Bill Rodgers ran his first road race as a high school senior. So did Amby Burfoot.
Both ran at the Manchester Road Race.
They would go on to be roommates and teammates at Wesleyan. Burfoot inspired Rodgers with his marathon training and both would win the Boston Marathon, Burfoot in 1968 and Rodgers in 1975 and 1978-80.
But back in Burfoot's heyday, before Rodgers knew what he could become and when they competed against each other at Manchester, Rodgers couldn't beat his old roommate.
Between 1968-77, Burfoot won a record nine times at Manchester. He beat Rodgers in 1973 and 1974. Burfoot held the course record until John Treacy, the former world cross country champion and Olympian from Ireland, broke it in 1979.
Manchester has had a hold on Burfoot, 60, so much that on Thursday morning he will run his 44th consecutive race on the 4.748-mile course. Rodgers, 58, who has run the race several times, will run for the first time since 1991.
"Amby grew up with [six-time winner] Johnny Kelley and all that," Rodgers said. "He had that influence and that drive to win at Boston. That came for me later.
"Amby was like a world-class runner when he was in college. He was one of the top guys in the country. I wasn't world-class. I was a pretty good New Englander."
Burfoot was coached by Kelley in high school. John Vitale interrupted his string of victories in 1970. Treacy showed up in 1978 to beat him. Burfoot was fourth that year.
"It got inside my head that this was my biggest, most important race," Burfoot said. "Everything else was secondary. I ran out of my head, over my head. It was an out of body experience. I beat John Vitale a couple times when I shouldn't have."
Burfoot set the course record (22:21) in 1971. Over nine years, his average finishing time was 22:43.
"The first thing that surprised me was that I could run that fast, and the second thing was that I stayed fairly close to that time for a number of years," Burfoot said. "When the world-class runners started to come into Manchester, they ran a lot faster than me."
Once the big guns started to show up, Burfoot's streak would come to an end. Treacy's record in 1979 (21:26) obliterated Burfoot's and stood until 1995, when Phillimon Hanneck broke it.
But back in the '70s, it was Burfoot's race.
"Basically it was the Connecticut state championship of road racing," he said. "We all ran it."
Burfoot started in 1963, the year after Kelley won his last race, finishing 14th in 25:59. In 1967, his junior year at Wesleyan, he finished second by four seconds, inspiring him to win the following year. In 1973, Burfoot won (22:32) and Rodgers finished fifth (23:15). Rodgers finished third the next year (22:45) but Burfoot beat him again - and the other 681 finishers - in 22:32.
"Psychologically, Amby went to another level here," Rodgers said. "He's not among the most talented runners who've ever run here. He doesn't have any speed whatsoever. But he's smart as hell and he's tough as hell and he trained so well. So he could beat people who were more talented but maybe didn't train quite as smart. He trained harder than me."
Rodgers had seen Burfoot get up early Sunday mornings to run 15 or 20 or 25 miles, preparing for the Boston Marathon.
"What I remember clearly was that Bill was a party animal who wouldn't get up early on Sunday to run long runs," Burfoot said. "I would run a 15-mile loop often and come back across campus to pick him up. He would do the last 10 with me."
Said Rodgers: "I did my first 25-mile run with Amby. I was a sophomore at Wesleyan. It was the year he won Boston. I was in pretty good shape but he was in great shape. With two miles to go, he said, `I got to go now.' And he just sprinted away. I was running great for 23 miles and then I was a wreck.
"He's a great friend. I learned how to be a marathoner from Amby. It wasn't any one workout. It was consistency. It was everything."
Contact Lori Riley at email@example.com.
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