The genesis of running as an activity for the everyday person in the United States during the 1970's has arguably three primary icons.
And one of them will be at the Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk for the first time ever for the 37th event on April 5.
Famed runner Bill Rodgers, who between 1975 and 1980 won the Boston and New York marathons four times each, reached celebrity status in the era. Perhaps the only others who rivaled his iconic celebrity during the era were "Complete Book of Running" author Jim Fixx and fellow runner Frank Shorter.
Rodgers says he has never attended the Bridge Run before because the race date conflicted with Washington, D.C.'s famed Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run.
The 66-year-old decided to come to Charleston this year after the Cherry Blossom's "race director got a little bit mad at me last year."
Rodgers plans to sell and sign copies of his book, "Marathon Man: My 26.2-Mile Journey from Unknown Grad Student to the Top of the Running World," at the Bridge Run expo.
And he expects to run the race, too, though he's coming off of a hamstring injury and will probably be "slow."
The aging runner
The injury brings me to a subject that I think Rodgers, who continues to be a pioneer, can offer unique insights.
Running for the masses, long-term, is still an experiment and the generation that started in the 1970s is its first "guinea pigs."
How is it turning out?
Back then, the naysayers talked about people causing heart attacks and wearing out their knees.
Rodgers says the benefits have proven to outweigh the orthopedic and cardiac risks time and time again.
While Rodgers says he and other elite runners may not be the best measure of the running experiment, he has 170,000 miles on his body, and he is still running despite being "older and creakier."
The one area Rodgers says exercise science is still trying to figure out is what is ideal for maximizing fitness in older people, like himself.
"They (scientists) know it's good to be active, but I think how to train for older people is more complex. We continue to be guinea pigs in the experiment," says Rodgers.
Rodgers says one of key changes in running since the 1970s is knowledge.
"The difference is today we have 40 years of exercise science," says Rodgers, noting that runners, both competitive and recreational, know the importance of cross-training.
He says many more tap into swimming (his favorite), cycling, weight training and yoga.
"Today's runners can take a more balanced approach, avoid injury and extend their running lives," says Rodgers, who says he often goes to the pool after running.
In his prime, his cross-training involved light weight-lifting and, if injured, getting on a stationary bicycle for a few days.
"Now, for the first time, we're learning to deal with aging in a smart way and it is cross training," says Rodgers.
Rodgers remains an enthusiastic booster of running and other "lifetime sports" or Olympic sports of cycling, swimming, rowing and walking for health, not necessarily competition.
"I also think those sports are on the rise because everyone wants to feel better," says Rodgers, who was a smoker before he turned to running in the early 1970s.
"You can't just rely on your doctor to keep you healthy. It's up to you. We're all learning that."
Editor's Note: For more on Bill Rodgers' visit to Charleston for the 37th Cooper River Bridge Run, read a Q&A in The Post and Courier's Bridge Run section inside the April 3 Charleston Scene.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
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