|Meeting with Amby Burfoot in 2000.|
As a kid, I was not fast, as I don't think I was granted many fast-twitch muscle fibers. I was born with a lot of endurance, however, and I was told I would be a good distance runner some day when I didn't really know what that meant. I had some books on running and famous Olympic runners when I was in elementary school and decided that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon when I was in third grade. No one would take me to the race, so Amby Burfoot won instead! I guess I was a bit ahead of the curve, as I acknowledged the Boston Marathon, even as a kid. Running in the 1960s was not on many people's radar or even lists of things to do (unless you were a kid).
I recall being in 7th or 8th grade and the gym teacher had all the boys run a mile at Gov. Fuller Field. I was in the lead until about 3/4 of the way when stomach cramps hit me, but I was still the third runner to finish and I felt some accomplishment in beating all the guys in my grade who were considered the athletes at the time. Around the same time, I realized that one of my female classmates was very special, Johanna Foreman made the Faces in Crowd section of Sports Illustrated for her running prowess and the entire school had an assembly in her honor. At a time when girls where starting to pursue equality in sports, John Carroll began coaching girls alongside the boys and the girls were gaining National prominence for the Falmouth Track Club. Without knowing it, Falmouth was becoming known for its runners. Johanna went on to be a top American middle distance runner when she was in high school along with two other girls mentioned in Stracher's book: Tammy Hennemuth and Nancy Robinson (and there were plenty of other fast female runners). While I liked the idea of running and had even cut a few articles I had found of people who had actually run across the United States as some sort of inspiration for a later date, I was just a normal kid having fun doing all the sports of the neighborhood: street hockey and street football games, pickup baseball games at Worcester Court or at the ball field in Falmouth Heights right across from the beach, or just riding our bikes all over town.
Then I met my first runner. Well, I knew who he was already, but my family would marvel as we watched a high school friend and runner constantly running by our house and all over town through the summer seasons. Tommy Johnston lived a couple miles away and we kept seeing him zipping around and I think I recall that he was usually doing 8 mile runs. All that I can say is that I was very impressed and wanted to do likewise some day! In those days it was extremely rare to see anyone running on the roads at all!
|Tommy Johnson running in the 1976 Falmouth Road Race.|
A few weeks after that first Falmouth Road Race, I was a 9th grader at at the brand new Falmouth High School. I had intended to go out for the soccer team, but had been on vacation with my family during the preseason camp and sign up. A few weeks into the school year, Tommy's brother Stewart and I decided to join the cross-country team. It was an early release day, so there was plenty of time for running that day. I think the date was September 19, 1973 and if so, that is the date I became a runner. We ran the entire 2.9 mile cross-country course as a preview plus warmups and strides around the track as it was also a race day, we ran down the road to cheer on the varsity runners before our race. Stu and I ran together near the back of the pack when our race went off and about a mile into the woods, we went left where we should have gone right. We got lost and two girls from the opposing team followed right along. There was a lot of walking and a lot of time before we made it out of the woods and onto Gifford Street far past Brick Kiln Road where we were supposed to be . By the time we made it back to the school an hour or so later, everyone was worried about the two missing girls. No one even cared that Stu and I had been lost! I didn't run again until the next Monday (another race). All that I remember was that I could barely walk for days, let alone think about running. My legs were impossibly sore (at the time I think we calculated that we had done 8 miles of running and walking that afternoon).
Stu and I did not distinguish ourselves as runners and we usually finished last on our team of some very good runners. The only highlight would be the end of season team race which was a handicap race on our home course. I improved my best time on the course by 37 seconds and was the first to finish in an unremarkable time of 19:53 but I ended up "winning" the race: well, at least being the first finisher as I had improved the most and the starting times were based on your best time. I may not have been good, but I was hooked on running.
Unfortunately, with a new school came some really weird scheduling ideas and and an "out-there" school philosophy. Of course, this was the year when streaking became a fad and so there was a lot of overall weirdness going on. Classes were often only 20 minutes long (called mods) and there was tons of free time to study or seek out help from teachers. Right! Basically, I would spend hours in the gym each day playing basketball or would just hang out in the library with a large group of friends. By Spring, I would ride my bike to school, so I could leave school early and ride to a friend's house. We would stop along the way, if it was warm, and swim in the pond at Goodwill Park and then take his two person kayak out from Salt Pond, go under Surf Drive through the metal "tubes" underneath the road, and swim and play along the ocean off Surf Drive (around mile 4 of the Falmouth Road Race). I got a lot of biking and swimming in those days, which would serve me well in a few years.
With the school system in disarray, I along with 3 other Falmouth boys headed off to the Stony Brook School on Long Island. I knew the 2nd edition of the Falmouth Road Race was going to be happening that August and even though I was now a runner, I did not train or enter the race that year with all the planning I needed to move away from home.
a great running coach in Marvin W. Goldberg and where I also found a running program steeped in tradition and success. Of course, I still was not fast, but I continued to love to train and to race. I also had a coach that would send me postcards in the summer months and mention that road race in my hometown and even the exploits about Johanna Foreman. The summer of 1975 was the first year I ran the Falmouth Road Race and it was my first ever road race. I was also incredulous at the thought that the two biggest names in the running world: Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers were going to dual it out on the streets of my hometown. What a sport! I could run a race alongside the current Olympic marathon champion and the current Boston Marathon champion (and American record holder). By golly, I wasn't going to miss that race. Mr. Goldberg eventually made it out to Falmouth to watch the road race a few times as well and also to convince Bill Rodgers to be a speaker my school and at the New York State Cross-Country meet in 1977 (the year after I graduated).
|After finishing the 1975 Falmouth Road Race.|
|Classic Runner's World cover|
of the 1978 Falmouth Road Race.
After graduating from the Stony Brook School, I enrolled at Wheaton College in Illinois and ran cross-country there too! Yes, that is the same school that Tommy Johnston ran at and I chased his best times until the final cross-country race of my senior year where I finally beat his college best time. Even though Tommy was the first real runner I knew, I don't ever recall running one step with him despite both of us running for Falmouth High School and Wheaton College.
|Heading for the finish in 1980.|
|Eventual winner Alberto Salazar with Mike McLeod at the|
1981 Falmouth Road Race.
|1979 Falmouth winner Ellison Goodall|
Cameron Strachers's book Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom covers the glory years of American distance running during the running boom and the Falmouth Road Race plays an important part in the story. He says that the running boom ended with the 1982 version of the Falmouth Road Race. Not only did Alberto Salazar start to struggle being on top of the world after that race, but the dominance of American men in the running scene started to decline as well. In fact, since 1982 only one American male runner has won the Falmouth Road Race. It is erroneously reported in the book that Bruce Bickford won in Falmouth in 1985, but the only American male champion since Salazar was Mark Curp in 1988 (Bickford was ranked number one in the world for 10,000 meters in 1985). The 1983 race was won by a Kenyan, Joseph Nzau.
There are a few reasons for the decline of American male distance running after 1982 and Stracher covers those reasons in his book. I would also like to add one more reason to his list and it also has its Falmouth ties.
In February 1982, at a little known event held in Hawaii that catered to a small group of fitness fanatics, a young lady crawled to the finish line. Sports Illustrated had done an article on the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon a few years earlier and ABC had televised the race for a few years. I remember watching it in college and not having an understanding of the biking and swimming legs at all, but being enthralled with what type of athlete would prove most dominant. Julie Moss was less than one mile from winning the female race when her body gave out and television cameras caught the gut wrenching display of Julie making it to the finish line any way she could and ultimately being passed by Kathleen McCarthy for the win just before stretching her hand across the finish line. When the race was televised on Wide World of Sports thousands of people watched and decided that they just had to do that race (including me). The television broadcast was such a hit and created such a stir that it was shown again the next week.
I think that event had as much of an impact on the way American's viewed endurance sports as Frank Shorter's triumph in the Olympic marathon. People took notice! Just as I was on the running boom and marathon bandwagon, I was soon to be on the triathlon bandwagon. The next year at the 1983 Boston Marathon, it was announced that Dave McGillivray was going to put on an Ironman distance race on Cape Cod that September. Dave was a big running figure already in New England as he had run across the country for the Jimmy Fund in 1978 and received a lot of publicity for his efforts. He had also participated in the Hawaii Ironman. As soon as I heard about the race, I was in, despite not having any swimming or biking background. I went out and bought a $300 bike and started training. I had no coaching and did not know any person who had even completed a triathlon, let alone any swimmers or cylcists. I swam that summer off (appropriately) Racing Beach in Falmouth trying to learn how to do the freestyle stroke and keep my head in the water. I biked out to the Cape Cod Canal and back and I ran. One note: Dave McGillivray became the race director of the Falmouth Road Race in 2012.
The Falmouth Track Club had been putting on a members only triathlon for a couple of years and that summer in 1983 that race became my first triathlon. I finished fourth overall, but the newspaper reports had the organizers already complaining about the size of the event and the non track club members in the race. Then, big time triathloning hit Falmouth. The nationwide Bud Light Triathlon Series showed up in Falmouth and about 900 triathletes came to race at Old Silver Beach. It was credited with being the largest open water swim on the east coast at the time and the race organizers were also credited with creating hills on the swim. It was stormy and the storm and angry waters were not just in the salt water. Falmouth officials did not want the swim to go off on time and instead wanted the organizers to wait for the waves to die down. The race organizers did not listen and the race started on time, but they were not invited back to Falmouth again. I got the feeling that the town was not really appreciating the attention the race got when they already had a road race that needed attention. Triathlons did not happen for many years after that in Falmouth.
One other side note about the USTS race. The day before the race at the prerace show, the featured guest was a young lady whose finish had brought the nationwide spotlight onto triathlons. Julie Moss was in town to be the master of ceremonies at this Falmouth event. While triathlons being hosted in Falmouth were stalled after that race, the attention given to triathlons and multi-sport races was on the upswing. And yes, that September I did complete my third triathlon at the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon (a full distance Ironman event). The race passed through many Cape Cod towns, from Sandwich to Provincetown, but the one town it did not get near to was Falmouth.
|Scott Tinley (here in 1985) and Scott Molina would both later win|
the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon.
Other Falmouth Road Race Posts
And here is the coolest part of Cameron Stracher's book. It is nice to see my past blog posts played a part in his research for the book.