Manchester Road Race Memories

Last week, Lori Riley, the Hartford Courant’s running beat reporter, asked some of her running friends for their memories about the Manchester Road Race. This year is the 75th anniversary of the venerable event. I like to write, so I wrote her a piece, thinking it was for her blog. She said it was too long and asked if she could edit. I gave her the green light. Little did I know that my blurb and a photo would appear on the front of today’s Courant Sports section alongside photos of UCONN’s freshman phenom, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady.

Here is the full version of what I wrote:

When asked to reflect on my Manchester Road Race memories, I realized that there were gaps in my own records. I first ran the race in 1985. I think I’ve run it 20 times. I know that I have done it 16 years in a row. I’m registered again this year.

I’m working with the Manchester Library to locate results and reports from 1985-1995. Prior to the Internet, the results were published by the Manchester Herald and the Hartford Courant.

I first ran it when I was at Vernon Center Middle School. I took up cross-country and running as offseason training on the recommendation of my youth hockey coach. He wanted me to build more speed and endurance. I stopped playing hockey as an 88 pound freshman. I hadn’t grown fast enough and my father joked that I was going to be the “puck” with so many bigger kids.

I think my first exposure to Wickham Park was as a 12-year-old in 1985. That was also the year of my first MRR. My father brought me to the race. I was intimidated by the large crowd, but I made it to the finish in less than 30 minutes. Whenever I think of MRR, I think of Ray Crothers and my grandfather. I got my first pair of Tigers (now Asics) running shoes that fall. Every year after that, my grandfather would take me to the Run In to buy a new pair of shoes. Ray always enjoyed my grandfather, especially in my Gramps’ later years. We would spend two hours at the store and I would try everything in my size, running laps around the building. Ray was a big inspiration.

During those years, I was also enthralled by John Treacy and the other Irish Connection runners. I clipped a lot of newspaper articles about the great athletes who competed in Manchester. I ran cross-country for East Catholic High School. In the late 80’s, Treacy visited the school during race week. I got his autograph on my lucky Mickey Mouse boxer shorts. Boxers were all the rage at that time, and I wore them underneath my running shorts in the big races. It looked kind of funny and would certainly be a uniform violation today, but I got away with it then. Eventually those shorts became so thin that they just disintegrated.

1989 was a magical year. I was a senior on the ECHS squad. Our coach was Paul Haggerty and he was way ahead of his time. He had us doing bounders, strides, and a lot of plyometrics. The running took a back seat to some of the strength and form stuff. He could outrun all of us, so we couldn’t pull any fast ones on him. Occasionally, we would go to Wickham Park when he didn’t run with us and we would play football (we stashed one in the woods) and horse around, but mostly we were serious because we had a lot of promise. I was the #4 runner most of the time and was just average. I made up for my lack of height and talent with hard work and suffering. Our top runners were Chris Ray and Dan Feehan. Both came from big time running families. They had pedigree, but hadn’t fulfilled their promise.

Coach took a lot of criticism for his unorthodox style. The parents weren’t happy. Our regular season was mediocre, but he had worked with us to set very strong end of season goals. They were established early in the year when we first got together for summer training. He was happy to forsake the regular season meets if we won the State Championship. Our goals were to win the Class meet and make top five overall at the State Open. Chris was 26th the prior year, having just missed out on All State Honors, so he was hungry. Coach had a saying, “You don’t want to peak until the leaves start falling off the trees.”

Coach’s approach worked perfectly, though I had a minor setback. 20 days before the state championships, I broke my left wrist playing football. It was a stupid mistake on my part. I kept running with my cast, and it no time, it rotted out and was rattling on my wrist. It was supposed to be on for eight weeks, but I insisted on getting it removed the day before the states. My parents relented and I still have occasional pain more than 20 years later!

We were peaked for the big meets, won the Class MM and then went on to a stunning third overall in the State Open behind powerhouses Xavier and Staples. We really overachieved that day. Chris shocked everyone by winning the overall title in very muddy conditions. Dan was an amazing 11th. I was third runner on the team that day. It was one of the best days in ECHS sporting history. Everyone on our team ran their hearts out.

I also did the MRR that year because I had successfully carried my fitness into November, and had a very good race in 27:52. As a 17 year old, I just missed third in my age group.

I had a stretch from 1990-1995 where I wasn’t serious about running. I had some knee problems and that is when I took up competitive cycling. I still did a few MRR’s, but don’t have all the records. I came back in 1995 or 1996. I just missed breaking 30, and I tore up my legs trying. I hadn’t run at all leading up to the race. Several times in the late 1990’s, I did the race as my only run of the year. I was riding a lot (250-300 miles a week in those days), but running uses different muscles. I recall limping for days after the MRR, but it felt so good just to be part of the vibe. I sort of missed running.

I met my spouse, Debbie, in 1999 and started running seriously again, but mostly on the trails. I crushed my 10-year-old PR in 1999 with a 27:18. I’m happy to say that I’ve had a very steady progression since then. I’m also happy to say that I’ve gotten faster in my late 30’s and can’t wait for 2012 when I enter the 40 plus age group. I ran 27:00 (my fastest) in 2009, 10 years after my prior PR, and I ran 27:06 last year. I’ve broken 28 five years in a row. My goal has been to break 27 and also to be in the top 100 runners. I sort of achieved both.

Some 2009 results show me at 26:59, but others at 27:00, so I have to live with it! I remember coming down Main Street and seeing the time on the clock and realizing it was going to be close. As the road pitched up in the final meters, I gave it my all and just hoped for the best. It was so close. I’ve altered my strategy over the years. Some years, I went out hard and blew up. Other years I went out easy and never picked up the pace. You would think that I would have it down by now, but the course is an enigma. The weather is always a factor too. I remember the snowy years vividly. I think 1987 was a big snow year. We sloshed our way around the course. In my opinion, the 1.25 miles between 2.75 and 4 is the key to the race. I have yet to run a perfect Manchester, but I’m still trying.

In recent years, I’ve enjoyed doing the race with lots of family. My kids have been coming with us and it is a tradition for my mother-in-law to stay with them under the big tree in front of St. James Church. That is where we used to meet back in my high school XC days, so I have stuck with that spot. I often see folks on Thanksgiving Day that I haven’t seen since the last year’s race. I see them once a year, under that tree. I can’t wait until my children are old enough to do the race, but due to my competitive nature, I doubt that I could give up my seeding card and run with them.

I’m so glad that I’ve stuck with endurance sports. It is a huge part of my life, and I’ve done over 800 races including all of the running, cycling, triathlon, and adventure racing. I have results from nearly all of them. I’ve done the MRR more times than any other race. It is a tradition I won’t miss.


2 Responses to “Manchester Road Race Memories”

  1. 1 George Zack 22 November 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Scott – thanks for sharing. I grew up in South Windsor, and the Manchester Road Race was the treat after the XC season, and before the T-day football game. A few of your memories here of Wickham Park, the race, etc … nice to revisit those. THanks.

  1. 1 2011 Manchester Road Race « Life Adventures Trackback on 24 November 2011 at 2:46 pm

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