By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
FALMOUTH, MA, USA (14-Aug) — Throughout the 43-year history of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race, the event has stayed true to its roots, celebrating friends, family, tradition, and summertime fun.
On Sunday, 12,000 runners are expected to cover the seven miles from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights, finishing along the waterfront. One athlete in particular, Colorado’s Neely Spence Gracey, embodies the event’s spirit through and through. The 25-year-old is carrying on a family tradition and forging her own connection to the community, all while aiming for a podium finish.
“It’s really exciting to be back,” Gracey told Race Results Weekly, speaking with the glistening Falmouth Heights Beach as a backdrop. “I love Falmouth, the community, and everything about this race.”
Bursting with excitement knowing the race is less than 48 hours away, Gracey is eager to lace up her road racing flats once again on Cape Cod. In 2012 Gracey came to Falmouth to race for the first time, finishing in 11th place (the race was her first after recovering from a broken foot). This year, she’s healthy and ready for more.
What differentiates Gracey from the rest of the elite field assembled here –which includes seven Olympians– is her family ties to the event. Gracey’s father Steve Spence, the 1991 IAAF World Championships Marathon bronze medalist, raced the Falmouth Road Race twice, finishing second in 1988.
Spending a bit of time together at her home in Colorado recently, father and daughter spoke about the upcoming race. Together they worked on form and visualized the competition. Gracey gained even more confidence as race day approached.
“He did get second [place], so I can’t take his opinion too seriously!” Gracey joked with the media, giving her father a hard time. “He definitely has a lot of good [tips] to say. I’m excited to start off my season here. My workout went really well with him biking along side me, and I’ll try to take those form tips and put them to use on Sunday.”
For years, generations of New Englanders have annually made the trip to Cape Cod to participate in the New Balance Falmouth Road Race. Participants and spectators in town celebrate the peak of summer, knowing all to well that the warm weather and sunshine will likely be gone in a month or two, eventually giving way to New England’s harsh winter. In a way the race represents Americana at its finest, congregating generations through the sport and the event’s many post-race barbecues.
But that’s not all.
The Falmouth Road Race is unique in the sense that area families host athletes, welcoming runners into their own homes for a few days before and after the event. Gracey was honored when one family in particular, the Greco family, asked to house her this week.
They chose Gracey because their 11-year-old daughter, Bianca, wanted to run with and learn from a top American woman.
“That’s so awesome, I was super pumped about that,” Gracey told Race Results Weekly. “It made me that much more excited to come, knowing I was going to stay with a family who was really into running. I’m a coach, and I started running when I was her age as well. It’s near and dear to my heart that I could help and inspire maybe a future star. It’s pretty fun.”
Gracey’s appreciation for the welcoming community is evident in her smile. Unlike most races in America, this event’s focus is to make all who run –elite or back of the pack jogger, young or old– a part of the family, a part of the area’s fabric.
“It really makes it such a special event because it’s not just going and staying in another hotel, by yourself… It’s really fun to come up here, be a part of a family, be in the culture of Cape Cod, get personal tours of the area and everything. It’s really special,” she said. “They really embrace that tradition.”
Between personal connections through her father and inspiration from her host family, Gracey is ready to kick off her fall racing season in style.
“It’s really awesome that [Falmouth] fit in the schedule this year,” said the soon-to-be adidas-sponsored athlete. “It’s great to be back, and it’s always a blast. It’s just so nice here, and I can’t wait to race.”