Steven Hoag was a runner long before running was all the rage.
“I can remember running in my hometown of Anoka, and well-meaning neighbors would stop their cars and ask if I needed help,” recalled Hoag in a 2007 interview on a Running Minnesota blog.
Hoag was a distance running star from the time he attended Anoka High School. He went on to be named an All-American and Big Ten champion for the University of Minnesota Gophers in the late 1960s.
But his best-known triumph was finishing second in the 1975 Boston Marathon behind Bill Rodgers, with a time of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 54 seconds. “I saw him at the 20-mile mark and I was cheering him on,” recalled his wife Geri Hoag. “It was very exciting when he came in second.”
Hoag, 70, died on Sept. 15 at his home in Shakopee.
Steven and Geri met in 1968 at a party on the University of Minnesota campus and were married in 1972. “I didn’t know he was a running star,” she said.
Hoag graduated with a degree in elementary education in 1969. But his teaching career at a local elementary school lasted only a year because he made the USA Marathon Team, which was racing in Europe.
He continued to run while the Hoags were raising their daughter in south Minneapolis; his favorite training route was on the trails in Theodore Wirth Park. “Steve was an old school runner,” said Geri. “He didn’t follow a special diet or schedule, just got in his miles whenever he could.”
Hoag trained under mentors Ron Daws, 1968 Olympic marathoner, and Roy Griak, Gophers cross-country and track and field coach.
“Ron Daws took Steve under his wing and they became terrific friends,” said Bruce Brothers, a former Twin Cities running columnist.
As competitive distance running gained popularity, Hoag organized many Twin Cities races, including St. Patrick’s Day and Grand Old Day events. “He loved it and promoted the sport any way he could,” said Brothers.
Hoag launched the successful St. Paul Marathon in 1981. The next year, he worked with Jack Moran, then president of the Minnesota Distance Running Association, to combine the St. Paul race with the City of Lakes Marathon and form the new Twin Cities Marathon, which drew more than 7,000 runners this year. “Steve helped us come up with a new course,” said Moran.
The skyrocketing number of runners needed gear, and Hoag started selling running shoes through the mail, filling orders from his home. Eventually he branched out as a partner and owner of several running retailers.
He was an early innovator of the modern specialty running store, said John Long, who took over ownership of Hoag’s Marathon Sports in Minneapolis in 2005.
“I bought my first pair of track and field spikes from Steve in 1986,” said Long, who ran cross-country at Totino-Grace High School. “He was somebody we really looked up to.”
After selling the store, Hoag became the assistant coach for the cross-country and track teams at Minnetonka High School.
“His passion for the sport is contagious,” said Jeff Renlund, head coach of the two teams. “Steve was genuine and caring and had great rapport with the guys on the team.”
Hoag also was a collector of vintage toys, memorabilia and signs, and he restored old cars and motorbikes.
“Steve was incredibly supportive and positive to a blossoming high school athlete — and to someone who wanted to buy running shoes,” said Brothers.
Hoag is survived by his wife, Geri, of more than 45 years; daughter, Ali (Todd) Kmieciak; grandchildren, Caden and Macy Kmieciak; brother, Jeff (Ann) Hoag; sisters, Cathy (Frank) Waldemar; Barbara (Robert) Gadon; and several nieces and nephews. Services have been held.