Saturday night, when Bill Rodgers was sitting in his Watergate Hotel room coughing, sneezing and wheezing from a lingering flu attack. America's Marathon Man had decided not to compete in yesterday's 10-mile, Perrier Cheery Blossom race around Hains Point.
"I was so sick that I called the Perrier people and told them I was going to jog the course at a 7 1/2-minute-per-mile pace," said the four-time Boston Marathon winner. "I was a little dizzy when I first woke up, but I felt better almost immediately. And I wanted to run this race badly (after a recent layoff.)"
For 47 minutes 17 seconds, Rodgers ignored his symptoms and concentrated instead on overcoming gusting 35 mph winds and a staff challenge from Greg Fredericks to win his fourth straight Cherry Blossom, by a 25-yard margin.
Rodgers and Fredericks, from State College, Pa., ran together for nine miles before Rodgers, the heavy favorite, took his first substantial lead. His winning time was nine seconds slower than last year.
Rodgers, who likes to take the lead no later than the seventh mile, knew that his chances of winning decreased the longer Fredericks kept pace.
"The ninth mile was do or die," said Rodgers, 33. "I knew if we were still together the last 100 yards, he'd kill me. Greg has an incredible kick. His strides are longer than mine. He's out-kicked me in 10-kilometer competition before."
So Rodgers kicked as hard as he could at the nine-mile mark, opening a 10-yard margin with three-quarters of a mile to go.
"More importantly, Greg was eight seconds behind," Rodgers said. "So if I could run the last mile in 4:40, he'd have to run it in 4:31 to beat me. Psychologically, I was ready to run. I use this race as an indicator for the Boston Marathon so it was important for me to do well."
Rodgers said after yesterday's victory that his two-week, bed-confining illness had cut 125-mile per week running schedule by two-thirds. "I was out of it," he said. "I hadn't even planned on running the (Boston) Marathon (April 20)." He won a 10K race in San Antonio on Saturday, but he called it "the worst 10K of my life."
He was not impressed with his time yesterday, either, but was convinced by supporters that it wasn't bad considering the weather and his physical condition.
Rodgers said he hoped to break the 47-minute mark yesterday, "but I knew it was just too windy. The wind was strong to the point of being a stress factor," he said. "It changed directions a half-dozen times and was against us about seven of the 10 miles and forced it to become a strategy race.
"A lot of times with a wind this strong, it's a wise idea to step behind a guy to shield yourself. But as defending champion, I felt I had to stay in front, wind or whatever. I just ran the whole thing mile to mile. But I was more concerned about the flu than the wind.