Thanksgiving Memories: The Manchester Road Race

For many Americans,  a traditional Thanksgiving morning is spent cheering on the home team at a football game. For my family, and many others in Connecticut and southern New England, we have a special tradition of our own, the Manchester Road Race. Since 1927 (with a hiatus of 10 years during the depression and WWII), it has grown from a tiny local event to an internationally known athletic event. In 1961, the first woman, aptly named Julia Chase, was permitted to run. In 1967, with 200 runners, it had become the second largest race in the country, right behind the Boston Marathon. and today, with more than 11,000 registered participants, Manchester is in the list of the top 25.

The 4.7 mile course is famous for its very first mile, a long incline popularly know as Heartbreak Hill, where many an overenthusiastic amateur has fallen by the wayside. The route is a festive one, with thousands of spectators lining the way, with musical encouragement provided by live bands. Many world class runners compete each year, but the “legends” are Amby Burfoot, who won 9 times, 7 consecutively, and Charlie “Doc” Robbins, who always ran barefoot, in all kinds of weather (one year when the temperature was 18F, he relented enough to wear socks.)

Speaking of weather, some years it has been relatively mild, but I’ve spent  many a race morning huddling in drenching rain and icy snow. The winner always crosses the line in less than 20 minutes, but one rainy Thanksgiving, I had to wait over an hour for my boss, running for the first time, to stagger down Main Street, soaked to the skin, toward the finish.

For the past 30 years, I’ve been there to cheer on my uncle, husband, son, daughter, and daughter-in-law, along with various and sundry friends and acquaintances. It’s a festive atmosphere, and although the sidelines are mobbed, it’s fun to run into people you haven’t seen in ages.

Then it’s time to go home and finish those dinner preparations, while my runners shower and try to warm up.

This year, the 72nd running, the Manchester Road Race will be televised by NESN. Last year,  my spectator spot changed to a very pleasant (and warm) one,  from Main St. to my daughter’s restaurant, Rocco’s (55 E Center St, Manchester, CT 06040.) She offers yummy breakfast pizzas, gratis, and all sorts of other delicious drinks and goodies. She sponsors a local band out front, and the vantage point, less than a mile from the finish line, couldn’t be better. Music, front row seats, great food, TV – Ahh, life is good!!!

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