quarterbacking, but I for one wish he had stayed at Michigan and gone through an entire college career before turning pro. Our young studs like Galen Rupp, German Fernandez, Chris Derrick and Luke Puskedra, all with great coaching, present an exciting next generation on the menâ€™s side. Following Deenaâ€™s example, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, both already with world or Olympic medals, are getting closer to meeting the standards set by the Africans. Goucher says she wants to be the worldâ€™s best. I wouldnâ€™t doubt it; the same for Shalane. And I really like Jen Barringer of Colorado, who Iâ€™ve been personally heralding since her high school days in Florida. An important point about these female stars, by the way: they ran patiently in high school with long-term development in mind.
YOUNG RUNNERS: The Complete Guide To Healthy Running For Kids From 5 To 18, published by Simon & Schuster. $15. Itâ€™s available at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores and on the web at Amazon, etc.
A final note from Marc Bloom:
I have started making appearances at Barnes & Noble and hope to do the same at running events, schools, clubs, etc. I can be reached at: email@example.com.