Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bill Rodgers Running Center School of Running

In November of 1977, the Bill Rodgers Running Center, one of the first running specialty stores in the nation, opened its doors for business. Located on the Boston Marathon course in the 23rd mile at Cleveland Circle, its existence primarily became a means to keep Bill Rodgers from having to continue working as a full time special needs teacher. From now on, Bill could, in essence, become a full-time professional runner, with the 1980 Olympic Marathon in Moscow on the horizon.

The benefits of self employment for Bill became apparent the following April, when Bill won the Boston Marathon for the second time (pictured above) wearing the logo for his store across his chest.

As luck would have it, I played for the Giants of the Brighton East Little League. We were the best team in the league, and I was proud to make three all-star teams, at first base and at catcher. Most kids made only two teams if they were good, so I was proud of my consistent play on the diamond ... a diamond located directly across the street from the new store on the block, the Bill Rodgers Running Center.

As mentioned previously, I first ventured into the store to meet Bill in my Little League uniform, but as the months and years went by, I began to show up a lot more often, and the only athletic gear I ever brought again was to be my running shoes and clothing. In fact, I 'd save my money from the after-school dog-walking jobs I had (remember I was 12-14 years old!) to pay for my own running shoes from there. I paid $42.95 in 1980 for a pair of adidas Marathon Trainers that I know, from the log I kept, got me safely through over 1,100 miles of running! You do what you can with what you got, y'know?

I had become friendly with the store's co-owner and manager, Charlie Rodgers (Bill's brother) and most of the staff, including Jason Kehoe, Gene Caso, Dave Dial, and Jimmy "the hat" Henry, to the point where over the next few years, I was asked if I had wanted to come by the store for the Saturday night run after 5 O'clock.

This was tantamount to a call to battle. I knew the staff schedule by this time: everyone took a break for an hour or two in the middle of the day during the week, one person at a time, and that time was for training. On Saturdays, however, the store hours were 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the store was just too busy at week's end for anyone to take a long enough break to go running. It was the weekly retail long run, a mental challenge at times to remain friendly and informative amidst a populous that invariably included the impossibly neurotic. By the time the last customer departed and the door was locked, what was left was a room full of retail wearied runners who hadn't had a chance to do the one thing they did best, which was to run ... hard and fast!

Add a small number of friends, such as I came to be, who had not worked all day there (yet!) and all of the elements for combustion were set. It came to be known as the "Hate Run", a weekly 10 to 12 mile purge of accumulated aggression among the regular band of merry warriors, fighting to defeat the rage within each of them. Therefore, the run was not a test of the fastest over the ordained distance, rather, it was a test of the who could suffer most victoriously. Over any set route there were several places where it had been agreed that everyone would gather together, just to start together again. These were usually water fountains in a park or at a fire station along the way. Consequently, a 10 mile run was, in reality, 3x 3 miles with short rest interval breaks. It was a great run to get in shape, and a better way to release enough aggression to be made compatible with society again upon conclusion of the run, which is often just what happened over the Saturday night that followed.

By the spring of 1982, I suppose Charlie realized that as long as I was going to be around so much, then he might as well hire me, and so he did. Over the years, I have worked at the store full time, part-time, or just some of the time, but I have remained connected to the store since. Though the store has gone through some changes and some relocations, it remains a living museum of running history, expertise and knowledge, located at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in downtown Boston. If you're in the area, stop by -- you'll love it! You can also check out the store online at .

Through the Bill Rodgers Running Center, I have had a chance to run with and pick the brains of some incredible running minds, from the late, great Andy Palmer, to Boston Marathon legends Greg Meyer and Patti (Catalano) Dillon, to two time Olympian and exercise physiologist Pete Pfitzinger (he lived upstairs from the store once!)and, of course, Bill Rodgers himself. Furthermore, through the store I have become friendly with coaching legend Bill Squires, and I was lucky enough to have been coached for years by coach Fred Treseler, who is at least as good a person as he is a coach.

Cumulatively, I have been very fortunate to have lived in a place and at a time of such great American distance running, so much of it occurring from the hub that was the Bill Rodgers Running Center, a place almost literally in my backyard growing up. I learned by example, by oral tradition, and by the experiment of one that my own running became. I want you to know where I came from now, so as we venture forth together this year with my attempt to return to the marathon, you'll be familiar both with my theory, and with the spirits that I'll be running with.

NEXT TIME: Phoenix rising?
Also check out this story from my old friend, Dave "Elwood" Dial:

1 comment:

  1. 1000 miles in one pair of trainers!! Blasphemy, at least for those of us with a serious shoe fetish. Great to understand your history with running, John, from my ignorance starting relatively late in life.