Lowell has a great tradition of running and road races that is carried on today by Greater Lowell Road Runners. Last Sunday’s Baystate Marathon, one of the preeminent qualifying races for the Boston Marathon, is strong evidence of Lowell’s continued status as a center of running in New England.
One of the greatest runners to come out of Lowell was Bob Hodge, a 1973 graduate of Lowell High School and a 1990 graduate of University of Lowell. Bob now lives in Clinton, Massachusetts, and is the library director in the town of Berlin. Besides his passion for running, Bob became interested in writing while in high school. Now, he generously has shared some of his writing with us for publication on this website. Here’s the first of his pieces:
Running Down a Dream: Cohasset by the Sea Road Race, April 1978
By Bob Hodge
On returning home in March 1978 from a ten month long, cross the USA and back, excursion I immersed myself back into a competitive running grind. Yes, I decided to go all out/in. A victory at Boston Marathon was my goal and a place on the Olympic Team.
My good friend Ronnie who I had just traveled the country with didn’t exactly understand my passion but was supportive and my good friend Stevie who would become known to my running friends as “Stevie the Greek from Lowell” helped keep me anchored while we all sorted our young lives out, together.
My brother Mike secured a part time job for me at Paris Shoe Company on Bridge Street and on the Merrimack and close by today’s Kerouac Park Monument. It was pretty easy work just filling in for others on the assembly line, doing odd jobs, and going out to get coffee for the bosses etc.
I did not have a car and so I biked or walked everywhere. It was difficult to get to Boston to run with my Greater Boston TC mate’s which was a serious drawback. I began to do workouts at the Dracut High School track where I had previously gone while a student athlete at the University of Lowell. Stevie would come by and time me with a stopwatch and write my splits down in a little notebook for me. “This is like having my own racehorse, said Stevie”
When I returned from my trip I had gone for a job interview at a new running supply store called the RUNNERY. Many of these specialty stores started to spring up as the newer companies making running shoes had a hard time breaking into the normal retail establishments. It was located in Hanover MA . The proprietor Sharpless Jones was someone I had known through old friend bartender Tommy Leonard and we had met at the Eliot Lounge in Boston where Tommy worked and hosted runners like my group the GBTC. The Eliot was our Boston hangout.
I had not heard back from Sharpless regarding my employment but he did mention a race in Cohasset and that if I should win this race wearing the shirt with the very sexy logo of the RUNNERY that would be pretty awesome.
Not having a car I asked Stevie if he wanted to travel to the race with me, I promised him a libation maybe even a snack. “Sure Hodgie I never been down there before, I’m in.”
We left Lowell early on a Sunday morning and it was clear sailing down to the South Shore. When we arrived we were quite in awe of the beautiful little village of Cohasset and the seascape along which the race course traversed.
I met up with Sharpless’s assistant Beverly who lived in Cohasset and had a RUNNERY shirt and race number for me. Sharpless would not be in attendance but my friend Tommy Leonard was. “Bobby, Holy Cow you have a good run and I will see you afterwards.” Tommy’s enthusiasm always made me smile. I was feeling pretty good warming up Stevie even jogged a bit with me.
The competition did not look to be too tough as I did not see anyone I knew but I was not getting cocky. I’m sure I didn’t look like much to my fellow competitors either. I was wearing some worn out cotton shorts, an old turtleneck t shirt and my sexy RUNNERY top. This was not going to be a beauty contest.
It was a small field perhaps two hundred runners at most. I lined up at the front and got away well. At the first mile I was leading with just a few hangers on and seeing that they were already laboring I kept the pressure on and pulled away. This was my kind of course. There were rolling hills with wide open vistas of the sea as we approached the shoreline in Hull.
I cruised the six and a half mile course to an easy victory. At the finish I spoke to a reporter from the Patriot Ledger Newspaper. I would end up having my victory photo in the newspaper a good plug for the RUNNERY.
Stevie and I did some easy running while waiting for the awards ceremony. I was given a certificate entitling me to dinner for two at the local Red Lion Inn. Stevie and I were up for that. Stevie ordered the lobster and Tommy suggested to management that I should have a magnum of Champagne. Stevie was in awe “Hodgie you hot shit, why didn’t you tell about this road race deal before?” It was hard to persuade him that it did not always pay off like this.
“Hodgie, anytime you need a ride to the races I’m your man”
There would be many more race adventures for Stevie and me. My immediate goal was the 10,000 meters at the famed Penn. Relays in Philadelphia just a few weeks away. There I hoped to achieve a qualifying time for the Nationals to be held that year in Berkley CA.
It would be difficult but I felt like I was on a good trajectory. It was difficult sometimes to justify my commitment to running to some people but it felt right to me so I blocked out the noise and took it one day at a time.
Of course there are norms and rules and even a wayward wannabe distance runner must sometimes abide.
And so I did, on my own terms and I considered it a privilege just to be free to pursue what most ordinary citizens and neighbors might view as a pointless quest. Would I be the next Frank Shorter or Icarus flying too close to the sun?