Friday, November 13, 2009

1978 Falmouth Road Race: When Bill Rodgers was King

I recently found an old Kenny Moore Sport's Illustrated article on the 1978 Falmouth Road Race which you can read here. Not only was Kenny Moore a great American runner (fourth behind Frank Shorter in the 1972 Olympic Marathon) but he is also one of best writers when it comes to the sport. This was one of the many Falmouth road races that I raced and I found a few pictures of the race from my old Kodak 110 camera. This race is notorious for the heat that felled a young Alberto Salazar. He was famously read his last rights after suffering heat exhaustion. He survived and went on to suffer in the heat again at the 1982 Boston Marathon (a race I also ran as it was my first Boston Marathon). In the article, Kenny Moore laments the rapid growth of running:

Last week the Cape, or that 7.1-mile length of its triceps from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights, resounded to the footsteps of some 4,000 overheated runners celebrating the sixth renewal of the Falmouth Road Race. Afterward, the bended arms hoisted no-deposit, no-return bottles, solitude was unavailable and thoughtful distance runners were forced to conclude that their sport is rapidly outgrowing its Thoreauvian roots.

and ends with a note about what "spectacles" these running events had become with their "masses of runners" and "exploitive" entry fees.

There are runners now, usually those who have run for years, who no longer come to the big races, who feel them to be perverted simply by the crush, the leveling of numbers. "It's headed toward sin," said one New England runner who chose an obscure race in Maine over Falmouth. The New York City Marathon now has closed its lists with more than 10,000 entries, and Chicago expects as many, even with an exploitative $10 entry fee. So we may see the stream divide, one small branch slipping off into the forest. "The simple satisfaction of a good training run," said Bill Norris, "is now more enjoyable for me than one of these spectacles."

It sounds more like the "good old days" to me!

Here is a brief summary of the race from the Falmouth Road Race site.

1978 — Four thousand runners, and this year the race was called "the best road race ever in the United States at any distance." The list of runners read like a "Who's Who," with only Frank Shorter, coming off heel surgery, missing among the world's elite. Sports Illustrated's Kenny Moore called the 1978 race "the best organized race of this size I've ever been in." Bill Rodgers, in the midst of a streak which saw him win 16 races in two years, including two Boston marathons, two New York City marathons and a pair at Falmouth, was at the top of his game. He outran the star-studded competition and shaved two seconds off his course record (32:21). Salazar made news again, but this time for collapsing with heat exhaustion at the finish and being rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He recovered and would have his day in the sun in a couple of years. For the first year, the woman's record stayed intact, as Joan Benoit won, but couldn't eclipse Kim Merritt's 1977 mark. Records would come later for Benoit.


2nd place finisher Mike Roche near the 6 mile mark

3rd place finisher Craig Virgin

my high school teammate Bill Hobbs came from New York to run (with 78 BAA marathon champion Gayle Barron)

Gayle Barron finished in 6th place
me getting an autograph

71 year old Johnny Kelley

Here are the results. I came in 435th place in 45:47. I was a little over one minute slower this year 31 years later in the 2009 version of the race.

Runner's World did a cover story feature on the race.

For the Letsrunners who are identifying the runners at the start of the race. Here is an article that explains the race time discrepencies.

And you thought the first photo was tough. Try naming these runners!!

More on the timing problems in 1978 and other interesting logistics

A bit deeper results


Unknown said...

Thanks for the memories. I hadn't seen some of the pictures you provided. Was a hot day long ago.

Mike Roche

Kevin Leonard said...

I finished 69th that day. Thanks for the great pics & article! My two good friends; Bill & Mike finished first and second. It sure was hot that day!