Runners (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Runners (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

If you’re looking for directions on the picturesque, working class east side of Manchester, Connecticut you couldn’t find a better person to ask than Amby Burfoot…the legendary runner out of Wesleyan University is the honorary chairman for the seventy seventh running of the Manchester road race, one of the oldest thanksgiving traditions in the state, and, though he promises to take his time with family and friends and savor every moment as he stops to greet long time race supporters along the way, sometime before noon today will have run the course more than anyone in history, making his record fifty first consecutive appearance…”I’ve been lucky to be associated with so many people involved with this race”, Amby said recently, before rattling off a litany of racing legends who have carved their name on the history of a chummy little cross country run that blossomed into one of the greatest events of it’s kind in the world, attracting competitors from all over the globe…Johnny Kelley, who won it six times, Julia chase, who shattered the glass ceiling for female runners in Manchester…Ray Crothers, who took care of the so many of the other runners over the years, making sure they were properly equipped and ready…Amby gave a special nod to the Irish connection that took over the dominance of the race after he notched his ninth win in nineteen seventy seven, “Treacy and Coughlin, the greatest gentlemen in the sports world…it was a privilege to be beat by them”…Amby accepts his latest record with a grain of salt and his usual dry wit, “some of these suns of guns”, he says of the young participants of today, “started when they were eight years old…i may make fifty one, but that record will fall in a few years”…to amby, who’s fondest memory of the race had nothing to do with a win, but with carrying an umbrella to shield his wife from the rain in a later, non competitive year, it’s not just about the race, it’s about the tradition, the pageantry and the town wide celebration…”every single one of us (runners) appreciates the music on the route”, he says of the myriad bands, ranging from bagpipes to rock, “i even stopped and danced with my wife one year”…Amby says his streak came close to being stopped twice in the fifty one years, both times when he ran into blizzards while driving up from mystic…his “illogical mind” told him to press on and both times he was glad he did…”i ran in at least two blizzards”, he recalls, “and won both of those years, so i have nothing against blizzards”…”I’ve run when i didn’t feel up to it”, he said of his devotion to the race he’s become so synonymous with, “one year i was gasping for breath, one year i had an Achilles tendon injury, you just have to get through it”…of his first year, 1963, he recalls, “i came here as a high schooler and it opened my eyes like nothing I’d ever seen…i thought i was at the Olympics”…of his first win, “in 1968 i nailed it…i won (the Boston marathon) in the spring and Manchester in the fall, that’s a runners dream”…to Amby Burfoot thanksgiving is about Manchester, “i don’t eat turkey, I’m a vegetarian, i run the Manchester road race”, and it’s about community, “Manchester, known as the city of village charm, to me is the “city of village community…I’ve had some illness issues this fall so this will be my slowest run ever…this year is my year to give back to Manchester and it feels great”…seventy six times the Manchester road race has been about a lot of things to a lot of people…the seventy seventh is more special than most…this one is about Amby…with a comment from the sports world.

I’m Scott Gray…


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