This is a review I wrote of the 2006 Falmouth Road Race for the Gate City Strider's Newsletter. Here is my son Andrew (in the blue shirt) running his first Falmouth at 16 years old. I ran my first Falmouth at the same age.
The Falmouth Road Race began in the year 1973 as a 7 mile run from Woods Hole to Falmouth. Less than 100 runners participated and although I did not run I was aware of the race as Falmouth is my hometown . Just a few weeks after the first Falmouth Road Race I joined the Falmouth High School Cross-Country team and started my own running career. I didn’t run the Road Race until the third edition. in 1975 but I have run it just about every year since so I have grown up with the Falmouth Road Race and continue to do battle with it to this day.
This years race was to be a special race not for me but for my family as my son Andrew would be running the race, at 16 years old he is the same age I was when I first ran Falmouth, and most remarkably my wife, Sarah, would also be running her first ever road race.
If you are running Falmouth you need to show up a day or two early. Andy and I arrived Friday night and went to the Road Race spaghetti dinner. We took my dad and went to the Lawrence School off of Main Street and found out they were not even serving spaghetti this year. Instead they had clam chowder and sandwiches. This native Cape Codder decided to be adventurous and had his first clam chowder ever! On the way out of the school we went back to our car parked near the tennis courts. My dad is an avid tennis player and still plays in leagues and tournaments despite undergoing cancer treatment last year at 75. We used to play on these courts often when I was a kid. Missing though, from the present scene is the old hardtop outdoor track. that used to be next to the courts. It was 7 or 8 laps to a mile and had severe banking in the turns. One day back when I was in about sixth grade my dad took my brother and sisters and me to play tennis at these courts. After that we raced a lap. I lost so I kept going and going and going. I ended up running 2 miles just to save myself from the embarrassment of being slowest in the family. My dad told me I would make a good cross-country runner. I really didn’t want to run across the county but I guess that is what you do if you don‘t have any speed.
Saturday night I took my whole family to see the Falmouth Mile at the High School Track. They are currently renovating the high school but when I entered 9th grade it was a brand new school and this track (although it has been beautifully resurfaced) was the track I began my cross-county and track running career running around. The road race tries to bring in top milers to the track and I have observed a few sub 4 minutes miles run here. The last time my kids came to the track my daughter Emily ran a short race alongside Colleen De Reuk’s daughter and we sat on the track beforehand with Alan and Shayne Culpepper getting ready for the mile race but that was 6 of 7 years ago. For some reason there is no men’s race and only a women’s mile this year. Emily is happy to see Carrie Tollefson running as she has her autographed poster on her wall. As expected Tiffany McWilliams takes the lead for most of the race. She is from Mississippi State University, where my brother is a professor, so we cheer her on. Carrie Tollofson wins in 4:27:96 and Tiffany McWilliams finishes 3rd also under 4:30. Then it is back home from the race as I have two nervous first time racers to get ready for Sunday’s big 7 miler.
We go to get on the buses early to transport us to Woods Hole. I used to run to the start, a few miles from my parents home, but the roads are real dangerous with all the buses so now I get bused in. At Woods Hole I say my good byes and give best wishes to Andy and Sarah and head out to the seeded section of the start. I am number 198 and get to start in the elite- sub elite corral. This holds a great fascination to me as I have been privileged to see and warm up with some of the greatest runners ever. We also get our own port-a- johns. I have stood in the line next to many elites through the years. One year I stood in line and talked with Steve Scott. Last year I did the same with Falmouth Mile winner Jason Lunn. A few years year I stretched and talked with Khalid Kannouchie before he won the race. This was before he was a marathon world record holder. When I first ran Falmouth in1975. the race was on its way to legendary world class status. This was because the race directors had a double coup of getting the reigning Olympic Champion, Frank Shorter, and Bill Rodgers fresh off his surprise first Boston win both in the race. This was sort of the unofficial start of mass start road racing and the running boom joining together with the idea of world class runners entering and running alongside the mere mortals. As a high school runner I was more than excited to see these two superstars on my home turf. The only athlete I would have loved to meet more at that time in my life would have been Carl Yastrzemski ! I usually see Bill and Frank often in the starting corral. They now start behind me as they jog the race as ambassadors of the golden age of road running. Through the years I have met many Olympians and World Class runners at Falmouth. I have still never met Yaz.
The wheelchair racers go off along with the Hoyts. I get in about 10 rows back from the starting line and await the fun. Andy and Sarah will have to wait a bit more as Falmouth now has wave starts and they will start many crowded minutes after me. As I wait I cannot help but remember the summer I worked as a janitor in the world famous Marine Biology Labs where the runners further back are standing awaiting there start. Most days I would run most of the road race course back home after work as my parents then lived in Falmouth Heights near the finish.
After the F-15s fly overhead the gun goes off. Quickly we run over the grated draw bridge. It is only crowded for less than ¼ mile and then I can start running free. We head up a slight uphill around Woods Hole Harbor and take a sharp right and go over a wooden bridge. I love the spring as we go over that bridge and then it is slightly downhill. I notice that no spectators are on the grass on the left hand side of the road and I move over onto it for a bit. This reminds me of how I used to run the course in the earlier years. In 1975 I remember getting off the grass and then back onto the road and hearing shouts behind me, “On your Left!” I looked back and saw a wheelchair barreling down on me, I quickly moved aside in time as wheelchair racing pioneer Bob Hall went rolling past in what looked like an ordinary wheelchair. Now wheel chair racers get their own start and Bob Hall makes those technological chairs that they use. The course takes a left and the ocean opens up in front of us. Yes, this is Falmouth. I look up and see the Nobska Lighthouse ahead and the lead runners already running up the hill around the light. It is the last sightseeing I do. I realize that for the past few years I never look at the scenery anymore as I run this race. I know every step of the course and concentrate on the job at hand which is following the road. My wife tells me she enjoyed the views the whole race during this her first Falmouth and I know she will think fondly of the lighthouse because this is where I proposed to her.
The mark is on the road and a clock tells me I ran a 6:10 mile. My hips are tight and I wanted to go much faster. That is not a good sign for the day. Gosh I remember hitting the mile over a minute faster years ago. My favorite Falmouth memory is here at mile one. OK so it wasn’t really in the Falmouth Road Race but in the “Falmouth in the Fall Road Race“, a smaller version of the race run on the same course with only about 500 runners. It was 10 years ago in 1996, I had just completed 3 marathons in the 3:05 range and finally broke 1:20 at the Hollis Half Marathon, all in the 5 weekends before the Falmouth in the Fall race. Having just run the Cape Cod Marathon the week before on the same roads I expected to be a bit worn out but ambled down to Falmouth one more time to run the road race course. I was in the lead pack before the first mile mark and as we headed up the hill around Nobska Light I decided to take the lead before we crested the hill, once there I lengthened my stride on the downhill side and ended up with a 40-50 yard lead. How many times had I dreamed of being good enough to lead the Falmouth Road Race and here I was, well in its little brother, in that same spot. I had a lead vehicle in front of me and I was staring back at the race directors in the back of a pickup looking at me in front of the race. I haven’t had many lead vehicles to run with in my day and it was fun and unnerving. After a mile more of racing I got passed once and then after another mile got passed again. But I held off a group of runners that were breathing down my neck for the rest of the race and finished third overall. Then I had even more fun after the race at the awards ceremony. I recognized a face I hadn’t seen since high school. He was the kid who lived across the street from me when I was a kid and used to pick on me quite a bit. I introduced myself and asked how his race went. It was very rewarding to let him know about my place and time. I bet he just wanted to throw rocks at me again for old times sake!
The second mile of the race takes you through shaded winding roads. I like this section of the course. It is usually cooler. I remember running with Joan Benoit at this section of the race for a while before she passed me one year and that was years before she became an Olympic Marathon Champion.
At this point in the race you leave the trees and head towards Surf Drive. On a hot day it can get steamy here. This years race had absolutely beautiful weather. It is in the low 70’s with no wind and a blue sky. I know the ocean is on my right and beyond the crowds on either side of the road is a pond. In 9th grade I would ride my bike the 5 miles to school and then leave school sometime in the afternoon, often before school was over, to ride bikes with a buddy. We’d head to his house. We’d get his 2 seater kayak and go out on the pond near his house, the very one we are running by now and then take it out on the ocean where we’d tip it over and swim all along Surf Drive with no one else in sight. That would be the last year I attended Falmouth High School. It would be off to a College Preparatory School on Long Island the next three years where I would have to get a bit more serious. I also think this play helped out with the triathlon bug I acquired just a few years later.
Miles 4 -5
After the four mile mark on Surf Drive the course leaves the ocean as it starts making its way towards Falmouth Harbor. I remember visualizing a hand pushing me from behind back when I was younger and just coasting along the course. I can not visualize anything that can get my hips working right this year. I feel good and not tired but my hips just don’t work right and I am fighting my body this year. In 1997 at the 25th running of the Falmouth Road Race Frank Shorter caught up to me at this point. We ran together and hit the 5 mile mark at exactly 29 minutes flat. Hearing a voice behind him Frank Shorter turned around to talk with a guy catching up. I look. It is former winner Rod Dixon. My goodness where are the cameras when you really need a picture taken? They would both go on to finish ahead of me but what I thrill running with such superstars. Now we are entering the part of the course where I used to deliver the daily newspaper when I was in junior high and we head up alongside Falmouth Harbor. I realize the race is going swiftly. I wonder how Andy and Sarah are doing. The course is not crowded for me and there are runners 30 yards in front and 30 yards in back. I am on my own, a feeling that I am sure those two will not get today!
Miles 6 and 7
We go around the harbor. I like the little downhill and the quick corners here. Soon we’ll be heading up Falmouth Heights Road. Across from the Island Queen Ferry terminal on the Harbor is the back entrance to the church that I grew up in and that my father was the minister of for over 40 years. I used to get a lot of cheers here but the last few years I go unrecognized. However as I approach the spot I hear “Go Jim!” Ten or twenty people pick up the chant. I look to see if I recognize anyone and notice no one is looking at me. They are looking at and cheering a runner 10 yards behind me. I used to run a 3 mile loop on this road sometimes 3 or 4 times in a row when I lived at home so I could keep running by the harbor and later by the beach. I pass 10k and head straight towards the ocean. As we reach it we turn left and head towards the finish line. The crowds grow deep and vocal, but we have a bit of a hill to climb up. I am home free now and scamper up the hill because I know there is a long downhill to the finish. Boy I love these roads. The finish line hill appears and it is all downhill to the end. I finish in 189th with a time of 44:18, a typical finish for me. Definitely not the top 100 performance I keep striving for. I cross the chip mat and stop. Taking the chip off my foot, I throw it in a bucket. It is a remarkable change from the 1975. I still have the typewritten 3 by 5 card with 350 written on it given to me to mark my initial placing that year. I also have the typewritten and photocopied results from 1975. Actually two sets of results as I finished 188th in the field for runners that had joined the AAU. There is another set of results for those who did not join. These results are called the Falmouth “Run for Fun”. I guess they didn’t want the non AAU runners contaminating the true AAU runners, or maybe they just figured out a way to get money out of this new road racing fad trying to get runners to pony up some money! A 67 year old runner named Johnny Kelly beat me that year 32 Falmouths ago by 4 minutes! And Frank Shorter beat Bill Rodgers in what would become the first of many intriguing duals!
1975 would be my slowest Falmouth ever, so far. My fastest was in 1980. I was getting ready for my senior year of cross-country season at Wheaton College in Illinois. I had run over 1000 miles in the 12 weeks leading up to Falmouth and I finally broke the 40 minute barrier by finishing 184th in 39:58 seconds. The official results did not come out for a few weeks (no internet back then!) and it was at college that I saw they had given the top Falmouth Resident Award to a kid who had finished just 13 seconds in front of me. I was real disappointed as I would have really liked to have won an award at my home town race. It came out that this runner was from one of the fastest running families in Massachusetts history. He was just moving to town, maybe arriving a day before the race, maybe not. He also had suffered heat exhaustion and may have been moved to a different finishing corral. At the very least he got to start in the elite start and I had to wait lined up behind a barrier in Woods Hole for over an hour just to be near the front. I was told that I would be put in the elite start the next year and by the way “College kids aren’t true residents anyhow.” It was sour news to me and as you can see from my writing, Falmouth is truly indeed my hometown! This boy and his siblings would go on to win many big championships in their high school and college careers, and it was nice they wanted to make him and his family feel welcome in a new town. But personally, I felt I was the first true Falmouth resident that year and as someone who could never win anything at that point in my running career I really did want the award!
I have business now that the race is over. I head over to the massage tables and am one of the first there. I get the knot in my hip worked on then head back up the road race course. The runners keep coming wave after wave and it is very dizzying. Where’s Andy? Where’s Sarah? Andy started running cross-country for Nashua South last year. He is slowly growing into the sport. I refuse to push my kids into running as they need to make it their own sport. He had raced the July fourth kids race in Nashua about 10 years ago or so and the Brookline race for kids that went with the extinct and missed Brookline 5 miler, but had steered away from running until last year. Wow, I almost missed him. He runs by in a huge pack and I see him at the last moment in front of me. He looks strong and finishes in 59:57.
Then I wait for Sarah. She has never run this far before. She was a faithful fan before we were married. She came to cheer me on at Falmouth and in the triathlons I was doing in the 1980’s. She even came to cheer me on and be my support in 3 of the 5 Ironman distance triathlons I did on Cape Cod. Now that was a long day of support and I do think my antics back then kept her away from desiring to do any sort of race or even attempt the training involved. However a year and half ago the kids and I all wanted to run the Millennium Mile. The youngest, Hannah was only 4 at the time and so she couldn’t run it alone. Sarah figured she could walk and jog with Hannah but found she couldn’t keep up. That opened her eyes and she started walking on the treadmill and eating healthy. For over a year the treadmill walks went from difficult to easy to longer to part running to lots of running. In over a years time she only missed 2 days of on that treadmill. This year she ran the Millennium Mile with Hannah until I finished and came back on the course to meet them. Then she easily ran ahead of our 5 year old to the finish.
After a year of treadmill running and as Spring rolled around she started running outdoors. Then one day during the Spring I offered Andy and Sarah anoption to run Falmouth. They really weren’t too enthused but thought they wouldn’t get in through the lottery anyhow so they amused me and let me send in the entries.
Now Sarah was actually running and with a sore leg wasn’t sure what she was doing out there. As I waited I thought she would see me and either slap me or tell me how much fun she was having. Soon she trotted into view and I had my best ever Falmouth Road Race moment. I jumped on to the course ran beside her a bit then let her finish it on her own. Who would have thought she would ever run this race! Sarah finished in 1:24:29. Oh she was having fun for which my face is very happy.
Falmouth is still my favorite road race. I have done it just about every year since 1975. I missed a few due to triathlons back in the 1980’s and also a few other times due to broken bones or injuries. I can still run the course over 6 minutes faster than 31 years ago and only less than 4 ½ minutes slower than my best time 26 years ago. I think that is a record that most runners from the past cannot achieve anymore. As I look at the results. I can only count 10 men older than my 47 years who finished in front of me out of the 8000 runners this year.
After finding Sarah and Andy on the Heights ball field amidst thousands of runners we get some food and head for our car. I see an older friend who knew me since I was a kid. He tells Sarah and Andy that everyone that knew me long ago knew that I was not very fast but that I did have a lot of endurance. That is a pretty good summary as I have lasted a long time at the running game and it all started in Falmouth!