YOU NORMALLY can’t underdress among runners. Dressing up for a running party usually means wearing pants not made of lycra or denim, shoes other than nylon, and a shirt with a collar and without a race logo.
This night, though, a rumpled businessman, ending his workday in New York City, shoved into the crowded hotel elevator and studied his fellow passengers. Everyone but him wore a tuxedo.
He didn’t notice that the most decorated American track Olympian, Carl Lewis, was onboard. “What is this,” the man groused to no one in particular, “a convention of headwaiters?”
A better guess would have been Halloween partiers. The night was October 31st, 1991, and these men were in most unusual costumes for them.
Halloween night, the runners went formal for a party in a theatre a half-block off Broadway. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of Runner’s World.
I was a typical runner. I didn’t own a three-piece suit, and I’d gone through two proms and two weddings without ever wearing a tux. Until this night.
The invitation read “black tie optional,” but this manner of dress wasn’t an option for the RW staff. Only one exception was made – for George Sheehan. He compromised on his costume here, saying no to a tux but trading his usual jeans and sweater for a blazer and tie.
This event was lavish but tasteful. It might have become a two-hour infomercial for the magazine, but instead became a celebration of the sport’s past quarter-century.
It was a night for gawking at and talking with many of running’s biggest stars. Seldom if ever had so many from so wide a distance (both racing and geographical) and time span gathered in one place.
Fifteen Olympic medalists attended, along with assorted world champions and record-holders. So deep was the guest list that many U.S. Olympians and Boston/New York winners didn’t get speaking roles. Nor did any of the current RW staffers other than publisher and event host George Hirsch.
The night featured an Oscars-style awards program. Marty Liquori and Toni Reavis MCed, and Bud Greenspan supplied custom-made films.
The awards were a vehicle for bringing the stars onstage so the crowd could see how they looked and sounded. Presenters spoke too, and they made as illustrious a group as the receivers.
Prize-givers included both Olympic women’s marathon champions to date, Joan Samuelson and Rosa Mota, along with world record-holder Ingrid Kristiansen… Jim Ryun and Kip Keino, the man who beat Ryun in the Mexico City Games 1500… American legends Mary Slaney, Alberto Salazar and Bill Rodgers… three of the last four men to win Olympic marathons, Frank Shorter, Carlos Lopes and Gelindo Bordin.
Most of these runners were still active, some still at or near their best. Ironically the years had treated most harshly the man known as the “ageless wonder,” Lopes.
After winning the Olympics at 37 and setting his world record at 38, he had quit running at 39 and had puffed up dramatically at 44. He gave proof that fitness can be more fleeting than fame.
As the program ended, dozens of guests came onstage for a curtain call. None better marked the spirit of the night than Johnny Kelley.
RW publisher Hirsch noted that Kelley had run his 35th Boston Marathon, at age 58, the year the magazine launched. In 1991 he ran his 60th at 83. The parade of stars on RW anniversary night showed that running’s leaders come and go with the seasons. Johnny Kelley showed that the running itself can last, even as it slows.
NONE OF THE people who had the most to do with Runner’s World surviving its early years, when circulation was small, profit was slim and pay was slight (if any) spoke during that anniversary celebration. Only George Sheehan, the magazine’s top writer and the sport’s best speaker, was acknowledged, and he accepted his award without comment.
Other longtime writers, myself included, merely sat in the audience. The only person who deserved credit and received none was Bob Anderson, who created this magazine in 1966 but wasn’t even invited to celebrate what he had started.
Photo: Bob Anderson, the father of Runner’s World, received no invitation to or mention at the 25th anniversary gala.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]