I came across this book, only because my coach Holly recommended it, and sent me a copy on Audible. I am glad she did. Bowerman and the Men of Oregon is written by Kenny Moore, an Olympic marathoner who was once coached by Bowerman. I am not one to read a lot of biographies, but Moore brought the story of Bill Bowerman to life. The story begins with Bowerman’s parents history, then goes into great detail about his childhood and young adulthood, before moving into a part I was excited to read about: when Bowerman’s coaching career began at the University of Oregon.
Bowerman’s coaching was heavily influenced by the Finnish training techniques–intervals and controlled recoveries. In the 1930s, a study was done in Germany showing that 200 meter repeats were the best workout to increase the heart’s pumping power. Most importantly, this improvement only occurred during the recovery period between intervals–down to 120 beats per minute (truly a full recovery). If the decrease in heart rate didn’t occur fast enough for the athlete, the workout was adjusted. Bowerman took this information, and combined it with his sense that doing too much interval work can lead to injury without the right amount of easy runs, as well as rest. He truly believed in the recovery aspect: “it is better to underdo than to overdo.” He believed in training to a peak, but keeping his runners in an “off season” with slower, base work and strength work.
Another part of Bowerman’s life story that I was keen to learn about is the development of Nike. Nike shoes essentially began in Bowerman’s garage. He literally took shoes apart to learn how they were engineered. Then he began constructing shoes out of various types of materials, and the Bowerman homemade shoe was born. Phil Knight was one of the first Oregon runners to run in a pair of these shoes. A year later, Knight found himself contemplating the idea of finding and importing better athletic shoes for American runners. Blue Ribbon Sports was born, with Bowerman testing and designing shoes and Knight running the company. Within five years the company was growing. The Tiger shoes were selling out. The Japanese company that produced the shoes were shipping late, or even shipping the wrong shoes altogether, and down the road threatened Blue Ribbon Sports with producing the Tiger shoes for other companies. Bowerman was angry, having helped the Japanese supplier to enter the American market with a shoe of his design. Bowerman wanted to create a new brand, with a trademark they owned, and avoid this position with a supplier in the future. With a new brand came a logo, the check mark design known as the swoosh. The company name Nike was an idea that started from an article about great brand names that were short and sounded “exotic” like Kodak or Kleenex. Nike, the Greek winged goddess of victory, seemed to check all the boxes (pun intended).
If you enjoy a good biography rich in detail, this is a good book to pick up. For me, it was interesting to read as a runner learning about Bowerman as a coach, but also as someone interested in a story of how the household name Nike came to be. I am happy to loan out my copy!