Mark Curp held the normal dreams of playing professional sports that nearly all boys growing up in rural Missouri held; playing basketball or football. An opportunity at a track meet changed his life. Curp took third place in the two-mile run at a Central Rivers Conference track meet his freshman year in high school, despite a lack of experience and very little training. That success sparked an interest in running and began a career that would take Curp to the top of the running profession, culminating in a world record.
Curp was born January 5th, 1959 in Chillicothe, Missouri to Donald Lee and Barbara Curp, who lived on a farm just outside the small town of Polo. It was on the farm that Curp learned a work ethic that would serve him well in his running career. Curp, his three sisters and two brothers, grew up in modest circumstances, drawing strength from parents who provided support and encouragement. Curp learned two things on the farm that sustained him during his long running career: work hard and never give up.
He needed those lessons when he went to college after having a standout high school career. He quickly mastered the two-mile run. In 1977, his senior year in high school, Curp set a new state record in the two mile. Polo, though, is a small community. The Missouri Class 1-A record attracted little interest among colleges. Central Missouri State University took a chance on Curp and offered him a partial scholarship. Curp faced much stiffer competition in college, even among his teammates. He began his collegiate running career on the Warrensburg campus, last among 40 runners. But his desire to improve, hard training, and the competition at CMSU pushed him to the top of a strong stable of runners at CMSU and then to the top in NCAA Division II competition. A career that began at the bottom of the CMSU roster ended with nine NCAA All-America honors in cross country and track. He finished high enough at the NCAA Division II level in cross country to compete twice on the Division I level and twice earned NCAA Division I All America honors. Curp won the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) Cross Country championship, the 10,000 meter run and the 5,000 meter run three straight years (1979, ‘80 and ‘81). He held the MIAA records for the 5,000 meter run for 8 years, and the 10,000 meter run for 35 years, which are the longest-standing conference track records. Curp was an inaugural inductee to the CMSU Hall of Fame in 1992.
Curp graduated from Central Missouri State University in 1981 with a Bachelors degree in Agriculture Economics. In 1982, he earned a Masters Degree in Agriculture Technology. His running career, though, attracted the attention of the New Balance Athletic Shoe Company. Curp signed with the New Balance Track Club shortly after graduating from CMSU, allowing him to make a living doing something he loved.
On the professional road circuit, Curp faced the best America and the world had to offer. His training intensified. His times improved. Runner’s World ranked Curp the number one road racer in the world in 1987 and 1988. Track and Field News ranked Curp the best road racer in the world in 1988 and the best American road racer in 1985.
Curp ran the race of his life in 1985. On a cool, crisp September 15th in Philadelphia, Curp ran the fastest half marathon in history, a world record of 1:00:55. Nothing leading up to that day indicated Curp would break the record. He had felt sluggish during the middle of the week and decided to shake out the sluggishness with a very hard workout prior to the race. His strategy in the race reflected his normal approach. Curp pushed the pace as the race progressed, hoping to pull away or outlast the rest of the field. Everything came together at the right time. He felt strong at the end of the race and out-kicked the competition, making his mark in the record books. That record stood for 21 years, until Ryan Hall beat it in 2007.
Curp also set the American record for the 20k in Philadelphia in 1985. A year earlier in Tampa, Curp ran 15 Kilometers in 43:02, placing him in the top five among American men. In October of 1986, Curp ran 12 Kilometers in 34:28, again placing him among the top five American men. Curp was also the USATF 20 km Champion in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1991. He was the USATF Men’s Half Marathon Champion in 1990. Those and other outstanding achievements earned Curp a place in the Missouri Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1997, Curp was inducted in the NCAA Division II Track&Field Hall of Fame. Curp became a member of the RRCA American Long Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2000. In his 17+ years of professional running, Curp competed in more than 300 events, placing first or second in more than 30% of them and in the top ten in over 75% of them.
Curp suffered disappointment in his career as well. He came close twice, but failed to make the Olympics. In 1984, he finished fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000 meters and became the second alternate to the Olympics for the USA. He finished fifth at the Olympic Trials in the marathon in 1988, again earning second alternate to the Olympics. Curp’s attempts to make the Olympics were hampered by the fact that the Olympics does not offer competition in the half marathon.
Though he never made the Olympics, Curp did run for the USA. He was part of the USA Team that competed in the Pan Am Games in Cuba in 1991. He was a member of the USA Ekiden Relay team in 1988 and ’89. Curp also competed in the USA/Germany Dual Track Meet in L.A. in 1984 and ran in the 1985 World Cross Country Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.
Curp kept a balanced perspective on his career and in his life, grounded in his deep, Christian faith. He always felt God had blessed him with the ability to run and helped him through the ups and downs of a professional athletic career. Curp set a goal to always honor God, regardless of the outcome of a race.