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INTERVIEW: Bill Rodgers On Running Shelter Island, Post Race Traditions, His Journey To The Olympic Team, And More

Nicole Barylski

Bill Rodgers, former Olympian, four time NYC Marathon Winner and four time Boston Marathon winner, is running in this year's Shelter Island 10k/5k Run/Walk. (Courtesy Photo)

Touted as the "Most Scenic Course" by Runner's World Magazine, the Shelter Island 10k/5k Run/Walk, which will return for its 38th year on Saturday, June 17, has attracted many notable names in the running world. One of those Shelter Island 10K regulars is Bill Rodgers, former Olympian, four time NYC Marathon Winner and four time Boston Marathon winner, who we recently caught up with.

What sets the Shelter Island 10K apart?

BR: A lot of different things. 1. There's probably about 40,000 road races in America, but most of them are pretty new - the local races that are pretty new - they're the fundraisers. Some of them are older, but most of them are new. That's one thing - that it's an older race. Another is that it's sort of an old school type of race to me. I've been running races since '63. I have a feeling for these races, you know? Where there's a mixture of competition and camaraderie and fundraising and it's right at the town center of Shelter Island. It's got that small town feeling to it, which the Boston Marathon has at the start. That's really what our sport is based on - it's based on participation and the ease of access to this sport. Unlike a lot of sports, you don't need a certain number to be on a team and some sports are closed to women, relatively speaking, like football and baseball. This one is pretty equal participation and I sort of get the feeling like it's almost Fourth of July. There's a certain feeling to the race at that time of year, because we're getting close and long road races are cause for celebrations. That's why I like road racing and I love Shelter Island. It's got this feel to it that it's different, or you can race hard - as hard as you want. A runner like Meb Keflezighi, Joan Benoit Samuelson, the top runners for the past 40 years that have raced here and I salute Dr. Frank and Mary Ellen Adipietro and Cliff Clark, the founder of the race, because they kept it going. I know some races that were really big years ago and they've just disappeared or there wasn't a leader to keep it going and it died off. I think every city and town should have their big race. Shelter Island is THE race, and the way you finish, it's just you're running on this beautiful place. That's one thing that I love about our sport and we run everywhere but I think the run to the countryside and by the ocean is an extra draw because a lot of races are just in the city. Concrete, no trees, no nothing. I ran races like that all my career but I would still rather run a race that has a cross country type feel to it. The way you finish on the ballfield - and you can see the finish on the other side of the field - that's a lot of it.

Rodgers prefers a race that has a cross country type feel to it. (Courtesy Photo)

What initially attracted you to running?

BR: When I was in 10th grade, in the gym class mile, I was the fastest kid in the school. So they were starting cross country in our school, and I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, but after age seven grew up in Newington - a suburb just outside of Hartford, and my brother and best friend, who was like a third brother, they were starting cross-country. At the time, in '63, there was no girls' cross country hardly anywhere so it was a very small team, and you needed five runners to score. Sometimes we couldn't get that. We had a very good coach - he didn't push us too hard. It was just low-key and fun and I did well at it so I think I just found what I loved. It's not a sport that is big, generally speaking, with the national media - that's football and baseball and basketball - but globally, all over the world, this sport is just booming. Every major city in the world has a road race with 30,000 people running. Over the last 40 to 50 years the running boom has just kept growing and growing. If you can stay steady and make your race fun and interesting for people, they'll keep coming back. When I saw Shelter Island, I said, "This is so different!" You have to take a ferry to get there and the beauty of the Island and I got to know Dr. Frank, who's a very serious runner, but I think you need someone like that. Not that they're necessarily serious about racing, he's a marathoner and everything, and they've got their son. I think when you have kids you have an extra feeling about doing something within the sports world and your community and I think that's what Mary Ellen and Dr. Frank are doing.

Then you've got your celebration, because for runners it's not just about the race. We go to the big picnic type event with music later on. That's just our sport. I think there's no end in sight.

And the SI 10K in particular has quite the post race celebration.

BR: Yes, I've been to that quite a few times. It's fun! You're hungry then after the race, you have a beer or two and you celebrate with your friends. That's our sport in a nutshell. So you've got a great tradition in Shelter Island.

Has your marathon preparation changed over the years?

BR: I started running cross country in track, and I only ran one road race in high school, a Thanksgiving Day road race in Manchester, Connecticut. In college I ran a few more, but I didn't really like the sport at first because road races seemed to be in the heat of the summer, which is really the hardest time to run. It took me awhile to get used to that and learn to train and prepare for these races and dress right. Get shoes that you really like and feel you can run well in. Maybe join a running team - that sort of thing. I became a marathoner when I moved to Boston around '71 and saw the Boston Marathon. My college teammate had won Boston in '68, but I had no idea what the marathon really was like - the feeling of it, the intensity of the crowds in Boston and along the way - until I moved there and thought holy cow this is incredible!

Rodgers began participating in road races in high school. (Courtesy Photo)

You've had quite an impressive career, is there a moment that stands out?

BR: Yes, winning Boston in '75 was a game changer in a way. The month before that I had won a bronze medal in the World Cross Country Championships, so those sorts of things then set me up in '76 to try for our Olympic team, and I did make that. So I think a lot of our sport is finding a way into it and finding a distance you like. For me, I was better at a marathon than say a 5K or 1 mile. So you have to explore the sport. But, this is a sport for everybody. It's for the kids, it's for the old timers, and I just think it's priceless because it's also the health and fitness sport. And that's also walking included, of course. So everyone takes part in it, one way or another. If you don't walk or run, you cheer on the runners or give them water or something like that or help with the fundraising.

I'm really looking forward to it, but I wish just once, I could beat Joan Benoit Samuelson.

The race starts promptly at 5:30 p.m., rain or shine, on Saturday, June 17. The entry fee for the 10K is $40 in advance and $50 the day of race. The entry fee for the 5K is $30 in advance and $40 the day of race. Kids under 14 are $15 and Veterans are free with proper ID. Registration closes at 4 p.m. the day of the race. Awards will be given for winners in the 10K, 5K run and 5K walk, a full list of prizes can be found online.

The 38th Annual Shelter Island 10k/5k Run/Walk will start at 33 North Ferry Road on Shelter Island. For more information call 631-774-9499 or visit www.shelterislandrun.com

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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