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Manchester and Amby: A Win-Win Connection

Manchester Road Race Compares Favorably to the Boston Marathon in Amby Burfoot’s Experience.

Amby Burfoot: Manchester & Me was the title of a presentation I attended at Whiton Memorial Library on Monday night. Amby who has won the Manchester Road Race nine times and the Boston Marathon once will run tomorrow morning in his 56th consecutive race around the 4.748 mile course in town.

At 72, Amby is no longer a red-head with a full red beard but is still long, lean and bearded.  He spoke for one hour about his experiences as a runner from high school to the present day.  He had many kind things to say about the town of Manchester and the Manchester Road Race as he reminded us that  “Every day is a gift, every mile is a gift”. He used a PowerPoint with some great pictures and let us know his books were being sold by his wife Cristina off to one side of the auditorium.  He offered to autograph any books purchased.

Amby described himself as the worst player on the JV basketball team as a sophomore in high school.  During one particularly bad practice the team was kicked out of the gym and sent out to run the cross-country course.  Winning easily over the other players he made the emotional decision to quit being the worst player on the team in a sport he loved  to try  cross-country.

He ran his first practices in his high top Keds basketball sneakers and his first race in an old pair of bowling shoes on a rainy day.  The shoes got soaked and de-laminated and he crossed the football field at the end of the race with a flapping shoe sole to finish in 5th or 6th place.  After the race Amby was feeling nauseous and disappointed when John J. Kelly, “the most inspiring, most intelligent, most astonishing man I’ve met” put his arm around Amby’s shoulders and offered words of support and encouragement.  John predicted that Amby had some potential for a good future in this sport.

Amby’s first road race was in Manchester in 1963.  He had been running high school cross-country for only two years.  He won the high school division that year and fell in love with road racing and the big enthusiastic crowds in Manchester.  He compares the crowd support in Manchester to that of Boston and contrasts it with the rest of the world, where back in the day, road racers were considered “creatures from a foreign land” and beer cans and beer bottles were thrown out of windows at the runners.

The sport has come into its own since those early days and grown in popularity around the world.  It’s been 45 years since he felt the thrill of flying down Main St in Manchester to break the tape and get his picture in the paper.  He has returned every year for 56 years because of the community, the crowds and the people of Manchester. Something very special is going on in this town.  What it is and what it has always been is the community support of tens of thousands of people.

One of Amby’s best memories was his 50th Manchester Road Race.  He was expecting cheers from the spectators during this special anniversary running  but discovered the dirty little truth about running in the middle of the pack.   It’s so difficult to spot anyone in particular among the throngs of other runners that anonymity is almost guaranteed if you aren’t breaking the finish line tape. However, the thrill of the incredibly energetic scene at the starting line every Thanksgiving Day in Manchester continues for him.

In 1961 Manchester became famous for being the first road race in the country to have a woman finish the race.  Amby talked about his interest in the history of women runners which he wrote about in his book “First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles Of The Rebels, Rule Breakers And Visionaries Who Changed The Sport Forever.”  Julia Chase-Brand, a 21-year-old college senior was the first woman to finish a road race in the U.S. and she ran it in Manchester.  Although being denied entry into the race by the organizers at the time, she ran the race anyway and crossed the finish line in good form. Another woman also ran in that race.  She was from Great Britain and had run in races there but stepped off the course before the finish line because she thought she would be banned from U.S. races forever by the athletic authorities. Today some of the most elite female runners in the world compete at the Manchester Road Race.

Amby talked about the cast of characters who participate in Manchester, from Olympians to guys as old as he is today trotting around the streets, to costumes and Safety Man and a variety of bands.  It is the only race in country to have an awards  lunch celebrating those over 75.  He’s looking forward to attending that lunch in a few years.

Manchester owes its success as a world-class event because the right people in town have stepped up at the right time to make it a premier road race.  According to Amby, “This is an event that has a history and has a sparkle to it and that has to be maintained.”  People in town  started the famous “Irish Connection” where John Treacy and Eamonn Coghlan contributed to making it a world-class event.  It has continued with the large contingent of top-notch runners from East Africa who have dominated in recent years.

The race tomorrow morning will be a cold one so good luck to all the runners, spectators, and officials.


4 thoughts on “Manchester and Amby: A Win-Win Connection

  1. Great story. I didn’t know that history about the first woman to finish a road race in US. I remember the first time I saw Amby was at the Danielson Road Race in the late 1970s. He was an imposing figure – tall, lean, read hair, red beard. Why didn’t they make the race an even 5 miles?

    1. I didnt know the history either. I’m glad no one in Manchester shoved her like what happened in Boston. Did you run in the Danielson race?

  2. Reading your blog I felt the heart of Manchester. Keep on writing.

    1. And what a great heart it is.​

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