100,000-Mile Checkup: Mike Fanelli

Fanelli has logged more than 100,000 miles since he began running as a teenager. Photo: Dinno Kovic / Dinno Kovic Photography

One lifelong runner talks about hitting the magic mileage number.

On Oct. 29, 1970, Mike Fanelli — then a 15-year-old freshman on his high school cross country team in Philadelphia — registered his initial entry to his very first running logbook. “Calisthenics,” the heading reads, laying out the day’s plan of training that included jumping jacks and touching the toes.

“I was just rolling with laughter when I found this recently,” Fanelli said. “Here’s an entry that reads, ‘Didn’t run because the weather was bad.’” Another note he jotted down reads, “Ran too soon after eating.”

Fanelli, who is now 56, is a successful real estate agent living in San Anselmo, Calif. He found his original log when reflecting on what had become a benchmark goal reflective of his lifelong obsession for running. At the Philadelphia Marathon last November, Fanelli logged his 100,000th mile.

The 100,000-mile goal took shape a decade ago, when Fanelli’s calculations showed his proximity to the six-figure number. “I had 30 years of being a runner and realized, ‘Holy s#*%, I’m at 86,000 miles!’”

When he got within 200 miles of the goal, Fanelli says he felt a spring in his step. He planned his running so that his 100,000th mile would coincide between the 13- and 14-mile markers of last fall’s Philadelphia Marathon — the same place his road racing career began.

“It was at the Philadelphia Art Museum, past Boathouse Row,” Fanelli said. “All Philly road races used to start and finish there. I’ve spent a lot of time there reflecting back and appreciating all the joy and memories that being a runner has brought me.”

Fanelli’s journey as a runner and former coach of the San Francisco Impalas, an all-women’s running team, has been vast. He ran his first marathon at the age of 16 in 3:36, and recorded his PR of 2:25 in 1980. He raced on the cross country and track & field teams at San Francisco State University (where he still holds the school record in the 10,000 meters), and in 1990 he threw himself into the ultrarunning world at the Lake Tahoe 72-mile “around the lake” ultra, an experience he considers one of the most difficult — and profound — of his life.

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Going out at a three-hour marathon pace, things began to get ugly when the course neared the casinos on the Nevada border at the 30-mile marker. “I hit the wall so hard,” he said. “Totally blew up. And there I was, with 40 more miles to go.”

Through a combination of willpower and talking himself through each step, Fanelli managed to finish in 10:42, an effort still good enough for second place.

“I’ve never hurt more in my life,” he said. “But I came through it all with a deep perspective: I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do.”

Later, Fanelli’s ability to handle discomfort would be tested in a way that almost killed him. In June of 1996, he was in a truck accident. The steering wheel of the truck he was driving smashed into his nose. In the ensuing months, he became plagued with severe headaches that doctors couldn’t cure. On New Year’s Eve that same year, Fanelli was in so much pain that a longtime friend, San Francisco chiropractor and triathlete Peter Lewandowski, had to carry him into a local hospital.

Doctors determined Fanelli had sustained a lumbar puncture and was suffering from fungal meningitis, a potentially fatal condition. Determined that wasn’t going to be his fate, as soon as he was released from the hospital he went back to his home in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco where he lived at the time and re-opened the log to scribble in an entry. “My third day home I ran around the block,” he says. “The next day, I ran around the block twice.”

Fanelli’s passion for the sport continues, although in a full-circle sort of way. He’s training for the 800m and 1500m at the national masters track and field championships in Olathe, Kan.

“It’s just great to get back on the track,” Fanelli says, no doubt foreshadowing an upcoming post to a logbook that never ends.

This piece first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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