Michael Fanelli underwent a major surgery last week that required 15 stitches in his groin area. It didn’t stop him from running. He pushed his consecutive days streak to 483 with a light, four-mile jog around a high school track the next day.
“They were not the prettiest miles I’ve ever run,” the San Anselmo resident said.
The last mile was No. 98,741 of Fanelli’s 42-year amateur-running career. He’s planning to pass the 100,000-mile mark Nov. 18 at the Philadelphia Marathon, the site of his first full marathon in 1972. It’s impossible to know exactly how many runners have reached 100,000 miles; Fanelli, a San Francisco-based real estate agent, said he’s been told the number is less than 60, which sounds plausible considering you’d have to run five miles a day for 54 years and eight months to reach the milestone.
“I really enjoy overcoming challenges. It lends great perspective in everything else you do,” he said. “When I’m having a difficult time professionally, I can always reach back and say, man, this is nothing compared to X, Y and Z.”
Fanelli, who turns 56 on Tuesday, first took an interest in running in 1968, idolizing Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they caught the world’s attention at the Mexico City Olympics.
“I wanted to be like them,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to start running track and cross country.”
The sport quickly changed Fanelli’s life. It taught him discipline, focus and goal setting — things that he’d lacked as a youngster flirting with the law on the streets of Philadelphia.
“Athletics is a great way to stifle that activity before you get into real trouble,” he said.
Fanelli started logging his miles in a yellow notebook every day as a 14-year-old, but he was just an average runner in high school. In college, he matured physically and learned how to be scientifically meticulous with his training regimen. He set a 10,000-meter San Francisco State record that still stands.
Other career highlights include running 5,000 meters in 14:37, winning the San Francisco Pacific Rim marathon twice and coaching the U.S. national team at three international competitions.
In the 1980s, Fanelli took up ultramarathon running, competing in races up to 100 kilometers; recently, he reinvented himself as a short-distance, 800-meter runner (two laps around the track), earlier this month, he qualified for the 2013 Summer National Senior Games in that event.
Fanelli said once he hits the 100,000-mile mark and passes 500 consecutive days, he’d like to get back into coaching, this time at the youth or high school level.
“Coaching is a very fulfilling part of giving back to the sport that’s been so good to me,” he said.