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UjENA FIT Club Running Interviews and articles with 100 Interesting People

Best Road Races and the UjENA FIT Club is speaking with 100 people who we feel have a lot to say about running, racing and fitness  We will give you background information as will as their insights into the future.  Be sure to post your feedback and comments.

Read All UjENA FIT Club Running Interviews

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The sport of Double Racing is about ready to Take Off!
Posted Thursday, February 19th, 2015
by Bob Anderson, publisher of Double Runner magazine (Photo Bob Anderson with world record holder Julius Koskei wearing the yellow... Read Interview
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2013 Ujena Fit Club Male Runner of the Year
Posted Monday, March 17th, 2014
The Chris Jones story is a running saga of epic proportions.  Don't try this at home! (Photo - Leadville 100... Read Interview
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Sharon Vos: Three in a Row
Posted Sunday, March 23rd, 2014
Aging ever so gracefully at age 59 and forging a career record that becomes ever more impressive, Sharon Vos is... Read Interview
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Julius Koskei: All In the Family
Posted Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
 By David Prokop Editor Best Road RacesJulius Koskei (pronounced Kos-kay), who set the current world record in the Double Road... Read Interview

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Gary Fanelli Interview No. 22
Thursday, March 8th, 2012
The guy who started running in races with crazy costumes
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Gary Fanelli is a life long runner and racer. He started racing in organized events in 1961 as a 10 year old in the Philadelphia area  where he was born and raised.  Gary kept on running until he reached World Class level. He participated in two US Olympic Marathon Trials and has a marathon best of 2:14:15 set in 1980 in Montreal.

Gary has run over 115 marathons, which he claims is 99 too many ! Gary was named National Coach to American Samoa in 1988 and ran in the 1988 Olympic Games Marathon representing American Samoa. As a Master runner today Gary is still  a highly ranked runner. (Interview by Bob Anderson)
 1. Have you always been a  wild and crazy guy?
Growing up I had an unusually keen sense of humor... it runs in my family on my Mom's side aka Irish wit . I saw humor in just about everything.  It got me in trouble in school. Sometimes my Mom would  ask "Gary, how come you think everything  is funny?" I'd answer "Well I don't know, it just seems funny to me."

2. How did you realize you had a talent for  running?
Growing up I always enjoyed the feel of running, I would try to run as fast as I could...
3. Tell us about your first race?
Well we used to race one another in Grade School.... then in 5th grade it was announced our grade was allowed to compete in track.  We ran a 4 x 110 at Penn Relays in 1961  that year and I was just in awe being in that huge stadium with all of those people.  I saw grown adults run too  and their speed dazzled me big time. I was hooked! 
4. When did you  first wear a costume in a race?  
My first Costume was " Elwood Blues." I had seen the movie "The Blues Brothers" and loved it.  One day I was in a thrift shop, scouring the old 45 RPM records I collected, and I noticed an old black suit that looked just like the one they wore in the Blues Brother. I purchased it and got together a hat and tie and harmonica.

I wore it in a 5 mile local race. The reaction was strong.... in many ways pro and con. I won the race too in about 25:00 flat... So I  could run fast in the suit.  The contrast was extreme, it was unheard of and then to win made it outrageous.  Next stop was NYC Marathon.  Fred Lebow liked the idea and I had already run a 2:18 on his course. The reaction at NYC was fabulous... I  enjoyed so much running  races as ' Elwood Blues."  I felt I was truly entertaining people.

5. You ran some good times over the year including a 2:14 marathon.  Could you have run faster if you  took racing more serious?  
I do believe I could have had a faster marathon PR had I run some key races in control and not taking the lead as I did.
Taking the lead and not caring if I died was also important to me. I was happy enough to run  2:14:15 as a PR.

6. You ran for American Samoa in the 1988  Olympics?  
In  1987 I was living in Hawaii. Some friends in the running community in Honolulu had some guest friends come up  from American Samoa. It was the first time American Samoa was to be in the Olympic Games. They were looking for someone to coach runners there. I met with these people, they asked for a resume.  My coaching resume was approved. I had extensive coaching experience from when I lived in Philadelphia.  So I was  invited to American Samoa.

I established residency there and coached runners. There was an "open slot" for the marathon given to American Samoa. I was asked if I would like to  fill that slot. The National Olympic Committee of American Samoa had to approve it. They liked my coaching and my commitment and finally after being in two U.S. Olympic Trials and enduring the Boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow I finally realized my Olympic Dream... that started in 1968, it took 20 years to realize my goal.
I finished 51st place out of about 200  marathoners from all over the World.  I was about the oldest competitor in the field, at age  37 .

My brother Michael was there in Seoul working for Reebok, so he got to see me run.  I was glad he was there.
Many people over the years seemed jealous that I got to run in the Olympic Games and I used to hear things like "Oh yeah Fanelli ran in the Olympics BUT it doesn't count, he ran for American Samoa."  
7. What ever happened with Bee Pollen? Haven't heard much  about it  lately?  
It was a new product on the market. I was involved in Health Food then and worked in a health food store in 1977. I also ran for the Phila Pioneer Track Club... I saw a fellow Team Member in an ad in our Health Food store.  He was representing a product called " Bee Pollen from England." I got involved with the product as a distributor in the Phila area and also created a mail order business as well. It was quite successful for several years.  Bee Pollen helped runners train better as it  came in tablets that were coated with  Sodium Phosphate a lactic acid buffer where muscles can tolerate more lactic acid amounts because the  Sodium Phosphate in the blood was dissipating the Lactic Acid generated .. It really worked quite well.

The product called Stim O Stam works on the same principle and is a lactic acid buffer.  I quit the Health food store and was a distributor of many health food related products  for many years. I still use bee pollen on occasion. I like the taste and is loaded with nutrients. I also use lactic acid buffers when training hard or racing.
8.  There are a lot of stories floating around...commune in Maui?  What  was  that all about?   
Yes I did hitchhike to Los Angeles shortly after the Mi Lai Incident in Viet Nam in Dec of 1969.  I was 19 yrs old and then went to Maui where my friends had been . I went to a Commune known as "The Banana Patch." It was great. I also lived in the Haiku Meditation Center and learned Yoga, which I incorporated into my running and stretching regime.  It has helped me over the years and I still do Yoga. I loved Maui . It was pristine in 1969.  I go back every year. It is a special place for me .
9. What was relationship  with your brother Mike growing up?  Did you  guys ever run  together?  
I ran a lot with my brother Mike when we both lived in Phila area. We had fun. We tried hard as we could to be the very best runners we could be. Our family went to many track meets,  We really enjoyed the sport of track and field and road racing.   We read the earliest issues of DIstance Running News (Runners World), Browning Ross's Long Distance Log, and Track and Field News. We loved anything running. 

Mike and I ran a lot of miles together over the years. we used to do a 15 mile long run loop in the early 1970's it was fabulous!
Later when Mike moved to San Francisco we did many hard workouts in Golden Gate Park...

10. What kind training were you doing when you were running  your best?  
I did a lot of high mileage week in my prime. I reacted well from high mileage and my body handled it pretty well. I also never forgot to do quality runs and track sessions. I came from a  track background and learned the importance to keep sharp and the value of some key workouts on the  track .

11. What was your best distance?  
I did well at 5k with a PR  5000M track time of 14:05. I also ran 48 something for 10 miles and 1:03 for the Half Marathon...
12. Tell us about  your diet and how it has changed over the years.  
My diet has not changed much   since I made the change to vegetarian around 1969.  I studied Diet 7 Nutrition extensively since I was running high mileage.  I took and take vitamin supplements like iron etc.  In all my years of running and racing.  I have never been anemic as I have "covered my bases" nutritionally.  My  approach was intelligent.   I can go to any restaurant and have meal, Italian, Mexican, etc.  I can go to a Steak House and have a baked potato and salad.  Eating  a steak would be a Mis Steak for me.   The only meat I have is " track meet" LOL
13. Did things in  your life change when you turned forty?  
Oh i was happy to turn forty.  When I became a master and it gave me an excuse to slow down...  Today I really enjoy my running and racing and do not nearly feel the pressure I did as an Open runner and racer.  It is FUN and I keep it that way.  I still like racing but the importance has really diminished as have my times.

Comments and Feedback
run I enjoyed this interview...I wasn't sure what the real story was until now! Thanks Gary for sharing!
Bob Anderson 3/10/12 7:05 am

14. How has running changed  since races started offering prize money?  
Oh I was so overjoyed when prize money came into racing.  We fought for it back in the early 1980's.  We fought the AAU hard if you recall.  We finally got our way and the Trust Funds came into play.  I was just feeling really good we were getting paid for all of our hard work.  We deserved money same as any baseball or Football Player.  It was SWEET!  Bill Rodgers, Don Kardong, Joan Benoit, Benji Durden, myself and many others former the AARA . I remember all of us being in a meeting in somebody's hotel room at  some race.  Joan Benoit was sitting there knitting away as we were discussing various issues that paved the way for us to receive appearance and prize money over the table instead of the under the table sham.

15. When you were running your best, how did you make ends meet?  
In my top racing years I made money several different way. I had shoe and clothing contract, I made appearance money and won prize money.  I was a Guest Speaker, I also sold products to Health Food Stores.  All of this helped my family and myself but it wasn't at all like we were rolling in dough!!

16. Are you a good  coach?  
I do think of myself as a good  running coach and can coach from the 100M up to the Marathon.I have been told many time that people thought I was a very good and caring coach.  Anyone who has ever worked under me has improved.  I enjoy coaching others and passing on my knowledge and experiences .

17. You lead some major races and in some faded or even dropped  out.  Had you hoped to hang on?  
No... I lead those races with intent to lead and was a "rabbit."  In 1980 we were not going to the Olympics but we still had the Olympic Trials Marathon... so  I wore a protest shirt "The Road to Moscow Ends Here" before the race.  No one knew I planned to take the pace out and  keep it up as long as I could in hopes of setting up the race as OUR OLYMPIC GAMES...because we sure weren't going to Moscow.

I had nothing to lose... noting was at stake or at risk... we just weren't going so it didn't matter who made the US TEAM.  My goal was to set it up so that we would run a faster time in the Olympic Trials than they would in Moscow.... AND by hammering 5 minute pace in the sun for 17 miles the top three guys, Sandoval, Durden and Hefner did run 2:10's...... later on in Moscow, Cierpinsky's winning time was 2:11  There was great satisfaction and solace for me doing that deed.  It was all I could do to turn a Lemon into " Lemonade."
18. What races have you  run that stand out above the others and why?  
Leading at Boston in 1981 stands out as it was kind of outrageous as the "designated rabbit." It was a very fast pace, 47 something at 10 miles and 1:02 something at half way, documented by Time Pace Car driven by Tim Elkins.  It was this great match up between Boston Billy Rodgers vs Toshihiko Seko of Japan, eventually Seko won and set a course record that day... I played a part in the  whole drama.  Also anytime I ran Boston or NYC Marathon was always exciting.  My PR 2:14:15 in Montreal Marathon was exciting and memorable as was running in the 1988 Olympic Games Marathon in Korea.

19. What if you had not  found running?  
If I had not found running I would probably be a very successful businessman.  I sacrificed so much the pursuit of following my dream and vision.  I am glad I did it.  I did it as Frank Sinatra said "I did it my way" and have some regrets BUT I would do the same again.

20. How much running are you doing now?  
I still run a lot usually six out of seven days... I really enjoy just running, no watch on, just enjoying my runs. I am fit and run well.  In warm whether I'll run 50 or so miles a week as an average.

21. How  about racing?  
I still race.  I enjoy it and do well in my age divison. Racing is a not important  to me now.  However, I still do enjoy competing and doing my best.

22. What other interests do you have?  
I have so many interests.  Music, playing music drums and harmonica, writing music, songs.  Writing stories, poems etc. Dancing I make up many dance moves and choreography for songs.  I study French and other languages.  I love reading, traveling, fine dining, and wine. Coaching runners...
23. Are you retired? Or is that a word you use?  
Retired!   NO I'm not retired.  I will probably work everyday until I am gone...  I like being active.

24. Is a sub two hour marathon going to happen?  
I have no idea... When Runner's World first came out Derek Clayton held the world record at 2:08:32... remember?  Time and courses have improved vastly with guys like Haile Gebrisalaisse and the great Kenyans! WOW! Unimaginable back in 1969.  If a sub two marathon happens so be it... the world goes on no matter what happens.

25. What are world class runners doing today that  runners like you didn't do?  
I have no idea what runners of today are not doing what we did.  It is very basic, seasonal training, have a good plan mapped out.  Doing the mix of hard work and recovery and staying healthy!
26. How closely do you follow running  these days?  
I follow running  and track and field very closely.   I know what is happening....all the time.  I love this sport.

27. What has happened to the depth in races?  
Depth in racing is just fine and dandy.   Just look at the marathon list for 2011 Kenyans dominate. USA guys are doing well too, just not as many people racing  as was back in  the 1980's. Bad economy etc.  probably has some bearing on that, sponsorship , priorities, etc.
28.  Are high entry fees changing the sport?  
Yes high entry fees have alienated so many runner.  Many runners race less because of the greed factor in making money off of the sport.  Race fees are very high because some Corporations that now put on races have Stock Holders in the Corporation so they make profit for these people off of our backs and hard earned money.  Not fair and this sucks but it is so 2012!

29. Are too many race  directors just putting on races to make money?  
YES !!!

30. Many races now have  more female finishers than males?  Why are a  lot of males not  racing?  
I just think more females are racing and I find it a good thing ....
31. Is the Olympics just as exciting as in the past?  
Oh yes the Olympic Games are better than ever because the World has caught up with higher level of training mainly due to the Internet.  Simply put, more information is available to anyone and everyone nowadays.  People in small countries can now train the same as the Russians, Americans, or the Japanese. They can pick up the same workouts, information, new finding, studies, nutrition etc on the net.  The Globe has shrunk in that's regard.  Meaning there is more opportunity for everyone.  Then when the Olympic Games comes around every  four years you can see measurable improvement in the total world. Levels of sophistication are now constantly improving due to the net aka "The Information Age" I love it...

32. Who is your hero?  
I have many heroes  past and present.  Too many to mention...if you just look at the past  athletes and present there are always just SO many fabulous people inspiring the World on an ongoing basis.  Non Athlete, are also my heroes and men and women alike. The people who make the World a better place are my heroes!
33. Is there anything you wished you did  differently?  
OMG There are SO many things I wish I did differently. Everyone has this "condition" and regrets.  We learn from these and go on... So it is completely normal to woulda , shoulda, coulda... There are also so many things  but I am glad I did them as I did them.

34. What are some of your current goals?  
Current Goals, Stay healthy, grow spiritually, be able to retire without having to grovel...which is hard to do today BUT possible... Maintain my dignity...

35. What  is the craziest thing you have ever done that you would admit?  
Craziest thing I have ever done? Hard question... I have done so many kooky, zany, funny  things I can not think of one outrageous act...Bringing costume running into racing is one major thing I would say... this fun concept lives on today.

36.  What are you addicted to?  
I do not feel I am addicted to anything and am not in denial here I just do not find I have anything I would call an addiction. I have strong preferences for many things... for instance I really like chocolate BUT it does not control or run my life.  An addiction I think means it runs your life and you are no longer able to choose consciously what  ever it is you may want or like.  I think running has allowed me to not have addictions and that I am in control of things I choose or not choose.

37. describe a typical day now.  
My typical day... When I awake I give thanks to God for everything I have in my life. I feel very blessed and ask God to continue to  bless and protect me and I pray  for guidance in my life.  I have coffee and do a stretching and daily rehab routine usually as I watch the Bloomberg Financial Report on TV.  I have breakfast, check emails etc.... put something lighthearted and funny onto Facebook.... Work, run, lift weights, stretch, work, have dinner, watch TV or read, fall asleep.

38.  Do you think people have mis understood your approach to running  and  life?
LOL and good question... I learned in the 1960's "Do your thing, and you'll be king"... I have to do for me what I need to do.    I have had to overcome that very strong pull of doing stuff with what other will think ....

As we said in the 1960's I had to transcend  what other may think and do what I feel in my heart and it is a hard thing to overcome.  Some people never overcome that.  I felt so "liberated" when I learned this critical mindset.  It has allowed me to do some really fun, creative and innovative things in life.  Like starting running in races with crazy costumes on...  It took  nerve....  It can be humbling an humiliating...   "Letting go of the Ego" was one of those things I learned to do and was recommended to do various practice of Yoga, Meditation  etc... 

The 1960'd was a very good time and a very bad time.  So many things were going on such as Viet Nam (lost my first track coach to Viet Nam ), The Draft, The Hippie Woodstock Mind Revolution Period,  Civil Rights , High Profile Assassinations of our President,  Martin Luther King , Bobby Kennedy...

So I  did not really care so much what others would think, yet at the same time I did not ever want to hurt or alienate.  When I was signing autographs at running events I would  write "Laugh"- Gary Fanelli.  That was and is a BIG part of the Gary Fanelli message .
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