Amby Burfoot ‘68 believes that every race he runs is a gift, perhaps even more so at the age of 75.
Burfoot, a former Boston Marathon champion, Wesleyan cross country star, and editor-in-chief of “Runner’s World” magazine, finished his 59th straight Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving, setting a new race record. “The race was great. I ran every step with an old friend and Manchester resident, Steve Gates, who was running his 52nd in a row. We finished hand in hand,” Burfoot said in an e-mail after the race.
His time was good enough to win the 75 to 79 age group. “A small victory but always nice,” he said.
There are very few people in the world who have gone to the same annual road race for 59 years straight. Burfoot believes there is one guy ahead of him – if Burfoot can last a few more years, he’ll hold a world record for consecutive annual road races.
“Manchester is my greatest accomplishment in running by far,” he said. “I always say any lucky dude can win the Boston Marathon, but you can’t run the Manchester Road Race 59 times in a row unless you are pretty mean and gnarly.”
He has had some close calls over the years.
Burfoot had previously run the race with walking pneumonia and a barking Achilles tendon. In 2013, he had a microbiome illness that caused him to drop 15 pounds off his already lean frame. His family got him to the starting line and then his body took over, propelling him toward the finish line. “That was my toughest Manchester by far,” Burfoot said.
Most people will never be a professional level athlete. But one of the many lures of running, Burfoot believes, is that an ordinary person with enough persistence and fortitude can arrive at the finish line of their local 5k or marathon having completed an impressive feat of endurance. For a moment, they can be a champion.
“We all dream grand dreams. Certainly, I dreamed dreams I’ve never achieved, but dreaming them is half the fun,” Burfoot said.
Burfoot shies away from any metaphysical talk about running – no talk of runner’s high or anything like that from him. Running takes place a step at a time, one mile at a time, one race at a time, until you’ve built a life devoted to the sport.
“I like the theoretical idea of endurance. I like the idea of sticking with the things that we have pursued. I like not giving up. I like the idea of moving forward towards a goal,” Burfoot said.
Burfoot readily admits, his category win at Manchester notwithstanding, that he isn’t the fastest runner out there anymore. He’s running for his own physical and emotional well-being.
When Burfoot speaks in public, there’s a story he likes to tell about his dad. Burfoot’s dad always said that his dream retirement was sitting on the porch, watching the sunset and sipping lemonade.
“I love to sit on the porch. I love to watch the sunset. I like a lemonade or something a little stronger, but I also want to get out of that rocking chair and run a few miles along the beach where I live. I want to do more than just rock,” Burfoot said.
So, for as long as he is able, Burfoot will be out doing his favorite run around his beloved hometown of Mystic, Conn. getting ready for yet another race. “I’m already looking forward to next year and my 60th. None of us ever know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m choosing to live and run optimistically as long as I can,” he said.