MARATHON MAN 👍
By Bill Rodgers, Matthew Shepatin
336 pp. Thomas Dunne Books. $28.99.
“In order to win the race, sometimes you have to go a little berserk.” Perhaps you’re familiar with this phrase? It’s source is “Marathon Man”. This top tier run-based book, written by Bill Rodgers and Matthew Shepatin, checks all the boxes. Many similar books struggle with describing the achievements of it’s author (or subject) while keeping said person’s ego in check. Not so here. Rodgers is a humble pleasure. The period prior to Rodgers’ running glory consists mostly of episodes of the average youth and you may very well relate (albeit, in his childhood, his running prowess is clear). However, when the time comes to turn the page, to leverage the natural talent he’s been gifted, Rodgers flips the switch and his focus becomes fully engaged. Many of the book’s chapters are split between his passing miles in the 1975 Boston Marathon and his coming of age. For both his running and personal life, Rodgers shares his peaks and valleys.
Much of Rodgers’ notable life experiences are touched by his older brother, Charlie, and friend Jason Kehoe. The “three musketeers” grew up together. Prior to the start of the 1975 Boston Marathon. Charlie dashes to the local hardware store and returns with gardening gloves for Rodgers’ pre race frozen fingers (later, as the day warmed, Rodgers refused to part with the gloves). After college, all three were granted conscientious objector status to the Vietnam war, requiring them to find work that (in some way) contributed to the interests of the nation. As two young adults trying to establish themselves in Boston with questionable success, Kehoe and Rodgers further bonded during this time. His running greatness not yet realized, it’s easy to relate to Rodgers’ young adult years. Much later, the three manage the “Bill Rodgers Running Center” store in the Cleveland Circle locale.
As stated previously, Rodgers’ background interjects as the 1975 Boston race unfolds. Regarding those 26.2 miles, “Marathon Man” reads as if Rodgers is taking you along for the ride. It’s enthralling. Each passing mile more fascinating than the last. Notably, “Marathon Man” makes it’s clear Amby Burfoot has endeared himself to Rodgers. While both attended Wesleyan college, Burfoot takes the younger Rodgers under his wing, advocating him to embrace his running talent. Rodgers wins 1975 Boston (2:09:55). Burfoot, the 1968 Boston winner, ran it in 1975 as well, in 2:21:20. In doing so he actually bested his 1968 winning time. Burfoot credits his 1975 time with his desire to reach the finish as quickly as possible in order to better experience Rodgers’ victory.
Personally, a re-occurring thinking point was that Rodgers could have produced 2 books here. First, the coming of age/1975 Boston Marathon thread. Second, the non-Boston running experiences (also included in “Marathon Man”) are just as enjoyable and there’s no shortage. Four New York City Marathon victories. His battles with running great Frank Shorter. Racing the Fukuoka Marathon. Running the Silver Lake Dodge 30K in “ratty jeans” (and finishing 3rd). Rodgers’ impact on both the Greater Boston Track Club and the infamous Falmouth Road Race. Winning the bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Morocco (only the second American man to ever medal at the World XCs). His Olympic accomplishments. Joyfully, “Marathon Man” contains so much, the list seemingly endless.
Constructive criticism? Rodgers chasing butterflies in fields is a popular talking point. Literally. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher. It does seem to encapsulate his general life perspective. Not in an aloof or distracted way. More so easy-going, and embracing a sense of bliss. Rodgers’ vantage is one of good health and, fortunately, can be contagious.
For balancing his running with a 9-to-5 job, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion Yuki Kawauchi has been referred to as “citizen runner”. Think of Bill Rodgers as “everyman runner”. While driving to countless New England road races he purposely takes side roads to avoid the Massachusetts Turnpike due to his inability to pay the tolls (in Rodgers’ heyday, instead of cash, race winners were awarded a blender, or a table, tires, a bike, etc.). He’s experienced two divorces. Also, Rodgers discloses he finished his last running of the Boston Marathon (2009) in 4:06. Of course, his history is filled with overwhelming greatness but, at times, it can also be plainly average. For this, Rodgers is so very relatable and embracing.
#DidYouKnow courtesy “Marathon Man”: In the 1907 Boston Marathon, near the Framingham train station, Canadian Tom Longboat was forced to leap through the open door of a passing train, and out the other side, in order to keep up with the lead pack of runners. The train severed the pack from the remaining runners. Longboat eventually won.