NB Falmouth Reminisces: Bill Rodgers speaks about his 1977 Falmouth Road Race victory

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WomanStart-Falmouth16.jpgWomen's start, 2017 NB Falmouth, photo by PhotoRun.net

Reposted August 16, 2017.

Originally posted July 21, 2017.

We changed the title a bit, as some found it confusing, but this is all about Bill Rodgers' big win in 1977 against Frank Shorter.

Jeff Benjamin will be covering the New Balance Falmouth Road Race this summer for @runblogrun. This is a piece on some of the fine history of this iconic New England summer road race.

40th anniversary of Falmouth 77-A Whole Lot Of Jumpin' Going On!

By Jeff Benjamin


By 1977, Tommy Leonard's Dream had turned into a monster, and he was jumping up and down all over in sheer joy!

The Falmouth Road Race, envisioned by the beloved bartender as a bar to bar race a tad over 7-miles, had grown meteorically since 1973, to the shock and delight of Leonard, Rich Sherman and John Carroll. Through the advice of New York Marathon Leader Fred Lebow, Leonard also secured a sponsorship for the 1977 race through Perrier, which led to financial support and a starting line banner posted over the Wood's Hole starting line.

For Bill Rodgers there was some jumping for joy as well. Coming off an early half sub-par 1976, which culminated in his failure to win a marathon medal in the Montreal Olympics, the 1975 Boston winner turned on the wheels in the second half of 1976, winning the first 5-borough NYC Marathon. Rodgers had also left his teaching job to concentrate on running full-time. The runner setting the standard during most of that era was the 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion Frank Shorter.

Rodgers had won the 1974 Falmouth Race. "Tommy asked me to invite Frank Shorter for the 75 race," said Rodgers. "Frank then beat me in 75 and 76..I was 2nd both years."

In the 1977 race through Cape Cod, Rodgers wanted to show he was the best. According to Paul Clerici's "A History of the Falmouth Road Race"...

"I was back for Victory. I wanted some vengeance!", Rodgers stated. "The week before the race (August 11-17), I did 140 miles. I was training for the marathon. The Thursday before the race I did 20 miles. It was still "The Duel"--Frank and I dueling. It was still a two-man race."

Perhaps but others didn't consider themselves just running for 3rd.

"That year I'd had what was to me a disappointing freshman year at Oregon," said Alberto Salazar, who was 19 at the time. "I'd finished 9th in the NCAA 5k and ran PR's of only 13:47 and 29:07. Not much improvement from high school." For Salazar summertime meant returning to his family in Massachusetts and Greater Boston Track Club roots. "I went home after the NCAA meet and dove into hard training with the GBTC and Bill Rodgers," said Salazar. "By the time Falmouth came up I was running better workouts than I'd ever had and psychologically I felt I was much closer to Bill than before, although he was still certainly much better....I thought I could at least stay closer to him and finish high."

Another contender was '76 Steeplechase Olympian Mike Roche. "Falmouth '77 was my second road race," said Roche who has participated in every Falmouth Race since. "I had heard about it the Summer of '76 when I happened to to be in Martha's Vineyard and saw the results in the paper. Seeing Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter and Randy Thomas in the results really peaked my interest in running the next year. The beauty and atmosphere of Falmouth on Cape Cod added to my desire to be there." Roche was also in pretty good shape himself. "Being in the middle of the summer, I figured everyone was just in "summer training mode", reasonably fit, but not all that sharp. I had set a PR at the Prefontaine meet in June (steeple) but had no racing plans that summer."

In the race, now with a record amount of over 2,800 runners, Rodgers would lead Shorter, Salazar, Roche, Greg Fredericks, Salazar's Oregon teammate Rudy Chapa and a host of others as he competed on what he said was a "cool and clear day".

"The race itself was fairly straight forward," said Roche. "The lead group broke away in Woods Hole quickly. I don't remember if I set the pace but, I did not like tactical races. The fittest guy was going to win. As a result we were much faster than course record pace through the early miles."

After a few miles, Rodgers, who also pushed the pace right from the beginning, had a considerable lead on the others, with only Salazar keeping Rodgers somewhat close.

"Alberto literally just shadowed Bill Rodgers' shoulder through the first miles," said Roche. "If I recall we were high 4:20's for the first mile...I think Al was only 19 and I was kind of shocked to see him keeping pace among the more seasoned runners even though it was off season for most...This was my first race against Bill and I just remember thinking his feet never touched the ground like he was just breezing along."

After trying to go with Rodgers, Shorter, who was 4 months removed from ankle surgery, fell back as well. But not Salazar. In Clerici's book, Salazar said
"...you're running as hard as you can at a pace that you think you can hold and try to compete against other people that are around you."

"Greg Fredericks, Frank Shorter and I were bunched together behind," said Roche. "This 7.1 miles was the farthest race I had every competed in other than 5 mile distance of college XC, so I had no idea what I was doing other than staying with the leaders....After 4 miles Bill and Alberto steadily moved away. I was focused on Fredericks' back the rest of the way. Frank dropped back in the later miles."

Rodgers was well aware that Salazar was around him. "Alberto and I were GBTC teammates," said Rodgers. "But he was still young and as we all know he would gain strength."

Rodgers would go in that day to shatter the course record by 50 seconds, clocking 32 minutes, 23 seconds, with Salazar finishing 17 seconds back in front of his beaming proud Father."It gave me confidence and I trained even harder to keep trying to close the gap," said Salazar, who 3 months later would lead the Oregon Ducks to the NCAA XC championships.

After the 2 finishers came Fredericks, followed by Roche & Shorter. "I was just a bit over the old record," said Roche.

Adding to the jumping around was the women's race, where Kim Merritt would also set a course record of 38:40, beating the likes of Joan Benoit, Charlotte Richardson and Nina Kuscsik.

"I think that was the first time that Frank, Alberto and I were competing in the same race together," said Rodgers.
"Later on Alberto would become the first guy to break 32 minutes at Falmouth!"

But 1977 was the day for Rodgers to join Tommy Leonard and all the others in the jumping that was happening!

Who knew it would last for 40 more years?!?

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