What had I really lost? A race. That’s all. Nothing was stopping me from going back out and trying again. Nothing but my own fears and insecurities.
— Bill Rogers, “Marathon Man”
In 2013, I meet this wonderful runner named Jim Bailey. We were running a 10K in Coopers Rock State Forest, a hilly course I had only driven on.
I kept up with him for a good three miles until he decided we were going too slow and pulled away. I had gone out to fast and was fading anyway. I had trained but wasn’t prepared.
Every once in a while, my family and I would see Jim at another race. With his signature blue singlet and a hat, he was easy to recognize. And he was the most friendly runner I’ve met.
Then we moved, and I thought I’d never see Jim’s smiling face again.
Then in November 2015, I saw Jim again. He was a week away from his 73rd birthday and was up to 430-something in his goal of running 500 races.
After separating from Jim to take care of my running prep, I saw Jim talking with Bill Rodgers. I knew Rodgers was cool, but until recently I didn’t know how cool.
Rodgers was there to support his friend Hugh Stobbs, who organizes the Lois Stobbs Memorial Veteran’s 10K run. Rodgers was also selling and autographing copies of his book, “Marathon Man.”
I had a chance to talk to Rodgers before the race. The four time winner of both the Boston and New York City marathons was a runner in college, but really didn’t start getting serious about the sport until he was fired and he had a lot of time on his hands.
He was a natural runner, gifted at the getgo, but training with the right people, he became a legend of the running world.
One thing he said to me during our talk, which can also find in his book, is his believe that anyone can run. He or she just need to find his/her own race, and lay claim to it.
For Rodgers, it was the marathon. I think for me it’s the 10K.
He also said one of the keys to successful are to have a support team, someone to run with and share the experience with.
After what became my pep talk, the race began. The race is the last 6.2 miles of the Odgen Newspapers Classic Half Marathon, mostly National Road from Elm Grove into Wheeling, W.Va.
It’s a hilly course. It starts with rolling hills until you get to about 2.5 miles in and then you reach the first of the two big hills of the race.
Then, there are more rolling hills until you get to Wheeling Hill, a very step hill that lasts for about half mile. Then you hit a flat area before heading downhill to downtown.
At the finish, Rodgers announced people’s names as they crossed the finish line. He also talked about running and offered other tidbits about the course. He used to run the Ebly’s Distance Race, which followed a similar course.
Jim Bailey finished about a minute after I did. We congratulated each other and went our separate ways. I know we’ll meet again.
This was my first race since the Marine Corps Marathon, I went in seeking redemption. So, I ran without looking at the clock, I just ran because I could. I found my happy spot and just tried to push to the end. I set a new half marathon PR, 1 hour 4 minutes and 52 seconds. (Technically, I’ve gone below an hour but that’s three years ago, so it doesn’t count.)
I was happy and content. I did the best I could. I got my running mojo back.
After the race, there was a banquet with Rodgers as one of the speakers. But I had to go to work and was unable to attend.
A few months later, I picked up Rodger’s book at the library. It is full of inspiring awesomeness. He started his running with great runners like Jim Galloway (Galloway method of running) and Amby Burfoot (a Boston Marathon winner).
On his way to success, he trained with the likes of Alberto Salazar. Rodgers discusses the beginning of Title IX and how women weren’t allowed to race. He talks about athlete sponsorships, which weren’t allowed in the U.S. when he was a pro.
He sets up his story around one of his Boston Marathon wins. Through a series of flashbacks and flash forwards, he tells his tale almost seamlessly. It’s fluid, just like his running.
I really suggest you read “Marathon Man.” And if you ever have a chance to talk to Rodgers, do it.
Do you have any other running-related books I should read? Please share them in the comments.