What is the purpose behind the Western Mass Runners Hall of Fame? In short, to recognize, honor and record the history of those individuals (and teams, in some cases) from the sports of road racing, cross country and track who made a positive or impressive impact in these activities while living in our region.
This website is dedicated to recognizing and documenting the accomplishments of athletes, coaches, race directors, influencers and supporters of the Western Massachusetts running community.
While track & field has been around for centuries and its close cousin, cross country for a long time as well it is safe to say the modern U.S. “running boom” pilot light was lit in the early 1960’s with President John F. Kennedy’s call for people of all ages to become physically active. That initiative was followed up in 1968 by book written by Dr. Kenneth Cooper of Dallas called Aerobics, which expanding on the benefits of cardio physical activity via a point system.
From there the flame became a bonfire with Frank Shorter’s 1972 Olympic Marathon victory on the streets of Munich which paved the way to the everyman’s guide to running, The Complete Book of Running” in 1977 by Jim Fixx that gave “permission” for thousands, then millions, to run the streets, tracks and trails of America in short shorts, sneakers and sweatpants.
This collection of events led to every part of the country “booming” with new joggers and runners and an explosion of races to show off one’s new fitness. Including Western Mass!
So, who built the running community in W. Mass and what sustains it? Who were the people and events in our region that lit our spark? How did it all get started? Who were the top runners? How good were they?
Looking back, the nerve center of Western Mass running, the connective tissue if you will, has been the weekly cross country and road races that run virtually all year. Male and female. All ages. All comers. Fast and slow, young or old.
Count them. Monday night it’s Empire One’s 5K at Stanley Park in Westfield, Tuesdays it’s the Sugarloaf 5K at Community Gardens in Northampton, Wednesday evening it’s the 5K or 8K hosted by the Greater Springfield Harriers in Forest Park in Springfield and Thursday night it’s the Empire One 5K / 8K at Holyoke’s Ashley Reservoir. Saturdays in the winter it’s the Harriers Snowstorm Classic 5K and 10K races. All with their own list of single age records by gender over the years.
It is these “mom and pop” races, started and directed by the true running pioneers in our community that have fueled the souls of W. Mass runners for decades now. These weekly events are, indeed, the connective tissue that binds us all.
And if these weekly races are like dances in the high school gym, the more glamorous, long time, high profile races are our proms – races like the Amherst 10 Miler, St. Patricks’ Day 10k, Holyoke Marathon, Father’s Day 10K, 4th of July 5K, Bridge of Flowers 10k, Paper Chase 10K (back in the day), Talking Turkey 6 Miler and some others that have come and gone. It is these races that preceded the birth of the weekly cross country races.
These races started with small fields and built up over time. Early sponsors were generally not corporations but organizations like the Elks, Kiwanis, VFWs. Once the boom hit in the mid to late ‘70s corporations began their sponsorships and prizes grew along with participation. More women began to run, as well, a trend that continues to this day.
Local running teams began to form like Sugarloaf AC, Greater Springfield Harriers and Empire One.
These combinations of weekly races and high-profile events may not make us unique around the country but our guess is not many regions have the combination of race options we do with a history of diligent record keeping.
The result? A vibrant local running community that sustains itself through the continued emergence of elite runners, seasoned, long term participants of races and a foundation of race directors and volunteers who keep the engine humming.
This Hall of Fame honors a cross section of those individuals that have put their energy into our sport to make it better for all of those participants.