Robert Kroeger organized a competitive biathlon involving golf and marathon running. Then he organized a book on the events that initiated the Lords Of The Isles competition. After we reviewed The Secrets of Islay in April, we sent Dr. Kroeger a spate of questions and he responded promptly with answers. If you’ve read the book, you’ll appreciate this fleshing-out of the story. If you haven’t read the book, then this interview will cleanse your palate in anticipation of a good read.
1. Tell us about your life in golf. How did you get started and through what stages did you pass?
I taught myself in my backyard when I was thirteen – by reading my 35-cent copy of Ben Hogan’s Power Golf, which I still have. I played sporadically – never in competitions – but enjoyed it tremendously. I remember watching Arnold Palmer charge from behind in the late 50s and early 60s. Through my school years and the early days of raising a family (five children) I did not play much. Eventually I joined a club and began learning from better players, gradually improving until I won some tournaments. Like Old Tom Morris, the Scottish legend, I improved with age and my golf game culminated when I qualified for two USGA senior amateur championships.
2. How did your history as a competitive golfer allow you to transition to a serious distance runner?
I learned to love competition as a golfer but for most of my life I was merely a jogger, content to keep my weight controlled. In 2005 I decided to try the marathon (I tried to train for one about 20 years earlier but became injured and decided my body wasn’t designed for such a race) and completed our Flying Pig that spring. In the fall I ran Columbus and qualified for Boston. I was hooked and, having lost about 30 pounds, I was prepared for the grim news later – my wife had terminal cancer. She died about a year later, but marathon running kept me sane. So I’ve continued to run in them, feeling that they saved my life.
3. Are there any “unattainables” in golf or in running? Are some people-types predisposed to one of the other?
The obesity epidemic threatens our nation and contributes heavily to our national debt, which we pass on to our children and grandchildren. When I played in my first USGA championship (age 55 and up), I noted many golfers who had huge bellies. I could see myself drifting that way and resolved never to let myself balloon as they did. But I did balloon and nearly had to go to size 38 waist pants in 2005. Now, 50 pounds lighter, my waist is under 33. If I can do it, so can others. Frank Stranahan died in 2013 – at the age of 90 (Google him) – and had competed at high levels in golf, both as an amateur and as a pro (runner-up in the Masters, the 1947 and 1953 British Open. When he finished golf, he began running marathons – including Boston and New York – over 100 in all. He also won trophies in weight lifting well into his 70s. We can learn from Frank.
4. Did you ever consider running a shorter race over the Machrie? Is the topography conducive to a X-C race?
The Machrie, like many old Scottish links, is tight and, with its many blind holes, is “pure” golf, just as the marathon is the ultimate “pure” distance.
5. What made you opt to keep the identity of “Caballo Blanoco II” anonymous?
Some of the people in my book preferred fictitious names: many UK people like privacy. They normally don’t post their addresses on the outside of a letter. Caballo also chose to be anonymous, although some know who he is. The original Caballo allowed the writer of Born to Run to identify him. Each to his own.
6. What elements of Islay did you wish you had examined a bit more in the narrative?
I could have doubled the size of the book with many, many stories about Islay, its history, and its characters. But I wanted to make the book a quick read, hopefully an enjoyable one, and one that delivered a few messages before the reader lost interest.
7. The next running of the biathlon will take place in the fall of 2015. Why the date switch?
Stephen Harrison, now the marathon director, felt that April’s weather was too unreliable. Actually, all hell can break loose at any time, weather-wise, on Scottish islands, and make travel impossible. He felt that there was less of a chance for that in late September, which can be a delightful.
8. Is there a disconnect between a 36-hole golf event and a marathon? The latter is nearly super-human, while the former is a bit mundane. Could the golf portion be amped up to somehow equal the marathon’s demands, or would this be overkill?
Actually the golf competition is only 18 holes, which requires walking – normally the day before the marathon. A practice round of 18 holes can be played two days before the race. The marathon does not require ultimate fitness. To verify this, visit any large (over 1000) marathon and look at the runners, some of whom will be carrying more than a water bottle around their waists. On the other hand, to finish a marathon in under three hours does require ultimate fitness.
9. What questions haven’t we asked, that you would love to answer? Ask them and answer them for us.
Why does the marathon and the book raise money for the Islay high school?
Every two years the high school seniors take a mission trip to a third-world country, which many of us never see. They learn many life lessons from this. Hopefully they remember these lessons and pay it forward, making the world a better place in their own little ways.