Thursday, February 5, 2009

Who's this 'running advisor' guy?!?

You may know me from my contributions to Phedippidations, The Extra Mile Podcast, and the Runners Roundtable, but if you have ever been inclined to heed my advice regarding periodization in training and running a little longer and slower to get faster (see Fdip #126), it seems only fitting at the onset of this blog that I fill you in a bit about who I am and how I collected what I know about this sport that has followed me for the majority of my life.

In 1977, I was the lead guitarist for the rock band, Aerosmith, when I came to the realization that .... um .... sorry. No. Not me. Only in my dreams. I was 11 at the time. Always wanted to do that, but I digress ....

I always remember my father running. He had joined the Boston Fire Department in 1970 following a career in electronics that had been doomed by President Nixon's initiative to build up California's silicon valley, taking jobs away from the greater Boston area. Consequently, my father, spurred by reading the book Aerobics by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, began running 1.5 mile laps around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir to keep fit for the rigors of firefighting.

By 1973, your six year old running advisor had successfully begged to join his father on the run, I think, as I recall, because I was quite enamoured with his all yellow adidas running shoes (some things never change!). I would struggle to finish one mile and a half loop with him, but I loved the camaraderie that I gained with my dad "'round the res", and I became amazed at flipping through my father's leather bound, self-styled running log, adding up the miles he had run over a month's time and beyond. Soon, I was presented with my own leather bound book of blank pages, and I commenced to filling the pages.

Winters of lessened activity led to springtimes focused on Little League baseball, but by 1978, the running bug had taken hold of my imagination. A series of seminal moments occurred to me in April of that year. On Monday, my family, as we did every Patriot's Day, had walked the three quarters of a mile from home to Commonwealth Ave. to cheer on the Boston Marathon. This year, a local man named Bill Rodgers held off a closing Jeff Wells to win this epic race for the second time. I remember watching him and the women's champion, Gayle Barron, being interviewed live on Good Morning America the next morning, and I was excited to see that they were being interviewed at the site of one of my dad's running loops that I joined him on, by the Brookline Reservoir.

Later that day (it was April school vacation week) I had Little League practice at the field at Cleveland Circle, complete with my wool "Giants" baseball uniform, my cleats, mitt, and bat in hand, when I decided to finally venture into the new store that had opened across the street from my baseball diamond. It was the Bill Rodgers Running Center, and sure enough, upon entry, amidst the slightly curious glares from the lean, athletic staff and comparably athletic band of customers assembled to buy new Nikes, Etonics, Tigers, and adidas shoes, was the champion himself - Bill Rodgers!

It must have taken me two long minutes to muster up the courage to approach this so recently wreathed king of the road, but I finally stepped towards him, awkwardly sputtering, "I saw you run yesterday -- good going!" he thanked me and, spotting my baseball gear that must had appeared to be a Halloween costume to those assembled there, replied, "how did your game go?" I shot back in nervous glee, "oh, um, we were just practicing today, but uh, I jog with my dad a lot and, um, can I have your autograph?"

He readily signed a brochure on hand in the store with his picture on it. I thanked him and departed immediately afterward. It was about a mile home from the store, and even in rubber cleated shoes, I ran the sidewalks all the way home. I don't think my feet spent much time on the ground for that run, and I'm sure my lungs tempered my joy with ample oxygen debt, but my new dream was, nonetheless, crystallized in that impromptu run down Chestnut Hill Avenue: I wanted to become a runner, and a fast one! I continued to play baseball that spring, making the All-Star Team at first base, but I also reopened my leather bound log, and this time, I had plenty to write inside of it. With my autographed brochure hanging in my bedroom as I dressed for each run, I lost 18 pounds over the summer school break, running nearly every day. By the autumn, my father suggested that we run a 7 mile road race together. The race would run over the legendary "Heartbreak Hill", and competing in the race would be non other than ... Bill Rodgers!

My organized baseball career was over.

NEXT TIME: Racing through the "Running Boom".


  1. Wow! You got started early, & with such great influences.

  2. I did start young, though I was 12 years old before I did any runs longer than 4 or 5 miles. My first 12 miler came over a year later. So it was miles run without any pressure -- my Dad was wonderful in how he would introduce me to a lot of activities, but he always let me decide if I would go back to it.

    Thanks, joyRuN!

    -- John E.

  3. Great start to your blog John. I look forward to reading your contributions. Perhaps just what I need to get re-inspired and continue learning this sport that I started late in life.

  4. Hi John! Great background story. I remember hearing a version of this on Fdip when you and Steve ran the course together one time. Such a wonderful story and with a classic cast of characters.

    I look forward to reading your blog! I always appriciate your advice. I am sure you don't remember but I met you last year at the running store the day before the marathon, it was very nice to meet you and you gave me some good advice about the course. I won't be running this year unfortunately, but I'm sure I'll be back someday.