WOODS HOLE – Elite runners practiced their starts, jittery like race horses.. Notescape, a Falmouth-based a cappella group sang “America the Beautiful” by Falmouth’s own Katharine Lee Bates, and the National Anthem.
And right on schedule, the starting gun blared like a fog horn as the 41st Annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race began this morning at just before 10 AM.
Leading up to that starting gun, everything looked much the same at the starting line at the Woods Hole drawbridge, but for additional staffing.
Tommy Leonard, who founded the race 41 years ago and who will turn 80 this Thursday, was riding in the lead car. The crowd sang him Happy Birthday before the race started.
At about 9:40 AM, the first to hit the field were the wheelchair racers, about a dozen men and women competitors who are able to complete the seven-mile course in about a half-hour.
Then, in a change from past years, the elite women runners started, 21 young women, lean and strong, who hit the course at about 9:50 AM.
The elite men and the rest of the field, 12,800 strong, started soon after, as waves of runners in colorful gear hit the road.
Among the thousands running this year was Brian Salzberg of Philadelphia, 70, one of the so-called Falmouth Five who have run the race every year.
Wearing bib #364, Salzberg pronounced the race conditions to be superb. “It’s great weather, low humidity,” he said. “I’m feeling good, feeling my age.”
Salzberg said the Falmouth Five typically do not run together. “
“I’m much faster than those guys,” he said. He has bragging rights to the best time of the Falmouth Five during the 1979 race, when he ran the course in 40 minutes, 40 seconds.
When the race began 41 years ago, Salzberg was working as a post doctorate in physiology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. Now he is a professor or neuroscience and physiology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Salzberg, who will turn 71 in three weeks said his goal today is to run his age, anytime under 70 minutes would be considered a success.
Just before the start of the race, Salzberg was catching up with Tom Dann, 56, who was running the race for the 25th time.
Dann of Hiram, Maine, said he first heard about the race from a college friend, George Chambers, who summered in Wellfleet. Chambers had run the first race and convinced friends to join him in subsequent years.
“I just love the race, the excitement,” Dann said, “I was pretty competitive back in the day.”
Salzberg said his training routine this year included a lot of resting, though he tries to run about 25 miles per week.
Dann, who coaches a high school cross-country team, also runs about 25 miles per week, but he said he also tries to prepare mentally for the race. “You try to relax and keep it all in perspective,” he said.
Julie Winslow, 31 of Jersey City, New Jersey said she has run the race a least a dozen times over the years. She grew up in Falmouth and her parents still live in West Falmouth.
She also volunteered with the race as a teenager as part of the Falmouth High School field hockey team.
She and her fiancé, Shawn Spilman of Cinncinnatti, Ohio, were running the race this year as the start of their wedding week. They will be married in Falmouth at the end of this week..
She said she always looks forward to the Falmouth Road Race every summer. “It brings me home. I love the town and the people. It’s such a fun race, one of the most beautiful courses.”
Like many race runners and spectators, she said the Falmouth Road Race is a tradition.
“It doesn’t feel right if you don’t come,” she said.
She said she and her fiancé were not planning to run together. “He’s competitive. We’ll meet up at the end,” she said.
Spilman, who was wearing bib number 564, said he was hoping to run the race in 45 to 47 minutes.
Winslow said she’ll be happy with a run “in the 50s.”
Janice Davidson, 51, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said this is her fourth time running the Falmouth race. “I’m a cancer survivor, so I’m running for me,” she said.
A large crowd cheered the runners as they left Water Street in Woods Hole. “Only seven more!” one man yelled.
They rounded Church Street and passed under the first bridge where a crowd had gathered on the Shining Sea Bikeway to cheer the runners as they passed under the bike path bridge. “Run like you stole something,” one man said.
Then the crowd started chanting, “Here we go runners, Here we go.”
Nearby at the Nobska Road home of the Day family, Roger Day sprayed runners with his hose as they called out “thank you” and lifted their arms and faces into the cool spray.
At Surf Drive at the intersection of the bikeway, Mark Grosberger of Lancaster, Pennsylvania was cheering on runners with friends and family. Grosberger, 18 and a student at Notre Dame University, said he has been coming to Falmouth in the summer for 30 years to visit his grandparents and seeing the race is a tradition.
The group were cheering for people in general and also specifically for Patrick O’Brien, 52, of Rhode Island who is a frequent runner of the race.
His sister, Anne Marie O’Brien Gluck was there with her daughter, Molly, 21, and her nephew Brendan, 20, who have both run the race in the past but decided to skip it this year because they had no time to train.
“It’s a huge tradition,” Gluck said, adding that multiple members of the family usually run every year.
– Laura M. Reckford