Friday, April 10, 2015

Taking the Long Way Home Book Club: Interview with Hal Higdon, author of 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners


Just in time for the Boston marathon and the book club book review....the interview with the author of this book, Hal Higdon. The legendary runner, who is now 83, was so kind to answer my questions. He also shared some art work with me as well as an article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune on the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I was thrilled to receive his responses to my questions and I think you'll enjoy the interview. Many of us have used his training plans, available on the internet for free, to train for races. If you weren't a fan before, you will be now. What a nice guy!

And here we go....

Me: Your book focuses on the stories of the runners, and it was so well told. I really enjoyed this perspective. But I’m curious about your take on the bombings.

HH: My take on the tragedy was that it was a horrible event that shot an arrow right into the hearts of those of us who love running, particularly those of us who love and respect the Boston Marathon as the keystone event in our sport. That is somewhat a selfish attitude, but the fear I suspect hits runners is that actions like this could drastically change, if not eliminate, the sport of running 26.2 miles in front of large numbers of vulnerable spectators.

Me: Just like any other important event in history—when Kennedy was shot, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, when the World Trade Center was attacked—people remember where they were and what they were doing. Where were you and what were you doing when you first learned about the Boston Marathon bombings?

HH: I was home at my computer, doing what I normally do each day, which might include managing what I call my Internet Empire: Facebook, Twitter, the TrainingPeaks bulletin boards. I remember a box popping onto the screen for some reason telling me that a “friend” had just finished: Kate Leahy of Kansas City. (I had coached two of her sisters in high school.) I clicked a button to check Kate’s time, which was somewhere in the low 3-hour range, and was immediately confronted by the fact that bombs had exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. For the rest of that day and for a week or more after, we all were caught up by the fact that “Breaking News” had engulfed our sport.

Me: What was your immediate reaction to the bombings?

HH: Horror. Worry. The fear that people I knew might have gotten hurt or killed. And several friends were, indeed, on Boylston Street when the two bombs hit, one of them probably within a hundred meters of the first explosion. She dropped to the ground fearful that another bomb might explode. The second explosion did occur, although further away. She finally accepted shouted advice and ran as fast as she could away from the finish line and into the “safer” area beyond that line.

Me: There are so many stories about the Boston marathon bombings. Of all the stories you shared in the book, which was your favorite story? Which story was the most difficult for you to share?

HH: Tracy McGuire who lives in Portland and whose husband works for Adidas and was in the grandstands waiting for her to finish. She was approaching the finish line when the first bomb exploded in front of her. Tracy did a quick U-Turn only to have the second bomb also explode in front of her. She hopped a fence and ran through a restaurant to escape, shouting to people at the bar to get out. That was like a “sky is falling” moment, because none of them believed what she was shouting. Eventually they did. And the whole world soon was aware of what happened.

And Michele Keane, who I have known for 10-15 years almost from my beginning days on the Internet. We always call her “One-L.” Michele grew up in Natick right on the border near Wellesley. With her mother, she began handing out water to runners at age 2. She eventually went to Wellesley College, ran Boston a couple of times as a lark, but after graduating got her time down to near 3 hours. If she wasn’t running Boston, she was working the race as a volunteer. She stopped at her old water point to hug her mom, wasted a minute or so, then stopped at Mile 25 to hug her daughter who was a student at Boston University. The daughter told Mom to quit wasting time, to get back on the course. The bombs went off just as she was turning the corner into Boylston.

But there were 25,000 stories that day, each one of them amazing. I only found space to fit 75 of them into the book.

Me: There’s been a lot of changes since Boston. For example, last year when I ran Chicago, there were big snowplows parked at the entrance of the area where the runners entered the corrals. Do you think race directors are doing enough to keep their runners safe?

HH: If another terrorist attack occurs, you can never have done enough. I certainly feel that race directors have compared notes and upped their security, which was always there at races like Chicago, but was not yet intrusive. Flying has become incredibly inconvenient since 9/11, yet the enhanced security didn’t prevent a German pilot from diving a plane into the Alps and killing 150 people. The reality of our sport is that we have a 26.2-mile playing field, and you can’t block access as you can in an airport or at a Chicago Bears football game. We just need to keep our fingers crossed and hope that our insurance is paid up.

halhigdon.com
Me: And on a personal note, you’ve run Boston numerous times. What is your favorite personal memory from the Boston marathon? Your least favorite memory?

HH: Favorite would be 1964 when I got everything right and had the lead through the first two Newton hills before I got passed by several runners who were better than me. I still managed to preserve 5th place, first American, which has provided bragging rights for a half a century. Least favorite would have been Boston five years earlier when I ran with the leaders but failed to make it past 22 miles. At that time I was at the top, or near the top, of the national pyramid, and I couldn’t understand how I could win national championships at 30-K and not keep the pace for a dozen marathons more. This was before we had Runner’s World or halhigdon.com to tell us what we were doing wrong. But as I have often said, if you are afraid to fail, you don’t deserve to win. The highs and lows eventually blend together.

Me: What are you training for? Are you done running long distances? What’s next for you?

HH: I am just finishing work on a book to be titled Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Handbook. While doing so, I have added a few more miles running to my weekly exercise routine. I just finished the Gate River Run, a 15-K race in Jacksonville, Florida where we spend winters. I have been pointing toward the Indy Mini, the half marathon in Indianapolis. I’m not sure I’m up to a full 13.1 miles, so I might just run a few token miles, enough so I can write about it in my book.

Me: Finally—what advice would you give a runner who wants to qualify for Boston? Is it worth the hype?

HH: Boston definitely is worth the hype. It is the iconic marathon, which is recognized by runners around the world even more than us Yankees, who sometimes don’t recognize Boston’s total majesty. Immediately after the bombings, I quoted a comment by a Talking Head on CNN that Boston was not an “iconic sporting event.” I posted that comment on Facebook to see if my followers agreed. Obviously they did not, but the outrage was even more from runners who lived in the UK or Hungary or Australia. They knew even more than we did the treasure we have each Patriot’s Day, even if that holiday is only celebrated in three states.

You can follow Hal Higdon on his Facebook page or at halhigdon.com. All his training plans are available for free download at his website.


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Did you read the book? Did I hit the high points in this brief interview? Anything you would have asked him? Have you ever used any of Hal's training plans?

Next up....the book review on 4/13. Are you ready? So many books...so little time...
Here's the badge for your blog: Remember, the link up will be live 4/13-4/30. Plenty of time, actually!




58 comments :

  1. Great questions Wendy! I'm so excited that he responded to you!! Being from Boston, this book is definitely an emotional read. It was hard to put down and hard to read at the same time. But I love how us runners persevere, stick together and just keep going!

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    1. It was a great read! Will you be posting a review?

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  2. WOW! What a great interview/blog post!!!!! I have not read his book (yet), but I used one of his training plans for the two marathons I've run. Great guy! I love all the training tips he posts on his FB page :-)

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    1. Thank you! I was thrilled that he answered my email. He's very approachable. And a true legend!

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  3. Such a great interview (you asked some really great questions!)--I haven't read this book, but I'm definitely going to have to look into it!

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    1. It's a quick, inspiring read! I'm posting my review on Monday.

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  4. Aww I loved this! Hal's such a great guy. I met him in Boston at the expo in fact. He summed it up so perfectly: the bombing felt like an arrow through the hearts of all runners. I still feel this way when I think of it. And not just for running. It was such an act of evil and hatred toward humanity in general. I'm so behind on this book club but I need to read this book! Great interview!

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    1. Thanks! I loved this whole experience! What a nice guy!

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  5. Looking forward to his half marathon book. I don't see myself qualifying for Boston or even running a marathon.

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  6. This is awesome! Great interview!

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  7. I love that you're including the author interviews for this series! I used his training plan for my first half marathon and it was just what I needed.

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    1. I'm hoping for this to become a trend. Let's see if Dimity and Sarah bite...

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  8. What an amazing opportunity to interview him! And you asked some wonderful questions. Hal Hidgon got me through my first ever half marathon, so I guess you can say he made me a runner!

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  9. What a great interview, Wendy! Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  10. Wow really interesting! I hope the bombings dont' change the sport or spectating of running. I am taking my RRCA course this weekend and I am sure we will discuss him and the plans. Super excited!

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  11. Wonderful interview. I've never been a runner, but Hal is a friend, and his stories fascinate me. Good job!

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  12. What a great interview Wendy! I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was in the bank line and they had a tv going in the lobby and I saw it right there. I immediately texted my friend talk about running stuff with and asked if he knew. :( Sad and Mr. Hal is right things like this will have an impact on runners running between crowds of spectators.

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  13. I can't imagine getting all of those stories in one book - I'm sure it's crazy to read! I always enjoy reading things from others perspective, very interesting.

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    1. It's a really great read...I'm posting my review on Monday. He did a fantastic job bringing all the stories together.

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  14. You asked some good questions. I need to get a copy of this book!

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  15. Great interview. He's very right about how one of the first realizations that I had during the bombings was that this was forever going to change how we have events like this. And it did. Even things like The Color Run have changed as a result.

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  16. I'd like to read the book, maybe on my next vacation. I have used his training plans. They are very easy to follow. Thanks for a great interview.

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    1. Super quick but very moving read. The review will be posted Monday!

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  17. The first thing I did when I decided I wanted to try to run an half marathon was to down load Hal Higdon's half marathon program. I followed it pretty closely for a long time. So cool that it was just out there for us to use. It was recommended to my by my daughter's high school track coach. Anyhow, that is so cool that you got to interview him after reading his book. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I now want to read his book. I want to run a full marathon. I want to qualify for Boston! I better get to work!! I am really just excited to be going next week to cheer on my husband. Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Please take the time to read his book! It's a quick, inspiring read!

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  18. Thank you for this! Have always loved Hal and never get tired of reading anything from him or about him :)

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    1. It was a really great experience, working with him for this.

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  19. wow you are officially famous! Great interview. Love his plans, and have been using them since 2007.

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    1. I don't know about that! It's too bad that there aren't more "celebrities" like him.

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  20. Great interview! I used to follow some of his running plans when I first started running. :)

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  21. He is such a class act! I've not read the book. I was fearful it was too sad. I can't wait to read your review of it.

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    1. Melanie, it wasn't sad at all. I actually found it to be really positive.

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  22. This sounds like a great telling of the 2013 marathon. What a powerful and moving piece of writing!

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  23. I've had great success with Hal Higdon's training plans. This book sounds like an interesting read!

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    1. It really was a good read. The review will be up on Monday.

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  24. Great interview. As a non runner, I never really thought of the tragedy from a runner's point of view but it's enlightening to read about it!

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  25. Very cool! Hal Higdon seems like such a nice guy. Back in the old days before Amazon, I ordered three of his books by calling his office. His secretary (or whomever I talked to), asked what I'd like to have written in the books, because Mr. Higdon would love to autograph them for me before he sent them. How nice was that? I hadn't even thought to ask if he would autograph them!

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    1. That doesn't surprise me at all! What a great story!

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  26. No I did not read the book- uggh but what a great interview! I found it very interesting and you did a great job! Thanks for sharing it with us!

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  27. This was a very good read. Hal Higdon is one of the top gurus in the running world. Thanks for sharing. #wowlinkup

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  28. What a great interview. I've always liked Hal. So down to earth and willing to share his knowledge and experiences to help other runners be better. Total class act.

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    1. Absolutely. I can't say enough about what a great experience it's been working with him.

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  29. What a wonderful interview and of course this strikes a chord with me. There are so many stories from that day and so helpful to read that we all were feeling in such similar ways. I am not sure if I could read that book after my own experiences. Thank you so much for sharing your interview with HAl.

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    1. It was a pleasure. And I included your blog post in a list of blogs about that day in the book review. I hope you don't mind. It was great.

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