ESSAY--Amby Burfoot is running his 56th consecutive Manchester road race

H.S. Yearbook photo, 1964
Thursday morning--Thanksgiving day--I expect to line up in the middle of Main St., Manchester, CT, for the annual 5-miler that’s actually 4.748 miles. In Connecticut, land of steady habits, we don’t change road race distances. We hold to tradition.

I have been here before. Fifty-five times, in fact. Consecutively. Here are a few things I remember:

1963: In my first-ever road race, I was thrilled to be running a distance longer than the 3 miles of my high school cross country races, and impressed by the range of humanity lining up next to me--a few young kids, several hundred road-race veterans, a guy with one arm, a runner in his 60s (how old can you get?). I couldn’t believe the size of the crowds along the course, especially near the finish line.
Manchester finish crowds, mid 1960s
H.S. xc, 1963
1968: Seven months after winning the Boston Marathon, I won Manchester for the first of nine times. Not a bad year.
Boston Marathon, 1968
Several Manchester winning photos.

1978: I stopped winning Manchester when World XC champ John Treacy broke the tape in 1978. I thought it was great that Manchester had leaped onto the world stage. Forty years later, John returned, and we had a great reunion.
November, 2017
Treacy above; Eamonn Coghlan, below
Various years: Stuff happens, good and bad. I've run Manchester with walking pneumonia that caused a thick throat crackle when I breathed, and also with Achilles tendinitis that likewise crackled (look up "crepitus"). Too name but a few of the challenging years. But it was great fun to run the race with Julia Chase Brand in 2011 on the 50th anniversary of her breakthrough Manchester finish of 1961.
At finish: "Yes I can."
At start, 1961: "No you can't."

1998: On a rainy morning, I carried an umbrella to keep my wife comfortable on her 37th birthday. At our wedding three years earlier, I had promised to keep her “warm, dry, and well-fed.” It's been worth the little extra effort.

2001: I posed with longtime hero Charley "Doc" Robbins before the start of his 50th consecutive (and last) Manchester. Nowadays, I look forward every year to seeing his daughter, Barrie. She of course runs the race barefoot, as her father did.

2013: It was supposed to be a big celebration, my 51st Manchester in a row. Instead, I got sick with a weird microbiome disease that caused me to lose 13 lbs ... and even more strength and health. Basically, I was a wreck. Only the support of family and friends got me through the 5 miles that morning. Two months later, my body began to heal itself. I’ve been fine ever since.
I needed an escort to guide me to the start.
Fortunately, I had the best--family.

2011-2017: A highlight of recent Thanksgivings has been the annual visit from my one-and-only namesake, “Little Amby,” who will turn 9 in a couple of months. His dad runs Manchester every year.
Our first get-together in 2011

2017: I talked Bernard Lagat into posing for a photo with my Manchester painter's cap, which I have been wearing since 2013. Each Thanksgiving, I cross off the previous year's total Manchesters finished, and add a new one. Lagat didn't come easy. He spent 5 minutes investigating the cap, inside and out, to make sure it had no sponsor logos that would compete with his Nike contract.

2018: Weather forecast--windchill in the single digits. I'm thinking of wearing a balaclava for the first time. Whatever it takes. To keep the streak alive. My recent book is titled Run Forever, but I'm no nut job. I just think we might as well have clear, bold, and optimistic goals. Look for me on the starting line.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.