By JOHN GORALSKI
Bill Rodgers won the New York City Marathon four times. He claimed four titles at the Boston Marathon in the late 1970s. He won races in Amsterdam, Japan, and across the United States. Rodgers was the top ranked runner in the world at one time in his career, but he never won a title at the Apple Harvest Road Race.
This fall, he’ll give it another shot.
“We’re really excited that Bill Rodgers is coming back,” said race director John Myers. “We’ve been in touch with Bill ever since the last time’s he’s been here, but his schedule is so crazy. He’s in such high demand. This year, the schedule matched up perfectly for us, and we were able to get him out.”
Rodgers isn’t really trying to win the local race. He’s just trying to bring more excitement to the annual event. It worked in 2008 when Rodgers’ appearance sparked a surge in race membership. It worked the following year when he returned once again.
“Our normal numbers were just a few hundred for everything when bill came the first time,” said Myers. “He really gave us a spike. I think it also gave us a little bit of credibility. I almost feel like he’s a part of the race for us, so it’s good to have him back.”
Since his initial visit in 2008, the Apple Harvest Road Race has expanded to include two more events. The signature race continues to be the 5-mile race, but last year’s 5K alternative opened the doors to even more participants. The two-mile walk/run continues to attract participants without the stress of a timed race, and the Little Fritter Fun Runs have been a fan favorite for years as young athletes and toddlers circle the town green.
Last year, the event welcomed more than 1,200 participants, and Myers expects 2012 to be even bigger.
“This is all about promoting healthy lifestyle. We want people to stay active and keep moving,” he said. “This is a family get together. We have people come back to town to reacquaint themselves. This is our local race. This is the one that everyone looks forward to. We’re not quite the Manchester Road Race, but this is our one signature event. It’s good to bring out-of-towners in, too. They get to see how cool we are.”
To widen the scope of the event, race officials have added another racing option in 2012. The Y-Cup relay event has been added to allow elementary school runners to compete long after the Little Fritter Runs attract them to the festivities. Teams of three will challenge the 5K course. Each member of the team will run one mile with the team’s anchor finishing the last 1.1 miles of the course across the town green.
“They’ll have batons, and we’ll have third grade teams, fourth grade teams, and the fifth grade kids,” said Myers. “It’s manageable for that age group. It gets them involved and feeling good about it.”
As for the main events, the course hasn’t changed. The only difference is that the starting time has been shifted to 8:45 in order to accommodate local church schedules.
Both races will start at the corner of Liberty Street and Columbus Avenue. Runners will race uphill past the town green and continue along Berlin Avenue until they turn left onto Berlin Street. They’ll run side-by-side until the intersection with Pleasant Street.
At that intersection the 5K runners will turn left, and the 5-milers will continue in a loop that circles almost two miles across East Street and Spring Lake Road before rejoining the shorter course on Pleasant Street. Both groups will wind their way down Woodruff Street, take a right on Berlin Ave, and sprint the final stretch alongside the town green.
Water stops will be located at the midway point of the five-mile race and at the three-mile marker. Once again, the Southington Police Department will continue to help volunteers along the course. This year, volunteers will try to assist people with parking logistics, and lots will be open at North Center School and across the street at DellaVecchia Funeral Home.
“I think that the whole running community is getting bigger,” said Myers. “I think that the Y-Cup is going to bring more people in, and we’ve already noticed that there are more people than ever out there running and jogging. I think that this is one of the things that they’re looking forward to, and we expect this year to be bigger than ever.”
Proceeds from the event help fund the YMCA’s Community Support Campaign, which is used for families that need assistance for child care, camps scholarships, and other health needs. More importantly, it’s become the opening celebration for the Apple Harvest Festival.
“I think this is a nice way to kick it all off,” said Myers. “It starts off parade day, and I know that people look forward to the whole day.”
Even Rodgers stays after the race to watch the parade, spend time with his family, and grab a bag of fritters.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.