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

Sun, 28 Mar 2004 08:58:07 -0500

Brian Maxwell, 1953-2004


After hearing the news about Brian Maxwell, I planned to run one of my miles that day in his memory. So hauntingly sad was this news that he ran with me almost every mile for the next week.

News reports of his death (from an apparent heart attack) at age 51 led off with his business credits. He founded the PowerBar company, nurtured its amazing growth and sold it a few years ago to Nestle for $375 million.

I don't pretend to have been Brian Maxwell's good friend. We met only in the way that I got to know many other "names" of running in the 1970s. By mail.

Brian had come to the Bay Area from Canada to run for the University of California in Berkeley. He made little news as a collegian because the racing distances were too short.

Then he graduated into the marathon and found his running success there. Sub-2:15 runners like him were rare then.

Rarer still were runners of that level who could write well about the experience. Or would do it for the small fees that Runner's World paid at the time I still edited the magazine.

Brian sent me one of his stories, and RW published it. Others followed, and two of them live on in the book The Complete Marathoner.

Brian had many talents. He could have become a fulltime writer. Instead he stayed focused on his running while eking out a living as an assistant coach at Cal/Berkeley.

His running peaked in 1977, when he PRed in the 2:14s. Three years later he made the Canadian Olympic team-that-went-nowhere.

By then he had slipped into a pattern of hitting walls late in his races. Looking for a nutritional solution, his experiments led to what would become PowerBar.

I didn't become a fan right away. The original beige bar had the consistency of a compound you'd use to patch leaky pipes.

Only later did I realize how much PowerBars or their little brother, PowerGels, could mean to my marathoning. They led to the first two negative-split races of a long career.

I'll always thank Brian Maxwell for these races, though I never got to tell him personally. He would have been pleased, because even in his wealth he never outgrew his running roots.

Brian's good fortune took him to the exclusive Marin County, California, town of Ross. I hadn't heard anything about him since he sold the company -- only that he and Jennifer (a former triathlete and a nutritionist who helped launch the business) lived comfortably and productively with a growing flock of offspring.

The shock to Jennifer is unimaginable. So is the sadness of the children, ranging in age from 14 years down to six months.

Some of them don't even know yet how sad they'll feel, and for how long. The younger ones never got to know their dad in life. But they'll hear OF him all their lives.

Brian and Jennifer already had started putting their money to work. They contributed heavily to their old university in Berkeley and their community, in athletic and other ways.

Brian will keep on giving for years to come, maybe at a faster pace. Even then his fortune will last a long time.

His legacy will last even longer. Through the runners he knew as competitors and friends... through those he coached at Cal... through those who read his articles... through those he supported financially at PowerBar... through those who used and still use the products his company developed.

Carrying on for him too, though they don't know how right now, will be his wife and many children. The vision, smarts and drive that were his will live on through them.


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