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Posted: February 2, 2009  :

Athletics: Marathon Legend Bill Rodgers Laces Up For Sunday's State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon

Rodgers to race in the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship
Still races 35 to 40 times per year at age 61
Held numerous American and two world records during the late 1970s
Registration still underway through event expo February 6-7
One of final qualifiers for 2009 Boston Marathon

MELBOURNE, FL (February 1) -- During an eight-mile run last summer in Massachusetts, a running companion asked Bill Rodgers, "What keeps you excited about running and racing?"

"The sense of anticipation at the starting line. Seeing everyone again. Just getting out there with friends, meeting new runners and talking with them," he said.

This week, the 61-year-old marathon legend and global ambassador for distance running will fill his plate with all of the above when he ventures south to Melbourne, Fla. for the inaugural State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon. Nearly 1,500 runners are expected to line up. The marathon and half-marathon will begin at 6:45 a.m. in Melbourne, with the Florida Today 5K to follow at 7:15 a.m.

Registration is still open by going to www.themelbournemarathon.com. Entry fees are $100 for the Marathon, $85 for the Half Marathon and $35 for the Florida Today 5K. All three races are open to runners of all ages. The marathon offers runners one of the final opportunities to qualify for the 2009 Boston Marathon. Entries will also be accepted Friday and Saturday at the event's official expo.

Rodgers hasn't run a marathon since seeking the 50-and-over U.S. record in the 1999 Boston Marathon. He will focus on the segment of the State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon that is riveting distance fans nationwide: the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship.

"I love the half-marathon, how the race represents both speed and endurance," Rodgers said. "It's a lot more accessible to the fitness community, to the over-40 runner. For older guys like myself, it's a good long distance race that doesn't cost you as much emotionally or the wear and tear that you have with the marathon. Plus, for runners with only a year or two under their belts, running a half is an attainable accomplishment — and a major part of a progression toward finishing a full marathon.

"Take a race like Melbourne. A gentleman who's 70 might watch (72-year-old) Bill Riley running along in the half, say, 'I've got to get into this,' then go to the store and get some shoes. He'll get out there and walk, then jog, start working out. This happens all the time now."

A two-time Olympian, Rodgers dips into a very deep well of experience when he discusses marathons. Between 1975 and 1980, he was the world's greatest marathoner and distance road racer, winning the Boston and New York marathons four times apiece among his 22 career worldwide victories in major marathons. In 1978, he had perhaps the greatest single season ever for an American road racer, winning 27 of 30 events—including the Boston, New York and Fukuoka marathons, the only runner to ever win the former "Big Three" in the same year. During the year, he ran the fastest 10K (6.2 miles) ever in the world, 28:36.3, and set the American marathon record with a 2:09.27. In 1979, he broke the world 25K(15.5 miles) record with a time of 1 hour, 14 minutes, 11.8 seconds.

Rodgers still races 35 to 40 times per year, but his goals have drastically changed. "I used to be focused on American records, but when I broke my tibia (lower leg) at age 55, my approach to races changed," he said. "The last five years have been the most challenging of my career. Last year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That slowed me down, and made me realize that as we age, we hit different obstacles. Also, how much I've run over the years has become a challenge."

Like many older runners, he now seeks age-group victories when he races. He will not be among the favorites in the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship (he predicts a 1:35 to 1:37 finish), but competing in the event and seeing old friends bring out his infectious enthusiasm.

"But this race is going to be a lot of fun for people like myself, Dave Oliver, (1983 Boston Marathon champion) and Greg Meyer," Rodgers said. "We just want to get out of the Ice Age and get to Florida!"

Rodgers will have plenty of elite company in the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship, being run within the already scheduled half marathon portion of the event (which is open to runners of all ages). Olympians Sean Wade, the 2006 National Masters Runner of the Year, and Colleen De Reuck, who holds six American masters age-group records (including a 1:11.50 half-marathon), will face stout fields. Wade is expected to battle Dennis Simonaitis, Robin Rogers, Tracy Locken, Carl Rundell, Paul Aufdemberge and Jim Derick in a wide-open men's race, while De Reuck will face stiff competition from Kim Jones, one of the most decorated road racers in U.S. history, and former American half-marathon record holder Jody Hawkins. Also entered is 72-year-old Bill Riley, whose recent time of 1:31 would win many younger age-group titles in other half marathons.

"This is a great field," Rodgers said. "To be a part of this field, no matter where I finish, is great. My goal for all my races now is to be more competitive in the 60-to-64 age group. I'm not there yet, but who knows?"

The State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon has enjoyed significant support from city officials in Brevard County, Melbourne and Indialantic, along with the Space Coast Board of Tourism, the Melbourne-Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Sports Foundation.

State Farm Insurance is the umbrella sponsor of the event. Additional sponsors include: Florida Today; Health First; Delta Airlines; Melbourne International Airport; Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi of Melbourne; Crowne Plaza Melbourne Oceanfront; Space Coast Credit Union; Bright House Networks; Beachside Performance & Health Studio; the Flammio & Schultz Financial team of Wachovia Securities; Florida Eye Associates; McDonalds; The Sample Guy; Crocs; Melbourne Square; Ocean Potion Suncare; Aqua Hydrate; Clif Bar; Publix; Spacecoast Living magazine; and WFIT 89.5 FM.

Complete information and entry forms can be found at www.themelbournemarathon.com.


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