Pretending to be Nenow

The runner I thought about most when I was training hard was Mark Nenow. He's not known by many runners today, but he ran under 28 minutes for 10k something like seven years in a row back in the '80s. He held the American Record in the 10000m for 15 years, from 1986 to 2001, when Meb ran seven ticks faster. Ritz never beat Nenow's best time. He still holds the mark for 10k on the roads at 27:22.

Nenow was a total running bum. He was known as the "White Kenyan" as he was slight and had legs up to his elbows. He lived and trained during his fastest years in Lexington, KY. His training schedule was simple: 140 mpw in 13 runs: 10am / 10pm Monday through Saturday, with a 20 miler on Sunday. Apparently he would head out for his evening run at 10pm. Most of this running was at "moderate" paces, which for Nenow was probably sub 6 minute miling. He did little to no interval work, sometimes running for a year without getting on the track -- but his best times came of course with a little rest and sharpening. Nothing fancy: workouts like 4 x 1600 at 4:30 pace.

Anyways, whenever I'd get that bulletproof feeling, when my mileage built and it felt like I could run forever, I'd imagine that I was Mark Nenow running with stone-hard legs through the Nashville evening. I can't say that I knew what it felt like to be that fast or be able to weather that sort of training, but I loved the kind of running that he ran -- the moderate runs, day after day -- which matched the simplicity of his training, and, in turn, matched the grueling simplicity of racing 10000m.

These runners in the 80s had no internet, rarely ran with watches, and Nenow himself didn't even have a coach. It's likely that if he had done today's perfect training with today's perfect recovery methods he would have run faster, perhaps much faster. But it's just as likely that part of the reason Nenow ran so well was that he did it his way, on his own, listening to his body, and simply running as much as he could.

I don't know Mark, but anyone who trained like that must have loved the running as much as the racing. And why not? Think of what it must have been to be Mark Nenow feeling good: rippling along at 5:40 pace, somewhere around the 17th mile of the day, as the dogs barked and the moon shone through the Kentucky midnight -- just Mark, just running.


  1. Thanks Jeff. Mark Nenow's profile is one that stuck with me from an old book: "How They Train: Long Distances" - I think for the simplicity of his running, and the fact that he got into it late, at age 18. He was yet to run his best when the book was published, having run 28:32.7 at age 22. Under 'Peaking', the answer was "None." Under 'Philosophy', "self motivated, with encouragement from his family. He said "I always tell high school kids whose times don't stack up to others... that there is still a chance for a lot of success."

  2. Cool excerpt -- thanks for commenting. He was certainly incredibly talented, as I believe he won the Kentucky state championship in his first year of running. Glad to hear there are other Nenowites out there!

  3. I met Mark once at a Fleet Feet conference in San Diego. He was working for Montrail. He was very warm and genuine. I had no clue who he was at the time. I was leafing through a Joe Henderson book called "Better Runs" I think, when I see the name and picture of Nenow. And the record 10k time posted below the picture floored me.


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