Mike Fanelli, RIP

Olympic Track Trials, 2021
Mike Fanelli, Respected and Renowned Cultural Storyteller of Track & Field Athletics, Passes

The world of Track and Field Athletics is deeply saddened by the news that Michael ‘Mike’ Fanelli died on 25 November 2023, from glioblastoma brain cancer, at the age of 67. His wife, Renay Weissberger Fanelli, shared that Michael passed peacefully at home, in the company of loved ones.

Mike Fanelli was a true renaissance man and wore many hats during a lifelong affair with Track and Field Athletics. He was an athlete, a coach, a mentor, athletes’ agent, elite athlete coordinator for national and international events, sports marketing director, color commentator and an eloquent and accomplished speaker. But above all he is remembered for being a historian, a ‘collector’ and a storyteller. As a collector, he operated in two distinct arenas. He gathered data about his own running and he collected significant track & field artifacts dating back to the start of track and field in the USA and internationally.

But Mike didn’t collect just for the sake of collecting and ‘having’ something. He collected so that there would be a record that told the story of the sport he loved and that he could freely share, which he did with a boundless enthusiasm expressed in his regular and compelling posts for his thousands of followers on Facebook. Mike summed it up best when he said, “I refer to it as ‘cultural storytelling.’ When a particular culture wants to pass down their history over the years, and it’s not something that can be transcribed otherwise, this is our opportunity to do that.”

Michael Joseph Fanelli was born on 1 May, 1956 in Philadelphia. At the age of 12, he was “glued to the television” as he watched the USA track & field athletes compete at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. He fell in love with the sport and started running and collecting autographs and memorabilia in junior high school.

From the very outset, he kept a methodical and meticulous log of his running training and competitive performances, which is how he always knew and could evidence his lifetime mileage.

In 1970, he made it onto the Bishop McDevitt High School's cross-country team as a freshman and embarked on a running career that included over 800 races ranging over all distances from 400m to 100 miles and spanning five decades. His competitive achievements are too numerous to list but included national-class performances of 4:16 for the mile, 2:25 for the marathon and completing a 100-mile race in 16 hours and 40 minutes. Fanelli won the San Francisco Pacific Rim Marathon on two occasions, in 1988 and 1989. And at age 50, he could still run a mile in 4:56.

115,000 Lifetime Miles

Mike Fanelli’s consistency and his dedication to healthy training and racing ensured that his lifetime mileage was truly prodigious. As the years passed, so he accrued milestones. The first really significant one of these came when he approached 100,000 lifetime miles. He predicted when he might achieve this and in 2012, Fanelli returned to Philly, to where he grew up, and on November 18th ran the Philadelphia Marathon. This was his 40th marathon and during the race he joined the ‘100,000-Mile Club’, a small and very select group of runners who can evidence that they have run at least 100,000 miles in their lives.

Fascinated by numbers and motivated by goals, Mike achieved his next target of 114,411 miles one year ago on November 5,, 2022. The palindromic nature of 114,411 miles appealed to his sense of significance. His running continued and Renay Weissberger Fanelli recalls Michael’s response to the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of glioblastoma, “Through it all, he continued to do the things he loved, including running, of course. In October, 2023 he achieved his goal of reaching 115,000 lifetime miles run, the equivalent  of circumnavigating the world more than 4 times.”

Mike Fanelli was one of the early pioneers in athletics, with integral roles in the transition of track and field and running from a wholly Corinthian, amateur sport to one having a recognized and accepted professional elite. Starting in the late 1970s, into the 80s, 90s and to today, athletics is continuing to evolve to meet the needs for both a professional and amateur side and moving to the West Coast in 1976, Mike was part of that journey, both facilitating change and recording the cultural evolution.

He was associated with the Bay Area’s most famous race, the iconic Bay to Breakers, from 1985 to 2005 as a color commentator and during this time he was also Running Promotions Director at Reebok International Ltd. (1984-1987). Mike was an experienced and popular coach and mentor, and in the decade from 1990 to 2000 was the head coach of the Impala Racing Team, a Bay Area elite women’s team. Coaching post-collegiately, he skillfully guided 14 athletes to Olympic Track & Field and Marathon Trials qualification. He served as the USATF National Cross-Country chairman from 1992 to 1994 and coached the USA National Team at international distance events in Japan (1992 and 1996), South Korea (2000) and as USA National Team Leader for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Spain, 1993.

The Track and Field Garage

First training log, 1970

For thousands of Facebook followers, Mike Fanelli was the renowned keeper of the legendary but self-deprecatingly titled, ‘Track and Field Garage’, the home for his collection of 5,000-plus artifacts, magazines and programs, dating back to the 1860s. Each day Mike would pull out and share some nugget from his collection and eloquently recount its story and the context and significance of that story.

In a 2022 Runner's World article titled, ‘The World’s Most Impressive Track and Field Collection Might Be in This Guy’s Garage’, Theo Kahler, summed up Mike Fanelli’s influence on the sport when he stated, "For over 50 years, Mike Fanelli has kept the sport’s history alive.” The ‘Garage’ contains the program from the U.S.’s first indoor track meet, held at a New York City skating rink in 1868. It also contains every issue of the sport’s foundational magazines, Track and Field News (founded in 1948) and Distance Running News (1966), which later became Runner’s World.

For those of you reading this and wondering, “What will become of the contents of the ‘Track and Field Garage’?” Be assured that they are safe. Earlier this year, Mike entrusted his collection to a friend and fellow historian and collector, Jack Pfeifer. Jack is a long-time Track and Field News correspondent and the current President of the Track & Field Writers of America and, as planned, he transported the artifacts from the garage to safe storage in Oregon. Mike and Jack decided to seek a permanent location for the amalgamated collection of track memorabilia, naming the joint collection, the ‘Pfeifer-Fanelli Track and Field and Cross-Country Library’. Look for a further announcement at a future date.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that Mike Fanelli achieved all of his diverse and time-consuming avocational activities in and for Track and Field Athletics while maintaining a full-time and demanding professional position. Since 2006 Michael Fanelli was a luxury property specialist with Healdsburg Sotheby & International Realty, specializing in the sales and marketing of fine wine country residential properties throughout Sonoma County and beyond. With a total of more than 25 years of real estate experience, and a half-billion dollars in sales, he won countless national industry awards and was perennially ranked within the top one percent of all real estate professionals nationwide. Recognized as an expert in the field, it was natural that Michael would become a frequent lecturer on business success strategies and a guest commentator on KGO radio, offering insights on the Greater San Francisco and Bay Area real estate topics and issues.

Michael Fanelli possessed so many positive traits and qualities, including a dedicated loyalty. It was typical that this loyalty would be expressed in his relationships with family and friends and a continuing connection to and support of his alma mater, San Francisco State University. At SFSU he ran on the varsity team1981-1983 and graduated in Business Marketing, 1983. In 2011 Michael was inducted into the SFSU Hall of Fame. He still holds the SFSU school record for 10,000m, set in 1981, has an athletics scholarship endowed in his name and in 2019 the school’s signature, 3-day distance carnival was re-named in his honor, becoming the ‘Mike Fanelli Track Classic’.

With wife, Renay

The worldwide family of Athletics passes on its sincerest condolences to Michael Fanelli’s family and friends. Michael is survived by his wife, Renay Weissberger Fanelli and pup, River. A service honoring Michael will be held in January 2024. Renay has suggested that, in lieu of flowers, consider making a contribution to the ‘Mike Fanelli Scholarship Fund’ at his alma mater, San Francisco State University. Renay set up this scholarship years ago to honor Michael on his 50th birthday. Each year the scholarship goes to an individual who stands out as a leader and an inspiration to others, rather than simply being the fastest runner on the team. Here’s a link to donate: Mike Fanelli Scholarship Fund.

Rest In Peace Michael Fanelli. You may have departed the earth as we know it but your presence and contribution shall never be forgotten.

Peter John L. Thompson, 29 November 2023

This obituary has been approved by the Fanelli family. For further information contact: 541-844-8163; runfree@btinternet.com

Two women to run 50th straight Manchester Road Race


From left: Shluger, Romayko, Chase-Brand. Stephen Dunn photo.
Thanksgiving morning’s 87th running of the Manchester Road Race (just outside Hartford, CT) is also the 50th running since women were first allowed to enter officially in 1974. And two Connecticut women will be running for the 50th year in a row: Janet Romayko and Beth Shluger. 

In fact, it will be their 51st year in a row, as both ran unofficially in 1973. This is believed to be the longest female road race streak in the U.S., if not the world. 

Even before Romayko and Shluger, Manchester held an important place in women’s running history. In 1961, Julia Chase, later Chase-Brand, completed the distance after skirting around road race officials who tried to block her from the road. Chase, then an 18-year-old Smith College student, attracted international attention, because no U.S.women had previously run a road race. 

Chase-Brand also returned to run Manchester on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of her 1961 debut. However, she did not run the intervening years. 

Romayko and Shluger both grew up in Manchester, a town that has enthusiastically supported road running since the first Manchester race in 1927. In fact, Romayko lived near the 1-mile mark of the course route, and remembers watching the race as a 4-year-old. In 1973, not wanting to attract attention, she wore men’s clothing--“I looked like a big paper bag,” she says--and ran much of the distance with her husband and uncle. “No one seemed to care that a female was on the course,” she remembers.

Romayko, now 78, belongs to a super-athletic family. Her mother was a competitive swimmer who still achieved All-American status at age 85. Her father was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, and later scored eight holes-in-one on the links. Romayko was always highly active as a child and teen even though Manchester High School offered nothing but cheerleading for female athletes. She thought about running Manchester as early as 1971, but backed off because “I was a good girl who didn’t break the rules.” 

Shluger, now 68, took a different route into running--one that has been a starting point for many. She ran her first Manchester in 1973 on a dare. It was hatched the night before at a local watering hole where she and her classmates were enjoying a few. “I wasn’t a runner and didn’t take sports seriously at the time,” she admits. “I was a clueless 18-year-old girl full of energy but with no thought about the significance of running a race that I wasn’t allowed to enter because I was a girl.”

First time memories (1973)

ROMAYKO: “I jumped onto the course to join my-husband-to-be, James. I am a traditionalist, but I also like to do things a ‘little off center’ like running Manchester in 1973. I wore some combination of clothing tops, and gray sweatpants. James was a big talker, so I mostly listened to him during the race. I knew the course so well that it was easy for me. I don’t remember that anyone really noticed me during the race.”

SHLUGER: “I remember driving to the race in my 1967 Camaro. I wore a crazy outfit: long tights, with yellow velour shorts over them. I had sneakers but they weren’t meant for running. I felt pretty out of place, and jumped in after the start. It was a serious runner crowd, not like the festive atmosphere now. I took lots of walk breaks, and had very sore feet. No one paid much attention to me, though I do remember a couple of women spectators near the beginning who urged me on.”

The continuing tradition

ROMAYKO: “In 1975, James and I moved to Massachusetts for his work in Cambridge, but we never missed the tradition of running Manchester every Thanksgiving. It became a center piece of both our lives. It was like a ‘coming home’ after a year of our crazy commuter lives and drives.

“I will continue running Manchester as long as I can. My aunt walked the course on Thanksgiving at age 93. I’d like to beat her record. It was a thrill for me when the Race Committee added 5-year age-group awards, and I was able to win the 65-69 division. My mother told me that ‘ninety percent of success is showing up,’ and she was right. I am so thankful for the way this race paved the way for women runners, and has continued to recognize them.”

Romayko has been employed for years as a social worker in Mansfield, CT, and continues to enter many road races and triathlons. She has finished 49 marathons, including four Bostons.

SHLUGER: “I don’t really know what made me come back the years right after 1973. I guess it was embedded in my DNA. When my brother started running in 1977, the rest of my family got more involved. That cinched it for me. Before long, I had better shoes and a better running outfit, and then my other brothers and their spouses joined in the running. We loved the crush of humanity inside the start area. So many people. So many HAPPY people.

“For 50 years I have had the gift of knowing exactly what I’ll be doing on Thanksgiving morning, and it's a gift of love, family, community and the Manchester Road Race. In this sometimes-crazy world, that is a mighty precious gift.”

Shluger founded the Hartford Marathon Foundation in 1994, became its CEO and President, and directed the Hartford Marathon (with a top field size of 15,000) until her retirement in early 2023.