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Originally published Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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‘Marathon Man’: Bill Rodgers’ lifetime love of running

Bill Rodgers’ memoir “Marathon Man” tells the story of how he helped take running from a sport favored by a few eccentrics to an activity embraced by millions.

The Washington Post

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‘Marathon Man: My 26.2-Mile Journey from Unknown Grad Student to the Top of the World’

by Bill Rodgers and Matthew Shepatin

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press

Today, with your choice of running clubs, running shoes, running fashions, running drinks, bars and gels, the sport has become not only ubiquitous but even cool and chic. Not so when Bill Rodgers started running around Jamaica Pond in Boston in 1972.

Rodgers’ new book, “Marathon Man,” chronicles his life from runner to barfly and back to runner, and on to his first Boston Marathon victory in 1975. “I needed to move,” he writes. “I was meant to move. Even at my lowest point as an athlete, the magnetic pull was still there.”

The book vividly depicts its author as an aimless conscientious objector to the Vietnam War with a “goofy stride” who once ran a half-marathon in a blizzard wearing only sweatpants and his grandfather’s wool sweater. Even more interesting is the portrayal of a very different era for runners, when they were likely to get heckled. “You’d hear stuff like, ‘Who are you running from?’ or ‘Where’s the fire?’ ”

Rodgers was not on a quest to change the running world, even though that’s what he helped to do. He ran because he had to. “Running wasn’t an escape from life,” he writes, “rather, it was an embrace of it.” He ran without the comforts afforded today’s runners: water stations, mile markers and spectators on racecourses, dry-weave shirts and appropriate shoes.

Rodgers meticulously weaves an account of his young adult life into chapters devoted to his record-breaking win of the 1975 Boston Marathon — a victory that helped to change the course of his life and to increase the popularity of running as a sport. “I’ve always believed running can be one of the most powerful ways to promote good will and tolerance throughout the world,” he writes. “Maybe it’s because no man can stand above another when they run. ... We are all people. We are all just kids chasing butterflies.”

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