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Don't Look Back - Bob Hodge Looks Back on Winning the 1982 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

Along with Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter and a small number of others, Bob Hodge is one of the only Americans to ever win a marathon in Japan, earning the lifelong nickname "Hodgie-san." Ahead of this weekend's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, Hodge wrote about his win at the famous race's 1982 running.

photo: Hodge and 2013 Beppu-Oita winner and course record holder Yuki Kawauchi.

I don’t ever look back.

Japan is a fantastic place for a racer to run a marathon. Most of the top races there invite a smallish contingent of foreign runners, and I considered myself fortunate and very much honored to be competing in Japan for the second time in just a couple of years. Beppu is a beautiful place on the coastline of the southern island of Kyushu. It's known for its thermal hot springs, and bordered by volcanic mountains rising up from the coast it was a dramatic setting for this race.

The race was headed by a couple of busses carrying the media and race officials and we were also surrounded by motorcycle policemen monitoring the course and keeping the spectators back. I assumed the lead shortly after the turnaround halfway point. We were running an aggressive pace aided by a strong tailwind. I had hit the half in 1:04:31 with two Japanese runners in tow. The course record run here in 1978 was 2:09:05 by Shigeru Soh, then the second-fastest marathon time ever run. Now out front with one other competitor maintaining close contact, I was feeling my oats.

Judging from the sound of the many spectators lining the course and waving little Japanese flags we had extended the lead. I never liked to look back in races, a long time superstition of mine. I feel it gives the athletes behind you hope and the idea that you are worried and vulnerable. From the 30 km point until around the 37 km point I ran alone, and together with the effort, the headwinds that had given us such a nice push on the way out now broke my easy rhythm.

At this point I lost my concentration and focus for a bit, just looking around at the crowds and the vehicles that were surrounding me. I fell into a dream state; perhaps this is really all a dream and I am back in Lowell, MA, running along the Merrimack River where I had covered so many miles. Or maybe I was in Boston running along the Charles River, or perhaps at my current living space, a winter rental in Marshfield, MA, running along the seashore by Green Harbor. The rivers of my lifeblood, and later the Nashua River, slowed to a trickle by the mighty Clinton Dam holding the Wachusett Reservoir, waters for Metropolitan Boston, but continuing on to the Merrimack River of my youth.

Suddenly another runner, Yoshihiro Nishimura, pulled even with me and then quickly moved past. This was reality. I am running the Beppu-Oita Marathon, in Kyushu in Japan, along Beppu Bay, the East China Sea, the port of Beppu at the finish line. It was a tight battle within me now. If Nishimura-san keeps this pace I am looking at holding onto second. Make or break time.

Nishimura continued to put distance between us. I struggled to maintain position but eventually drew a bee line on him. As we closed in on the finish with less than 5 km to go he began to come back to me. Nishimura was looking ragged, or at least that's what I wanted to believe. Yes, look at him now, like a punch-drunk fighter, he can’t even run a straight-line tangent. Pull him back and win this sucker! And so, I had a most fortunate occurrence, a second wind. Mind over matter. It was Nishimura-san and Hodgie-san. Who will win this major running battle?

I passed Nishimura at 41 km and won the race by 7 seconds in 2:15:43, a slow time especially considering our fast first half. No matter. It was a victory, and it was sweet, the significance of the achievement a shot in the arm for a struggling runner and a vindication of my efforts in training and my wayward, gypsy life. This was among a small handful of achievements in athletics that mean the most to me now, so many years down the road.

In the aftermath of the race on the morning after, a few people I passed on my morning run held up their index fingers to me side-by-side and said “Nishimura-san, Hodgie-san, Nishimura-san, Hodgie-san!” amid smiles and laughter. They had watched the race on television, perhaps.

My employer/sponsor in those pre-professional running days was the New Balance Athletic Shoe company located in Boston, MA, but at the time making some inroads in Japan. Their representatives picked me up at my hotel the day after the race and we drove to Fukuoka where the New Balance Factory was located, taking in some interesting sights along the way. My hosts got me situated in my motel and requested that I dress in my New Balance running gear for a tour of the factory and afterwards a run with the employees on a local track.

A company car with little NB Flags waving on the sides came to pick me up. I was not prepared for the reception I received. Hundreds of employees formed lines for me to pass through. I was given a bouquet of flowers and felt a little awed and foolish as I walked through the line of applauding workers. After meeting with some executives of the company, signing autographs and having some small refreshments we headed to the track for an easy run. It was quite a memorable day for “Cinderella Boy” Hodgie-san. My hotel was a Japanese-style capsule hotel and I sat in a bath for a short while before climbing into bed and reading Shogun for a bit and then falling dead asleep.

I received many awards for this race, all of which were shipped back home for me. A tree was planted in my honor, the American Elm, the official tree of my home state of Massachusetts. Perhaps I should go visit “my” tree after 35 years. It should be a nice size by now. I was given a bamboo basket made by a famous bamboo artist from Japan. It was sent to me many months later bearing a plate inscribed with its significance. I was also given a copy of the television coverage on a Betmax tape and purchased a Beta viewer. The tape has been converted over the years, first to VHS and then CD, and is now available on YouTube.

I competed again in Japan at Fukuoka in December of 1982, finishing 5th in 2:11:52. All these years later I remain one of just a few American males to win a marathon in Japan.

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

Oita, Japan, Feb. 7, 1982
click here for complete results 

1. Bob Hodge (USA) 2:15:43
2. Yoshihiro Nishimura (JPN) 2:15:50
3. Greenville Wood (AUS) 2:16:35

Hodge splits:
5 km - 15:03
10 km - 30:10 (15:07)
15 km - 45:35 (15:25)
20 km -1:01:06 (15:31)
1/2 marathon - 1:04:31
25 km - 1:16:48 (15:42)
30 km - 1:33:02 (16:14)
35 km - 1:49:55 (16:53)
40 km - 2:07:46 (17:51)
finish - 2:15:43 (7:57)

text and photos © 2018 Bob Hodge, all rights reserved


Hodgie-san said…
Brett, thank you for sharing my story. As I get older I look back more often.
I look forward to seeing Yuki run at Boston this year.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards". Soren Kierkegaard
TokyoRacer said…
Interesting! I well remember Bob Hodge - lots of great runners in the Boston area back in those days.

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