Our breath emerged in lung-heated plumes, our footfalls as soft crunches muted by freshly fallen snow. January 6, 1982, out on a 10 mile run with Bill Rodgers, long-time king of the American roads.
From his eponymous store in Boston’s Cleveland Circle to Jamaica Pond, around and back was perhaps the training loop Bill had run more often than any other in his career. I’m sure he could well have run it blind-folded, such was the comfort and familiarity of those now-wintered miles.
Pleased to be back into routine following the holidays, Bill admitted to getting in four solid 120 — 140 mile weeks of training through December, including a couple sharpening track workouts as he prepped for the following weekend’s Orange Bowl 10K in Florida. As it turned out Bill would run his road PR of 28:15 in Miami behind Alberto Salazar (28:03) and Greg Meyer (28:09).
While lapping the 1.5 miles of Jamaica Pond three times, Bill and I fell into our traditional roles, me peppering him with questions, and he as the modest responder. As always, I carried a cassette recorder to tape our conversation for a later broadcast on my Runner’s Digest radio show. With the crunch of our footfalls as a backdrop, I asked what had he learned in 1981, given that it was the first year in seven years that he hadn’t won either the Boston or New York City Marathons.
“Even though I didn’t win Boston and didn’t even run New York City, I was pleased overall with my year,” Bill said amidst the easy pace. “I got third at Boston in 2:10, but I began my season a lot earlier than in the past. I ran Houston in January and Tokyo after that. So by the time I reached the end of the year, I learned that I can’t run 35 races a year anymore.”
Imagine one of today’s top marathoners running 35 road races in a calendar year? Times were different, and runners like Bill were still in the blossoming stages of the money era in running, anxious to take full advantage of even modest opportunities.
I bring up my old run with Bill because these past two days I’ve been in Chicago attending a Running USA Board of Directors meeting, and I wanted to know from someone who had to fend totally for himself as a runner what an organization like RUSA might be able to do for today’s athletes? Continue reading