It had quickly become a June tradition, the drive down from Boston to Litchfield, Connecticut for the Litchfield Hills Road Race. The seven-mile event was co-founded in 1977 by Boston Globe sportswriter Joe Concannon in his hometown as an early summer bookend to the famous seven-mile Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod, which had been the brainchild of Joe’s pal Tommy Leonard, he of Eliot Lounge fame in Boston.
In year one most of the big guns of the Greater Boston Track Club had accepted Joe’s invitation, and with the world’s number one marathoner Bill Rodgers leading the way, Litchfield quickly established its racing bona fides, marked by the brutal Gallows Lane hill in the final mile.
In that first year I tape recorded the start of the race on Main Street, later using the starter’s long drawn out intonation, “R-u-n-n-e-r-s R-e-a-d-y…” followed by the BOOM! of the First Litchfield Artillery canon and crowd cheering as the opening of my weekly Runner’s Digest radio show.
What defined Litchfield wasn’t just the friendship with Joe Concannon, who covered the sport for the Boston Globe at a time when that coverage helped create the sport of road racing in the public consciousness. It wasn’t the nose-scraping elevation of Gallows Lane or the quality of the race field. Instead, what made Litchfield special was the raucous party atmosphere that draped the weekend like the high humidity that always seemed to arrive with it. Led by co-race founder Billy Neller and race director Rick Evangelisti the Litchfield weekend soon became a fixture on the racing/party calendar for runners from the north and south alike, dividing the town into Red Sox and Yankee fandoms in the process.