The spirit of the Boston Marathon can’t be measured in a single day, even if that day is Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. Thus, the post-race celebration would always run over to at least the following day — though often much longer. And for many that would include a pilgrimage to the Bill Rodgers Running Center at Quincy Market in the shadow of Faneuil Hall where so much of the Revolutionary fervor had been stoked. Continue reading
Among its gentler parochialisms, Boston is called “The Hub”, or in full, “The Hub of the Universe” — a title conferred by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1858. While a tad presumptuous given the size and scope of at least one other five-borough burg 220 miles to the southwest, it is nonetheless rather less disputable that The Hub of the running universe in the decade from 1977 to 1986 existed at 372-A Chestnut Hill Avenue in Boston’s Cleveland Circle, the address of the original Bill Rodgers Running Center.
For those too young to remember, even after the Running Boom hit in the wake of Frank Shorter’s Olympic Marathon gold medal in Munich 1972, we still bought our running shoes at regular shoe stores or general sporting goods shops. Back then there were no such things as running specialty stores. I remember buying my first pair – I think they were $9.00 ProSpecs – at a little hole-in-the-wall shoe store on Harvard Avenue in Brighton, Mass. I was just quitting smoking, so I didn’t want to spend too much in case I didn’t like running.
But as one habit was exchanged for another, and the running wave continued to mount, Wesleyan grad Bill Rodgers appeared as a legitimate rival to ex-Yale Eli Shorter. And with that, the sport of foot racing surged into the mainstream of American culture and finally business, too. There was a booming new market to service. A generation which had once assembled for ‘sit-ins” during college was now meeting for fitness runs after work.
“Ready, Set, Sweat!” announced the cover of Time Magazine in the summer of 1977.
Following his victories in the Boston Marathon in 1975 & 1977, then the first two (of four straight) New York City Marathon titles – when the five-borough course was still brand new – “Boston Billy” led running into its coming of age. Thus, with his fame still budding, Bill and his older brother Charlie opened the first Bill Rodgers Running Center in the fall of 1977.
Cleveland Circle was an ideal location, on the western edge of the city, just one mile from the leafy Boston College campus, and terminus for the MBTA’s Green Line “C” trains. A bustling urban neighborhood, The Circle also happened to join the Boston Marathon route as it passed the 22-mile mark as the route turned onto Beacon Street for the final four mile stretch into town.
I had moved to Cleveland Circle in February of 1976, and by the following spring had begun Runner’s Digest, the first radio talk show devoted to the sport of running. When Bill and Charlie opened the store just two blocks from my apartment, it all but became my production studio. Continue reading
In loving memory of our dear friend, Jim “Jason” Kehoe, assistant manager of the Bill Rodgers Running Center, who passed away at his home in Hull, Massachusetts Sunday June 3, 2012 of natural causes at age 64. Jason worked at the store since it first opened in Cleveland Circle in the fall of 1977. Before that he had grown up with Bill & Charlie Rodgers in Newington, Connecticut where Jason was the miler on the Newington High School track team when Bill was the star two miler. With his piercing wit this wry purveyor of truth was an uncompromising contrarian who lived his life his way, the whole way.
The following was among his favorite elements of a life given to running.
With the great herd of college students having long since migrated, and many native Bostonians either down on the Cape, or up hugging some warm New Hampshire shore line, it was on weekends that the city sank deepest into its long summer torpor. Out in Cleveland Circle only the MBTA Green Line trolley cut through the sludge of the afternoon hours, its “C” branch trains pulling vacantly into their yard with the screech of forged wheels over curved rails, there to await their next run east down Beacon Street into town.
At the small running shop along Chestnut Hill Ave. another workweek was nearing its end.
“It’s brutal being polite to people all day,” remarked the assistant manager as he sat folded on the stairs between the store’s two levels. “In fact,” he concluded sardonically, “it’s not healthy. You’re not being honest.”
With elbows propped on knees, and palms cupping a long bearded face, the assistant manager wore his alienation as naturally as his mane of lank, sandy hair. Yet with each turn of the clock his psyche continued to sag, until like descent into Dante’s imagination he had transformed from a public servant into a private avenger in need of a cleansing purge. This was the price of retail, the slow captured grind.
At long last closing hour came and went, final customers ushered out. With heads low, but spirits rising, the crew filed out back behind the stockroom into their small, two-stall shower room. There they changed into their running gear before meeting out front to stretch anxious muscles in preparation for their weekly run to oblivion and back.
The Chestnut Hill Reservoir formed a natural barrier between the city’s hard surface and the leafy Boston College campus. Situated as it was just west of Cleveland Circle, the Rez had long been one of the area’s most popular running destinations with its two grand waterworks’ buildings posing like museums along the rim of its southern shore.
Many of the Saturday afternoon regulars would loop the one and three-quarter miles around the Rez as part of their daily routine. But on these late Saturday afternoon runs it was no more than a link in a much longer span, as this was more than just another training run. For most it took on the importance once reserved for religious observation, a service-at-speed to reawaken a deeply felt connection to a more visceral set of truths than could be found between the covers of a hymnal or hard upon the pew fronting any altar.
The first few miles out Beacon Street were for bringing systems to speed, monitoring past stresses, and initiating a rhythm. Minor key exchanges accompanied those minutes, nothing serious or threatening, certainly nothing to point to the coming savagery. That it would come was enough. To speak of it was to corrupt it, like ballplayers discussing an impending no-hitter. And so in the beginning, in the pregnancy of effort, with many miles before them shimmering in the distance, the pack remained little more than a moving meritocracy, poignant potentials of past strengths and weaknesses, each man a willing celebrant to the ritual’s paced liturgy ahead. Continue reading
Let me just say from the onset I have no agenda, nor any ax to grind. I seek neither credit nor blame for what exists, and profess neither infallibility nor rancor. And though I decry and bemoan like the rest, let it be known these are but the eyes of experience, nothing more.
When the first chill winds began to haunt the eaves of the Beacon Street turret, and ragged-edged leaves tumbled down the cracked gray sidewalks like passing fragments of thought, I’d walk the few blocks up to Cleveland Circle for my morning rounds. Inside Eagles Cafe I’d sit over a steaming cup of coffee and browse the morning Boston Globe as the Green Line trolley clattered toward town beneath the heavy, leaden clouds. Sitting there I knew that the Circle would soon be footed with mounds of snow, and that walking would be reduced to a single, slippery lane.
It was routine these seasons in New England, their turning, my adjustments and moods. But just as in my boyhood home in St. Louis, I never found in their rhythms the comfort, the true joys of winter – other than for them to be over. Sure, I enjoyed a good hunker every now and again (who doesn’t?) but in this, my adopted city of Boston, the fierce nor’easter storms would howl for days at a time, leaching precious cheer from the hearts of the people. Continue reading