Just back from a tour of duty in Vietnam, young Bob Glover was looking for a job, and the YMCA in Rome, NY, was looking for an athletic director. Glover didn’t have the experience they were seeking, but he talked his way into filling the position—solely in exchange for a place to live—while the search continued.
Glover launched a pioneering exercise class that included walking and running. There was no response.
“People weren’t going out running in 1973, and they weren’t signing up for fitness classes,” he recalled. “So I called everyone on the board and asked them to show up for support. They loved it.”
He got the job, which led to a position at the West Side YMCA in New York City, which led to waiting to talk with Fred Lebow after he finished a 20K in Newark, which led to 56 members of the Y running the New York City Marathon in 1975, which led to Glover on January 8 celebrating his 35th anniversary as coach of the NYRR Running Classes with cake and a sparkling-cider toast by Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of NYRR.
It was “a real special occasion,” he said, and it was also a throwback. During his competitive-level running class that evening, Glover—now 66—asked for the same workout he conducted in his first NYRR class back in 1978: 20 times up the 91st Street hill between Second and Third avenues.
You have a choice, he told his class. Do six, do eight, do one. You can stop whenever you want to. If you want to be part of history, though, do 20. “But I told them the only fair thing was that on average they’re half my age, so age-adjusted I would do 10 and they would do 20, just to hedge my bets because I wasn’t sure I would make it. I got past 10 and thought ‘What the heck,’ and I kept going. When they saw I was doing it, nobody dared drop out.”
Nina Kucscik, who in November was inducted into the NYRR Hall of Fame for her own role as a pioneer in the sport, joined in during the anniversary hill workout. She was at the first one, too, as one of the coaches.
“Bob had the same energy and animation and enthusiasm as 35 years ago, when he came and saw the future,” she said.
That future would include the writing of several books, including The Runner’s Handbook, a best-seller that was based on the early months of the NYRR classes, and later, The Competitive Runner’s Handbook. It would also include massive growth in the NYRR Running Class program, which began with 36 registrants and now serves between 500 and 1,000 runners per session, over two nights a week and divided into three levels each night. Glover and his wife, Shelly, also team up to coach City Sports for Kids, an NYRR youth track initiative that quickly reaches capacity each session. And to think, Glover reminisced, “we used to have 200 people in our races and we thought that was big. It’s so exciting to see so many people running.”
Michael Cassidy, a Staten Island athlete who qualified to run the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with Glover as his coach, credits Glover for helping create that excitement. An excellent runner himself, Glover “has the unique ability to relate to runners of a variety of abilities and backgrounds,” wrote Cassidy in an e-mail. “His gift to running is that he is able to translate what was formerly an elite pursuit into something intelligible to the masses. As long as you have dreams and dedication, Coach Bob will give you a plan.”
For many New Yorkers, said Cassidy, “It is Coach Bob who opened their eyes. Running, at its core, is a fundamentally democratic activity, and Coach Bob was among the first to fully understand this.”
The 35th anniversary toasts barely concluded, Glover is already looking ahead, and the next generation will be the better for it if his plan succeeds.
“I told Mary that I figured it out,” he said. “In 35 more years of classes I would be 100. So that’s my goal.”