The Falmouth Road Race originated as a fundraiser for the Falmouth High School girls’ track team to help the team pay expenses to attend away meets.The entry fee the first year was $2. The finish line was someone’s clothesline.
Rather than a slow rise to the top of the road race popularity pile, the race benefitted from being the right race at the right time and was propelled into road race renown by early interest in the competition between Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter (Rodgers won in 1974, 1977 and 1978, Shorter in 1975 and 1976). It didn’t hurt that both athletes were (and still are) dynamic personalities. The race also garnered the interest of runners in the Greater Boston Track Club, which was founded in 1973, the same year as the road race.
These and other details are carefully chronicled in a new book by Paul C. Clerici titled, “A History of the Falmouth Road Race: Running Cape Cod,” published last month by History Press.
The book reads like a who’s who of running history from the 1970s to the present. Along with Rodgers and Shorter the book catalogs road race wins by familiar names such as Alberto Salazar, Khalid Khannouchi, Catherine Ndereba, Lornah Kiplagat, Lynne Jennings, and Joan Benoit.
The book also details the local traditions long associated with the race, such as folks who run in costume, the first year mugs began appearing in race goodie bags, the silk-screened race posters by Falmouth artist Bonnie Maresh that have become local collector’s items, crowd favorites Team Hoyt, and the infamous Falmouth Five (a quintet of runners who have competed in all 42 Falmouth Road Races).
What started with less than 100 runners on a rainy Wednesday in August now draws more than 10,000 runners who mark their calendars for the third Sunday in August early in the year and apply to a lottery to hopefully secure a race number.
Names, dates, times, and other straightforward details are broken up by lively commentary, much of it by Tommy Leonard, who, although he may not have been the sole driving force behind the origin of the race, was certainly the heart and soul of the event and played a huge role in its early success. The Falmouth Road Race is now the New Balance Falmouth Road Race (Mr. Leonard brought onboard the first big-name sponsor of the race, Perrier, in 1977).
Author Paul C. Clerici is a freelance journalist, writer, and former newspaper sports editor. According to his bio he has run the Falmouth Road Race several times. In the interest of full disclosure, this writer has run it three times. I suspect anyone who’s run Falmouth has a story to tell, whether it’s about their own PR (personal record), a particularly grueling race-day weather, or a group effort in support of a local nonprofit. Anyone who’s ever run the race, hosted or cheered on a runner, or simply indulged in one too many post race parties will want to add this book to their shelves.
Mr. Clerici will be at several events prior to the Falmouth Road Race to talk about and sign copies of his book.
Upcoming appearances include a book talk and signing at the Woods Hole Public Library, which is on the race course at 581 Woods Hole Road in Woods Hole on Wednesday, August 12, at 7:30 PM; Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich on Thursday, August 13, from 1 to 2 PM; Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth on Thursday, August 13, at 7 PM; and Falmouth Historical Society Museums on the Green on Friday, August 14, at 1:30 PM.
Mr. Clerici will also be at the Falmouth Road Race Expo August 13, 14 and 15. Details on Mr. Clerici’s appearances at the expo, which will be held at Falmouth High School, may be found at www.falmouthroadrace.com.