1980: Boycott, Marathon Best, Injury, and a Word to the Wise

“The futures so bright I gotta wear shades”

“I have no intention of competing in the trials or in any pseudo, bogus competition,” said Rodgers as he prepared to leave Florida for weekend races in Dublin, Ga. and Detroit before returning to Boston next Tuesday. “I’d rather run Boston. It’s more prestigious than whatever they put together as a one-shot competition.” Bill Rodgers.

After a third place finish in the National Cross Country meet in November of ‘79, my athletics career, which had been solidly progressing since my marathon debut at Boston in 1977, looked very bright indeed. My ultimate goal for the year was the Olympic Marathon trial which would be run in Buffalo NY in May. I went to the Skylon Marathon in the fall of 79 with friend and training partner Earl Fucillo to have a preview of the trials course. See Franklin Mint Almanac article “The long road to the games”.

I decided to spend January/February training in Florida. My college coach George Davis had arranged a base for me staying with his brother Bob and family in Tampa for a month. I would then move to Miami to spend another four to five weeks training with Tom Fleming, Kirk Pfeffer, Bill Rodgers and whoever else might turn up. There would also be a ten day trip to Japan in

February with Fleming and Randy Thomas who was training in New Zealand for the Ohme Hochi 30k road race.

I began the year with a 15k track race at Stanford Stadium set up by Runners World as part of a National Running Week of sponsored events. The race was setup as a run at the world record for Dick Quax of NZ. The race for me was a lark but I thought that I would run something respectable based on my fitness from the fall cross country season. Quax ran solo the whole way and missed Jos Hermans WR by five seconds running a NZ record 43:01.7. I ran with the pack most of the way before moving into second in the last mile only to be passed by Martti Kiilholma of Finland at the line. Kiilholma ran a new Finnish record time of 43:59.3. I was credited with an American Record 44:00.2 though Rodgers had run 43:36 previously it had not been ratified yet but eventually would be. It was a good start to the year.

The following week I drove from Massachusetts to Tampa Fla. Training went well though I had a heal injury (bone spur) giving me some problems. It was while in Tampa that news of a likely Olympic Boycott surfaced. I was honestly, devastated. My bubble had burst. One belief I have about athletics is that you only achieve at the highest level by having the loftiest of goals and knowing you can achieve them. My loftiest goal was to go to the Olympics and win the Boston Marathon and up until this time I fully intended to do so. Now I had my doubts and an injury at the end of the year left me with a different attitude. I had to mature but along with that I lost some of the recklessness that had helped me become a tough competitor.

I lost my focus for awhile. I ran Boston dropping out at 21 miles. I took some easy weeks and then slowly built up over the summer hoping to run a good time at the NIKE OTC Marathon in September. The summer went well and I began to get my groove back. I was excited to be running a race other than Boston which had been my only competitive experience with the marathon. I ran a personal best of 2:10:59 finishing second 12 seconds behind Quax.

The year ended on a sour note with a debilitating injury forcing me to drop plans to run at Fukuoka and reappraise my running career entirely.

A Fan’s Note

The following is the text of a letter I received while training in Tampa, Florida in January of 1980. Let’s just say I took this message under advisement and appreciated the writer’s concerns.

Dear Bob,

You don’t know me but I was standing next to you in the Eliot last April right after the Marathon. Everyone was having a good time and I asked somebody who you were and why all the fuss. I had never heard of you and the next day I read all about you and the great race you ran.

Bob, you are without a doubt a great talent and with proper training and good judgement you have a tremendous career ahead. I just want to tell you briefly that at age 46 with 19 years or funning behind me and many, many beers down the pipes, I am finally realizing that I have never reached my potential as a runner primarily because I thought I could combine running and beer drinking.

Now that I have stopped drinking altogether I find that I can work out harder and recover more quickly. I expect to surprise a lot of people this year in local races.

I met Nick Rose at the pre-race party before Springbank a few years ago-he was the defending champion-he finished poorly and I believe it was due to the fact that he consumed too many beers the night before.

I’m not in a position to tell you what to do. I just hope you’ll give it your best shot at the trials on May 24. To do that I believe you have to face the realities, as the enclosed article states. (BAD MIX: Sports and Spirits are a losing team).

Good Luck. Running through life, Jim Gerard

I am glad that Jim was not around to witness Hodgie’s drunkenness for rest of the week following the marathon I am neither proud nor ashamed of it; it just was.

Drinking will never make anyone a better athlete. If you are a drinker, WISE UP…and watch yourself.