In 1977, when Bill Rogers was the top marathoner on the planet he, his brother Charlie and Jason Kehoe (a childhood friend of the Rogers’ brothers) opened the first of three stores at Cleveland Circle – around mile 22 of the Boston Marathon Route. There is a great story covering the store closing on Boston.com that you can read by clicking HERE.
In the early days a store like the Bill Rogers Running Center was more than just a place to buy running shoes or gear. It was a place where running nerds like myself could go to “nerd out”. You could talk with other runners about training, upcoming races, workouts, run groups, race strategy and immerse yourself in the culture of running. In a sport where so much time is spent alone with your own thoughts while you are training, it is great to have that support group.
But as things have changed with technology, many runners now purchase gear and equipment from one of the big box athletic suppliers or online to get the best price and selection. They might go to a local running store once in a while to get fitted or to check out the new model of a shoe, but once they know what type of shoe, size and fit that they need, they do most of their purchases on-line. I am no different, although I do make a point to support the local running stores several times a year to purchase shoes and equipment. But the reality is that in 2012 I will cover 2,500 running miles, rotating a new pair of shoes on average every 300 miles. That is 8 new pairs of shoes and another two pairs purchased specifically to race in (Boston Marathon and Houston Marathon). Out of those 10 pairs of shoes, or roughly $1,000 of gear, only two or three pair will be purchased locally ($200-$300). The balance will be purchased on-line, delivered to my front door in less than 48 hours.
That is what makes running a small, local running store like the Bill Rogers Running Center such a challenge. If you are only able to attract 20% of the business from somebody like me, how are you going to do with a more casual runner? Too much competition in a niche market – and it gets very, very challenging.
By the time Landry is in race flats, there really won’t be too many places like Bill’s shop any more and that is too bad.
On April 20, 2010 I visited the Bill Roger’s Running Center in Boston for the first time. Less than 24 hours after finishing the Boston Marathon the day before, and only 12 days from running my second marathon in 13 days for Dom, I walked backwards down the steps inside of Bill’s shop to the basement level, (as only a marathoner can fully understand the pain in trying to take a downward flight of stairs forward facing). As I was looking around at Bill’s Race flats, running gloves, photographs and memorabilia from a career of road racing over in the corner, talking running was the marathoner himself, Bill Rogers.
I got in line with a book I had planned to purchase about the Boston Marathon and waited patiently to meet Bill.
As I approached he asked if I had run the day before. I told him yes and he asked, “so, how was it?” – with a look in his eye that told you that he knew exactly how difficult the course and the race can be in Boston.
I told him that I started a bit too fast, the downhills really were much steeper than I had trained for and I missed my goal time by just under 5 minutes.
Bill smiled at me and said, “You know, I DNF’d on that course twice. It is a very difficult marathon to run. You had a tremendous day out there yesterday, you should be very proud of your race. Wait ’till next time, you are going to run it so much better ….”
He scribbled away in my book, closed the flap and handed it back to me. I didn’t read the inscription until after I left the store. We chatted about racing. About Austin, TX – he asked if I knew Paul Carrozza and Gilbert Tuhaboyne and told me stories about running races with both men. Men who I have met multiple times on our local race circuit and members of the running community here in Austin that I respect as much as anyone. We said our goodbyes and I slowly walked back upstairs to meet up with Dawn who was 5-months pregnant with Landry and our friends Ralph and Michele who came into Boston to watch me race.
Gracious to the end, that is something I will remember long after I put on my race shoes for the last time – whenever that day comes, if it comes.
I thought a lot about that day when I was training for Boston this year. How much better I was prepared, how I had tailored my training to the specificity required to handle the downhill start of the race and the climbing of the Newton Hills. I was indeed ready to really crush Boston in my second attempt. Then of course the weather intervened with 87 degree temperatures and I never got a chance to find out. I simply ran the course like a training run to make sure I stayed out of the medical tents and finished my second Boston Marathon 20 minutes slower than my first.
I stopped back in to see Bill again this year after the race and our conversation went very similarly to the one two years earlier. I told him what he had said to me after 2010 and how it fueled me in my preparations for the 2012 Boston Marathon. He smiled that crooked smile with his big eyes wide open and said, “Well, you ran the first one bravely and the second one with a great deal of restraint and sensibility – two of the things that make up a great marathoner …”
Bill Rogers touched many lives through his racing and his running centers. 35-years contributing to the sport that so many of us have grown to love.
I think I am going to stop by our local running store on the way home this week as I am in need of a new pair of trainers for my final five 20+ milers on the way to the starting line in Houston. Sure I could order them online, but I think I need to make a point to give back to our local community stores here a little more frequently.
Thank you Bill, happy trails! I know we have not seen the last of you yet.