Thursday, January 17, 2013


Suc-cess (suk ses’) n. Achievement of something intended or desired; attaining wealth, fame or prosperity. ~ Webster’s Pocket Dictionary

Success in running CAN be a very easy thing to measure. How fast did you run? Did you win? If so, how many times? Did you set a record or win a medal in the process? It’s simple. There’s a clock. There are winners and there are losers. It doesn’t require an interpretation to be made by a judge or a referee. It’s as black and white a sport as there is, with no gray area. Heck, at some races, there are even cameras at the finish line to ensure there is absolutely no question as to who won and who didn’t.

Recently the local governing body of my sport gave out an award for “Running Club of the Year”. Based on an on-line vote by the USATF-NE membership, the co-winners of this award were The Western Mass Distance Project and The Whirlaway Racing Team. The credentials listed for the winning teams were as follows; WMDP: The youngest club in New England - founded in 2012, 2nd place at New England XC, 9th at Nationals, 7th at NE Grand Prix, won the 10 km team championship. WRT: NE Grand Prix the Whirlaway team was everywhere: 4th place open men, 2nd 40 + men, 1st 50+ men, 1st women open, 1st women 40 +, 1st women 50+.

While both are very fine teams with a good number of talented and dedicated runners, it seems like they each were given the award based solely on the fact that they won the most races - which is kind of like giving an award to the team that’s gotten the most awards! Obviously I’m in the minority here, but I think that in order to deserve a title as prestigious as “Club of the Year” you have to do more than just win races. There has to be a balance between the success that the team achieves and the success that the team inspires. And, I think the running club that strikes that balance perfectly is The Gate City Striders.

Their racing team is composed of runners from each of the 6 New England States who compete in races all across the region and beyond. GCS runners have won numerous National Championships – both individually and as a team. They typically have the highest
club turnout at the New England Grand Prix races. And, usually get more than 50 runners at The Boston Marathon and The Mount Washington Road Race. So they have more then their fair share of speedsters.

They provide their members with free coaching for outdoor track and charge only a minimal fee for indoor coaching – just to cover the cost of the dome. They have entry fee reimbursement for all New England Grand Prix Races. They provide bypasses to members who weren’t able to get in to the Mount Washington Road Race or the Boston Marathon. And, they give away 3 college scholarships per year to deserving children of club members.

They give back to the community through Fitness University which is dedicated to promote the importance of fitness, fun and good health to area children. These FREE clinics regularly draw 200-300 kids a night and over 500 on Finals Day. They have a youth program for members, ages 8 & above. They offer a Couch to 5k Program for beginner runners. And, they put on low-cost ($3-5 per runner) family friendly races such at Freeze Your Buns and the Summer Trail Series.

They also have plenty of non-running ways to be part of something great too, including volunteering at one of many local charity races, or just helping to keep Nashua clean during Mine Falls Trail Days. On one day in November, they had 5 youth teams qualify for the National Junior Olympic XC Championships, where their Sub-Bantam Boys team took bronze. And, at the same time, they put on a Trail Race where 100% of the proceeds ($3333) went directly to the Nashua Children's Home.

In running we tend to hero worship quite a bit. I think it’s because, as serious runners ourselves, we know how hard it is to reach a certain level of success and when we see others who are so many levels above us we can’t help but admire them and their achievements. Also, this region of the country is a veritable running hotbed. Our running history is so deep, and well documented, that there are a great number of local runners who deserve our praise and adoration.

One of these people in particular has always stood out for me, but not for the reasons you might think. This runner’s name is Bill Rodgers. Boston Billy is a local running legend who is the 4-time winner of both the Boston & New York marathons. He won an astounding 27 of the 30 races he entered in 1978. He set an American record in the marathon of 2:09:27 back in 1979. And set a world record in the 25k of 1:14:11, also in 1979.

I met Bill Rodgers many years ago at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games. I was there with my son and Bill came in and sat down on the bench next to us. Eventually we struck up a conversation. I had originally hoped to learn about my childhood idol and maybe get a story about what it was like back in the day when he went toe to toe with the world’s best. But, much to my chagrin, he steered the conversation back to me and my running. Imagine, a runner as successful as Bill Rodgers wanting to know about my experiences!

As we got up to leave I asked him to sign my program. I was half expecting to see him write something like “Bill Rodgers, 4-time BOS & NYC marathon winner” or, “Bill Rodgers – 2:09:27” But what he wrote gives me chills to this day. He wrote: “Mike, let’s always run! – Bill RodgersLet’s always run! Well I can tell you, as soon as I got home, I did just that! He inspired me to run my fastest time yet on my favorite 9 mile course. And, 12 years later, I still haven’t stopped running. I can’t let Bill down!

I think a successful person (or organization) is one who, rather than bask in the glow of the spotlight, uses that light to lead others out of the darkness. Bill Rodgers did that for me on a bright February day and the Gate City Striders do that for countless others year in and year out.

What’s your definition of success?


  1. Excellent post! Great story about Boston Billy. Congrats to your club on a highly successful season. Good luck with your quest for pr's this year!

    1. Thanks Greg. As always, I'll be walking the fine line between speed and injury. I was fortunate last year. LOTS of long slow miles. ;)

  2. Once again. Nice post. Thanks for sharing w/ Level Renner. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks Kevin. I sent Eric a few more articles to use if you're ever hard up for material. :)

  3. Hey it was nice to meet you Sunday too!

    GCS sounds like a great club! Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint), I think there are a lot of great clubs out there that inspire many runners, and make a huge effort to inspire youth too. It's probably difficult (and maybe unfair) to select a "club of the year."

    Though I love reading about elites and am always impressed with their capability, I really love reading about "normal" runners. Those who might be in the middle of the pack, but are passionate about the sport.

    1. "Fortunately" - most definitely. :)

      My point about elites was: If a guy with Bill Rodgers credentials can be so positive and giving to other runners, there's no reason the rest of us "slobs" shouldn't be as well. Good luck with your Boston training!

  4. Boston Billy wrote,"Lets Always Run!" He should have started a message board!
    Great article!