Bill Rodgers, a former Olympian, four time NYC Marathon Winner and four time Boston Marathon winner, is returning to the East End to participate in the 39th Annual Shelter Island 10K/5K run/walk on Saturday, June 16.
We caught up with Rodgers to learn more about the allure of Shelter Island, some of his fondest memories from past years, advice for those interested in getting into running, and more.
You’re once again running in the Shelter Island 10K. What brings you back year after year?
BR: I’ve known Dr. Frank and Mary Ellen Adipietro, who is the race director, for a number of years now. It might be my 6th time racing Shelter Island and I liked it from the get-go. It’s really got a lot of unique qualities – that it’s kind of an out in the “country” type of race. So many road races today are in the city and I like the fact that it’s much more scenic and beautiful and you can run on the grass. I like the whole feel to the race. It’s kind of low-key in a certain way, but yet the course is a pretty fast course and it’s funny – a number of my friends, like Joan Benoit Samuelson, have run it a number of times. She’s coming back. My girlfriend’s going to run it this year – she’s never run it before. I think it’s a kind of race that once you do it, you want to do this race again. It’s not an ordinary road race.
Now the last time we spoke you had joked that just once you wished you could beat Joan Benoit Samuelson, another Shelter Island 10K regular. Make any headway on that goal?
BR: No… I’d have to go back in time. That’s the only way I’m going to beat her, I think. We all run our own race and you just have to do the best you can, run steady, and then we celebrate – because nobody celebrates like a runner. But also walkers too, because these sports are the type that are open to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your age is. It’s just finding the shoes that you like and maybe go with a friend because it’s easiest with a friend – or walk the race with a friend. You share your water – that sort of thing. So, this sport – and I think Shelter Island has everything – it’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot of high level racing, but we all celebrate once we come onto that field in the end. I’m always looking forward to that field.
What does your post-race celebration include?
BR: It’s more you just kind of check yourself out, see how you did, if you feel you ran a good race, didn’t run up to what you were hoping to run. I try to see if I could win my age group because that’s such a big part of our sport -it’s for all ages, but I like to go over and get some of the food or drinks and go over to the post-race party – which is really fun, down by the beach. Then get some good food there, maybe a beer and just celebrate, spend some time with your friends. It’s a very simple sport, but it’s great fun and I hope the numbers will keep climbing for this race. It’s an old race – now in its 39th year. It’s got some great history to it and I know a lot of the top runners like Meb Keflezighi have run it and the history goes way, way back. I’m really looking forward to it.
What are some of your fondest memories from previous years?
BR: Two years ago I ran with my old college roommate – who is also a Boston Marathon champion. He was kind of my mentor in college and he’s a couple of years old than me, Andy Burfoot, he took Boston in ’68. I wasn’t a marathoner at the time, but I watched him and saw how he tried, and he and George Hirsh, the former publisher of Runners World, came into the race and Andy had never done it before. I also ran with Andy’s brother, Gary, and I hadn’t run with Gary since our high school days in Connecticut. So it was just like going back in time. 50 years later we’re still running, still having fun. It was also fun because those folks and Joan Benoit Samuelson and I did the radio show with Dr. Frank and we talked about the sport and met some of the young runners from the Island and the coaches.
For those interested in getting into running, what advice would you offer?
BR: It’s a very simple sport, but the key is the shoes. Make sure your shoes are not too small. I made that mistake this past year and actually got achilles tendonitis for three months, I couldn’t run much – I just swam. So go to a running store and check out the shoes that you like, lace them up, get some gear you really like. Don’t wear a t-shirt in the race. T-shirts just hold the heat and the perspiration against your body. You want running gear that is “breathable” and very light and feels comfortable – and, check out the course beforehand if you can. It’s a downhill start from the center of town there and so that helps a lot, too. But, the main thing is that you have fun with it. If you explore the sport, and find out what distance you like best than you’re going to keep going just like Joan and I have done.
Any other upcoming races you’ll be attending?
BR: I usually go to 30 or 40 a year, but I don’t race them all. I just can’t. I’m not a marathoner anymore – my longest race is about a half marathon and I don’t even have any of those planned this year. I’m going to the Bellin Run, which I won in ’78. It’s a big race, a 10K, around 15,000 runners and Joan also runs that. She’s won that as well. I’m also racing in Rutland, Vermont. That’s the Crowley Brothers 10K. I’ll go to events like the New York City Marathon, go to the Expo. I was at the Indy Half in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. So racing is a national and international sport, but the races that mean the most are the ones in your hometown. If you’re from Shelter Island, this is your race. And even if you’re not running, come on out and cheer for the runners or give them water. There is really that participation on Shelter Island and I love that – I love everything about the race.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
BR: I want to thank the Shelter Island organizers for bringing me back and I’m looking forward to celebrating with all the runners and walkers.
For more information, visit www.shelterislandrun.com.