Say hi to Bill Rodgers for me

One of my favorite American runners is Bill Rodgers, the legendary marathoner who won the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon four times each between 1975 and 1980.

This was during the tail end of the first running boom. I was as caught up in this hysteria as much as the next runner, reading all the bestselling books, magazines and news articles on running.

I was in college at the time, running and racing, with lots of heart and very little talent. But it was fun, and I followed the sport closely.

Of all the American running superstars and big names of this era — Frank Shorter, Steve Profantaine, Kenny Moore, Rudy Chapa — I always liked “Boston Billy” Rodgers best.

I liked the fact that he was a bit of slacker as a young guy. He slept in, ate junk food and drifted around a bunch of dead-end jobs.

Finally, he got serious and stared training hard.

It took a while at first, through trial and error. He DNF’d his first marathon — and seven more over his career, as he struggled to learn such basics as hydration and recovery.

But eventually, Rodgers got so good he practically owned the biggest races in the country, winning them over and over.

One year, he was so far ahead at the Boston Marathons that he came to a complete stop for water three or four times, and stopped to tie his shoe on Heartbreak Hill — and still won the race in a breeze.

He inspired everyman runners everywhere, including me. (Of course, he had talent and good coaching, too. Desire gets you only so far, as I well know.)

For years, I read everything I could find about Bill Rodgers. He was just an interesting guy, and represented the American glory days of distance running.

Two years ago, I had the minor thrill of finally meeting Rodgers.

I had just finished running the Akron Marathon, and was strolling around the finish area in Canal Park Stadium. I looked around, trying to find a friend, and who should I see walking my way but my hero.

“Bill, great to see you!” I stammered. “Can you sign my bib?”

He did, with a smile. A few seconds later, someone else approached him, asking for the same favor. Again he complied. Rodgers was the marathon’s celebrity spokesman and showed up faithfully every year to sign autographs, draw national attention and sometimes run the lead leg of the five-man relay.

I still have that bib he autographed. It is tacked to the wall of my garage, along with all my other race bibs.

So why am I bringing all this up now?

Well, this year’s running of the Akron Marathon is on Saturday. Unfortunately, I won’t be there — only the second time I haven’t been there to run or cheer since the race’s inception in 2003.

But Rodgers will be there. And this morning, on Facebook, one of my old running acquaintances from Akron, Jim Chaney, posted this message: “Bill Rodgers and I will be tied at the hip for the next three days.”

It turns out that Chaney, a serious runner and all-around good guy, will be picking up Rodgers from the airport and escorting him around town during his visit. That lucky dog!

Well, I can’t do anything about that. But this is what I can do: Next year, I am running the Akron Marathon again.

And if I see Bill Rodgers, I’m going to tell him what an inspiration he’s been.

******************************************************************************************************************

Yesterday, I went running at lunchtime, and got my shirt soaking wet. It was that warm and humid.

Today, I went running at lunchtime, and got my shirt soaking wet again.

This time, it was not hot. It was raining.

I ran about six miles on the canal towpath, from 30th Street to 52nd Street and back. My time was 51:45. 

The gentle rain didn’t bother me. It kept me pretty cool. I had the towpath nearly to myself, and enjoyed the fall scenery.

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2 Responses to “Say hi to Bill Rodgers for me”

  1. Kevin Cartier Says:

    Hi John:

    I enjoyed the bit about Bill Rodgers. I saw him briefly while I was wandering around the Akron Marathon expo on Friday.

    I had the pleasure of running this race for the 5th time. The forecast had called for heavy rains in the area, but we lucked out and only had to contend with a moderate drizzle during the second half of the race.

    Since I’m gearing up for Chicago, two weeks hence, I opted to run Akron as a training ‘thon. The plan was just go “easy”, which I did. And in doing so, I learned an important lesson: THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS AN EASY MARATHON! (I know, “Duh!”, right?)

    Even though I ran 90 seconds per mile slower than my goal pace, I was pretty much ready to stop running at mile 20, and plenty glad to see the finish line.

    Not to worry, though. I’ll be well rested and recovered for the Chicago marathon. Nice job on that 10K, by the way. Sounds like you’re really picking up some speed these days.

    — KCC

    • So I’m guessing you didn’t charge up Garmin Road hill by Stan Hywet at full speed?

      Good luck at Chicago. You will do great. I know your legs will be recovered by then and ready for a new PR!

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