Lynette Walker to run her 41st Manchester Road Race

Years and years ago, Lynette Walker ran for the first time in London with her husband, George. You’re so unfit, he told her, as he trained for rowing. You should run with me.

They ran a mile. They didn’t have proper shoes.

“I couldn’t move afterward,” she said.

They moved to the U.S. and, on Thanksgiving Day, they went to George’s parents’ house in Manchester. Lynette grew up in Australia, but George knew about the Manchester Road Race. When he and his friends watched the Thanksgiving Day football game from the upper tier of bleachers at the high school, if they looked at the right time, they could see the runners go by – maybe 75 of them or so – and laugh.

“We’d think ‘Those crazy people,’” George said. “It would be raining or cold. Never imagining …”

Then, George decided to run one year. Lynette watched for him but never saw him until she got back to the car and found him freezing and waiting for her to unlock the doors. She thought that, instead of waiting for him the next year, she would run it, too.

That was 1977. It was three years after women were officially allowed to enter the race and the first year women were given prizes. The running boom was in full swing and the sport was surging in popularity.

Both Walkers have run the 4.748-mile race every year since. They will line up on Main Street with about 15,000 others Thursday at 10 a.m. for their 41st straight time.

Lynette, 77, can move pretty well now. She holds the age group records for 70- to 74-year-olds (36:17, 2010) and 75-79 (39:24) at Manchester. She’s run marathons and half-marathons and still can run around a 24-25 minute 5K time.

She still remembers the first time she ran Manchester.

“We got back [from the race] and George’s dad was asking us about it and pouring us all a drink and I sat there with this drink in my hand and the biggest smile on my face,” Lynette said. “I ran five miles. I couldn’t believe it.”

They’ve run through snow and rain and cold at Manchester. The crowds have swelled. There are more costumes, more bands.

She ran with her son Robert when he was 6.

“He’s running up the hill and he’s not saying a word and I’m thinking, ‘This poor kid,’” she said. “We got to the top and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ And he said, ‘Well, I could have run it faster,’ and he’s looking at me like I’m holding him back.”

She laughed.

Her fastest time was 30:44 in 1985. George finished in 30:02 that year. They would try to break the 30-minute mark every year but never could.

One year early on, she remembered, she finished in the top three in her age group.

“Lo and behold in the mail comes a package, a prize,” she said. “It’s a pair of Lycra tights. No one ran in Lycra tights. The hot shots, maybe. We ran in sweatpants or shorts. I put on these tights. I thought, ‘I look like a pro.’ And I went to run with my group of women and I show up in these tights. ‘Look what I got.’

“[One of the runners] said, ‘I would never run in something like that. They’re so tight.’ It’s pretty funny now, people run in their little bikinis.”

She wore them out and eventually they got thrown away. Not long ago, she was talking to one of the road race officials about the tights.

“He said, ‘Oh you should have saved them, we could have put them in the museum!’” she said, laughing again.

Inevitably, the Walkers slowed down. Last year, Lynette won her age group in 41:37, still not a shabby time, especially for a 77-year-old.

Lynette and George do a lot of orienteering now. They just returned from the national championships in Maryland, where Lynette won her age group.

Their favorite races — aside from Manchester — are the Snowstorm Classic series in Springfield, a series of 5Ks and 10Ks that are run all winter, no matter what the weather.

She’s not sure which sport George will want to try next. But she’s up for it.

“He decided we’ll do orienteering, but I’m directionally challenged,” she said. “I’m a city girl. I’m not used to figuring out the compass or reading a map. But we’ve been doing it for over 20 years now. And like everything else, I slowly get into it and now it’s fun.

“I think that’s probably empowered me more, going out in the woods and suddenly you can’t hear anyone and you think you’re lost but being able to find out on the map, where you are. It’s a great feeling. It’s a great sport. So now I’m thinking, ‘What’s the next one George is going to try?’ Maybe night orienteering, running with headlamps on. He took me winter camping. That was a challenge.”

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