The Boston Marathon, which is set for April 15, has not had an American winner since 1983. But from 1973 to 1983, American runners dominated the competition, winning eight of 11 races. Bill Rodgers claimed four of those titles, finishing on top in 1975, 1978, 1979, and 1980.
In a new book Marathon Man: My 26.2-Mile Journey from Unknown Grad Student to the Top of the Running World, Rodgers and co-author Matthew Shepatin detail the runner’s first Boston Marathon victory.
Bill Rodgers won the Boston Marathon four times. As if to prove he didn’t need a home-field advantage, he also won the New York Marathon four times. His first Boston win in 1975 earned him invitations to run in all sorts of other places, and he frequently won there, too, but much of the focus of this book is on the race in Boston and what Bill Rodgers came to mean to it, and to its history. Beyond that, it is a celebration of the camaraderie Rodgers found in running and what the sport came to represent for lots of Americans, many of whom Rodgers inspired to run.
Some of what’s in Marathon Man is quietly wise. A passage about group runs begins with the assertion that “running meant everything to us. It sustained us like oxygen,” and ends with this deceptively simple sentence: “It mattered because we believed it mattered.”
“Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” said Hamlet. Sounded pretty good then, sounds pretty good now.
Other portions of the book slide under the hyperbole detector, such as when Rodgers and Shepatin attempt to assess the significance of Frank Shorter’s gold medal in the marathon at the ’72 Olympics. “Shorter’s stunning triumph was a bolt of lightning, a call to action, a game changer,” they write, and that might have been okay, except that they also contend that “his win triggered a mass soul awakening.” Yikes.
Bill Rodgers was a spectacularly successful marathoner. For a time, as he says, “the most popular marathoner in the world.” His story as it’s told in Marathon Man will delight his fans, who number many in Boston and beyond, even 38 years after he first won the race which, for a time, he seemed to own.