Next Thursday's Thanksgiving Day holiday in the United States will not only be marked by the consumption of some 700 million pounds of turkey, according to the National Turkey Federation, but by hundreds of thousands of Americans participating in road races, often called turkey trots. The trots collectively burn millions of calories, easing the guilt somewhat of Thanksgiving Day gluttony.
The granddaddy of all of the trots, and traditionally the most competitive, is the Manchester Road Race, held in Manchester, Conn., which will be celebrating its 70th edition. The challenging 4.748 mile (7.65 km) course was first conquered by American John McCluskey in 1927, the inaugural year of the race, according to a race history published by the Association of Road Running Statisticians. McCluskey won two more times through 1932, but from 1935 through 1944 the race was not held. McCluskey came back to win again in 1947, 20 years after his first victory.
The undisputed king of Manchester was Amby Burfoot, the Wesleyan University student who won the Boston Marathon in 1968 at 21 years-old. After winning Boston, Burfoot notched his first of nine Manchester victories in ten years the following November, including seven straight victories through 1977. Burfoot still runs the race, clocking 32:19 last year at age 58.
After Burfoot's streak, an era of Irish dominance was ushered in, beginning with John Treacy's first of four victories in 1978. He won again in 1979, '84 and '85. Eamonn Coughlan won four straight (1980 through '83) while John Doherty won in '86 and '87. In a ten year period, these three Irishmen won every edition of the race.
American steeplechaser John Gregorek won the race four times (1988, '89, '91 and '93); he was the last U.S. man to win in Manchester. Phillimon Hanneck, now an American but running for Zimbabwe at the time, set the course record of 21:19 in 1995 when he registered his second of two victories.
An Irish renaissance began in 1998 when Mark Carroll won the race for the first time; he won again in 2000.
The Irish have a good chance of gaining the top step of the podium again, but will have some tough competition. Alistair Cragg, the South African-born Irish Olympian, finished second at Manchester last year in 21:56, six seconds behind New Zealander Nick Willis, Willis, the 2006 Commonwealth Games 1500m gold medalist, will not return to the race, ending his season at the Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile on Sep. 30. Cragg, 26, a former University of Arkansas star in the NCAA ranks, only returnd to competition last month after stepping off the track at the European Championships 5000m final with an Achilles injury.
"Alistair knows the course now, and he is going to be a very formidable competitor," said Manchester Road Race Committee President Dave Prindiville, in a press release.
Mark Carroll will be back at Manchester again (he was 8th last year), while Canadian Simon Bairu, the 2005 NCAA cross country champion, will be making his Manchester debut. Other athletes who are expected to be among the top finishers include former Stanford All-American Ian Dobson, Canadian Reid Coolsaet, Kenyan Linus Maiyo, and former Trinity College All-American, Ryan Bak.
Women haven't been running Manchester as long as the men. The first female finisher, Elizabeth Berry, crossed the finish line in 1977. Since then two women have dominated the race, both Americans: Judi St. Hilaire and Amy Rudolph. St. Hilaire won Manchester four times (1985, '88, '89, and '92; Cathy O'Brien sandwiched two victories --and the 24:06 course record-- in 1990 and '91). Rudolph got her first Manchester win in 1995 and now has five victories, last winning in 2002.
But it looks like a New Zealander, Kim Smith, has begun a Kiwi dynasty on the women's side. Smith, who turns 25 on Sunday, has won the last two editions of the Manchester Road Race, crushing the field last year by a whopping 37 seconds. The former Providence College standout will be amongst friends when she lines up at the start next Thursday. Amy Rudolph will be back looking for her sixth Manchester title, and Irishwomen Marie Davenport, Mary Cullen and Roisin McGettigan are also expected to start. Rudolph, Cullen and McGettigan all train regularly with Smith.
Other top women expected to compete include Americans Kate O'Neill, Amy Mortimer and Shalane Flanagan; Moroccan Asmae Leghzaoui; and Ukranian Natalia Berkut.