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What, No Shoes? Yes, Mr. Robbins
The Manchester Road Race generally draws runners wearing all kinds of outfits, but the group assembled at the end of Main Street before the race Thursday stood out.
There were about 30 of them, most were barefoot, at a prerace warmup in honor of Charley "Doc" Robbins, who died in August at age 85. Robbins, who often ran barefoot, ran the Manchester Road Race 50 consecutive years and 57 times overall. He won in 1945 and 1946 and is credited with helping the race gain popularity after World War II.
Robbins, no doubt, would have appreciated that Bekkie Wright of Manchester, at age 44, could still fit into her pink high school prom dress. She went barefoot. Amby Burfoot, who organized the warmup, wore thick black glasses, an old hat and a black and red checked wool barn jacket in honor of Robbins, who often wore old tattered clothes while running.
"Hey, Barrie, you think this looks too new?" Burfoot asked Charley's daughter Barrie Robbins-Pianka, before they went out into the misty rain.
Robbins-Pianka ran both the warmup and the race barefoot.
"The warmup was cold," said Robbins-Pianka, who finished her 29th consecutive Manchester Road Race in a little more than 40 minutes. "But the barefoot running [in the race] was fine. I could run through the puddles whereas the people with shoes tried to avoid them. I had extra room."
Burfoot, the executive editor of Runners World, considered Robbins, who often ran with his team at Wesleyan in the late 60s, one of his mentors.
"The barefoot warmup was a lot of fun," said Burfoot, who ran his 44th consecutive Manchester Road Race in 30:47. "We yukked it up a little bit. Everyone appreciated the few moments of remembering Charley."
Robbins' No. 1 was retired this year by the race committee.
Bill Rodgers ran in his first Manchester Road Race since 1991, finishing in a little more than 35 minutes. Rodgers was the honorary race chairman.
"I forgot how big that hill was," said Rodgers, 58, of Sherborn, Mass. "And how long that hill was. Whoa. And it's challenging because it's November. The weather makes it really a challenge."
Rodgers, a four-time Boston and New York City marathon winner, ran his first road race at Manchester in 1965 when he was a senior at Newington High School and was the first high school finisher in 25:46. He finished fifth in 1973 (23:15) and third in 1974 (22:45). He won his first Boston Marathon in 1975.
A veritable Who's Who of Connecticut Running stood at the rear of the Nathan Hale School gym for the awards ceremony: Jan Merrill-Morin, the 1976 Olympian and former world record holder in the 5,000 meters from Waterford; former Ironman women's triathlon champion Karen Smyers, formerly of Wethersfield, now of Lincoln, Mass.; Mount Washington Road Race winner Eric Blake of New Britain, who finished 23rd (24:19) and Dan Dillon of New London, a former world class track and cross country runner who is married to Patti (Catalano) Dillon, former American record holder in the marathon. Patti did not run because of an injury.
Plaiders Carry On
The Plaiders, the running troubadours in plaid jackets who sing "Only You," ran for the first time in 25 years without their leader Steve Hancock of Bozrah, who died in August of pancreatic cancer. He was 58.
Steve's wife, Brenda, ran with the group, as did Steve's son Steven Jr., who found a mismatching plaid jacket on eBay. The group wore laminated pictures of Hancock on their lapels. "It's good to have Brenda and Steve Jr.," said Dean Festa of Montville, a member of the group and a longtime friend of Hancock's. "That connection's still there." ... The road race will be shown on NESN next month. Tentative broadcast dates and times include Dec. 8 (8 p.m.), Dec. 9 (5:30 p.m.), Dec. 13 (10:30 p.m.) and Dec. 15 (3 p.m.). Go to manchesterroadrace.com for more details and results in the upcoming days.