The 50th running of the Falmouth Road Race is set for Sunday; thousands of runners, from top athletes to first-time racers, will run the course from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights.
CAI’s Kathryn Eident talked with author and historian Paul Clerici about what the race means to him, and those he interviewed for his book on the history of the Falmouth Road Race.
Eident What prompted you to delve into the history of the Falmouth Road Race?
Clerici Well, the Falmouth Road Race has
such a rich history and Falmouth is like a second home to me. I’m from Walpole and I’ve been visiting Falmouth for decades because my godparents have lived there.
And, I was looking for a book to buy for the 40th anniversary and found out there wasn’t one. I knew the people who ran the race and I’ve written about the Boston Marathon in a couple of books and Greater Boston Track Club, and I love history and running.
And I just know because of all of the Olympians and great marathoners and runners who have run the race and just the relationship between the community and the race — I mean, it started in 1973, sort of mirrored the running boom, just so much great history.
And so I did the research, interviewed volunteers, race directors, Olympians, all the winners. And it’s just unbelievable. I could have written a huge book.
Eident And of course, the race was started by Tommy Leonard, who has since passed away, but was well-known in the Falmouth community. And of course, as you said, the race has since then attracted some of the world’s top athletes. Is there a favorite anecdote or tidbit you learned about the race that you could share?
Clerici Tommy Leonard I mean, celebrating 50 years and I wish Tommy was around for this, but he was around to really enjoy and for people to appreciate the impact he made, not just the race and the running community, but Falmouth itself. He just loved running. He had run Boston Marathon. He worked at the Elliott Lounge in Boston where all the runners went to. He worked at the Brothers Four, the Quarterdeck. Like you say, such a part of this community.
Without one particular one, probably his enthusiasm for this race. He always said he was an idea, man. “I couldn’t organize it. I have great ideas.” And he did. I mean, he could organize a little bit. [laughs]
A great image of him was going from store to store on the sidewalks of Falmouth with a little shopping cart getting prizes for the early years. And he has like a blender and a, you know, a potted plant and shirts — just like prizes. I can just picture him in a shopping cart on the sidewalk, you know, going from store to store in the early years and I get a kick out of that. [laughs]
Eident [laughs] Oh, it’s such a great image. What about the race attracts these top athletes?
Clerici It’s not just one thing, which is another reason why I wanted to write the book. It’s so intertwined with the community itself, and I don’t say that lightly.
I remember interviewing Catherine Nderba from Kenya, a great Olympian, and she’s won Falmouth a number of times and the Boston Marathon.
One of the great stories she told me, one of the first stories she told me, she remembers going blueberry picking with the host family. They made bread, Kenyan bread, for her and things like that. And that’s indicative of all the other athletes. It’s so intertwined. It’s not just the race. It’s not just a beautiful course along Vineyard Sound. It’s not just the seven miles, which is an odd distance itself. It’s not just the history, and the great runners want to compete against other great runners. So, it’s these neat things in addition to just a great competition, a great course. It’s the people that they remember, especially talking to me for the book — this was years after they had run.
Eident And you’re a runner yourself. Have you done the road race?
Clerici Yes, I’ve run Falmouth. It’s a tough course. It’s a fun course. But the main thing for me is the families and the community support. I mean, if you run this the year after year, you’ll see the same families at the water stops, volunteering at the finish line and things like that. When you say Falmouth, you’re referring to both the race and the people.
Eident Finally, for those who are getting ready for the race, any advice?
Clerici Yes. You should be all trained, obviously. I know it’s not a marathon, it’s still seven miles and it’s a tough course. Just relax. Enjoy yourself. Stay off your feet. Carbo load a little bit, even though it’s only seven miles. It’s good to have a little bit extra pasta in you. And hydrate because it’s August on the Cape. It’s going to be hot.
Eident And that is Paul Clerici. He’s author of A History of the Falmouth Road Race: Running for Cape Cod. Paul, thank you so much.
Clerici I really appreciate that. Thank you very much.
This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.