The last ‘This is Thanksgiving in Manchester’ MRR race director Jim Balcome retires

One last time, Jim Balcome stood next to a crowd of 10,000 runners on Main Street and as the starting pistol went off and the mass of humanity surged forward, he intoned what has become his trademark phrase: “This is Thanksgiving in Manchester.”

Balcome, who has been one of only two race directors in the 86-year history of the Manchester Road Race, is retiring from his RD duties after this year. The 78-year-old retired guidance counselor has been the race director since 1979.

“I don’t know what emotions I have right now,” Balcome said after the race. “Bottom line is will I miss being here next year. This is one of my favorite days of the year.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

It’s not really over for Balcome. He has to work at the race’s blood drive Friday, one of the largest in the state, at Manchester High, then organize the Charlie Robbins Club lunch Nov. 30 for the race’s 75-plus runners. Then there will be wrap-up meetings and then he’s free.

“It’s not over, but this part is over,” he said.

Thayer Redman, who has been Balcome’s assistant, will take over as race director.

Balcome went out on a perfect day – five men running under the previous course record, the weather was perfect, no snow or rain or freezing cold.

“Everything fell into place,” he said. “It was a great day.”

Some of his best memories were watching Charlie Duggan, a Hartford Public grad, win the race in 1980 after 12 attempts and the snow year when some kind of ice melt chemical was dusted onto the road – “I don’t know what it was but I have a feeling that 2-3 days after the race, the bottom of a lot of people’s shoes fell off.”

Balcome always made sure to greet the last runner at the finish line every year. After everything wrapped up, he would go home and have a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry then take a nap.

And as for his famous phrase? Balcome will be looking to tape record it or somehow pipe it in in the future, while he’ll be sitting on a beach in Florida with his wife.

“Physically, I won’t be here but mentally and emotionally, I’ll still be here,” he said.

Amby Burfoot runs No. 60

Amby Burfoot ran his 60th consecutive Manchester Road Race, winning his age group (75-79) in 40:13. Burfoot, 76, of Groton won the road race nine times between 1968-77…. Runner-up Morgan Beadlescomb said it was his first time in Connecticut and he enjoyed the race. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “This crowd is more than anything I could have expected. It’s awesome. People outside their houses cheering, people singing, playing guitars. It was awesome. Kids lining the street with their hands out. It was really cool.”

Lori Riley can be reached at lriley@courant.com.