FALMOUTH – Richard Sherman is going to Maine this weekend. “We like to get out of town when the town is so busy,” said the former co-director of the Falmouth Road Race, which is this weekend, and is the reason the town is so busy.
For 38 years, from 1973 through 2010, Sherman and his wife, Kathy, were involved with the iconic 7.1 mile race from Woods Hole, past Nobska Lighthouse, to Falmouth Heights. For many of those years, they, along with John and Lucia Carroll, were the four co-directors of the race, which was created in 1973 by Tommy Leonard. John Carroll was the Falmouth High School track coach at the time.
“I was the town recreation director,” said Sherman. “Tommy approached me and asked if I would help. I said absolutely I’d help. I helped organize the race and then I ran in it. I ran in the first four races.”
“It was a little small town race. There were only 96 of us,” recalled Sherman. “We gathered at the Captain Kidd on a rainy Wednesday, August 15, 1973, Tommy’s birthday. We ran to Falmouth Heights and then went into the Brothers Four and partied.”
A bar to bar race.
“A lot of people don’t know this about Tommy, but he was famous before the Falmouth Road Race,” said Sherman. “He would run in the Boston Marathon and he was known as ‘the running bartender.’ During the Marathon, he would stop in four or five bars and have a beer at each stop.”
The fact that Leonard was known in Boston running community helped grow the race. “Tommy is so affable and loveable. He had run in Boston several times and he knew everybody in Boston,” said Sherman.
Even the first year, there was celebrity runner, two-time Olympian Johnny Kelley, who Leonard knew and asked to run in the initial race. Sherman recalled, “I was 27 and fresh out of the Navy and Kelley was 65, and he beat me.”
From the very beginning, said Sherman, Leonard saw the potential of the race to grow into something that attracts world class runners. For one thing, there is the winding, challenging scenic waterfront course that skirts the ocean for most of its seven miles. Secondly, said Sherman, organizers were intent from the beginning to present the town and the race in the most hospitable light.
The second year, the race was on Sunday at noon. Four hundred runners showed up, said Sherman. One was a young runner named Bill Rodgers. Another was the legendary Marty Liquori, who was viewed as one of the best in the world. When Rodgers pulled an upset and won the race, Sherman recalled it caught the attention of the running media.
For the next three years, the race doubled in size, to 800, then 1,600, then 3,200, said Sherman. “Tommy predicted the race was going to become a pretty big race,” he said.
When Sherman resigned as co-director, the race had 11,000 entrants, and 5,000 more people were turned away. This year, in the New Balance Falmouth Road Race, there are 12,800 official entrants.
“There was a military component to it,” said Sherman of the organization required. “You spend all year getting ready. It’s like the Super Bowl or the British Open, spending a year getting ready for one day.”
The first major sponsor, in the late 1970s, was Perrier, said Sherman. The money from the sponsors allowed the race to attract elite athletes, who were getting “appearance money” whenever they raced. In the 1980s, that appearance money morphed into prize money. The first few years, the prize was about $3,000, he said.
This year, the race is giving out a total of $89,500 in prize money.
With tens of thousands of visitors, 12,800 registered runners, plus a seaside town that has grown to both love and tolerate the event, the Falmouth Road Race is the biggest event of the summer. Sherman said every year about 1,000 runners raise $2 million for 100 charities.
“I’m very proud of what we did,” said Sherman. “We helped build one of the iconic events.”
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