Bob Anderson boasts of 55 years of running, having started his journey at the age of 15 in 1962. In 2012, he ran 50 races to celebrate 50 years of running which is covered in the movie ‘A long run’. A desire to find more information about running and racing lead to his career in magazines. He is the founder of the Runner’s world magazine which he sold to Rodale press in 1984. He also founded the Ujena Swimwear and a new concept of racing called the double road racing in 2012 where a distance is broken into 2 stages with a recovery break time in between for the legs.
Recently Bob turned 70 and he is in conversation with Swetha Amit, reflecting on his running journey, the concept of double road racing and his goals.
- So how and when did your journey with running begin?
I started in 1962. Initially I had a hard time running even a mile. Then when I started to run a mile, I slowly began to enjoy it and that’s how I fell in love with running.
- You founded runners’ world magazine which is considered as a bible for many runners. How did that idea come about?
I was running in high school and was quite a decent runner. At the age of 17, I wanted to run the Boston marathon and asked my track coach on how I should go about my training. He had no idea so I found some addresses of people who could help me with my training. I gathered all the information that I needed. One day on a track meet, I was telling my school pal about the information that I had collected and how I wanted to share it with others. I told him that I wanted to start a magazine and call it the distance runner magazine. That’s how it started and this was in 1966.
- From the time you commenced running, what changes do you see in the running culture?
When I first started running, it was looked upon as something that only a few people can do. In fact, when you were on the roads wearing those running shorts, you were labelled as an oddball. Running became popular only when Frank Shorter won the marathon in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. That brought a lot of attention to the sport. Today many people have taken up running . The fact that it doesn’t require complex skills like in the case of Tennis or golf, makes it easier. All you require is to put one leg in front of another and you are good to go. That’s the reason why I like it too. The accumulated knowledge in runners’ world helped educating people about the nuances in running. The more educated people got, the easier running became. Today I see women outnumbering men especially at races.
- You are also a pioneer of an interesting concept called double road races and you organize these events all across the world. Could you tell us more about how this idea was initially conceived and how has it been received by runners?
During one of our training runs, my son and I thought we should do something different. Initially we thought we would do a triathlon but then I am a terrible swimmer and not too comfortable on a bike. When we were brainstorming, we started to think about track meets where we do a mile first and then another mile. We realized that the second leg was more fun than the first one and that’s how the idea for the double road race commenced. Everyone had to run 2 legs of a particular distance where the first leg is longer than the second with a half time break in between. When we initially tried it, a lot of people loved this concept and we have now done close to about 100 double road races in the world.
- In which countries have these double road races have been conducted so far?
We have conducted them in Greece, Tokyo, Mexico, USA, Indonesia and Kenya. In fact, in Kenya we had a double half marathon starting with a 10 miler in the first leg followed by a 5 k. We had guys running at 1 hour 1 minute that too at an altitude which was incredible. We are looking to conduct these races in different places. It’s an interesting concept and one has to be mentally ready for it.
- Considering your experience in running, what advice would you give to all those who want to take up running seriously?
I think that anybody who is interested and really serious, have to realize that there is a lot of training and dedication involved. You are as good as your training is. Now training hard does not mean you have to do 100 miles every week. You can commit to running say 40-50 miles a week and have a goal that you want to run fast. It may take some effort but the rewards at the end are just unbelievable. Imagine running at a pace you never thought you could ever do. It’s an amazing feeling.
However, having said that I will warn people that running is addictive. Beware of it. That addiction should empower your life rather than getting in the way of your family time or job. It should be more of a positive addiction.
- Speaking of addiction, the ‘too fast too soon’ phenomenon is taking over where people jump distances wanting to achieve their long-term goals soon. What is your take on this?
It is very easy to want to jump ahead. Sometimes there is a tendency to want to move too quickly to a point where you get prone to injuries. Everything takes time like wine. So be patient. Start off first by building a base and then focus on working on your speed. Keep it fun. When you step out of that door and you begin to feel running is more like a chore, take the day off or just run slow or walk. I am also a firm believer in having 3-4 pairs of running shoes. It’s important that you don’t have the same strike to the ground that you would if you ran with only the same pair of shoes every time.
- Turning 70 is a special occasion and you are as fit as a fiddle. What keeps you going?
I am addicted to running and that’s what keeps me going. You know it’s actually interesting to be a runner when you turn 70 as you move into an entirely different age group. Now I am in the 70 plus age group and in a race, you don’t see too many people in this age category. I believe that age is just a number. Having said that, I do realize that things are different but I don’t make a big deal of it. There are days when my legs feel numb which may not have been the case when I was younger. However, there is always a next day and I look forward to each day. I have only been 70 now for about a month and I am looking forward to doing races that I have done earlier like the Carlsbad race in San Diego.
- What has been your most memorable race so far?
By far, the most memorable race has to be the Boston marathon which I ran in 2013. You feel like a rock star while running that race as it’s a great course and you have a million people out there cheering for you. I ran the course in 3:32 when I was 65. Yes, it was a tragic incident as the bombings during that year caused quite a stir.
- What are your plans and long-term goals?
You know I really want to continue doing things and turn people towards running. This includes individuals of all age groups and from different countries. Running has transformed my life to a large extent and I want to do everything possible to capture people’s interest towards running. At present, I am conducting Double road races. We are also doing a website called My Best Runs to encourage people to get into racing. If people don’t race then it could result in a tendency to not continue. A lot of people write continuously but do not publish. Racing is like publishing in the writing field.
I have run 50 races in 2012. To me that was too much and a lot of pressure. At present, I would say 15-20 races is a good number to target in a year. Look for those which have good courses. I personally enjoying traveling to races. The most important thing about running is the people. Its these people who make your journey worthwhile.