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A History of The Falmouth Road Race.
Book Review.

Posted by George Parker on
A History of Falmouth Road Race

A History of The Falmouth Road Race by Paul Clerici graciously blends my two favorite book genres: history and running. From the book's synopsis,  

 "The seven-mile Falmouth Road Race catapulted Cape Cod onto the running radar. Frank Shorter winning gold in the 1972 Olympic marathon inspired local barkeep Tommy Leonard to start a race in his town. That inaugural race in 1973 garnered fewer than 100 runners. Participation soon swelled to the thousands, thanks to the success of organizers, volunteers, and talented fields, including running legends like Bill Rodgers, Catherine Ndereba, as well as wheelchair champions Bob Hall and Tatyana McFadden. Follow author Paul C. Clerici along every bend and uphill battle of the race's history from the early stages of the running boon to resetting the road-racing calendar."

There you go. A book that spans the almost 50-year history of one of the world's iconic road races. Paul Clerici is a freelance journalist, writer, photographer, and newspaper editor for several Northeast publications. He's written a few running histories, including ones on the Boston Marathon and the Greater Boston Track Club. The Falmouth history was published in 2015, and the chapters are organized by decades of the race. Paul's primary sources include race statistics (times, weather, etc.), interviews with the original four race co-directors, and quotations from the athletes and journalists themselves.  

 I admire how this book masterfully chronicles how a small town race evolved into a world-class event. The pages are filled with "micro-stories" that add color to race, athletes, and times. You read about Hurricane Bob that made landfall in 1991, the day after the race, and permanently altered the course. You have a front-row seat to the legendary 1970s rivalry of world-class Frank Shorter and the scrappy Bill Rodgers. From the author's unique access to the original race directors', you hear all the near-misses, nuances, and shenanigans through the years. Finally, the history equally covers Falmouth's women, wheelchair, and men's races through the year. The book holistically integrates the three storylines into the main arc of race development, rare in running books of this era. You read the emergence of Joan Benoit Samuelson and the evolution of wheelchair racing and faster technology. 

 My solitary critique is the lack of story depth. Although you get the micro-stories, you do not get the full-color detail I like in my histories. For instance, you read how Bill Rodgers finally won the Falmouth Road Race. But you don't get the full backstory: the training, the struggles, the strategy. Instead, the book is a topline summary of 50 years of racing at Falmouth, a noble and worthwhile topic for a book. If a particular topic interests you, it's incumbent on you to do more research -- for instance, reading a biography of Bill Rodgers with a heightened focus on the Falmouth years. 

 In summary, road racing fans will appreciate this comprehensive overview of the nearly 50-year evolution of one of the world's iconic races from a sleepy Cape Cod hamlet to a premier annual destination. 

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