The story began, “A 21-year-old casual visitor to Falmouth, who learned of the first annual Woods Hole-Falmouth ‘Marathon’ on Tuesday afternoon, turned in a 39-minute, 16-second performance to win the grueling 7.3 mile run (it was actually 7 miles) Wednesday in driving rain and adverse winds of almost gale force.”
His name was David Duba, a college student from Central Michigan University on summer vacation, and did not know then that he would become etched into the history of a race that was to be one of the springboards to the country’s running boom.
A photograph accompanying the story showed “venerable” 65-year-old Johnny Kelley of East Dennis with some of the other 92 runners who completed the course from the Captain Kidd in Woods Hole to the Brothers Four in Falmouth Heights. Kelley finished 17th in the race. The tag line to that story 38 years ago was that “This affair is scheduled to be held on an annual basis.” And so it has.
The New Balance Falmouth Road Race celebrated its 45th Running in 2017 and the spirit which made the first Falmouth so special is still present today. More than 11,000 runners gathered in Woods Hole for the 2017 renewal, including many of the world’s elite, though the essence of the event remains a fun run. Back-of-the-pack joggers share the road with the best, forming a tapestry of colors from the start on Water Street to the finish at the beach in Falmouth Heights.
Road races are commonplace on the sporting calendar these days, but it wasn’t always that way. The first Falmouth was often called a “marathon” and probably only those who ran the seven miles that day knew it wasn’t.
The genesis for a summer road race in Falmouth began in 1972. Tommy Leonard was a bartender form Boston who was working at the Brothers Four. He was into running before running was in, and so when the 1972 Olympic Marathon in Munich appeared on a TV set in the lounge, the irrepressible “T.L.” began offering analysis of the race.
Leonard became so engrossed in the performance of a kid named Frank Shorter that he shut down the bar to watch the first American since 1908 win the Olympic Marathon.
“Wouldn’t it be fantastic,” said Leonard that day in 1972, “if we could get Frank Shorter to run in a race on Cape Cod?”
And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. And oh, what a history Falmouth has. Leonard, with the considerable help of Falmouth High track coach John Carroll and support from then town recreation director Rich Sherman, pulled together the first race in 1973. There were 93 participants.
The next year the field swelled to 445 entrants as an unknown who was called “Will Rodgers” — the world would later come to know him as “Boston Billy Rodgers” — upstaged renowned miler Marty Liquori to win the 1974 race.
And then, Tommy Leonard’s summer-of-’72 dream came true. The Olympic gold medalist, Frank Shorter, came to town to win the 1975 Falmouth Road race in a shootout with Rodgers, who was fresh off his first victory in the Boston Marathon. There were 850 runners in the race —that was a lot in those years —and Falmouth was established as one of the best non-marathon races in the country. John Carroll and his wife, Lucia, along with Rich Sherman and his wife, Kathy, worked tirelessly as race co-directors for 38 years, until the couples retired and resigned, respectively, in March of 2011, to bring the Falmouth Road Race to world-class status for novice runners, those who participate annually and elite athletes from all across the globe.
Tommy, the bartender, concocted a recipe that included one part sporting spectacle, one part festive family outing and a dash of sun, sea, and splash. Shake rattle and roll and presto- you have the Falmouth Road Race, a star-spangled celebration of red-hot competition and fun-in-the-sun holiday atmosphere in one of the most picturesque towns on Cape Cod.