“HOW A BARTENDER DREAMED UP THE FALMOUTH ROAD RACE” is the bostonglobe.com article that inspired this post. In May 2015, a condensed version of Paul C. Clerisi’s work “A History of the Falmouth Road Race: Running Cape Cod” was reprinted, with permission, online. It’s about the quirky 1973 origin of a modern competition that is loaded with local tradition, which started as an effort to help high school girl cross country runners compete in their state’s championship finals.
Previous “Saturday Is Race Day” posts have covered the Barkley Marathons in mountainous Tennessee, Dipsea Race in Mill Valley CA, and the Dirty Kanzaa 200 cycle event in remote central eastern Kansas. In each of these endurance competitions a couple or group of die-hard sport enthusiasts decided to create a unique challenge for themselves that grew into a regional celebration. Falmouth is a bit different; it began with a dream and was realized out of necessity.
For those not familiar with New England, an entry from a google.com search provides some geographic orientation. “Falmouth is a coastal town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It is known for its beaches, such as Falmouth Heights, across from the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Inland, Highfield Hall and Gardens, a 19th century estate, exhibits contemporary art. The landmark Nobska lighthouse stands at the town’s southern tip. The Woods Hole Science Aquarium is home to marine life such as seals and lobsters.” Actually Woods Hole is also home to other famous marine science institutions.
A runnersworld.com slideshow on iconic American races provides a description of the 7.1-mile “nearly completely seaside” course. Starting in Woods Hole, it follows a “narrow, hilly, winding and tree-shaded roads”, then passes Nobska Light, runs alongside Martha’s Vineyard Sound, crests on a hill dominated by a huge American flag, and finally heads down to the finish at Falmouth Heights Beach.
The scenery alone argues strongly for putting this event on a ‘life list’ of essential experiences for runners and walkers. But the back story is what makes it worthy of highlighting as an example of a personal event that became a tradition for many locals.
Clerisi’s story is detailed, colorful, and somewhat suspenseful. The briefer version is that a homegrown amateur runner, who tended bar at a Boston establishment near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, sought to bring similar excitement to the beachfront Cape Cod area where he also tended bar, and secure the participation of an elite U.S Olympic marathon champion he idolized.
Thomas Leonard had followed the early running career of Frank Shorter during his New England school days, then watched the American take gold for the U. S. in the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics marathon event. He dreamed of bringing Shorter to run a race in Falmouth.
However, when in 1973 the Falmouth High School girl’s cross-country club team needed financial support to attend the Massachusetts state championships (women were not invited to compete until 1971), Tommy Leonard stepped up to hold a fund raiser event. And that’s how it all started. On August 15, 1973, ninety-eight runners took off in rain and wind, many of them bartenders, waitresses and locals.
T-shirts and food provided by local restaurants and bars were sold which, in addition to entrance fees and post-race activities, raised money for the women’s cause. Other famous names competed that year but not Shorter.
Let’s get back to the reason this race is being highlighted; it’s an example of a custom-designed fitness challenge. A person who loved his town and his sport, out of generosity, decided to organize a memorable event that involved personal friends and local hangouts. And to invite famous runners. Such events need not be large or widely publicized, or bring in celebrities. Just personal and custom-made for your enjoyment. Solo or with others.
If you aren’t moved to create a smaller personal event, consider reading the full story of the charming beginnings of this race. You may be inspired to participate. I do, but realistically may only be able to visit the area outside of the actual race date (in 2018 the Falmouth Road Race will be held on August 19). Still, it would be fun to follow the official route, enjoy the scenery, and seek post-event refreshment at the beach-side joints near the annual finish line.
August is the last full month of summer vacation time and is perfect for personal or organized challenge events. Get moving.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
If This Is Heaven, I Am Going to Be a Good Boy.: The Tommy Leonard Story
By Kathleen Cleary
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EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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