Long before the time of Gatorade, GU or GPS watches, Bill Rodgers set a 2:09:55 American record at the Boston Marathon. There were no clocks or traffic control for his 1975 victory and medals were awarded only to the top three runners.
“You didn’t see lots of couples or families showing up to races,” the legendary long-distance runner reminisced in his new book-meets-memoir, Marathon Man, which he co-authored with Matthew Shepatin. “I didn’t know any running couples, and to see a woman runner was shocking. Some would think: Oh, good grief, there’s a woman runner. My attitude was: Good going!”
Running as both a sport and culture has made drastic strides over the past few decades—something I rarely considered before reading the 26.2-mile journey of the infamous “Boston Billy." The book's chapters alternate between play-by-plays from his first big victory and life prior to the momentous moment in history, as he falls in, out and back in love with running.
The pavement-pounding passion that burns within so many of us used to be quite the enigma "for freaks and fairies," although seemingly simpler. Perhaps that ease was just the spirit Bill conveyed despite his quick pace. With each turning page, I craved the same sweat and pain that comes with training territory, but it was Bill’s natural, liberating take and mindset—something no gadget could ever provide—that I found truly moving.
“Running wasn’t an escape from life; rather it was an embrace of it,” Bill explained. “As I bounded along the park trail, I wasn’t sailing around in chaos. I was charging forward with purpose.” For Bill, rising to the top of the running world wasn't about the fame or a collection of tech tees (well, those didn't even exist yet!). It was a sense of freedom he couldn't experience anywhere else.
Road races before the late 70s running boom were nuts and bolts affairs, a morale-boosting medicine that wasn’t so much about the time, but a hunt for the win. Bill sported ensembles from dumpster dives (stiff jeans in the colder months—yikes!) and hydrated with an old shampoo bottle. He ran the same way he did as a kid catching butterflies in the fields of Connecticut, even stopping to tie his shoes with six miles to go before winning the Holy Grail of marathons.
Yes, we now know a lot more in respect to the athletic do’s and don’ts, something we here at FITNESS love to keep you all up on. But if this invaluable book taught me anything, it’s to lace up my sneaks without much of a thought and simply enjoy the ride. Who knows, maybe I’ll leave my pop playlist behind, turning to the birds and sound of my own breath to pace my stride. This book is more than a good read. It’s my new Bible. Pages are folded, quotes are highlighted and it will be a go-to gift for my fellow running pals. You learn through Bill's mistakes, defeats and triumphs, cheering him along as if the historical race is live. I won’t be fueling up on ketchup-smeared brownies anytime soon—sorry, Bill, that’s a little much—but I will pour myself full force into what Bill often referred to as his "channel." His perseverance sparked a fire under my tread that lead to a race-filled summer. Who knows, maybe I'll even go for the full 26.2 soon, too.
Now you tell us: Where do you find your run-spiration?