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

Sun, 25 Jun 2006 05:19:46 -0400

Runner's World at 40

RUNNING COMMENTARY 629

Runner's World and I parted company two years ago. We have different views of how and why this happened, but the fact remains that the split was sudden and apparently permanent.

Ask for my thoughts on today's RW, and I can't tell you. I haven't had the heart to open the magazine since my last column ran there in early 2004.

So much distance has come between us that I'd forgotten this year marks RW's 40th birthday. Reminders came recently in a way that both shocked and pleased me.

The editor who'd called a halt to my column, David Willey, reached out a friendly hand. He told about plans for special anniversary coverage in the magazine and asked if I'd agree to an interview. I would.

I can't deny my role in the magazine's history, having written there for 33 of those 40 years. I'm honored that the current boss recognizes this.

For my part today, I want to honor someone whose role was much bigger -- and who never gets enough credit. There wouldn't be a Runner's World to celebrate this anniversary if not for Bob Anderson. Here's what I wrote about him as RW turned 25.


BOB'S BABY

(rerun from January 1991 RC)

Bob Anderson may be long gone from Runner's World. But he still occupies the same offices that once produced the magazine he founded. Friends of mine from Mountain View, California, occasionally report Anderson sightings.

During Anderson's RW years, he was tough to work for and with. His critics among former employees, advertisers and subscribers were legion.

Criticism had little apparent effect on Anderson. The only subject guaranteed to turn the self-styled tough guy's heart to mush was his baby. He always called it "my magazine," the way a father refers to a child.

Anderson conceived and delivered the magazine. He nursed it through infancy as a staff of one, then sternly and proudly guided it through the rapid adolescent growth spurt of the 1970s.

As RW grew up, Anderson begin hearing offers from larger companies to buy the magazine for thousands of times more than his original investment. He refused.

"I wouldn't take any amount of money for it," he said. "This would be like selling my own child."

Yet in its 20th year, he had no choice but to sell. A divorce forced him to give up his baby to Rodale Press.

Anderson quickly vanished from the sport. But saying that he was forgotten was both unkind and untrue.

He isn't so thick-skinned that the loss of his first "child" doesn't still hurt him. And he isn't so hard-hearted as not to care about receiving little or no credit for his early work.

Runner's World turns 25 years old this year. The magazine will celebrate with a birthday issue in May, and plans to focus more on advances in the sport during those years than on bragging about RW's history.

As a charter subscriber, the first columnist and first fulltime employee, I'll do some boasting here. I'll do it on Bob Anderson's behalf, since he has no way to say this about himself. (He wasn't present at a 25th anniversary celebration in New York City in 1991, and his name was never mentioned from the stage.)

Anderson created prototypes for the modern running magazine, newsletter and book before there was any money to be made from them. His shoe surveys prodded companies to improve their product. He promoted marathon running, women's running, masters running, corporate running and fun-running before they came into fashion.

Anderson provided the first national forum for many of the writers who would fill many magazines and books: George Sheehan, Kenny Moore, Joan Ullyot, Amby Burfoot, Don Kardong, Mike Tymn, Rich Benyo, John Brant.

He inspired competitive publishers who thought they could cover the sport better. George Hirsch started his own magazine, The Runner, and I left for a different one, Running. (Benyo would later found Marathon & Beyond magazine.)

Anderson invited me back to RW when Running folded. Hirsch became RW's publisher when The Runner was absorbed into the older magazine.

We current writers and alumni are all where we are now because Bob Anderson was here first. The baby keeps running after the father had to drop out.

UPDATE: Anderson would leave running magazine publishing, but not running itself. In his late 50s, he is one of the best racers for his age in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Today's RW is the biggest magazine and the longest-running success story in the sport. RW reflects, as it has always reflected, running as it is and not how we might like it to be.
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