This Sunday, October 20th, marks the inaugural running of the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon in Hawassa, Ethiopia. Hosted by the legendary distance runner who set 27 world records during his remarkable career, the Haile Marathon is limited to 1200 participants and 500 guests, and features a series of travel tour options to go along with the marathon itself.
Among the prizes awarded to the male and female champions will be the Mike Long Trophy, named in honor of Haile’s now departed dear friend. The trophies are a fitting testimonial to the legacy of love and friendship that Mike engendered during his career as elite athlete coordinator for San Diego-based Elite Racing from 1990 to his untimely death in July 2007.
As time is a thief it has robbed many newcomers to the sport of knowing who Mike Long was. We who knew him well can only feel for their loss, for in a sport known for the quality of its people, perhaps Mike was the best of the lot.
For many the world over the name Mike Long still holds a special place in their hearts. Through the years Mike invited hundreds of athletes to races around the United States, helping develop both professional opportunities and lifelong friendships. Among those with whom Mike had an especially close bond were the athletes from East Africa. Mike not only hosted many such athletes at his home in Mission Beach, he also made a handful of trips to Ethiopia and Kenya to visit friends and immerse himself in the region’s distinct cultures. Sadly, Mike died in his sleep of a sudden heart attack at age 65 on the night of July 18, 2007 at his home in San Diego.
In an increasingly competitive era when finding one’s calling requires the deft touch of Golden State Warrior guard Stephen Curry and the luck of a mid-level lottery winner (winning too big brings the opposite of good fortune) it is encouraging to learn that Mike Long didn’t find his calling in life till his mid-40s.
Mike moved west to California in the 1970s from his native Michigan, where he had been a standout wrestler while at Michigan State University. Once settled in Mission Beach Long became an avid runner during the initial running boom of the 1970s. He completed many marathons, including the 1983 Boston Marathon, when he ran his personal best time of 2:54:00.
After retiring as a stockbroker, Mike began working at Elite Racing in 1990, and soon took on the duties of elite athlete coordinator. With his twinkling Irish eyes and puckish good humor Mike’s passion for life and the sport of running was marked by the embracing quality of his work, which took him around the globe to recruit athletes for Elite Racing’s growing stable of events. Not just in the business of running, Mike’s integrity, sincerity and conspiratorial pranks earned him friends everywhere, and many of the world’s finest distance runners counted him as their surrogate American father.
“This is not one man dying,” lamented Mike’s dear friend Belay Wolashe, the 2000 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon champion, upon hearing of Mike’s passing. “This is a thousand men dying.”
In the year before his death Mike began working with a group of colleagues to establish the Entoto Foundation, a non-profit organization that helped deliver medical assistance to Ethiopians who do not have access to appropriate treatment or surgery. Today the Entoto Foundation lives on as a part of Mike Long’s lasting legacy of goodwill, and is the official charity partner of the Haile Marathon.
Nobody would have been more proud of Haile for starting the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon than Mike Long. Having Mike’s name on the winners’ trophy now adds a poignant touch to what promises to be one of Ethiopia’s most appealing new destination events.