If you are reading this blog you should be familiar with the name Bill Rodgers. If you need a hint, he is the 4 time winner of both the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon. If that's not enough he was also a member of the U.S. Olympic team and world record holder at several distances.
In July 2008, I did a posting where I talked about how friendly and approachable I have found runners to be. On Saturday, February 14th, I was at the expo for the "26.2 with Donna - The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer." As I was leaving I saw Bill Rodgers coming toward me. I said hello and we engaged in a conversation. I had met him previously at the Disney World Marathon and the Boilermaker 15K.
At one point in our conversation I asked him if he was running the marathon on Sunday. His response was "no, I'm running the half." I was registered to run the half-marathon and I was sure that he was approximately my age. In a discreet manner I asked him how old he was. Without hesitation he answered "61", I am 63. Oh no! I now have to compete with Bill Rodgers. He asked me if I had run the race last year and I responded "yes, I placed 3rd in my age group." He congratulated me and said he'll have to look out for the "tall guy". I assured him it would be me who was looking out for him.
Race morning came and I scanned the crowd looking for him. I was situated near the front of the race a spot I am not too familiar with. After the pre-race ceremonies, we were set to go. The start of the race was complete with an explosion of pink paper confetti. It reminded me of a New England snowstorm, except it was 58 degrees.
The start was very orderly and we moved out toward the first turn at approximately the half mile mark. As I settled in and felt comfortable with my pace, I saw Bill to my left and he acknowledged me once again as "tall guy". I moved to within a couple of feet, careful not to get too close following my elbowing incident with Jeff Galloway several years ago. There was no way I was going to "assault" Bill Rodgers. What was funny as we ran along talking, he does like to talk, was not many people recognized him. So there I was stride for stride with an icon of running.
The mile markers and time clocks came and went, one mile, two miles, three miles and he and I were locked in another "Duel in the Sun", except is was overcast. At the four mile mark I was slightly ahead of him, could he be tiring? Had I run him into the ground with my pace? No. At mile 5 we came out onto the sand of Jacksonville Beach. As we turned north up the coast he began to pull away. Most runners would leave you in their "dust", he left me in his "sand". I wasn't disappointed because he was ahead of me, I was going to miss his conversation. I accepted the reality that our "duel" was over. I was ahead of my pace by a few minutes. I had let the thrill of running with him distract me from the split times. I had reached the 5 mile mark in under 40:00 minutes, a fast pace for me.
As I exited the beach and headed south toward the finish I felt very comfortable. I was aware of my pace and how I was feeling. The weather conditions were very good, favorable temperature, light breeze and an overcast sky. The crowd support was terrific, I was doing OK!
I had set a time goal of 1:50:00, not a PR, but this course is moderately difficult. As I saw the time clocks at 8, 9 and 10 miles, I knew the time goal was within reach. I always like to see what my final 5K split is when running a half-marathon. I reached the 10 mile mark at 1:23:45, an easy time to remember. There is one last long hill on the causeway around mile 12. I needed a strong finish to ensure a time of 1:50. As I made the final turn and could see the finish tower ahead I knew all I had to run was approximately 400 yards. At about 100 yards I could see the red numbers on the time clock moving, but I wasn't able to clearly see the time. The first clear view showed me at 1:49:40, I had to dig in and go. I saw the clock at the finish reading 1:49:57. With an adjustment for "chip" time, my official time was 1:49:46.
When the results were posted I had finished 3rd in my age group. Who finished 2nd, you guessed it Bill Rodgers. Can you imagine the thrill I felt seeing my name one line below that of Bill Rodgers. I mentioned to someone it was like the MasterCard commercial, "running with Bill Rodgers......PRICELESS!"
Please visit my other blog the "Pink Bandanna" for details of the "rest of the story", featuring the comeback run of Donna Nelson and a post about the race founder Donna Deegan.