Article by Sam Winebaum
Tracksmith x Bill Rodgers & Company Collection
Iconic Boston running brands Tracksmith Running and Bill Rodgers & Company introduce a collection inspired by Bill Rodgers’s epic 1979 when he won Boston for the 3d time in American record time and launched his BR Running apparel collection. The collection launches on April 19th: Marathon Day, Patriots Day or the 3d Monday of April but as all know the race this year will be later in 2021.
Tracksmith x Bill Rodgers & Company 2021 Collection
BR Running apparel arrived in 1979 and set the standard for high performance running apparel while rapidly rising Tracksmith with its stylish retro vibe, luxurious feel, and high performance is the new Beantown favorite. Why not get together and bring back with new materials but faithful to the original iconic designs, a 2021 flavor Boston Billy collection and this is exactly what they did.
There have been hundreds of thousands of stories, legendary runners, and heartbreaks along the long road from Hopkinton to Boston since 1897.
Of the many bright lights and legends of the Boston Marathon Johnny Kelly (the Younger and Older), the Hoyts, Joan Benoit, and Bill Rodgers all New Englanders shine brightest in my memory.
Bill’s 1979 2:09:27 American Record Boston win & 3d Boston victory. Photo: Getty Images
Bill’s light step floating along the course and cheery open demeanor- the racing is serious, all mental he told me, shoe tying on Heartbreak Hill on the way to victory, sometimes unusual hand me down outfits, dedication, a free spirit and a not exactly buttoned down proper Bostonian way of doing things (returning to running 3 years after college, conscientious objector, , studies for a masters in special education, and odd jobs). All of this history was a reflection of those turbulent times when I in my teens and early twenties.
Bill was someone who I looked up to in more ways than just for his amazing running which was legendary beyond just Boston as he competed in many local road races. I seem to recall him dueling and beating sub 4 minute miler Jim Crawford in our local 10K finishing sub 30 in the 1977 or 1978.
Bill’s1979 2:09:27 American Record Boston win & 3d Boston victory. Photo: Getty Images
And I can say, after having the special opportunity to speak to Bill for this article, he remains true to that original spirit in all ways.
In the day he said he trained 130 miles per week and up to 200 miles per week. He raced a lot. According to Runner's World he racked up over 50 marathons, 29 sub 2:15 by the time he turned 40. Bill survived prostate cancer.
He is still at it! At 73 he trains 30-35 miles per week and races, is still for sure competitive (saying he sometimes doesn’t always win his AG), is super open and friendly, and has a very unusual email style as he answered my questions after our conversation!
Bill’s advice to all of us: “Be runners for life. Do what you love. Racing is the icing on the cake!” He told me he was always a “follower” when he was a young runner (right but not in races!), always learning from team mates, loves the social elements of running with others, and that races are gambles that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and that they are all mental.
His record of 4 Boston victories and 2 American record 4 NYC Marathon victories in a row along with countless other victories over now 5 decades plus sure speaks to a balanced running and life philosophy!
My personal Boston journey started in 1982 with my first of 6 or so since, all quite painful but always the ultimate running experience. I had run several marathons before then starting in 1975 in high school and was inspired by Bill all the way during my running journey.
1979, the date given for the Tracksmith BR Collection, is also of particular significance to me as I graduated college and moved to Idaho winning one of my two career marathon victories while there. And then, in 1980, I moved back East and lived no more than 100 meters from the original Bill Rodgers and Company store on Cleveland Circe right on the marathon course.
Bill and his team opened the store in 1977 and by 1979 launched the BR running apparel collection which Bill told me was designed and made in my home state of New Hampshire. The problem at the time was… I was the assistant manager at Nike Wellesley, also on the course, and had to wear Nike and not the far more functional and technical BR apparel.
After Nike I of course immediately bought the BR Jacket and had one for decades. In the 1980’s I gave one to my avid runner father in law in Switzerland. I now have that jacket and will compare it in the article to the “new” 79 Boston Billy Jacket I tested.
Spoiler alert The Boston Billy Jacket (left) is almost identical to the iconic original’s design and for good reasons!
Tracksmith x Bill Rodgers and Company 79 Collection
The 2021 BR collection includes 79 Shorts and 79 Singlet for men and women (both $70) which are faithful to the 1979 original’s designs with a vintage short shown below.
There is also theBR Cap ($38) based on the one he picked up from somewhere for the 1979 race and the BR Gloves ($38) a merino reinvention of Bill’s famous “painters” gloves.
The Boston Billy Jacket ($188) which I review and compare to the original below
And finally the Eliot Lounge Rugby ($138) inspired by the one Tommy Leonard of the Eliot Lounge, the legendary runner’s hangout bartender gave him after Bill dropped out of the 1977 Boston and was cold and miserable.
Tracksmith was kind enough to send me a sample of the Boston Billy Jacket for testing and review.
The original BR Jacket (1980’s version shown above right) was named the “Northeaster” according to Bill and came out in 1979.
It incorporated several vital innovative features based on the needs of New England runners for our highly variable conditions
A caped design front and back for breathability and easy motion
An inner mesh lining for moisture wicking and stand off non stick comfort
2 deep front straight reach down zip pockets, with a stout and durable front zip
Early use of 3M reflective gray strips front and back.
A detachable hood and waist drawcord.
It all functioned brilliantly. Bill told me shortly after that they introduced a Gore-Tex jacket, another innovation in run apparel for the time. The 2021 Boston Billy Jacket faithfully incorporates all of the original’s innovations with a few changes.
Unlike the Tracksmith Off Roads which only has a rear caped mesh lined opening, the Boston Billy is caped front and back so 360 degrees of upper body breathability.
It is more extensively mesh lined than the Off Roads, as was the OG, with a more open mesh than either.
Run in similar conditions in the lower to mid 40’s F with wind, the difference in comfort, moisture management, and breathability is noticeable. The BR has never come off while the Off Roads often does in those conditions. The very soft mesh also provides some stand off from a base layer so it is less sticky feeling and I suspect when needed provides a touch of insulation as well.
“Differing” from the OG BR, the Boston Billy includes not only the same deep front zip pockets, one now with a key ring, and behind those drop in pockets new on seam hand pockets. Plenty of storage for hats and gloves, phones, etc.. although a phone will bounce around on the run.
The reflective front and rear bands at the bottom of the cape are “updated” from gray to same color as jacket reflective material. In a strange lapse, the Off Roads had no reflective highlights I could see. Now we have plenty. The waist drawcord carries forward from the OG but now has a plastic cinch instead of just a front tie cord, which over time came out long on one side as they always seem to do.
I no longer have the detachable hood for the OG but can see both have a velcro strip at the neck with the Boston Billy having two snaps on either end with no snaps seen on the OG . The hood will really only stay put with the jacket zipped all the way up or over a hat and will for sure over the BR Cap!
The Boston Billy Jacket, 2021 edition, retains all of the highly functional and at the time innovative features of the original: a caped, mesh lined highly breathable design, reflectivity, and pockets. It updates the design with state of the art fabrics and a few useful additional nice touches such as the hand warmer pockets, key ring, and same color as jacket reflectivity.
While I am still early in my testing, the Jacket is an ideal companion for those breezy cool days where wind resistance, some storage, and visibility are called for. It is also an ideal warmer weather warm up jacket. The state of the art soft and comfortable materials and feather light weight make it most comfortable indeed even a few layers under the true to size fit. The fit is not as long and baggy as the Off Roads.
At $188 vs $198 for the Off Roads the choice is clear for me. The Boston Billy outperformed the Off Roads and other non rain “windbreaker” style run jackets.
I can pair it with the Tracksmith Off Roads Crew (RTR Review), Run Commute Pants (RTR Review) and Reggie Short Tights. For the deeper cold and more miserable conditions of winter I will stick to the NDO Jacket (RTR Review), Tracksmith’s heavy duty lightly merino lined more soft shell like jacket.
Looking for a very light, functional and classy run jacket with tried and true run history and proven performance built in? The Boston Billy is a superb choice. The original design was genius and with updated materials to improve the OG, the Boston Billy Jacket carries the design forward into the second decade of a new millennium almost 50 years later.
The Tracksmith x Bill Rodgers and Company Special Edition Collection
Available at Tracksmith HERE
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