Monday, April 8, 2013

Marathon Man by Bill Rodgers

Bill Rodgers has a new book out: Marathon Man: My 26.2-Mile Journey from Unknown Grad Student to the Top of the Running World written with Matthew Shepatin and it is a fun read. Bill was once the greatest runner on planet earth and his rise to running success is an often told story (I still have a copy of his 1982 autobiography Marathoning). I wasn't sure if this book would be a rehash of everything I have read before or something new. Well, this book had me hooked before the first chapter began with his humorous story about being a guest at the White House with President Jimmy Carter. I laughed out loud a couple of times and I could tell this would be a great book.

The book alternates between a retelling of his 1975 Boston Marathon triumph and his story of growing up and running through the years. In the first chapter, I learned not only who gave him his racing shoes, but also where he got his headband, and the t-shirt with the "Boston- GBTC" printed on it, as well as those white gardening gloves. A lot of the story is focused on Rodgers great 1975 Boston race as he slowly takes you along the course during the race in alternating chapters.

We learn about his close friendship with his brother Charlie and childhood friend Jason Kehoe. We also learn how Amby Burfoot, his college roommate and Boston Marathon champion himself  played such a critical role as his mentor, even though they were complete opposites in how they approached runner.
Jerome Drayton and Bill Rodgers
Bill Rodgers has always been a friendly person and this book is like a long conversation with him, except for a change he talks about himself. His voice comes through clearly in the retelling. I have met Bill many times and even ran about four miles of a marathon (Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene, NH) with him. He was the official starter of the race and caught up with me and another runner at about the 9th mile and we just shot the breeze until he pulled off at the 1/2 marathon point (it was just a workout for him and a dream come true for me).  His friendly nature and positive outlook comes through in the book, well that is except when he is in a race. Then he is a cold-blooded killer!

I spent all day Sunday reading the book (a sign that a book is a good read) and had a splendid time reading about the running boom years with Bill Rodgers. There was a lot going on with the politics of the time, the emergence of the running boom, amateurism versus the need for professionalism in sport, and learning to train properly. I think that if you want to know Bill's story for the first or even fifteenth time, this book will keep you interested. I enjoyed hearing his thought processes as he described his racing, his outlook on life, and although I knew the connection with Amby Burfoot, I like how he gives so much credit to Amby's mentoring and the the lineage that was passed on to him from Amby back to Amby's high school coach and 1957 Boston Marathon winner Johnny Kelley (the younger). Bill calls himself the last of the great New England road runners who came up running on the roads rather than on the track like most of the champions of today.

At times the book seemed a bit repetitive and it might need a little bit of editing to tighten it up. Too often we heard about Bill's ADHD or how he used to chase butterflies as a kid. There were a few mistakes too, that as a teacher seem to stick out to me. The text says that Frank Shorter asked for a plane ticket and $6,000 to race the 1975 Falmouth Road Race. I was puzzled about that,as I was one of the 800 people that ran that race, I had never heard that figure before particularly for a race that cost a couple dollars to enter. A couple pages later the price had been reduced to a more likely $600. The female champion of the 1975 Boston Marathon is listed correctly as Liane Winter and a page later is called Liane Miller. These things can be corrected (at least on the Kindle version that I read) and I wouldn't point them out except we had an author at school today and he said that a typesetter retypes the whole text of a book before it is published and they can sometimes make mistakes. I hope it was the typesetter and not the author's who overlooked these and a couple other smaller mistakes.

Other than that, it was a book I thoroughly enjoyed. It makes a great book to pair up with Cameron Stracher's soon to be released Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom as they cover similar events and people from a completely different point of view. Runners who don't know Bill's Story will get a glimpse into the times when running was looked upon as a strange endevour to pursue and the top runners lived in poverty to a few years later when Bill could sell millions of dollars worth of clothing in the first year of his clothing business for runners. Those who know Bill's story will enjoy his retelling on the failures and successes he had along the way to bringing running and marathons into the mainstream and the public consciousness in the late 1970s.

Here is some vintage video of Bill Rodgers closing in on the finish of the 1975 Boston Marathon. You can also see Steve Hoag (or Tom Howard) running with Tom Fleming as well as Ron Hill in his hand-made Union Jack shorts.

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