New Zealand

New Zealand

In January of 1986 Franny and I moved from Wellesley to Hopkinton, Massachusetts. I had now lived in four of the six towns on the Boston Marathon route.

I was competing for the New Balance Track Club, coaching the women’s track and field, and cross-country, at U-Lowell, and contemplating my future beyond athletics. I did want to have one more go-round competing for a place on the Olympic Team in 1988.

My friend and running partner, Kevin Ryan, a fellow NBTC’er, set me up with a marathon race in February in Auckland, New Zealand (land of legendary coach Arthur Lydiard). New York City Marathon winner and Olympic bronze medalist in the 1500-meter, Rod Dixon, was one of the organizers. Kevin was also planning to run, and was talking about retiring from athletics. I was excited because from the beginnings of my own running, I had heard and read all about the “Flying Kiwis,” and had been both inspired by them and steeped in their methods.

The race was on the first of February, which gave me time to recover and prepare for Boston, which I also intended to run. I had not run a marathon since the fall of 1984. That was when I began to have serious hamstring problems, especially in the latter stages of marathons. I hoped to run somewhat conservatively. My goals were sub 2:15 and a podium finish, but also to keep the muscle problems at bay.

My training was going well, and I was adjusting to working in my old hometown of Lowell, being back in school, and coaching for the first time.

I travelled to New Zealand with Kevin, old friend Tom Fleming, Tom’s wife, Barbara, and their one-month old daughter, Margo. We stayed in Auckland and did most of our running in the Domain, a beautiful city park.

Pete Pfitzinger and his wife, Chrissie, lived on the edge of this park, and I also stayed with them for a few days after the race. Pete had agreed to pace the marathon’s first half in 1:05, and I hoped I would not find that pace too aggressive. I knew I had to hang with the pace, even if I preferred to be a minute slower, as I was getting a three-thousand-dollar appearance fee to run the race––plus any prize monies I might win.

Allan Zachariasen from Denmark, a 2:11:05 performer, would run, as well as two runners from Poland, one with a 2:13 best. There was a good local contingent of runners from New Zealand, too, all sub 2:20 performers.

The course was along the Auckland waterfront, flat and fast, out and back, with a finishing loop in a nearby park. It was nice being in a summer climate after the last few months of winter running back home. One day Kevin and I drove south to visit some New Balance shoe retailers, and stopped at a track for a workout. I was feeling good and did a two-mile time trial on Wednesday before the race, where Kevin suggested I run 9:20. I ran 9:02, splitting 4:22 and 4:40. 

“Bloody hell, Hodgie,” Kevin said, “what was that?” 

“Sorry mate, I just felt too darn good.”

Kevin took me to meet some of the New Zealand running legends, including his former coach Barry Magee, the 1960 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist. I had a blast

Race day came, and Pete went right out at the prescribed pace. All I had to do was sit back and hang on. On the press truck ahead of us was Dick Quax, 5,000-meter Olympic silver medalist, who had a microphone on a boom and was attempting to interview each of us as we ran! I wisely ignored him, but if I had spoken I might have said, “Well Dick, perhaps we can chat later. You see I am busy here with my good friend Pfitzy, thumping along at a 2:10 pace, and this Danish dude who has run 2:11:05, runs like a stallion, and has been on a tear lately.” We chatted later, and had a few laughs while watching the “Stupid Bowl” football game.

Around ten miles it was down to Allan, Pete, and me. Pete dropped at the half, which we reached in 1:05:22. I hung with Allan until about fifteen miles, and then dropped back. I felt okay, but lost my rhythm out there alone. Allan disappeared up the road.

I was in second place until late in the race when the Polish runner Beubiel went past and finished a few seconds ahead of me. I held together. I made the podium and some additional prize monies, so it was a good day. After, I got sloppy on New Zealand Steinlager and went to bed early. Not proud or ashamed, just could not keep up with the legendary locals.

After the race I had an entire week to stay in New Zealand before I headed home. One day Tom Fleming and I scoured used book stores, looking for copies of some of our favorite Lydiard and his disciple’s books. No Bugles No Drums, Clean Pair of Heals, Run to the Top, Flying Kiwis. We were not disappointed, and it became a competition to see who could secure the most copies at the cheapest prices. Of course, I had read these books many times and had copies of most of them, but some were out of print and much harder, if not impossible, to find in the pre-internet times we lived in. I sometimes lent my copies to other runners and often never got them back, so it would be good to have a supply for younger protégés.

A week after the marathon I met up with John Bowden, a New Zealand internationalist who had competed in the Commonwealth Games and World Cross-Country for his native land. John had agreed to run the famous Waiatarua route with me, made famous by Lydiard back in the 1960s, a proving ground for “Arthur’s Boy’s.” I knew John from his time in the United States, competing in road races. We had a moderately paced run, and it was a thrill to run this hallowed ground that had sparked my young runner’s imagination.

I stayed with Pete and his wife Chrissy, a New Zealand Internationalist middle distance specialist, most of the week and it was interesting, this domesticity. I was about to be married and was weaning myself from my vagabond runner’s life, and perhaps would have withdrawal symptoms, but not yet. Watching Pete mow the grass, etcetera, I realized we were at similar points in life. Perhaps our athletic careers would be over sooner than later and it really was time for a conventional life. Oh, the horror.

Before I headed home to Boston, Kevin and I had a meeting with the race sponsor where we would pick up our checks, very important. The meeting was tense, and I remember a comment that I, having a 2:10 best performance, didn’t live up to expectations. “Well missy, athletics don’t work that way.” Though she did have sort of a point, I knew I competed well.

We got our checks and then went to the bank. 

“Kev,” I said, “I can cash these checks back home.” 

Kevin laughed. “Hodgie, you may never be able to cash it back home. We ain’t taking a chance.” 

I walked out of there with four grand in cash. Next stop was to buy a money belt and stuff as much cash as I could into it, the rest going into my front pockets, which were bulging. I went through airport security with my shirttail out, shitting bricks. It was difficult to sleep on the plane, and I kept waking up to make sure I hadn’t been ripped off.

It was not uncommon for runners in those days to do the same runners on the European track circuit. There were many stories of runners “losing” money, stolen from hotel rooms or suit pockets.

I arrived back in Boston just after a huge snowstorm, my car parked at Kevin’s house in Wellesley. I had a VW Bug, and had told one of the guys living in the runner’s commune downstairs from Kevin that they could use my car if they needed to. Turned out no one could figure out the balky clutch. I shoveled the snow from my car, and hit the road home to Hopkinton.

Franny awaited me, I think hoping I would come home with a check. But I did one better, and came home with cold, hard cash.