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home > community > viewpoint > an interview with boston marathon legend bill rodgers

An Interview With Boston Marathon Legend Bill Rodgers
On a cold winter weekday in January, it would seem the Boston Marathon might be far the farthest thing from your mind. But Bill Rodgers knows different. The 51-year-old Boston icon knows that these are the days when the groundwork is laid, the training investments made, the seeds are sown, so they can be reaped on Patriots Day, more then three months distant.

  
An Interview With Boston Marathon Legend Bill Rodgers

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By Don Allison
Posted Friday, 15 January, 1999

On a cold winter weekday in January, it would seem the Boston Marathon might be far the farthest thing from your mind. But Bill Rodgers knows different. The 51-year-old Boston icon knows that these are the days when the groundwork is laid, the training investments made, the seeds are sown, so they can be reaped on Patriots Day, more then three months distant.

It was only fitting then, that it was announced on that wintery January day Rodgers will run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston on Patriot's Day in the 103rd Boston Marathon, a race he has helped make famous, winning four times in the late 70s and early 80s, including a pair of spectacular American record efforts.

Nowadays, Boston Billy's sights are not set on such lofty goals, but the competitive spirit that served him so well in his prime running days still burns, some 20 years after he clocked 2:09:27 to win Boston in a then American Record. It is now age-group records that Bill is chasing, and the seems just as enthusiastic about the quest. CR's Don Allison chatted with Bill to get his thoughts on that and a number of other topics.

CR: Why did you decide to run the Boston Marathon again, after being away from it for several years?

BR: I'd like to get the age-group record (see below). I was going to run it last year (when he turned 50) but I decided I wasn't ready for it. I got too nervous! You only have a few years early in your age group to go after the records. It's pretty much the same motivation as when I turned 40, going after the records.

CR: Is the feeling of competition the same as when you were younger?

BR: Yes, except if gets more difficult to train as you get older. So the race will be tougher. I guess I'll just go out there and take a beating!

CR: Does it feel strange to be running after all of these years, especially when almost all of your competitors are no longer running, at least competitively?

BR: I just feel lucky to have been able to hang on after all of these years. I think I've been lucky in that I have not been injured for any long period of time.

CR: What is the longest time you have missed due to injury?

BR: Oh, probably never more than a week.

CR: How do you feel about your new competitors, those who just started running a few years ago. Do you think they have an advantage in being "fresh" or that you have an advantage in the years of experience?

BR: It's probably harder to have all of the years of running in you, like I do. It's great for the sport though to have new runners on the scene. It has to be exciting to suddenly be one of the best in the world. It's funny, some people make an appearance for a few years, and then they disappear.

CR: This April will have been 20 years since you set the American Record of 2:09:27 in 1979. Was that, or your first Boston win, when you set the AR of 2:09:55 in 1975, your best marathon?

BR: Oh, it would have to be the 1975 race. I mean , it was totally unexpected, a real surprise. I hadn't had much success in the marathon before that, and then boom - I had a great race. It was really something; it got everything started for me.

CR: Do you think much about your place in Boston Marathon history?

BR: It's hard to visualize it. But I think it's really important. I think being a New Englander, that's a really big part of it. There is a real New England connection to the Boston Marathon. When you think about Clarence Demar and Johnny Kelley, I'd like to think that I am following in their footsteps. I don't know if I'll run it so many years like they did, but if I can help carry on the tradition, that would be great.

CR: So who is going to follow in your footsteps? It seems as if there are not many American marathoners to carry on the tradition.

BR: I don't know, it's so much different now, with the Africans and everyone training so hard. I think in the future, American runners will play a role in the marathon again. I wonder about their commitment though. I wish some of these guys would run more than one a year. You really can't be a great marathoner doing that. I always say if the marathon is a part-time interest, you will only get part-time results. The one guy who seems to embody the heart and sole of the marathon is Jerry Lawson. He doesn't always get the results, but he is never afraid to put it on the line.

CR: How do you feel about the change that the Boston Marathon has undergone, with more people in it just for the participation, and not meeting qualifying standards, but raising money for charity in order to get a number.

BR: It's great if it helps people improve their health, to kick start and change their lives. I'd love to have our sport be a vehicle for that. It's fine as long as you tie it in with hospitals or other responsible organizations, and are getting good coaching. On the other hand, I suppose you have to limit it if you want to keep is special. I go to races all over the country and constantly hear people taking about qualifying for Boston. It's a real point of honor for them. I think there is room for both kinds of runners in the marathon.

CR: Do you go to a lot of races? Is it your livelihood?

BR: Yes, that and the store. (He owns Bill Rodgers Running Center in Boston's Fanueil Hall.) I also represent Etonic and Running Times. I went to 29 races last year, but that's more than normal for me. I usually go to about 15 or 20. I guess since I turned 50, that's why I went to so many races.

CR: Tell us a little about your training schedule.

BR: I'm trying to up my mileage for the marathon to 85 to 90 a week, up from 65 to 70. I'll try to do some long runs, some 20-milers. Maybe a half dozen or so. I took a long break from hard training, since October or so, so I'm getting geared up again now.

CR: Do you have training partners? How much did you run today?

BR: Yea, there are a few accomplished marathon runners I train with around here (Sherborn, Massachusetts, his home). I did 11 this morning, maybe seven-minute pace or so. Maybe I'll go out and do another five later on. I'll see.

CR: Good luck in Boston!

BR: Thanks, I'm looking forward to it.

What he's aiming for - 50 to 54 Age Group Records:

American record at boston: 2:31:34, Norm Green
Overall course record: 2:27:17 Ryszard Marczak
American point to point record: 2:25:46 Jim O'Neil

Bill Rodgers' Boston Marathon record

* 1973 - did not finish 
* 1974 - 2:19:34, 14th 
* 1975 - 2:09:55, 1st 
* 1977 - did not finish 
* 1978 - 2:10:13, 1st 
* 1979 - 2:09:28, 1st 
* 1980 - 2:12:11, 1st 
* 1981 - 2:10:34, 3rd 
* 1982 - 2:12:38, 4th 
* 1983 - 2:11:59, 10th 
* 1986 - 2:13:36, 4th 
* 1987 - 2:18:18, 15th 
* 1988 - 2:18:17, 28th (2nd master)
* 1990 - 2:20:26, 31st (5th master)
* 1996 - 2:53:23 
 

 

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