Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 7 Aug 1999 09:06:44 -0400

Manley's Women

(from RC 287)

Last year Mike Manley put his name in the running for a coaching job at the University of Wisconsin. He would have coached the men's distance runners at his alma mater.

Mike's application wasn't taken seriously. His age (56 at the time) and lack of college experience (none at a four-year school) worked against him.

This was the Wisconsin men's loss but the gain of some women runners in Oregon. He stayed in Eugene to complete his last year before retirement as a high school teacher and continued coaching as a free-lancer.

Mike is one of the country's best running coaches. He might be THE best who works under the banner of no college, company or club.

This isn't an unbiased assessment. Mike and I go back together to a 1960 race in Chicago. My last steeplechase at age 16 was his first in a long series that would lead him onto the '72 Olympic team.

Later he became the first American master to break 30 minutes for the 10-K and 2:20 for the marathon (both in 1982, when we now lived in the same neighborhood). Then he increasingly turned his attention away from his own running to coaching others.

I'll let the facts, not my friendship, speak for Mike's skill as a coach. His coaching of men peaked in 1993, when three of his runners -- Brad Hudson, Dan Nelson and Greg Whiteley -- competed in the World Championships. Another, Ken Martin, qualified by place but not by time for that meet.

Manley also put a woman on that team. An injury kept Kristy Johnston from running in Stuttgart, but her sub-2:30 marathon earlier that year signaled Mike's future as a coach of women.

Mike and I met this June on a running trail in Eugene. This happened to be his retirement day from teaching.

As he slowed down toward my pace and I sped up toward his, I asked about his plans. "Play a lot more golf and play with my first grandchild," he said.

In our mile or so together Mike did insist that he wasn't retiring from coaching. Why quit his hobby now that he had more time for it?

"I'm still working with Laura Lamena-Coll," he said. "I've started helping Marla Runyan, and Kris Ihle recently joined us."

Mike added, "You should write something about Marla." She's legally blind from a degenerative eye condition. The former heptathlete (who once ran an 800 in 2:04 at the last of the seven events) could no longer see well enough for the jumps and hurdles. She now specializes in running.

Runyan placed fourth in the 1500 at the U.S. Championships. Normally the first three would have gone to the Worlds, but only winner Regina Jacobs had met the time standard.

"Marla will get it," said her coach. She needed to improve her Trials mark -- a PR -- by two seconds to qualify, so she went to Maine and dropped it by four.

That same weekend I saw Kris Ihle after she won the Fifth Season 8-K in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I congratulated her for winning there (in a race where Laura Lamena-Coll of the Manley group was second American), "but especially for your race last week."

Ihle ran with the 5000 leaders most of the way at the Track Nationals before finishing sixth and making the Pan-American Games team. "I just did what Mike told me to do," she said, "and I PRed by 10 seconds."

To do your best, you listen to the best.

(P.S.: After this column appeared in my newsletter, Marla Runyan won the Pan-American Games 1500 in a photo finish with Canadian Leah Pells.)


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