Jon and Bryan sit down with ‘Mr. Marathon’ Tracy Sundlun to talk about how he influenced the world of track and field and distance running.
Our guest today is Tracy Sundlun, who’s probably best known for being the creator of the Rock ’n Roll Marathon, which has reimagined the marathon experience with it’s use of live music and entertainment throughout the course. But that’s just one area in which Tracy’s been a major driver for change in track and field and distance running.
Tracy got into coaching at age 12, and went on to coach collegians, club athletes, Olympians and some of the greatest to ever do it. He led the fight against the Amateur Athletic Union to allow runners to receive prize money, he changed the way track and field meets were timed, and he created the first national high school championship meet in the US. And that’s just the first half of his career!
What stand out about Tracy are his passion for the sport, his focus on doing what’s right for his athletes, and his belief in creating events, not just competitions. As he says, any event can be special, but it’s up to us to make it special.
As Bruins, we don’t let just any Trojan on the show, but I’m glad we made an exception for Tracy!
We talk with Tracy about his amazing career as a coach, event planner, and governor of the sport of track and distance running.
His Coaching Career
– How he got his start in coaching at age 12
– Why not being talented at track and field actually made him a better coach
– What makes rivalries so special, why the UCLA/USC dual meet was the best in the world, and how he actually won a car in his first one!
– Tracy’s theory for why the dual meet lost some of its luster in the late 80s and early 90s, and a discussion of whether the dual meet is the ideal format for determining the national champion
– His transition from USC to Colorado, his experience coaching the great Mary Decker, and what he thinks set her apart from other runners
– His friendship with Wilt Chamberlain and Wilt’s dedication to promoting women’s athletics, Wilt’s Wonder Women, his helping to get the Rock ’n Roll Marathon started, and Jon’s experience meeting him as a kid
– How he got started coaching the Warren Street Social Athletic Club and some of his memories from that time, including the fight to allow his athletes to receive prize money, which was barred at the time by the AAU
– How he knew it was time to transition out of coaching when he was no longer obsessed with thinking about the workouts
His Transition to Governance and Event Planning
– You can’t put on a competition, it has to be an event. You need to make it larger than life.
– How he got involved in the AAU in order to stop them from punishing runners and how he stumbled into becoming the Men’s Chairman after losing the election to be the Women’s Chairman, and how that gave him the power to run meets the way he wanted
– His incredible first meet at the Armory in New York City, where he fired all the officials
– What led him to create the National Scholastic Indoor Track and Field Championships, and all the hoops they had to jump through
– What drives Tracy to put in the work to create these new opportunities and change the sport for the better
– The importance of focusing on making an event special and doing it with people who are passionate about it
– The events he’s working on now, including a women’s running movement in Saudi Arabia, the Kigali International Peace March in Rwanda, and how to craft a space in track and field for transgender athletes that maintains fairness for all athletes
– And why the words Go Be More mean never stopping trying to be great and to never stop trying to do more for people
If you liked this episode, check out our interviews with legendary coach Bob Larsen and author/marathoner Tony Reed.
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Recorded August 19, 2020.
Tracy’s Amazing Resume – National Scholastic
Wilt’s Wonder Women Track Club (with some amazing photos of Tracy and his hair) – CompletePT
Warren Street Social and Athletic Club – Facebook
Rock ‘n Roll Marathon – RunRocknRoll.com
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