“The Shelter Island Run has a vacation feeling. There’s just something about races that are run by the water,” says Rodgers, who has lost track of the number of times he’s run Shelter Island, but estimates that it’s eight or nine. “What I love about [running] is what it does to you both mentally and physically. And then after the race, you celebrate.”
Founded as a 10K, the Shelter Island Run now includes a 5K run/walk. The race starts at 5:30 p.m.—“that’s unusual for a race,” says Rodgers, but it helps to ensure that weather conditions are cooler. Both courses begin and end near the Shelter Island School. The 10K takes racers around the center of the island, looping around Dering Harbor. For those accustomed to running on the East End’s mostly flat roads and fields, Shelter Island’s rolling hills offer a new challenge. The water views around every corner make the additional effort worth it.
Rodgers has been a road racer since 1966, and he’s best known for winning four Boston Marathons and three New York City Marathons between 1976 and 1980. “For me, winning was more of an internal thing. You never know you’re going to win [until you cross the finish line], and hopefully you’re able to put everything together on race day. It becomes about luck and perseverance,” he says.
Now, Rodgers has become an ambassador for the sport. “A lot of new runners don’t always know what they’re doing, but my best advice for them is to give themselves a chance,” says Rodgers. “This is for you—your life and your soul.” Running is one of the few sports that’s truly open to everyone, and Rodgers enjoys encouraging people to take part. His most basic advice for newcomers: Go to a specialty running store and make sure that you’re running in the correct shoes.
Rodgers was first drawn to the Shelter Island race by co-founder Cliff Clark, a Shelter Island local who was also a standout on the running circuit. Rodgers has become a cheerleader for encouraging people to join the race, and he recently recruited a couple from Connecticut to come down.
With hundreds of road races under his belt, Rodgers ballparks that he has logged 180,000 miles over his lifetime. At 69, his race goal is to win his age group. “Last year was the first time I accomplished that at Shelter Island,” he says. Otherwise, he just tries to keep fellow elite runner Joan Benoit Samuelson within eyesight, he jokes.
Samuelson won gold in the marathon at the 1980 Los Angeles Olympics, the first Olympics that offered a marathon for women. She’s consistently run Shelter Island, as has fellow Olympian Meb Keflezighi, who will not toe the line this year; but Amby Burfoot, an elite runner and former editor of Runner’s World, will race on June 17. Rodgers and Burfoot were roommates at Wesleyan, and Rodgers credits Burfoot with teaching him how to run a marathon.
Proceeds from the Shelter Island race will benefit the Shelter Island 10K Community Fund and various other charities, including East End Hospice and The Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch. New this year, the Shelter Island 10K has joined the NYPD Memorial 5K, which was held on May 21, and the Great Cow Harbor 10K, held on September 16, to form the 2017 Grand Prix Series. The series will offer prizes to the overall winners in all three races.
The Shelter Island Run will be held on Saturday, June 17 at 5:30 p.m. For additional information and to register, visit shelterislandrun.com.