Bill Rodgers is one of the most influential runners in history. His biography is an inspiring and fascinating glimpse into the life of a simple, but extraordinary distance runner. Rodgers won the Boston Marathon four times, the New York City Marathon four times, and became the number one marathoner in the world. He has been a tireless advocate for the sport for over 40 years, and is largely responsible for the running boom of the 1970’s and it’s continued popularity today.
Rodgers’ interest in the Boston Marathon was sparked in 1968 when his roommate from Wesleyan University, Amby Burfoot, won the fabled race. Amby was a role model and mentor for young Billy. Burfoot’s influence extended well beyond the collegiate years as Bill would often recall the wisdom of Amby’s words when developing training schedules and race strategies. The two have remained lifelong friends.
Rodgers’ account of his life after college is open and honest. He shares his reasons for becoming a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, and the resulting difficulties during that period of political unrest. He is forthright about his drinking and smoking, and the aimless lifestyle he embraced for a period of time before rediscovering his love of running.
His return to running is an amazing account of perseverance and willpower. Rodgers recounts his 150 plus miles per week running around a pond in the historic Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plains. He’d run around the same 1.5 mile loop again and again, enjoying the experience of being outside and in the moment, just as he did when he chased butterflies as a boy living in Newington, CT.
His first attempt at Boston was a DNF. In 1973, stepped off the course at the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” cramped, dehydrated, and humbled. In 1974, he ran again finishing the race in 14th place. However, he made a tactical error by running too fast in the beginning of the race and was unable to run as fast, or as well, as he’d hoped. Rodger’s was yet to appear on the radar of the sports media despite doing well in many local road races.
Finally, on April 25th 1975, Rodgers had the race of his life. He finished the Boston Marathon in a record time of 2:09:55. He was catapulted to fame and became known as the legendary “Boston Billy.” Rodgers won three more times in Boston and joined New England legends such as Clarence DeMar, Johnny “the Elder” Kelly, Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, Les Pawson, “Young” Johnny Kelley, and Amby Burfoot.
Rodgers represented the US in the 1976 Olympic Games, won the New York City Marathon four times, and competed in prestigious events all over the world. He opened the successful Bill Rodgers Running Center in Boston, inspired the creation of running clubs around the country, and helped spark the running boom of the 1970s.
Marathon Man reads like a who’s who of the running world in the 1970s and 80s. Rodgers shares many stories about teammates and competitors such as: Frank Shorter, Jeff Galloway, Amby Burfoot, Tom Fleming, Ron Hill, Lasse Viren, Alberto Salazar, Neil Cusack, Randy Thomas, Bob Hodge, Marty Liquori,Vin Fleming and Kirk Pfrangle and others.
I tore through the book and it was a great read. Rodgers put everything into his quest to be the best marathon runner in the world. As he said, part-time efforts lead to part-time results. But, beyond the crazy training and the record times there is a deeper message in this book that all of us can relate to: running is play. Enjoy the miles and take in the scenery along the way.