Craig Virgin, Falmouth 1978, photo courtesy of Recoveryourstride!
RunBlogRun introduces this Jeff Benjamin feature: It was the fall of 1973, and I was a sophomore at DeSmet Jesuit in Creve Couer, Missouri. We were in a van heading to a small cross country invite in South St. Louis. I was a sophomore and was passing the time reading the 1972 High school annual about this guy, Craig Virgin, who ran in Illinois. He was really fast, and he had broken 9 minutes, at time I was hoping to break 12 minutes for two miles.
I recall watching Craig Virgin on the Olympic Trials in 1976, running the 10,000 meters against Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers. The race was broadcasted during dinner, and Mom had this thing about TV during dinner, so I got to watch a few minutes, enough to see them finish, and Craig made the team.
In this piece, Jeff Benjamin asked Craig Virgin, one of our most finest and most colorful athletes in the modern era, speak about his rememberences of Falmouth road race. It is a good read.
Jeff Benjamin writes: One of America’s Greatest all-around distance runners, Craig Virgin was able to seem effortlessly to transition from success in Cross-Country to the track and the roads, even up to the marathon!
The 2-time World Cross-Country Champ was inspired like all runners, and greatly admired Bill a Rodgers. Simon 1978, when given the opportunity to race in Falmouth, Virgin not only joined in, but would be one of the events most consistent performers year in and year out.
Here are Virgin’s Reminisces–
“Let me say that my introduction to the top tier American Road Racing Scene came in August of 1978. Nike asked me to stop by Cape Cod, while flying home from our Athletics West two-month European T & F competitive tour. Nike wanted me to participate in some road race held along the ocean. I was exhausted from all the tough track races in Europe and just wanted to go home to Illinois. But, I thought that a 2-day stop on Cape Cod and the opportunity to eat some delicious American seafood again would be pretty good for me. Boy, I am so glad that I did!
I had been in road races back in the Midwest since I was a sophomore in high school but had always heard that road racing in New England was “different.” Boy, were they right about that! I think the 1978 Falmouth Road Race had 5000-7000 participants… which was nearly twice as large as my home town! It was both an athletic event as well as a social atmosphere… almost like a County Fair back home! It was my first exposure to a world class road race and it did not disappoint! The food was good, the people were friendly, and what a great US competitive field! The road races back home that I had experienced before usually had 100-300 runners….and did not have total community support like that!
That 1978 Race was my first exposure to big time American road racing during the first “running boom.” I fell in love with the sport on that August 1978 day and all its participants. I finished 3rd to Bill Rodgers and Mike Roche but had a blast at the whole event! It was like heaven for this Midwestern farm boy distance runner! Racing against a top American competitive field with such broad based community support and attention drew me like bees to honey.
Watching Bill Rodgers perform such tremendous public relations efforts with all the participants after the race really blew me away. Who knew that distance runners could be so popular in the USA? That race that day, both during and after, totally changed my life from then on. I knew then that I wanted to be a true “renaissance runner” from that time on and participate equally both in track, cross country, and this emerging sport of sub-marathon road racing.
The next year, 1979, I was able to finally win with a new course record against an even deeper competitive field but, sadly, managed to miss the only awards ceremony of my career! I was to be in the World Cup 10,000 meters at Montreal the next Friday night and I was getting chills in my wet clothes after my victory warm down. I did not want to risk illness, so I decided to drive back to my host home near the start line to shower quickly and put on some dry clothes. I did not anticipate the traffic gridlock that occurred on Cape Cod that Sunday late morning and I drove/inched back slower to the finish/awards ceremony than I had raced on foot earlier that morning! I got there just at the end. After profuse apologies to co-race directors John Carroll and Rich Sherman, I told them I would make other arrangements if they would ever bring me back in for another chance. Rich offered to send me back and forth to my host home by boat next time and that was not such a bad idea!
Early in August 1980 I rolled my ankle in London’s Crystal Palace while tangling adidas spikes with Irish Great John Treacy in the front pack of a fast 5000 at Crystal Palace, and my ankle swelled up like a balloon. I had to call to cancel out of the ’80 Falmouth, which opened the door for Rod Dixon to win his first major American road race and come within a second of my course record. That was too bad as I was super fit that Olympic Boycott year.
In 1981, after a great winter and spring of running along with good track/road races in July I contracted some sort of virus in Italy and had to rest for the whole 2 weeks before Falmouth. I struggled to finish 5th after bringing my parents all the way out there to see Cape Cod.
In 1982, I ran what is arguably one of the best road races of my life, outsprinting both Rod Dixon and Michael Musyoki over the final 600 yards up and down the Brothers III hilll only to finish 2nd to Alberto Salazar who was having the best year of his career then, setting American records for both the 5000 m. and 10,000 m. (beating my national record in the process!). It was a great field that day and I showed that I was fitter and tougher than everybody else except for Alberto and he was maybe the best in the world that year. It was especially gratifying after being hospitalized in West Germany with severe kidney problems en route to the World Cross Country Champs back in March. I missed some significant time from training that March/April but came back to improve greatly in June, July and August. The race may even have been televised that year since I think there was a baseball strike and the networks were looking for auxiliary programming with pro baseball on hiatus. I then had to have unplanned corrective kidney surgery in August of 1983 and missed that Falmouth, too.
I came back from the 1984 Olympic Games depressed and tired and not running well so I skipped 1984 as well, not wanting to go out there and give the Falmouth Road Race fans anything but my best.
Sadly, I never competed seriously there again. But, I have made it back for a couple major anniversary/reunions and am grateful to both the sponsors and race management for that favor. I have a solid competitive record on Cape Cod in August, finishing 3rd, 1st, 5th, and 2nd in my 4 Falmouth Races. Falmouth was the race that “hooked me on American road racing” and it will always be held in a special place in my heart as a result. And, I hope to be back there again in 2018.”
Virgins’ brand new autobiography “VIRGIN TERRITORY: The Story of Craig Virgin, America’s Renaissance Runner” will be available in a few days!