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Four Elite runners trade war stories, offer advice

Bill Rodgers
Bill Rodgers

“Once a runner, always a runner. We are meant to move.”The speaker was Bill Rodgers, four-time winner of the Boston Marathon and an Olympian in 1976 in Montreal.

He and three other elite runners joined Dr. Frank Adipietro outside the American Legion Hall Friday afternoon to trade stories of their running careers and talk about Saturday’s 37th Annual Shelter Island 10k in a two-hour broadcast over WLNG.

Joan Benoit Samuelson
Joan Benoit Samuelson

Joining him were Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal in a marathon in the 1984 Los Angeles games; George Hirsch, a founder of the New York City Marathon and founding publisher of “Runner’s World Magazine;” and Amby Burfoot, an American marathoner who won the 1968 Boston Marathon, and author of several books about running including the just released, “First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries Who Changed the Sport.”

George Hirsch
George Hirsch

At age 82, Mr. Hirsch is still running, but his plans to do a 10K Saturday ended with a cold he has been unable to shake, prompting him to instead run the 5K.

Amby Burfoot
Amby Burfoot

While Mr. Burfoot is running Shelter Island for the first time, Mr. Rodgers has been here six times, Ms. Benoit Samuelson five times and Mr. Hirsch is running here for the second time.

Ms. Benoit Samuelson recounted finishing the Olympic Marathon only 17 days after she had knee surgery. Having trained for the race, she wasn’t going to let the recent surgery steal her opportunity to run the race, she said. That she not only ran, but won, she credits to her insistence on always running her own race.

“When I entered the tunnel [on the final leg in Los Angeles] I decided I’d give it my best shot,” she said. She was enough ahead of other women on the course that she thought the win was hers unless “I fell on my face.”

She never inspects a course before she runs it, she said. Part of what encourages her as she races is wanting to know what’s around the next turn.

What has always informed her running career are the four Ps: Passion, Patience, Persistence and Perseverance.

“If you don’t have passion, you don’t have fire and without fire, you can’t ignite anything,” she said.

Just as she takes each race course as it unfolds is how she lives her life, Ms. Benoit Samuelson said. “I react to life as life plays itself out,” she said.

In 1979, Ms. Benoit Samuelson won the Boston Marathon and recalls that the men’s winner, Mr. Rodgers, was invited to the White House.

“Gloria Steinem got on the horn and said if you’re going to invite the men’s winner, you better include the women’s winner.”

That’s how she got her invitation to the White House.

It was Mr. Rodgers who challenged Mr. Hirsch to the “Race Within a Race” here Saturday. The fact that he will be running a 10k while Mr. Hirsch runs the 5k doesn’t change the challenge.

People will be asked to estimate the combined race times of the two men and the person who comes the closest will win a special Shelter Island gift basket.

“We’re all a little older,” Mr. Rodgers, now 69, said about his racing days. “But this is a sport for everybody. I’m going to run as hard as I can. It’s all about having fun.”

When he and Mr. Burfoot were college roommates, Mr. Rodgers was the more talented of the two, Mr. Burfoot said.

But Mr. Rodgers didn’t initially have the same drive so Mr. Burfoot frequently won races in which the two competed.

While he would go home to bed in advance of a 20-mile run, Mr. Rodgers would go out partying, he said. It didn’t surprise him later to see Mr. Rodgers’ dedication kick in so he could achieve the many wins he did, Mr. Burfoot said.

“It was a crazy dream,” Mr. Burfoot had about winning the Boston Marathon, a dream he accomplished in 1968. No American had won that race in 11 years, he said.

With respect to his future in running, he summed it up saying, “I don’t like sitting very long; I’m going to run into the horizon.”

As for Mr. Hirsch, Dr. Adipietro described him as “the most mentally tough runner” he has known.

The four elite runners talked about the camaraderie of the sport with Mr. Hirsch quoting Mr. Rodgers as saying he “never met a runner he didn’t like.”

Among the factors that Ms. Benoit Samuelson likes about the sport is that it brings together the best runners with the average everyday runners.

“When you toe the line, you’re competitors, but at the end of the race, you’re friends,” she said.

Competition is important, Mr. Hirsch said. “People care about how well they do and there’s a common bond.”

Running has informed how he lives his life with the philosophy that “you never make a decision on the uphill.”

Responding to questions from the Shelter Island Cross Country runners, the four offered advice:

• “Always be optimistic,” Mr. Rodgers said.

• Believe in your self and let setbacks be teaching tools, Ms. Benoit Samuelson said.

• On days when you aren’t motivated to get out and run, remember that you always feel better when you do, Mr. Hirsch said.

• “Success builds passion,” Mr. Burfoot said.

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