The Gary Cohen Interview

Bob Hodge — July, 2020
Bob Hodge was one of the top ten U.S. marathon runners for ten years from 1979 to 1988. He finished third in the 1979 Boston Marathon and seventh in the 1988 Olympic Trials Marathon. Bob raced his personal best marathon of 2:10:59 at the 1980 Nike-OTC Marathon, finishing in second place, seven seconds behind Dick Quax. He raced strong in Japan in 1982, winning the Beppu Marathon and finishing fifth at the Fukuoka Marathon. Bob represented the United States at the 1982 USA-USSR dual meet in Indianapolis and the 1987 World Cross Country Championships in Warsaw, Poland. Hodgie’s strong road races include wins at the 1979 Bay-to-Breakers and 1980 Jacksonville River Run, second at the 1979 City to Surf 12k in Sydney, Australia, third at 1979 AAU cross country, and fourth at Falmouth in 1980. Bob won the Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire seven times including five straight from 1976 to 1980 and in 1985 and 1987. At Lowell University, Bob was 1976 NCAA DIII Cross Country runner up and All-American at 1976 NCAA DI Cross Country Nationals. He graduated from Lowell High School (Massachusetts) in 1973 where highlights included four State Championships including the Class A two-mile indoors and outdoors his junior and senior years while finishing seventh and fourth at the State Cross Country Championships. His personal best times include: Mile – 4:08.7; 3,000m – 8:04.0; 2-Mile – 8:48.5; 5,000m – 13:54.0; 10,000m – 28:24.6; 15k – 44:19; 10-Mile – 48:02; 20k – 1:00:44; Half Marathon – 1:04:06; 25k – 1:21:35; 30k – 1:35:59 and Marathon – 2:10:59. Bob published ‘Tale of the Times: A Runner’s Story’ in 2020. He resides in Clinton, Massachusetts with his wife, Frances, of 36 years. Bob was extremely generous with his time as he spent over two hours answering questions for in 2020.
GCR:The period from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s was a time of tremendous growth in men’s competitive marathon racing in the United States. What was it like for you when you were one of the top ten U.S. marathoners for several years and what was the impetus that ramped up your training and racing?
BHI ran my first marathon when I was twenty-one. It was in 1977 and was the Boston Marathon. In high school from my sophomore year on, I knew Pat McMahon, an Irish Olympian in the marathon and European champion who was a junior high school teacher in Lowell. My coach invited him to run with us. I had seen his Boston marathon race, which was the closest Boston Marathon finish to that day when he finished second in 1971 to Alvaro Meija from Colombia. That was my first exposure to marathon running. I had a checkered running career in college, as you learned from my book. I got into open running with the Greater Boston Track Club when I was just gradating age from high school. So, I went to the marathon right away and it was a tough one. I ran 2:28 at Boston and finished 46th. It was a credible run. I was hoping for top ten which was maybe a bit ambitious in my first marathon. It wasn’t a total disaster, but I kind of felt that way because I had higher expectations. Then I didn’t come back and run Boston for two years and in my second one I went from 2:28 to 2:12. Suddenly, in 1979 I’m running 2:12 and ranked number seven in the country in the marathon. We had the Olympic Trials coming up the following year so, at that point, I kind of dedicated myself to try to make that team.
GCR:You spoke briefly about the Greater Boston Track Club and you did have the opportunity to train with a half dozen to a dozen of the top U.S. marathon runners and to room with several of them. What was it like being ‘one of the guys’ with this elite group of athletes and to receive coaching from Jack McDonald and Bill Squires?
BHThings really fell into place for me. The club was kind of a loose group of athletes. It wasn’t as structured as some of the training groups today. It was my good fortune to meet Bill Rodgers in 1973 at a race in Manchester, Connecticut. He was still an up and coming runner. He lived in Boston and hadn’t done much in the world of running at that point. Two years later, to watch him win the Boston Marathon in an American Record was something else. I had been running with Bill for those two years. A teammate of mine from Johnson and Wales College, Vinnie Fleming, and Bill had joined the Greater Boston Track Club and were training together a lot. I would go down and visit Vinnie at Jamaica Plains in Boston. We would do runs together and train at the Boston College track with the Greater Boston Track Club group. That was really the beginning for me. I don’t know how my running might have gone if I hadn’t fallen in with this group. I am happy not to have had to find out. We had a lot of great times. The group dynamic is one of those things that you can’t create. You can try to put some chemistry together, but this just kind of worked. No one can explain it. I was fortunate. Running for me was something that I wanted to excel at, but I didn’t know what to do. I was a good, solid high school runner. I was a good, solid college runner. But how do you take it to the next level with no profession? Technically we were amateurs, but everyone at that time was striving to get some support. We had a lot more in common with the runners prior to us than we do with the runners who are professionals today. That is a whole additional topic as to whether our sport is truly professional like other sports.
GCR:During your high school years and for the next dozen or so years afterward it seemed you ambled through school, jobs, and back to school several times as you were figuring out your pathway in life. Was running the one constant as you were finding your way – your true love that was there for you?
BHYes. Yes. In high school I went out for the cross-country team my freshman year when the season was half over. Up until that time my brothers were involved in athletics – baseball and football – so I played a lot of baseball. When I was researching my book, I found a story in my hometown newspaper about a shutout game I pitched. I was looking for stories on races that I ran to verify what I remembered from those races that might have been talked about in the newspaper. Running was a constant. I think the book I wrote is about growing up and running was the vehicle.
GCR:Another thing that struck me which must have been tough to write about and is also tough for me to ask about is when tragedy in life has a profound effect on us, especially when we are young. How did losing your mom when you were ten years old and then your older brother, Billy, in Vietnam when you were thirteen change your outlook on life and affect you during your transition from a child to a teenager to a young man?
BHThose things affect you and you don’t realize how they do at the time. Later, you see how life sort of pans out. I’ll be sixty-five soon and I’m sure it affected me in so many ways. My personality is generally sort of calm and laid back. But inside there was a lot going on. I think a lot of runners and other athletes are the same with that type of personality. In competition you turn into a different animal. We can be joking around on the starting line, maybe smiling and talking. But when the gun goes off things just changed. It’s like a bomb went off and I like that part. I was very apprehensive in high school. I used to run like a scared rabbit. I ran every race the same. I ran a Prefontaine kind of race. That was not intelligent but ninety percent of the people I raced gave up right away. This was high school, and you ran like that until you get to the very big races and run against other people who have your mindset. You know who those guys are because you’ve seen them run and you read about them and you know they are going to be tough. When other people say, ‘That guy is sick,’ and refer to me – that’s a compliment. You must be a little crazy to turn off your body’s signals that tell you to slow down. And instead of slowing down you just get angry and run harder. I think Alberto Salazar personified that whole feeling.
GCR:One of your ultimate goals was to win the Boston Marathon and you were close with your third-place finish in 1979. Could you take us through the race that day, how you were feeling at the start and during the race, your emotions when you crossed the line in 2:12:30 for third place and your thoughts today on your podium finish which was one of the top days in your racing career?
BHA particularly good friend of mine from Lowell took me to the start as he had in 1977. I was feeling good and my racing had gone well. I ran the U.S. National 20k Championship where I finished second to Randy Thomas and ran a bit over an hour, around sixty minutes and forty seconds. It was a February day in the winter in the Boston area up in Holliston, Massachusetts. That was my best race leading up to Boston. I did have a knee problem which forced me to back off a bit in training for a couple weeks before Boston. My biggest apprehension was with Jock Semple, who was the Race Director, and I had delivered my race entry to him personally. I qualified with a slow time because I wanted Boston to be a hard effort and didn’t want to race a marathon fast. I just wanted that qualifying time and so I ran a 2:47 or something. Jock said he would make sure I had a low number. Then he must have thrown my entry on his desk with a bunch of other junk there at the old Boston Garden. Anyway, when I went to pick up my entry number, it was 1066. When I was on the starting line of the Boston Marathon, Jock was checking the numbers and saw my number. He grabbed me and tried to pull me back. I said, ‘Jock, it’s me. It’s Bob Hodge.’ He responded, ‘All right then.’ That was my biggest apprehension. I had trained with Bill Rodgers and many of the top guys. Randy Thomas had run a 2:15 in his first marathon and then a 2:11. My goal was to run 2:15 and that would be top ten or top twenty. I couldn’t give these guys a hundred yards at the beginning. I wanted to be right there at the start and to feel like I was in the race. Without spotting the best runners in the world some distance. During the race I felt confidence as I ran along. Frank Shorter was right there along with Bill Rodgers, Garry Bjorkland, Tom Fleming, Kevin Ryan and Herm Atkins and some Finns. I was in the middle of that pack with my teammate Dickie Mahoney, who finished tenth. We looked at each other and this was for real. At ten miles we were feeling good. We were in this pack and running 2:10 pace. I felt good the entire way. Some moves were made around fifteen miles. There is a big downhill at the 25k mark going into Newton lower falls. Prior to that, Tom Fleming had taken off. He had a big lead, but the pack caught him and Kevin Ryan who was out there just behind Tom. I was in the top ten from halfway on and worked my way up. I remember going by Bill Squires at twenty-one miles after Heartbreak Hill at Lake Street and Bill said, ‘You can get them. Don’t be content.’ And he was right. I passed Garry Bjorkland in Kenmore Square. When I finished it was shocking? It was a cool day. It was rainy and what I used to consider a perfect day for a marathon, in the forties and a misty rain. All around, I don’t think I had any problems, no cramping, nothing. I ran thirty marathons and only about five good ones. That one was shocking – to realize what I thought I could do and to have it come to fruition, especially in a marathon where so many things can go wrong, and they often do.
GCR:In addition to your third place at the 1979 Boston Marathon, you had strong finishes that year and the next year including wins at the 1979 Bay-to-Breakers and 1980 Jacksonville River Run, second at the 1979 City to Surf 12k in Sydney, Australia, third at 1979 AAU cross country, and fourth at 1980 Falmouth. What were the main factors that resulted in you racing so consistently strong for that period of about eighteen months that may have been the best stretch of your running career? And what were the factors in your bouts with injuries shortly thereafter?
BHI was training hard and I was holding together. I had probably started breaking down a bit after that and got an injury after I had my personal best in the marathon in September of 1980. A month later I got injured. One thing I feel about today’s running is that sports medicine has come a long way. That is one thing we lacked. There wasn’t high level treatment for injuries. I’m not saying that I didn’t make mistakes in training and do things that I may have regretted later. I don’t regret anything now when I look at the total picture. I think I was fortunate, and I count my blessings to have accomplished everything I did. I could have used more help after injuries. I would get recommendations for chiropractors and doctors, but none understood running and runners. I would hear, ‘You’re running a hundred miles a week – are you crazy? That’s why you’re injured.’ They didn’t understand athletes and there were very few out there who did. I thought that for those of us who were ranked in the top ten of Americans we should have a national system and availability of good treatment. I believe even Bill Rodgers talked about this in his own books. He didn’t feel there was the necessary care at the top level.
GCR:Did you receive access to any topflight U.S. training and coaching?
BHI was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs a couple times. Dave Martin was in charge and I admire and respect Dave. Top coaches were there, and a psychologist was there. They did some testing on us and they were studying us like we were lab rats. They were trying to help us, but the innovative coaches were people like Bill Squires. He and others were ahead of the sport science. People would talk about reading the sport science, but the coaches were leading the way. Arthur Lydiard read everything, but he developed his methods through trial and error, and that is science. It just wasn’t in a laboratory.
GCR:In the fall of 1980 at the Nike-OTC marathon you raced with Dick Quax, the great new Zealander, the whole way before his multiple surges in the last few miles allowed him to pull away by twelve seconds. How exciting was it to race such a great athlete so closely while also running a personal best 2:10:59 PR to become the seventh fastest American all-time?
BHIt’s interesting because I started keeping a journal in January of 1980 and was keeping it then. It included when I went to Florida to train in the winter. I idolized all the New Zealand runners. I had read all about Arthur Lydiard and Peter Snell and Murray Halberg and all these guys when I was in high school. I was enchanted by the whole country and the mystique. I went to the 1976 Olympic Games in a car with two of my Greater Boston Track Club teammates and watched the marathon, 5k and 10k. Coach Squires got us tickets to go. Imagine four years later that I was going to race Dick Quax, in a road race, in a marathon – it was amazing in a few short years. As to the race, I was upset as I thought I should have won. I thought I should have beat Dick Quax. I was young. I was twenty-four. That’s the mentality. In my journal that I kept, when I got back to my hotel, I was cursing. First, running the Nike-OTC race was kind of accidental. The New York City Marathon gave me the brush-off and didn’t invite me. When Nike invited me, they seemed interested to get some top people to run there. Since I wasn’t running in Nike shoes, I didn’t have the same incentive as a Nike athlete to run there. They did a lot of extra things for the Nike athletes before and after the race. I was treated well though. But if someone was running for Nike and in their backyard, they wanted to run well. If I had been invited to run in New York, I would have run there. So many athletes that ran Nike-OTC, like John Graham from Scotland, ran in New York City too. He ran faster there, so a lot of runners doubled. I was supposed to run at Fukuoka in 1980, but I was injured. That was my prize for finishing second at Nike-OTC. Back then there wasn’t much appearance money, especially for me. They said they invited Bill Rodgers to Nike-OTC, but they didn’t offer appearance money, so he went to New York City where he was the defending champion. At Nike-OTC I ran a great race. There was a good group of guys and I had a good day. I lost to Dick Quax and it wasn’t a perfect race for me, but I ran well and never improved on that time. That’s how it is.
GCR:Injuries thwarted much of 1981 for you, but in 1982 you got back on track. You represented the United States at the 1982 USA-USSR dual meet in Indianapolis which was your first time as a USA team member. How cool was it to pull on the USA jersey and what are some of your top memories of that race and the running scene surrounding the event?
BHIt was unexpected as I had finished fifth at the U.S. National meet in Knoxville, Tennessee. I had just barely qualified to run at Nationals. I ran in the Tom Black Track Classic in Knoxville after I had failed and DNF’d in Boston. I needed to run 29:13 to qualify and there was a slew of runners in there trying to qualify for NCAAs and AAUs. Anyway, only three of us made it. I finished third and my time was 29:13. I had to sit around the stadium waiting to hear my official time and I only made the qualifying by a few tenths of a second. Then I went back to Knoxville and finished fifth. If you finish in the top ten, generally you go to this tent to sign up and they tell you what meets are going to be happening. They don’t decide who will be running in the meets until much later. I came home one day and found tickets to Indianapolis in my mailbox. I didn’t even get a phone call, or I could have missed it because back then there wasn’t any e-mailing or cell phones. My father-in-law is from Indianapolis and he read about it in the newspaper which listed all the members of the team. He asked if I was coming out to Indy and I told him I was. When I got there to pick up my uniform, I think I was one of the last people to get there and so my uniform was somewhat ill-fitting back in the Kappa clothing days. It was a super special experience to be on a team with great athletes, Dwight Stones, Francie Larrieu-Smith, and Carl Lewis. At that point, the US-USSR meet wasn’t what it had been. A lot of the top athletes would prefer to go to Europe to make more money racing on the European circuit, but it was still a great tram. The TAC managed to get many of the top athletes to participate. Running the 10,000 meters with just four people was odd. The coaches for the U.S. didn’t provide much information about the Russian athletes. I don’t think they were that well known. It was just an unusual race. It was a super-hot day in Indianapolis in July. Paul Gorman was my teammate and he had run a 28:18 earlier in the year. He took off at some point and I fell back. I was embarrassed. I was running with my head down and suddenly, I started to catch up. Some of the U.S. athletes were cheering me on and I ended up in the lead all the way until the gun lap. Then I lost it. We got beat up but only lost by a few seconds. I loved track racing but didn’t have a lot of opportunities like in road racing where there was some appearance money or airfare and under-the-table money. When I wanted to go to Knoxville to race, I had to hope that New Balance would pay my airfare, or I would be out-of-pocket. When I went to Bay-to-Breakers I got one thousand dollars and that was about three months’ rent. Those were the kind of choices we had to make. I would have loved to race more on the track. I didn’t have the wheels to be a top-flight competitor, but lot of people didn’t. Alberto Salazar didn’t have the wheels either, but he set two American Records on the track. So, you find a way and go to your strengths.
GCR:You went to your strengths and had two strong marathons in Japan in 1982. One of your career highlights had to be winning the 1982 Beppu Marathon. Can you take us through how you were feeling physically and mentally as you led from 30 to 37 k, Nishimura San passed you and pulled away, but you somehow summoned the energy to catch him at 41k to win by seven seconds in 2:15:43?
BHIt was a weird day because the course was out-and-back like most of the Japanese courses and on the way out we had a tailwind. We were clicking off fast times and we were 1:04:30 at the halfway point. We were running 2:09 pace and I felt great. When we turned around, every step we got closer to that finish line, the wind was picking up. The whole race is run in Kyushu, which is a southern island of Japan and it is right along the coast. It is incredibly beautiful. The winds just kept picking up and we were fighting that. I had a decent lead and never like to look back. I kind of fell asleep on it. All the media was there and so were the fans with their little flags waving, and I was daydreaming. Suddenly, Nishimura went by me. I think I had slowed quite a bit to a 16 or 17-minute 5k from running close to fifteen minutes. He went by like a shot and I couldn’t stay with him. I got motivated and kept trying to tie a rope around him, but he got about a hundred yards on me. Then I whittled the lead down. I think I saw him almost staggering across the road as the winds were hitting him. I caught him with two kilometers to go and I pulled right away. It was nice to win. Years later, Randy Thomas and I were sitting at a ceremony for a long-ago race and Bill Rodgers was also there. The announcer was talking about Bill and how he had thirty-five, or maybe it was twenty-five, major marathons wins. Randy leaned over to me and he said, ‘Bobby, how many major marathon races did you win?’ And I said, ‘One.’ He said, ‘Me too.’ To get a victory in a major marathon in Japan where they revere marathon running is big-time over there. It was one of my most satisfying races as 1981 was a downer after I had that strong year in 1980. There are a lot of ups and downs in running and a few times when I thought it was over. But somehow, I had the motivation to keep going.
GCR:Later in 1982 and back in Japan, you had a strong Fukuoka Marathon, which was the unofficial World Championships, running 2:11:52 for fifth place. And you even took lead after the 25k water stop for a few miles. What were some highlights of the race and your top five finish at the unofficial World Championships?
BHThe week before I ran the USA National Cross Championships which was at the Meadowlands in New Jersey where they were planning to have the World Championships in 1984. I didn’t run any cross-country races in the fall of 1982, but New Balance, who I was running for, put together a very good team for Nationals. They told me that I could help them to win the team title and asked me if I would run there. I ended up running, finishing ninth and was the team’s top finisher. Paul Cummings was there as well and after the race when we were warming down in Central Park I said, ‘This is the dumbest thing I ever did.’ The two of us flew out to Japan together the day after the cross-country race. In Fukuoka things did work out. I ran a strong race. Our halfway split was quite slow in 1:06. I felt particularly good about the race, but I had a hamstring problem near the end, and it cost me a chance to finish as high as second or third. In any case, I’ll take it. My hamstring gave me issues with a few kilometers to go and I stopped. Dave Edge, from Canada, told me later he thought I was a goner. He was coming up behind me. But, when I got on the track for the finish and saw the clock, I tried to goose it to make sure I got under 2:12. Otherwise, I would have been disappointed. I was less than a minute behind my best time, so things were looking up. 1982 was a good year. The Boston Marathon was a big disappointment because I dropped out, but the US-USSR meet and AAUs, TAC cross country and a 2:11 marathon made 1982 good.
GCR:Though you didn’t race a lot on the track after college, one of the track meets that all runners enjoy for its history and fans is the Penn Relays. What are your memories from running the 10,000 meters at the 1978 Penn Relays where you ran 28:58 for eighth place and nine years later in 1987 when you ran a 28:29 for third place and a medal?
BHThe Penn Relays was our big meet during the year. If you wanted to run 10,000 meters, you went to Penn or to the Tom Black Classic in Knoxville. If you were running the Boston Marathon, Penn was out. My first Penn Relays was in 1978 and it is a great venue. Northeast distance racing has dropped off because of the great venues in California and the good weather, which is more guaranteed. I also ran in 1984 and did 28:24, which was my personal best. I believe Sosthenes Bitok won in a Penn Relays Record. In 1978, John Tracy ran under 28 minutes for a Collegiate Record and almost lapped me. I was eighth and he almost lapped me. So, I was in both record-setting races, open and college. In 1987 I was coming off the World Cross Country meet where I ran terribly. I got sick and had plantar fasciitis. I spent a week in Italy before my next race and was feeling better while my foot also got better. I did run the Cinque Mulini five mile in Milan, Italy a week later after World Cross Country and ran much better there. Coming back, I knew I was fit for Penn. My plantar was still sore and it was a hard track. It was fast but hard to run fast in spikes. I led most of the race. I took the lead from the outside as nobody looked like they wanted to lead. I led the whole way until Bitok went by me. Troy Billings caught me at the line. It would have been nice to get a win there. That would have been big time, but it was my second-best time. That was a long time after my first time there, but that gave me a shot. I got married the year before and was getting serious in life. I was finishing my undergraduate degree and didn’t know what I was going to do. I tried to get into coaching, but it didn’t work out.
GCR:One final Boston Marathon question since you cramped up and dropped out in both 1980 and 1981 around 21 miles, was it a thrill and some type of redemption at the 1986 Boston Marathon when you were around 25th place at halfway, moved up by 20 miles to 20th place and ran a great last 10k to finish under 2:15 and sixth place and second American behind Bill Rodgers in fourth?
BHYes, it felt great! I felt like I was reliving running the marathon. In my first part of my career, I was kamikaze. I wanted to be in position to win, even though I might not have any business being up there. By the time 1986 rolled around, it was the first year Boston had prize money. I had run a marathon in New Zealand in February where I ran 2:15 and that was kind of a ‘check myself’ effort. I was pointing to Boston the whole time but never had the opportunity to go to New Zealand which is one of the reasons I went along with their having prize money. I was newly married, back in school and coaching the women at Lowell which was quite an experience as a first-time coach. I was not making much money, so I was counting on some money from my running. New Balance had dropped me and then made me a small contract offer. So, in 1986 I was still running for them, but I wasn’t receiving the same money I once did in my heyday. In any case, Boston was very satisfying. I won eighty-five hundred dollars. I beat some good guys. Sometimes I regretted that at three miles I saw Bill Rodgers right ahead of me and I was going to go with him. I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to go with Bill and feed off all the energy because everybody is cheering for him.’ But I decided ‘Just run your own race. You know how to run this race and get in the top ten and that’s what you want to do.’ But I had to fight the urge to do that. I had to fight the urge to just go for it. That was a race where you didn’t want to go for it because Rob De Castella blew everyone out that day and ran a 2:07. In 1986, that was a good time. I think the Boston Marathon course was made for him and it was a good weather day. So, my race was very satisfying and it kind of kept me going through 1988, just that one race.
GCR:Let’s chat about the Olympic Trials. You touched on how 1980 was disappointing and that was a time when some of the top marathoners like you and Bill Rodgers and Tom Fleming skipped it, though the field was still strong at the top. Then in 1984 you didn’t have a top finish with a 2:18 for 17th place. But you came back strong in 1988 and came in seventh place. Could you talk some about your Olympic Trials experiences in 1984 and 1988?
BHThe Olympic boycott in 1980 took the wind out of my sails. I read about the Olympic Games and all the great stories and I wanted to be a part of that, but then I found out there is an underbelly to everything. In 1984 everything was going well. I ran a PR for 10k on the track at Penn, so I had a qualifying time for the track Olympic Trials as well. If the Trials marathon had been in April that would have been good. I have allergies which started bothering me and, every year for some reason, I start off the spring strong but by early summer have a tough time. I’m not sure if it’s the allergies or something else. I did a few good training runs before the 1984 Trials including a 30-miler at six-minute pace. At the Trails in 1984 I just didn’t have it. My body wasn’t there. I don’t know if I made mistakes in training, but I didn’t feel as strong as I would need to be to try and make an Olympic team – that’s for sure. It was disappointing. I ran as good a race as I could. Heading into 1988, toward the mid-1980s, the depth of American marathoning wasn’t as strong. At that point things were dropping off as there was a movement that the marathon was a killer and that, as soon as you ran a marathon, you’ll never run well at shorter distances again. It was like a marathon boogieman. A lot of runners should have gone to the marathon earlier. I ran my PRs for 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters all after running several marathons. It depends because everyone is an individual and athletes are different. But I think that’s one of the reasons why the depth was starting to drop off. In any case, the 2:14 at Boston had been my best in a couple years. In 1988 I knew I would have to run 2:12, maybe 2:13. The course was in New Jersey which wasn’t a fun course for the Olympic Trials. I was contemplating just running the track Trials because I had thought about running the Boston Marathon that year. There weren’t going to be many top Americans running at Boston and the elite athlete coordinator had called me and said they might invite me. That meant I would receive appearance money, so I was thinking about it, but they never got back to me. I tried to get back to them and I guess they just weren’t interested. I never heard back from them and I had to decide. I thought that the marathon had been my game and that trying to run on the track with Bruce Bickford and Paul Cummings and Pat Porter would be tough. I had beaten all of them in one race or another but trying to beat them on the track was a big challenge. Anyway, I went to New Jersey and ran a strong race the whole way. Again, I had a hamstring problem. I felt very good, even in the closing miles. I was hamstrung and could not shake off that injury. I did get quite a bit of treatment that year because I was trying to fall apart. A dozen years of hard training takes a toll. I was proud of my effort. I was happy with it in the end. But, only three places are happy. Everyone else has a different level of disappointment unless you are a young person and you finish in the top ten and that was a great day for you. This was my third time around. The first time there was a boycott and I didn’t want to be complicit. The way I thought – everybody should have stayed home in 1980 – screw you! If the U.S. Olympic Committee had the balls, they could have sent a team. That out a real damper on everything after that. It changed my whole world. When I was running with Bill Rodgers in training, all he ranted about was professionalism and how the AAU was screwing the athletes. It was constant and was funny to listen to him. Some of the interviews he did back then are just hysterical until he started to watch what he said because he knew they would crucify him.
GCR:We’re chatting about lots of your running stories and it’s a good time to note that this year your book, ‘Tales of the Times: A Runner’s Story,’ was published. I read your book and it was outstanding to read your memories of which we’ve hit on a few of them. How rewarding was it to pull your stories together, what is the reception you have received from the running community and what did you discover through the process that you may not have anticipated?
BHWhen I was still running a fair amount into my forties and commuting to work in Boston from where I live in central Massachusetts, I would run a fair amount with up and coming younger runners who didn’t know much about running in the 1970s and 1980s. Sometimes it surprised me, but I would hear, ‘You ran a 2:10:59? Are you kidding me?’ So, I would tell them how we worked together and how we trained. They didn’t seem to believe it, so I put together a website and put all my running logs on there. I transcribed them over time, and I think it took half a dozen years. To put the training calendars into context, I wrote a little bit about each year. That was kind of the genesis for the book when I wrote these short writings. But there are so many stories that sometimes I catch on fire when I’m writing things. I remember things I didn’t know were there. I was talking to Benji Durden and he said that he couldn’t remember anything. I said, ‘Benji, you sit down and start writing, and it will start coming back out of nowhere.’ Is that how it happened? I don’t know. That’s how I remember it. But, if you talk to five people about an event or race, they will each have a different story or twist. Some of the stories in the book were previously published. New England Runner had published two of the stories. Tracksmith Company has a publication called ‘Meter’ and they published one. Toni Reavis published a story I wrote about a New Year’s Day run in 1976. He read it and thought it was great and ended up using it on his blog on New Year’s Day one year. I collected all my stories and probably could have published a five-hundred-page book, but it would have been more of the same – different stories, but the heart of the book was there. I made the book short with a lot of pictures because many of my friends have a short attention span. Some read my Facebook posts and think those are too long. I didn’t put race results in my book, but there are links in the back where those who are interested can find the results.
GCR:How can people order ‘Tales of the Times: A Runner’s Story,’ and are there ways to receive an autographed copy?
BHPeople can just get in touch with me on Facebook. Others can purchase it on Amazon. It’s also available in a handful of stores. Of course, it was published when the covid-19 virus hit, so all the things we had planned to promote it didn’t happen. There were a couple books reviews in my hometown newspaper in Lowell and for the Falmouth Enterprise. There is a bookstore in Falmouth that has agreed to stock a few copies of my book. I have five hundred copies in my trunk of the car and my basement. If someone is in a nice hotel in Key West or somewhere, I’d like to go, I may even deliver it to them personally. I want to mention that my book was published by Barb’s Beer Foundation. Tom Murphy is the creator of that group and has published two books. There is one about Jock Semple that is called, ‘Just Call Me Jock’ that Tom wrote. He also wrote a fiction book entitled, ‘Runner in Red.’ He was the catalyst for me getting my book done when he said he would publish it. I was looking around for ways to publish it, but I don’t know if I would have until I retired. I don’t know when I will retire as I am the director of a small public library. I thought when I retired, I would maybe put a book together, but I’m happy it’s done, and I have a book out there. It’s not perfect and I wish I had spent more time on editing. But it was so tedious and boring that some things got through. The mistakes are all on me, but the heart of the book is there, and I have had some good response from readers.
GCR:Let’s take a trip down memory lane to when you were starting out as a runner. In 1969 you were junior high school 880 champ, then started running at Lowell High School for Coach John Lang, running 220 repeats the first day in cutoff jeans and beat up sneakers and ran your first race which was 1.7 miles of cross country finished in mid pack. How did this beginning get you going a start a lifelong love of running?
BHWhen I was growing up in Lowell, it was exciting to go to Boston. We could catch a train up the street and be in Boston in a half hour. But it was still a big deal. I was a member of the team but had only done a few workouts with them. The camaraderie and excitement were there, I ran a decent first race and caught the bug right there. I knew I liked running and, the more fit I got, it was better and better. I wasn’t nothing, especially in the beginning. It takes a while to get the fitness and confidence and to learn how to run. I only ran three or four cross country races my freshman year because I joined the team late. Not many freshmen ran the races then anyways. I won a citywide junior high school cross race my freshman year. That was a big deal. Indoors we ran on a tiny track at Philips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. The experience the first few times was wild. The track was so tight that there would be six guys from two teams squaring off. The whole league would run so there would be six races for each event with two teams in each. The meet would take hours and hours. Once I got the bug it was good and then I learned how to run on the track and about tactics and where was a good place to pass another runner. It was great running and my teammates were good and it was great for a young person.
GCR:I’d like to ask you about your first sub-five minute mile because I remember when I started running my sophomore year in high school and running lots of 5:05s and 5:06s and how exciting it was to run 4:57. From what I read in your book, you didn’t race the mile your first track season, but ran a 4:58 mile time trial after the season. How exciting was it to break the five-minute mile?
BHIt was great. It wasn’t the same as with more people watching. There was me and my friend and the caretaker for the stadium. We weren’t even supposed to be in there. The caretaker caught us in the act. I had a hand-held stopwatch that my friend held for me. He was the one that suggested it because I kept whining about the fact that I didn’t get to run the mile. I would never say anything to the coach. I wouldn’t do that because back then you never questioned the coach. Maybe later when I was a senior, I would question him, but back then as a freshman I wouldn’t. There was another kid in the city who had run well under five minutes, but he was a basketball player and we had to talk him into coming out for cross country the following year. He had run a 4:47 mile or something like that. If I had run in a competition I might have run faster. I ran a 4:58 after climbing a fence to get in there to the track, warming up a bit and running by myself. It was a good effort.
GCR:Moving forward in time a couple years, you won State Championships including the Class A two-mile indoors and outdoors your junior and senior years while finishing seventh and fourth at the State Cross Country Championships. Were any of these races close where you came from behind, or did you run from the front like Steve Prefontaine and Craig Virgin?
BHThe cross-country meet was run at Franklin Park on a golf course. We didn’t run on the grass that much, but on sidewalk that once was paved. It was so cracked and broken that we had to watch out for chunks of rock and tar that had been ripped up. The entire golf course at Franklin Park was in disrepair in the 1970s. I went out like a bullet in cross country and we would finish at White Stadium which is across the street from Franklin Park golf course. In the Class A meets I could dominate during the season, but there were a few guys I would have to worry about at the State meet. It was a good era of running with guys like Danny Dillon. Alberto Salazar was still young – he was still a freshman and sophomore when I ran. There was Stetson Arnold, who was recruited to run at Oregon but ended up going to Providence College. My junior year I also finished 19th in the New England Cross Country Championships. I ran solid. I was among the best in the state. I knew that much. In terms of recalling how those cross-country races went mile by mile, all I remember is charging out fast and running my guts out. The races were about two and a half miles. The races weren’t standardized at 5k back then. It was just thirteen, fourteen, fifteen minutes of gut-wrenching and that was it.
GCR:We can often recall a particular race where we ran very tough and I would like you to mention one you spoke of in your book, the Essex Conference two-mile your senior year when you were sick from a seafood meal the night before. How tough was it to run your guts out and beat Sully, a strong competitor?
BHIt was probably the toughest race I ever ran. But it was tough in a different way. Marathons are tough for different reasons when you run for so long and can make several errors. In that two-mile race, I knew I should win it and I was going to be very, very discouraged if I didn’t. But I did have a competitor in that race, and I had to run my best if I was going to beat him. He was gunning for me and we had run a couple close races. It was a mental challenge. There were so many things that went wrong before and during that race. At some point I went crazy and I was lucky. There is a photo in my book of me running that race and the look on my face is just agony. Usually I look calm in running photos but, when I look at that photo, I am not. What prompted this story and others that are in the book is when I found something in my basement or garage. I had a couple of plastic bins that were mostly junk, but I knew there were a few treasures in there and I had to take a long time to look through them. I would go in looking for one thing and find another. I found this beautiful, glossy picture of me running in agony and I remembered what happened, going out with my parents for that dinner. When I was sick, my coach accused me of going out drinking with my friends irresponsibly. Some races are tough because things just turn out that way.
GCR:After high school, you went to Johnson and Wales College for a semester and, I remember a similar racing season when I went to Appalachian State a couple years later, ten or twelve weeks in a row of cross country races that are five miles to 10k in length which is at least double the length of the high school races. How was that change and what did Coach Duggan do to help you in your transition?
BHI had moved my mileage steadily up in high school. My senior year I was up to seventy miles a week, but during the season that would decrease sometimes to fifteen or twenty miles a week because we raced all the time and we did a lot of intervals on the track. I had run a couple longer road races in the summer. If they said it was a four-mile road race, it could be 3.8 miles or 4.5 miles. Nobody cared about the actual distances – you ran from here to there. So, I had run a few longer races. Also, during my senior year in high school I ran a three-mile on the track at Amherst and ran a little over fifteen minutes. It was kind of a lock for me because the season was over. That was just over five-minute miles which was good for a seventeen-year-old. In terms of college, we did a training camp before we started and that was great. My first race was a fun run – one of these regular Tuesday nights from Brown University. It was a five-mile race that they started and ended at the track. I ran one of those and went out at about five minutes for the first mile. The coach was yelling because he didn’t think I could possibly run twenty-five minutes for five miles. The second mile I picked it up even more and he was going crazy. I made the transition very easily. I think I was always meant to be a longer distance guy. My training was strong. I wasn’t running hundred-mile weeks in high school, but I got in enough background. And I had done quite a few ten and twelve-milers, so I was fit. We had a good group at Johnson and Wales and he had us doing some intervals. We didn’t run on the track a whole lot during cross country. Coach Duggan would have us do intervals usually on the road or a combination of road and grass.
GCR:After that semester you left and worked for a while and were running some good road races. Was it almost an accident when you ran unofficially at a cross country meet and Coach George Davis of Lowell encouraged you to enter school and to run there?
BHIt was totally an accident. I was running with my friend, Emil, whom I still talk to a fair amount – he lives out in Cleveland. We were running in the Lowell Dracut Tyngsboro state forest where Lowell had their meets. The timing was such that they were getting ready to race. We just happened to show up. I was working in a manufacturing facility doing wiring with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and my manager came up one day and said, ‘What are you doing here? Do you want to be here the next thirty or forty years or go back to school and figure things out?’ After I worked for a year and was eighteen or nineteen years old, I realized he was right. It still was a good experience working because when I went to college at Johnson and Wales I only went because I had a scholarship. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, so I went to work in a factory. At that time in the 1970s, it wasn’t generally accepted that all my friends went to college. It was fifty, fifty with half learning trades like plumbing and not necessarily going to college. Half went to trade school and the other half went to regular college. Now, if you don’t go to college people wonder how you are going to be successful. Back then it was easier to go to college when I was ready and when I was not ready to just do something else.
GCR:Over the next couple years in 1975 and 1976 you got your PRs down in the mile to 4:08.7 and the 2-mile to 8:48.5, made NCAA DIII 5,000 meters outdoors and were second at NCAA DIII Cross Country Nationals in Cleveland. Was that a period that bridged your transition to marathon racing by making you a quicker runner?
BHThat’s part of it. Even when I started running marathons, I never considered myself solely a marathon runner. A lot of my focus was on the marathon, but I still always competed in cross country and track. Sometimes that was more of a priority than other times. I didn’t have a narrow view. I was a runner. I competed in the mile. I competed in the marathon. Some of my favorite athletes were those who could do that at a high level where I couldn’t. Guys like Paul Cummings and Rod Dixon and Greg Meyer had such a range from sub-four-minute miles to sub-2:10 marathons. I wanted to be like that and to not totally focus on the marathon. To be a complete runner you must get faster and that makes you a better runner and you’re going to run a better marathon. Today, running is more specialized and athletes like Galen Rupp only compete in a handful of races a year. I don’t understand that view of the sport. His coach, Alberto Salazar, ran the opposite and maybe that’s why. I think American running needs some runners to get our there and get recognized at races. It’s a different world. Back then we just bounced around and a lot of that was because we were trying to get by financially.
GCR:While you were running on all the venues of indoor tracks, outdoor tracks, cross country and the roads, were there any that were your favorites and venues where you wholly enjoyed the competition?
BHPenn was one that was right up there and, obviously, Hayward Field.
GCR:In addition to making the USA team for the 1982 US-USSR dual meet and 1987 World Cross Country, you were offered a spot on the 1979 Pan Am Games marathon team and could have ran at that championship in Puerto Rico in July of 1979 which had very hot weather conditions. When you look back, do you think that maybe you should have pulled the USA jersey on, slowed your pace, hydrated often and competed?
BHIt’s hard to second guess. I would say yes and no. One of the reasons I didn’t want to run it was that I had only run two marathons. One was a bad one and one was a good one. I was pointing for the Olympic Trials in 1980 and I didn’t want to have another bad experience in the marathon. I wanted to keep things fresh and be ready for the Olympic Trials Marathon. I had raced Boston in April where I was third and didn’t feel like I was ready for July in the heat of Puerto Rico. I was getting offers to run Bay-to-Breakers I ran in the 1979 AAA Championships in London at the Crystal Palace and did 28:56 for eighth place in the 10,000 meters. I was even getting invitations to speak at junior high school awards banquets and events like that. I would look in my mailbox and have all kinds of invitations on account of my third place in Boston. I felt like I needed to tamp that down and focus. I felt the Pan Am games would be a distraction. A little later in my career I would have done it because I would have been more confident. But, at that time I was not a very experienced marathoner. Tom Fleming and Bobby Doyle ran the marathon at the Pan Am Games that year. They picked the team from the Boston Marathon and went up the line of American finishers. Bill Rodgers turned it down. I turned it down. Tom was the next guy in fourth place, and he took it. Bobby Doyle was the next American after Tom in seventh or eighth place and he accepted. I don’t think either of them ran particularly well. You can always look back and it would have been nice.
GCR:A neat occurrence over several years is when we make a race our own because we win it so many times. Amby Burfoot won the Manchester Thanksgiving Race nine times. I remember after graduating from Appalachian State I won the North Wilkesboro 10k four years in a row. How was it for you winning the Mount Washington race in New Hampshire five times in a row from 1976 to 1980 and in 1985 and 1987? Was it nice to go back and have a reception as a multiple-time champion?
BHThe race back then was small. The first time I ran it was in 1974. I always have loved the mountains of New Hampshire and I still go up there camping. I was up there a few weeks ago. When I heard about the Mount Washington race, that became the way I kicked off my summer season. I had finished my track season and the summer was spent putting in the miles. I would run a few low-key races and that was one of the races. Since it was unlike any other races I ran, I would come off track season, ramp up summer training and throw Mount Washington in there as part of my training. It was cool to win it and, in the five consecutive wins and the other two wins, every time I won, I just pulled away. I was not challenged much at all. In the 1989 race, Dave Dunham and I were teammates running for the Greater Lowell Track Club and were virtually tied the whole way. He asked me if I wanted to tie at the end and I said, ‘No, we should go for it.’ And he outkicked me and I was second that year. The race was a good test and wasn’t like other races. I have watched the growth of it. The first year I noticed a different group of people than those I raced at college track meets and they were fun guys. They had beer and joked around. Jock Semple is the one who revived the race because he ran it back around the 1930s and was a top ten finisher. It was special to win it so many times. It is always nice to win.
GCR:Let’s chat a bit about training. First, when you were a marathon runner and at your peak, what was your typical weekly mileage, how long were your long runs and at what pace, and how many long runs did you like to do leading up to a marathon?
BHMy sweet spot was running about a hundred miles a week. My training was adapted from Arthur Lydiard’s method of putting a lot of miles in the bank, then sharpening and then specific workouts, time trials and racing. I think we can make too much of specific workouts like twelve quarters or six halves. Runners make too much of numbers versus putting in the work. I think people get too much into crunching the numbers rather than how they feel. After a while as an athlete you should know and run what is needed. A lot is figured out through racing. Most distance runners don’t race enough anymore. I learned a lot through racing in some of these low-key races that are a hotch above a workout, but you aren’t focused like for the Boston Marathon or the Olympic Trials. You can experiment and take risk in these races that you wouldn’t in a bigger competition.
GCR:When I interviewed Benji Durden and on other occasions where we have spoken, he talked about his program of running a race on Saturday that could be a 5k or 10k or 15k or 20k, then he would do fast interval training on Tuesday followed by a long twenty to twenty-three mile run on Thursday. And the races were more like what we now call tempo runs or stamina sessions and he would race nearly every weekend. How do you feel about that type of plan to get sharp?
BHIt works. Benji was a very consistent marathon runner. Almost every marathon he ran was solid or great. That wasn’t the same for me. I did some crashing and burning. In training we find our sweet spot. I didn’t do regular long runs like Benji did. He did many more long runs than I did. Before I ran my personal best marathon, I ran 15-milers most of the summer because it was too hot. I didn’t want to wear down too much. I was running well over a hundred miles a week for at least a dozen weeks before my best marathon, but I only did one twenty-miler and it was at a modest pace. But I raced a lot. I ran the Boston Marathon in 1980 after I decided I didn’t want to run the Olympic Trials race and I dropped out. I had a few weeks where I felt badly for myself and then I got back to it and started racing. I raced week after week and adapted that into my training. I won most of those races and it helped my too get my confidence back. Benji trained different, but the basics were still the same. A lot of it is just getting in the work. You can look at your running form and analyze everything and that is all and good but, at the end of the day, if you put in the work and have the right mentality, then it’s your time.
GCR:As you were putting miles in the bank and racing and getting stronger, how much did you mix in shorter intervals or hill training or fartlek to keep your sharpening and your top end speed? How did that fit into your plan?
BHThings kind of evolved. In the beginning under Bill Squires we did a lot of easy intervals. He was coaching at Boston State and gave us intervals that were more typical of a college team’s workouts. If we ran mile repeats, we may have jut done five-minute mile repeats on the track. Then the sessions started to get faster. When Greg Mayer joined the Greater Boston Track Club, he brought some of Coach Ron Warhurst’s University of Michigan workouts. Everybody added to the mix. Sometimes Coach Squires would say, ‘Here’s what I think we’re going to do.’ Then somebody would ask if we could try another workout. It was really a group dynamic. Usually by the time we got ready for the big races, there were only a handful of us running the workouts and Coach Squires determined the workouts. Sometimes we would do a two-mile time trial. It could be a mix of much faster race pace intervals to get sharp. The weekly track workout could be quarters, it could be miles or a mixture of different distances. It didn’t matter that much. Later in my career I started to run shorter intervals. I did a workout of twelve three hundreds with just a short, quick one-hundred-meter jog. I would do them in sets of three and they would get faster each set. That surely helped my speed. I would do that every week. The races that were from five to ten miles were more like a tempo run. I don’t think we used the term, ‘tempo run,’ back then. It was hard running or steady pace.
GCR:Are you coaching now and what can we do in the U.S. to increase our numbers of top marathon racers?
BHI’ve had athletes approach me recently to coach them. I don’t have the time and energy to coach them and I don’t think I’m much of a coach anyway. What I would tell young athletes is, first, get a good grip on the sport. Some young athletes don’t know anything about the sport. Know what your goals and objectives are. You must know where you are in the pecking order. It’s intimidating now when there are a hundred east Africans running 2:10 or better. But athletes should know themselves. Each athlete is a little different. I would train with a group, but not all the time. I liked to do some of my running alone. There were a lot of good runners in Boston back in the day who wanted to push the pace. You could get together with some of these groups, and I did, but not all the time. Someone was always feeling good and likely to push the pace and it might not be a good day for you to run that fast. Some days it is good, and runners feed off each other. Honestly, in my opinion we should have fifty U.S. runners running that fast. We don’t have the support.
GCR:One final training question deals with soft surface running. Pete Pfitzinger, two-time Olympic marathoner, is someone I look to for guidance. Pete believes you should do about seventy-five percent of your training on soft surfaces even when training for road races. He further says that, as you get closer to your goal marathon to shift the mix gradually toward fifty-fifty soft surfaces and roads so you can adapt. What are your thoughts on this subject and what did you do when you were in your peak training periods?
BHIt is awesome if you have access to the right venue. If you can go out to Flagstaff or a place like that it is great. But if you can’t train on dirt roads like that, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. One thing I notice about young athletes is they want everything to be perfect. They want to have the best coach. They hold up circumstances as obstacles to not achieving their best. There were runners training around Jamaica Pond and I don’t know how many good marathoners came out of New York City where they just ran the same loop around Central Park every day. They were innovative about other places to train. So, New York City can be a good place to train. Boston isn’t a bad place to train. If you can go to a nice place and train at altitude – go ahead. I probably would have done it to if I had known any better or had the opportunity. If you can’t, that should hold you back.
GCR:What do you typically do now for health, fitness, running and weight training as you approach age sixty-five?
BHI run every day, but not far. I run about twenty-five miles a week. I’ve been in the same routine for at least the last decade, if not more. I just get slower every year. Now, I run eleven- or twelve-minute miles. If I want to push it a little faster, I can. It still feels good. I’ll do a pickup or two, so I feel like a runner. Then I go back to shuffling along. My longest runs are about six miles. Lately, my longest have been more like four miles. Some days I’ll do a double and do a second run of two to four miles. I swim so, in the winter, I swim in the pool. That has been interrupted by the covid-19 virus. This morning I swam in Walden Pond. I like to run and then swim afterwards. I used to do weight training with Nautilus machines. I have a barbell, but I don’t mess around with it much. I usually do push ups and sit ups – forty or fifty a day.
GCR:When you look back at what you have done in life over many decades of working hard to achieve academically and athletically, the discipline it took to run successfully at a high level, and coping with adversity along the way, what can you say that sums up the ‘Bob Hodge, or the Hodgie-san, Philosophy’ of striving for your best as a runner and in life?
BHListen to yourself. Don’t let other people have so much influence on you. I remember working in a running retail store and people were telling me to get serious and to get a real job. But I had to find ways to run. That was my big struggle. When I left high school and when to college, I wanted to run. I didn’t know how to do it. Most of our top runners were collegians. If they weren’t good enough after college to make the Olympic team, then they went to work. Maybe they ran the Boston Marathon or other races. But I would say, know yourself and be confident in yourself. Do what you want to do. Spend your youth doing what you want to do. Some people think those of us who ran in our youth wasted our youth. But we achieved a lot. I was a kid from Lowell, Massachusetts and I went to China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and all over Europe. I never would have had those opportunities if I weren’t a runner. That was more important at the end of the day than working some job. You have your whole life to work. You only have a ten-year period, maybe fifteen years, to be an athlete. It’s getting longer for some who are successful to have a path after their competition days are over to continue in the sport. Health care and physical therapy is also better now, but you only have that short period. So, if you want to be a good runner, you have one shot. It is intimidating because there are so many great marathon runners now. But, look at someone like Molly Seidel. She was a great success in college and won at NCAAs, but she had many discouraging things like injuries. She made the Olympic team. She could have quit many times and that is true of many athletes. Des Linden is one of my favorite athletes. She came from a humble start and became one of our greatest champions. There can be any multitude of people who succeed like them. There were so many people running marathons in the two hour and teens minutes back in the 1970s and early 1980s and every one of them thought they could make that jump. A lot of them did and they went from those times to 2:12 or 2:10 and that could have been good enough to make an Olympic team. You just have to do it at the right time in the right race. That was the thinking. Now, it can be discouraging when you see so many fast times. I don’t know how much of that is due to enhancements. We still will not be the best marathoning nation based on the most runners running fast, but we should be doing better. As much as I love the Olympics, it is a bit of a watered-down competition because you don’t have all the best athletes there.
Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI ride my bike to work. It’s only five miles. I like to go hiking and camping. I used to do some biking trips, but now I’m afraid to hurt myself and not be able to run. I do some snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. Writing is a hobby. I got paid for a few articles and am breaking even on my book, which was my goal. I play guitar and have been playing since I was in high school. I still have the same guitar I bought in high school. I played it all the time and played with my friends. Then I put it away and didn’t play for ten or fifteen years when my daughter was younger. I didn’t have time. I pulled it about five years ago and started playing again. I got the guitar tuned up. I was going to get a new guitar and brought it to a friend of mine who said it was a great guitar. I paid about two hundred bucks for it back then. It’s an FG 180 Yamaha Red Label. So, I’m banging that
NicknamesI have an embarrassing one from when I was the bat boy and my brother was coaching a team, my other brother played on the team and my cousin played on the team. This was just after Little League, in Pony League, and they called me ‘Knucklehead.’ Where that came from was Knucklehead Smith, a puppet. He was a guy who was a ventriloquist and his dummy was called ‘Knucklehead.’ When I was a kid, evidently I looked like this ‘Knucklehead.’ I was a goofball and called this by my brothers. Older brothers can be like that. Other than that, it was ‘Hodgie’ and then ‘Hodgie-san’ as an adult after visiting and running in Japan
Favorite movie‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I know it’s overdone, but it still gets me. Mostly, I like the theme of the movie. Not so much the Christmas theme, but the human theme and the human spirit of it and the friendship
Favorite TV showsBack in the day I liked the ‘Kung Fu’ show with David Carradine. I was a sucker for ‘The Waltons.’ Then I like shows like ‘Sanford and Son’ and ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and classic television
Favorite musicI was just listening to Bob Dylan’s new album and it is particularly good. He sounds like Louis Armstrong these days. He is still writing some great songs. He wrote a sixteen-minute long song with the theme of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I think it is number one on the Billboard charts. I like Son Volt. Songs from back in the day I liked were the Rolling Stones and their ‘Exile on Mainstreet’ record. I was always a huge Beatles fan
Favorite booksI read every day and everything I can about running. I’ve kind of got that covered. Books written by runners capture their struggle and tell their story and that is good. For me, the process of writing was cathartic. I’d write on the couch or in a coffee shop or type into my phone and the next thing you know I’ve got 1,500 words. My reading is broad. I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’ve been trying to read one classic book every summer, so I read ‘Madame Bovary.’ I read a lot of book reviews. Since I’m a library director, I must decide which books we get. Much gets decided by what the patrons want, which is mostly popular fiction. I like to read mainly non-fiction books. I just read a book by Honere de Balzac as I like to read books by French authors
First carA Buick Skylark. A pretty boss car
Current carI’m driving a Ford Focus Station Wagon that is fifteen years old and has 220,000 miles on it. That’s rather good for a Ford, huh? This car is on its last legs and I’ll drive it as long as I can. I’m not really into cars like I used to be
First JobI worked in one of the Lowell Mills textile factories. That didn’t last long. Then I worked for a floor cleaning service where you use those big, heavy machines and there is a method to how they are used. It takes a little training. We have some funny stories from that job. Once we set off an alarm in a bank while we were cleaning the floor. I also had a paper route
FamilyMy wife is a runner and she ran a 3:08 marathon back in the day. She ran with the Greater Boston Track Club as well. We met after the Freedom Trail Run race in Boston. I have a daughter, Lily, and son-in-law, David, and they live with us. I have two grandchildren. Major is three years old and Havid, she is six months old and we all live in the same house. That’s my family. My sister, lives in a rural area in Kingsboro. My brother, Mike, lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and he is retired. My parents have both passed away
PetsWe have our second cat now that is quite different from the first cat. The first one was ‘Killer.’ Both cats are outdoor cats. ‘Killer’ was devastating to mice, birds – it was sad, he was bad. We had him for about sixteen years. He ended up getting eaten by a Fisher cat. That type of cat has a blood curdling scream. It got our first cat. Our second cat is completely the opposite. It’s a long-haired cat named ‘Meatball’ that is very, very friendly. He is always looking to sit on someone’s lap. So, we have had two vastly different cats. They crossed paths for a while and that wasn’t good
Favorite breakfastI don’t usually eat breakfast except for one slice of toast, orange juice, coffee, and a couple glasses of water – that’s it. If I eat a bigger breakfast, it’s when we go out and it is more like brunch. I might have a breakfast sandwich occasionally
Favorite mealFish and pasta. It depends what I’m in the mood for
Favorite beveragesOf course, I like to have coffee and juice in the morning. During the day, I drink tea and water. I have a lot of hot tea. In the evening, beer or wine
First running memoryBefore I was ever formally running, where I lived in an acre section of Lowell, Massachusetts was a boxing community. It is where Mickey Ward, from the movie, ‘The Fighter,’ lived and that movie was based on the acre of land where I grew up in Lowell. Mickey Ward’s uncle, Beau Jaynes, was a boxer, who won a few titles. He used to train on the North Common which was right outside of my home, the tenement house where we lived. He would run in Army boots and a sweat suit with big cotton sweatpants in the middle of the summer. He would run laps around the Common, so we all started running behind him one day. He would look back and throw punches at us and start laughing. My first running memory was that we kids would challenge each other to see who could make it around the perimeter of the North Common. It probably wasn’t much more than a quarter of a mile. But when you’re a kid everything stretches out when you aren’t used to running that far. That would be my first running memory
Running heroesI liked baseball and, one day when I came home, I had borrowed a few issues of Track and Field News from my coach in high school. I started ordering and buying running books. I took down my pictures of players on the Red Sox and put up pictures of Abebe Bikila running barefoot in the streets of Rome in the 1960 Olympics and Jim Ryun. Those were my first two running heroes. Later, it was all the New Zealanders and Ron Hill, who won the Boston Marathon in 1970. I started running in 1969, and remember looking up to 1968 Olympians like Kip Keino and Ben Jipcho
Greatest running momentIn high school I ran a 9:17 two-mile and I won the Massachusetts Class A title with that time. It was a school record and is still the outdoor school record at my high school even though another athlete ran 9:16 indoors. Also, finishing fourth in the State meet in cross country was a great moment. In college, it was being an NCAA Division I All-American in cross country. I went to a Division III school but qualified for the Division I Championship where I came in twenty-second place. I was the eleventh American runner. Post-collegiately, finishing third in the Boston Marathon was a huge breakthrough race, but winning the Beppu Marathon was even bigger in terms of finishing good about myself. Winning a big marathon is hard to top. I only ran 2:15, but when you win, time doesn’t matter
Worst running momentDefinitely the Olympic boycott in 1980. I didn’t even run the Olympic Trials Marathon and I’m not saying I was a favorite or anything. But I think I would have had a shot, my best shot probably. That was a disappointment, not just then, but because it was a letdown knowing something like that could happen. We were walking around with rose-colored glasses and didn’t understand the history to know that these things could happen. It was shocking and why continue in the sport when you know that the rug can be pulled out. I like Jimmy Carter. He is a great man and, apparently, he still thinks he did the right thing, but that was hard to bear. It took the wind out of my sails so much. Other than that, I had races that didn’t go well but, balanced against those that did, everything kind of worked out
Childhood dreamsI was pretty immature as a kid. I don’t think I thought about wanting to do much when I was a kid. If anything, I wanted to explore a bit. I liked western shows on television like ‘Daniel Boone, ‘but that wasn’t really an avocation. If I had to say anything, I guess I figured I would do some kind of office job like my dad who did the payroll for his company. To be honest, I didn’t have any dreams even in high school. I figured a job was a job and what I wanted was running and doing fun things. I liked being outdoors and figuring what life was about instead of being a doctor or nurse or something that was useful
Funny memory oneVin Fleming and I met at Johnson and Wales College. He was in his second year and we got along well right from the start. We were very competitive with each other, and he was always challenging me. He was pushing it, even in workouts. But he hadn’t beaten me yet in a cross-country race. There was a day where we could have just run together. The other team didn’t have anyone who could stay with us and we knew we were going to win the meet. All we had to do was run. It was just another one of those meets. Vinnie just got out there and was leading on this narrow path. I would have had to endanger my life to get around the runners in front of me to catch up with him. I just thought I would let him have his little victory. Then I saw one of his shoes in a big mud puddle. At first, I didn’t realize it was his shoe. As I kept running, I realized it was probably his shoe. As I came around this field toward the finish, I was on a dirt road. I saw Vinnie’s sock flapping on his foot. I was laughing so hard that I almost didn’t catch him. He was going to go through any lengths to win. What got me was that I ran around the puddle which was a couple extra yards. That was a lot better than running through it. I think he was probably running so hard that he couldn’t stop his forward momentum and ran through it. That was a funny one
Funny memory twoI was offered $3,000 to race in Japan in a marathon after the 1988 Olympic Trials 10k and was considering going. My wife, Fannie, said she would give me $3,000 to stay home. I didn’t think it was funny at the time (laughing). She tolerated a lot in the previous couple years as my athletics were very tough. I knew it was the end but tried to keep going when someone would offer me money and I wasn’t making much income. It made me think, ‘maybe I should do this.’ It was good that she said that. When I was writing my book, I asked her, ‘Do you remember saying that?’ She said, ‘I don’t remember saying that, but I believe that is something I would have said’
Funny memory threeThere was a party after the US-USSR track and field meet and the interesting thing is only the athletes and the coaches could be at this party. There was nobody from the outside. No media. You couldn’t bring your spouse. Nothing. It was just the athletes. The party was in a home in a gated community that hadn’t opened yet a few miles from the track. The homes were used to house the teams, and everything was brand spanking new. I was rooming with Paul Gorman, my teammate in the 10k. The Russians spoke English somewhat – a lot better than we spoke Russian, for sure. We met these girls and I don’t even remember what events they did. We were only with them briefly and there was a language barrier. We were looking around and the party was kind of dull. We invited some of them upstairs. We were laughing and trying to tell jokes. The language difference can be kind of funny and we also had a few adult beverages. Anyway, there was a knock on the door and a couple security personnel were there. I don’t think they were coaches but were there to watch their athletes. They came in and broke us up. One was a big hammer thrower and we weren’t going to mess with him
Embarrassing momentI put diesel fuel in my gas-powered car. It could have happened to anyone – right?!
Favorite places to travelA few years ago, my wife and I travelled to Scotland and the highlands on a tour and hiked. That was great and, because we were on a tour, they did everything for us. All we had to do was walk all day. The hikes were tough. Since it was a group, the participants fitness levels varied. They try to get people who are reasonably fit so they can make it through the hiking. My wife would like to travel more but, for me, travel isn’t as much a pleasure anymore. I was planning to be at the Olympic Trials track and field meet this year. I like going to the northwest U.S. and I have friends out there. I like northern California, Oregon, and Washington. I used to travel for work to conferences in El Paso, St. Louis, and Florida