Remembering Steve Hoag

Sept. 15, 2021 — It is said that the definition of “fool” is someone who keeps making the same mistake. Well, I’m guilty as charged!! When my wife and I decided to move back to the US and live in Minneapolis in 1991, I wrote a letter to someone I never met before. Not that I knew anybody in Minneapolis anyway! But one person I had heard about who lived in Minneapolis and a huge proponent of Lydiard training method — Ron Daws. I picked up this used book called “The Self-Made Olympian” for 19 cents (!!) at University of Washington bookstore in 1980 simply because I found a word “Lydiard” in that book. It turned out it was one of the best books to explain Lydiard training. It appeared that the letter never reached him. But now that we are in the same area; I thought, well, I can get together with him any time…. Less than a year after we moved, Ron Daws passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Ron Daws coached this local runner who owned a running speciality store in Minneapolis; Steve Hoag’s Marathon Sports. Years later, I teased him that he was my “best second-place guy” — second to Ron Daws for someone I wanted to meet and have a chat on Lydiard training…and, of course, his claim of fame being placing second to Bill Rodgers at the 1975 Boston Marathon! ;o) So I called the store and made an appointment to meet Steve. I brought my copy of “The Self-Made Olympian” and asked him to autograph it. He got so embarrassed and declined. I should have pressed a bit harder…

Steve Hoag’s Marathon Sports

When my wife and I moved to Minnesota, I literally didn’t know anybody here (my wife is from Wisconsin and went to U of MN so she had family and friends here). Steve’s store became the place for me to hang around. I remember Barbara Bowerman used to say that I “bring in the Circle of Friends through running…”. But, come to think about it, it is actually RUNNING that bring the Circle of Friends to me! It was just the same when I went to school in Washington State — I hang around at Don Kardong’s running store, Human Race, and I was hanging around with my running buddies and skip “sukiyaki party” with the fellow Japanese students!! Steve was very knowledgeable and very keen for the sport of running. We hit it off really well as sort of “old-timers” and bitch about all the technologies in athletics and gimmicks!! ;o) Being coached by Ron Daws, Steve was a big “Lydiard man”. When I founded a Non-Profit Organization, Five Circles, he was more than keen on joining on as its board member. As I worked on various projects for Five Circles and brought Peter Snell and Dick Quax to Minnesota for running clinics; and in 2004, when Five Circles organized the final USA Lecture Tour for Arthur Lydiard, he always supported me and the organization through his store.

Steve and Geri Hoag with Bill Rodgers (middle)

After Steve sold his store and I got busy with my own family activities and inched away from downtown Minneapolis, to Minnetonka, to Plymouth, then to Excelsior; I stopped hanging around at Marathon Sports (now “Marathon Sports — Fleet Feet”). We still chatted over the phone, went for a run a few times around the lake…. I distinctly remember one time, it must have been the fall of 2016; I called him. “Did you go up to your cabin?” I asked because I tried to call him a couple of times during the summer and couldn’t get hold of him. He loved to spend some time at his lake house up north. “No, I couldn’t go up north because I have to be able to get to the university hospital as soon as they call me to get my lungs…”. I knew he had a problem with his lungs but I didn’t know it was THAT serious!! He went through a surgery and it was successful. I ran into him at the premier of “Boston Marathon — Documentary” in April 2017. We were too busy chatting that he and his wife, Geri (pronounced more as “Gary”), and me and my wife were the last people to leave the theater. It was good to catch up!! Then we went into another hibernation of “getting together”!! Five months later, I got a call from our mutual friend in Boston. “Did you know Steve Hoag is in a bad shape?” he told me. He was skimming over Facebook and saw the post. “I guess he was in the hospital and he just came back…”. So I called him next day — early in the morning, thank God!! Geri answered. “No, it wasn’t hospital…he came home from hospice.” That’s not a good sign!! I hadn’t visited him since they moved to Shakopee. I got the new address from her and told her if it’s okay if I come see him. “Better hurry!!” she said. Oh, c’mon!!, I thought. For a split second, I thought maybe tomorrow??? It’s already noon and I hadn’t eaten anything for lunch…. Nah, I just hopped in a car and headed for Shakopee. Before I left, I texted Bill Rodgers and told him that Steve Hoag is in a bad shape. “Call me when you get there so I can talk to him,” he said. They had been good friends since 1975 Boston Marathon where they went 1–2. But I didn’t even have to. Steve was in such a bad shape; not even conscious to talk to anybody…

Coach Hoag, left, with Coach Renlund

Steve could have very well won the 1975 Boston Marathon if it’s not for then total unknown local runner wearing light blue T-shirts with hand-written GBTC (Greater Boston Track Club) on it, by the name of Bill Rodgers. Rodgers ran then American record of 2:09:55. Steve took the second place in the time of 2:11:54 which was the 4th fastest time in the world that year. Besides Rodgers, they were Canada’s Jerome Drayton (2:10:08) and Australia’s Dave Chettle (2:10:20) finishing 1–2 at December’s Fukuoka Marathon, known for fast times. Drayton’s Canadian record that year stood for 43 years!! Steve was a good cross-country runner at Anoka High School. He went on to run for University of Minnesota under legendary Minnesota coach, Roy Griak. He told me one time about his first workout as a Golden Gopher runner. “We went out and ran along the river for 5 miles…. I was hanging onto the big boys for dear life but I did a pretty good job!! As we came to this park, the coach said: ‘Okay, we’re going to do the hill repeats today…!!’ That was just warm-up!!” But he hang in there and was named All-American Track Team in 1968 (10,000m) and Big Ten Track Champion in 1969 (indoor 2-mile). And, of course, he was the Captain for U of MN Track Team as a senior. He kept on running after college, when it wasn’t easy to “run” as post-collegiate. That’s when he met with Ron Daws and excelled as a marathon runner. He set Minnesota State records in 10-mile, 25k and, of course, marathon. As good a runner as he was, he was also very keen on helping other fellow runners. Jeff Renlund, the head coach at Minnetonka High School, told me: “We posted an assistant coaching position and Steve called. He said: ‘My name is Steve Hoag…’. And he started to share his resume! I’m, like, STOP!! I know who you are; you’re hired!!!” Steve served as their assistant coach for the next 10-years.

Steve Hoag back to Boston in 2015

In 2015, Steve asked me if I want to go to the Boston Marathon with him. It would be the 40th anniversary of his finishing second to Bill Rodgers. It was a bit hectic at that time so I couldn’t squeeze time and I had to turn down. “We’ll go together for the 50th anniversary in 2025!” I said. I called several of my friends to help him out while in Boston. I called a local TV news anchor I knew personally and suggested perhaps they do a feature story for a local guy who finished 2nd at Boston Marathon 40 years ago. I gave her Steve’s cell phone number so she could call and “interview” him. Unfortunately, Steve lost his cell phone so it never materialized!! But it is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t go to the Boston Marathon that year with Steve…. Perhaps it’s a human nature — to think: “Well, maybe next time…”. But when it comes down to it, there isn’t going to be the next time. Of course, I wasn’t thinking that when I drove down to Shakopee. I even brought this Japanese magazine, “Courier”, with the article of me demonstrating Lydiard hill training with me to show him. I had a moment with him alone at one point. I showed that to him anyway, knowing he couldn’t even see or hear anything. I said, “Of course, it’s all in Japanese so you wouldn’t be able to know what it says…”. A typical Nobby joke. I said to Geri and Steve’s sister, Cathy, that I thought he might smile a little. “He probably did!!” they both agreed with a smile. They did their best to keep a good composure. They probably knew and accepted the fact that it wouldn’t be too long… I stayed around until a little after dinner time. I told Geri I needed to head home to feed my wife (!) but probably would try to come by again the next day. Even still in September, Minnesota’s summer quickly passed and the feel of fall was in the air. The sunset was gone and I remember driving home in the dusk…. The next day never came. Steve passed away later that night. He was “only” 70.

Kind words from Boston Champion, Bill Rodgers

I got together with Geri and Jeff Renlund a few days later to put together a video slide show for Steve’s Memorial Service. Interestingly, Geri shared with us the list of “songs” she found in the desk. “I think these are the song he wanted to be played during his Memorial Service…,” she said. I pulled my “connection string” and got some very nice quotes from notable people — Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, former U of MN standout, Gary Bjorklund…. Boston Athletic Association’s CEO, Tom Grilk gave us a very nice note and I know Steve would have liked that a lot simply because it’s from Boston Marathon!! (I tried to upload the video on YouTube to be viewed but, because of the copyright issue with some of the songs, it’s got flagged…!! But you can watch a short clip of 1975 Boston Marathon with Bill Rodgers leading and Steve Hoag running alongside with Tom Flemming HERE.) At the time of putting together this video slide show, well-established Twin Cities Marathon was run through the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. This marathon started as St. Paul Marathon that Steve had started. It was won by Dominic Ondoro in 2:11:53 — ONE second faster than Steve ran at the 1975 Boston. I also contacted Jeff Johnson, the first employee at Nike who is famous with many black & white photos of many runners of 1970s including Steve Prefontaine and Bill Rodgers…. I figured, with all the photos of Rodgers from 1975 Boston Marathon, he must have some of Steve’s as well. He sent us this image below. This is, by far, the best photo of Steve running! Geri hadn’t even seen it before. I think Steve would have loved to see it himself.

Steve Hoag may not be at the same rank with runners like Peter Snell or Dick Quax. No Olympic medal or world record. After all, his best athletic performance was “the second place”. Yet, running did change his life. I remember one time he — not so much telling me but more like just making a statement — said to me: “I guess you could say running gave me my life…”. What he meant was that: His first life was labeled as a “competitive runner” — as an outstanding high school runner to All American collegiate runner then 4th fastest marathon runner in the world with numerous state records. Then after briefly teaching at 6th grade, he started “Steve Hoag’s Marathon Sports”, so he could stay in running business and help fellow runners, which he managed for 30+ years. All through those years, he influenced and inspired the local running scene — by organizing some of Twin Cities premier road races, including Twin Cities Marathon, and freely helping other runners of all levels. His biggest passion was coaching cross-country and track at high school level. His fellow Minnesotan, the 1976 US Olympian, Gary Bjorklund, gave us this comment for Steve:

“…his greatest gift to those who knew him was his lifetime dedication to helping runners of all abilities realize their potential…”.

Perhaps this could be even bigger feather on his hat and he be content and gratified with that to be as his epitaph. Thousands of runners in Minnesota and elsewhere whom Steve touched and inspired are his gold medal. Thanks for everything, Steve!! We love you and we miss you.— Nobby Hashizume

Steve Hoag on his way to the runner-up at the 1975 Boston Marathon (courtesy: Jeff Johnson)

PS: Here’s Steve’s shoes that he wore to his 2:11:54 at 1975 Boston Marathon. This time would have been equal to 2:06:30, taking into consideration of “4%” advantage, had he worn today’s Super Shoes. (courtesy: Geri Hoag)



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