Back in 1975 Bill Rodgers made winning the Boston Marathon as well as setting a record time look easy. In his new memoir, “Marathon Man” — which all of Monday’s runners might want to speed read — he explains how “Boston Billy” came to be.
BOOKS: What are you currently reading?
RODGERS: Sometimes people send me their running books. A lot of them aren’t so good but I’ve been reading one recently I like, “Wannabe Distance God” [set to be self-published in June] by Timothy Tays . He’s a psychologist now but was a high school and college runner. He really catches the flavor of what it’s like to be on a team and all the ego struggles.
BOOKS: What other running books do you like?
RODGERS: “The Perfect Mile” by Neal Bascomb and Bernd Heinrich’s “Racing the Antelope.” For non-running books, I like all kinds. One of my favorite authors is John Irving. I’ve read “The Fourth Hand,” “A Widow for a Year,” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” which is my favorite. I like books that are kind of off-the-wall like “Bury Me Standing” by Isabel Fonesca, about the gypsies and their struggles.
BOOKS: What else do you read about?
RODGERS: I’m interested in history. I’ve been to China and ran the Beijing Marathon. So I read “The Private Life of Chairman Mao,” by Dr. Li Zhisui, his doctor. His stories are mind-boggling. I like biographies, too. I’ve read Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race’’ about doping and professional cycling. It’s very interesting and funny.
BOOKS: Do you read about sports in general?
RODGERS: Not really. I’m not a sports fan. I’m interested in unique stories, whoever it is. It might be something like Tyler’s book. Within running there aren’t that many books like that. There is Alberto Salazar’s “Fourteen Minutes.” Alberto has had a very interesting life, growing up in Cuba where his dad was a friend of Castro. The title refers to when Alberto collapsed from a heart attack and was without oxygen for 14 minutes. The book is just riveting.
BOOKS: Is there a relationship between reading and running for you?
RODGERS: In an indirect way. When I was a kid checking out my grandfather’s library, I found “In Brightest Africa” by the American naturalist Carl Akeley. He’d find wild animals and bring them to American zoos. The book was fascinating. I also liked reading newspaper travel sections. Later when I became a runner I got to travel around the world and experience what I had read about as a kid.
BOOKS: Did your training ever get in the way of reading?
RODGERS: Nah. One of the good things about running is you can’t do too much of it or you’re going to be injured. In my best years I trained two hours a day. You also travel a lot for running. You have to have a book with you. Right now in my travel bag I have “The Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz about a Polish soldier who escaped a Siberian prison during World War II. I read part of “Ivan’s War,” an excellent book about the struggles of the Russian people during World War II, then I left the book on a plane, unfortunately. Once I was on a plane in first class, which runners don’t get too much, and this guy sat down next to me. He offered me his mixed nuts. Being a runner, we are perpetually eating, I took them. I noticed he only had three fingers and part of his nose. Then I knew who he was. He was the Dallas surgeon left for dead on Mount Everest in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air.” I was so freaked out I didn’t say anything. I wish I had. What an experience to meet a person you read about in a book.