Manchester Road Race continues to make history
By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Nov. 18, 2011
For area residents not involved in the running community, the annual Thanksgiving Day race in Manchester may seem like just a fun, local event. This year’s 75th running of the race, however, highlights its significance in multiple ways.
“This is certainly the best coordinated and most popular event in Manchester, and one of the biggest in Connecticut,” said Manchester resident and long-time race volunteer state Sen. Steve Casano. “It’s one of the best oiled machines,” he added about the volunteer organization.
This year marks the 75th running of the Manchester Road Race, with 15,000 runners, including many internationally-acclaimed elite runners, and an anticipated 30,000 spectators. A new feature this year will be the flyover by the “Spirit of Freedom” Douglas C-54E Skymaster aircraft. Powered by reciprocating engines built by Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company, the “Spirit of Freedom” was part of the World War II Berlin Airlift. “It will pump [the runners] up,” said Tris Carta, president of the Manchester Road Race committee. The flyover will take place at 9:54 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. There will also be a practice run on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 2:30 p.m.
Preparation for the race is a year-long event. Carta especially thanked Manchester’s Public Works Department for the extra effort required after the early winter storm to ready the race course. The race starts on Main Street, turns onto Charter Oak Street, continues on Highland Street, turns onto Porter Street, moves onto East Center Street and finishes back at the starting line on Main Street.
“Coordination is really what makes it,” said Manchester Fire Chief Robert Bycholski. “It’s a whole different way of doing business for three hours.” The emergency services personnel set up a special response area inside the race route. It would otherwise be very difficult to respond to emergencies inside the race route, due to the volume of runners and spectators alike.
Manchester resident John Dormer remembered watching the race from his childhood home on Porter Street when there were just a few racers. The race used to be called the “Turkey Trot,” but has always officially been the Manchester Road Race. As the race gained popularity and significance, the local name for it has been all but lost.
Part of the reason for the success of the Manchester Road Race was the involvement of John J. Kelley, this year’s Honorary Chairperson (posthumously.) Kelley, originally from New London, Conn., was known in the 1950s for winning the Boston Marathon. “Everyone knew he was the greatest long-distance runner,” said Amby Burfoot, one of Kelley’s students at Fitch High School in Groton, and himself a nine-time Manchester Road Race winner. “His presence was instrumental in the success of this race,” said Burfoot during the Nov. 17 press conference. Kelley’s daughters, Julia, Kathleen and Eileen, accepted the Honorary Chairperson plague on behalf of their father, who died on Aug. 20, 2011.
Another of Kelley’s protégés and the focus of national media attention in 1961 is Julie Chase-Brand, the first woman to cross the race’s finish line. In the 1960s, it was against Amateur Athletic Union rules for women to compete in races more than one-half-mile and to compete in co-ed events. “Julia was absolutely a pioneer,” said Burfoot. According to the Manchester Road Race Souvenir Program, Chase-Brand, along with Olympic half-miler Christine McKenzie of Great Britain and Manchester resident Dianne Lechausse, were barred from receiving race numbers, but took off on the course nonetheless, starting behind the 140 male racers. Chase-Brand finished the race at 33:40, followed by Lechausse at 41:12. Due to threats of sanctions from the AAU, McKenzie opted not to cross the finish line. Chase-Brand will run again in this year’s race, the 50th anniversary of her milestone race for female runners.
South Windsor resident John Salcius will run the race for his 50th time this year. As a sophomore at Manchester High School in 1959, Salcius first ran the race with some of his fellow cross country team members. He came in 34th out of 54 racers. He also remembers arriving to the race early, in hopes of being in the front of the pack and getting his picture in the newspaper. As an MHS senior, he received a free turkey for being the first Manchester resident at the finish line. He won three free turkeys in total. Comparing the race with only 54 runners to this year’s anticipated 15,000 runners, Salcius said, “It’s sort of more fun, unless you’re a really serious runner.”
“This year, the elite field is wide open,” said Dave Prindiville of the race committee. “Sally Kipyego’s going to be tough to beat,” added Prindiville about last year’s female winner. The race draws the top runners from across the world. There are also several male and female divisions based on age of the runners.
The Manchester Road Race begins promptly at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Prior to the race, the costume contest is held at the Mary Cheney Library from 8 to 9:30 a.m. The awards ceremony is held at Bennett Academy at 11:15 a.m.
Free shuttle bus service is provided from Manchester Community College to the intersection of Main and Center Streets from 7:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Return shuttles run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. No pets are allowed.
Community members are encouraged to return to downtown Manchester on Friday, Nov. 25, for the Manchester Road Race blood drive, held at the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church at 745 Main Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information about the race or to order this year’s special, 176-page commemorative book, visit the website manchesterroadrace.com.