Bill Rodgers knows marathons. In the 1970s and early 1980s, no other runner dominated the sport as he did. He won both the Boston and New York City races four times and became the first American marathoner to break the 2:10 mark. These days, Rodgers, 65, is still running (it’s half-marathons these days)and still spreading running’s good word to the rest of us. “It’s amazing,” he says. “It makes you stronger, and because you’ll feel better, you’ll have more energy. Other than meeting the love of your life, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself.”
The Right Shoes
By his own account, Rodgers says he’s logged more than 165,000 miles. He’s avoided big injuries in part because he’s been selective about the shoes he wears. For new runners, Rodgers advocates bypassing the big-box stores and seeking out a specialized running shop, where they’ll take the time to fit you to the right sneaker. “Think of yourself as a professional runner,” he advises. “Get the right shoes and you’ll be less likely to drop out of a race.”
Find Your Pace
In 1973 Rodgers ran his first marathon. It was Boston, and he ended up dropping out before the finish line just as he reached the top of Heartbreak Hill. “I didn’t know how to pace myself, and that’s huge,” he says. Finding that pace can be as simple as going to a local high-school track and timing a four-lap run. “You want to be one of those runners who can succeed and not be in the medical tent after the race,” he says.
Whenever possible, Rodgers says, seek out training routes that don’t exclusively relegate you to the pavement. His advice: Run on dirt and grass as much as possible. Your legs and your knees will be thankful for it. “The hard thing about running is that you lift your body up and then you come down–bam!” he explains. “The force is two and a half times your body weight. That’s a lot of impact.”
Run with Friends
Rodgers is a big fan of making running a group activity. “When you’re running with somebody, you’re talking, you’re turning off those negative comments, you’re more likely to get out there,” he says. Running groups are a great option. They let you bond with other runners, and newcomers to the sport will gain valuable information from experienced members.
Don’t limit your training to just running. Cycling and swimming are great, as is anything that can strengthen your core. Back when he was running competitively, Rodgers typically mixed in sets of jumping jacks and rounds of 50 sit-ups after each run. Lifting weights is another option. “You don’t have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger or the NFL,” Rodgers notes. “But if you can do some, you’ll become a pretty good athlete.”
If you’re running long distances, you need to make complex carbohydrates–breads, potatoes, rice, and vegetables–part of your diet. Rodgers’ favorite pre-race food came from his mother’s kitchen: macaroni and cheese. “I loved it, and my mom made a mean mac-and-cheese.”
The work of a marathoner doesn’t finish when he or she crosses the finish line. Rodgers says that in the days after the race it’s important not only to stay hydrated but to keep your body engaged. Go for a swim, get a deep-tissue massage, maybe even try a light run. Just don’t overdo it. “After the race you’re vulnerable; that’s when you’re most likely to get injured,” he says. Most of all, take pride in your accomplishment: “Go out for dinner, go on vacation–celebrate what you just did.”