in hand, Frank rallies the troops/Photo by Ted Tyler)
“New England running,” steeped in history, tradition and
heroes. The threads of this sport that we love have been woven together by
thousands of races, millions of runners and countless hours of effort by
volunteers to make it all happen.
If you ask (as I did) Tri-Valley Front Runner, Frank Nealon,
to share his 32-year experience race directing TVFR’s Boston Tune-Up 15K, there
will be three things that he will show you: 1) his TVFR filing cabinet; 2) the
crawl space in his home loaded with everything you need to put on a race; and
3) his backyard shed containing a home-constructed PVC pipe race finish gate,
along with the TVFR banner. But what you will see and realize before anything,
is Frank’s heart and passion for his running club and the running community. In
a sport that has single name recognition for its runners named Joanie, Bill,
Johnny, Uta, Dick & RickÛÓthe Metro West town of Milford, MA has its “Frank”
when it comes to race directing and volunteering.
Frank is originally from Carbondale, PA and spent his
pre-retirement years as a Sergeant in the US Air Force. He traveled quite
extensively and finally settled in Milford with his wife of 56 years, Rita, and
their seven children after serving his country in Viet Nam. He then worked as a
guidance counselor for the Milford School district until retirement in 2000.
Frank is one of the founding members of the Tri-Valley Front
Runners, a club that was formed from the merging of three clubs that originated
in the 1970’s (Upton Road Runners, Franklin Bolts, Tri-Valley Front Runners). He
has been the race director of TVFR’s Boston Tune-Up for all of its 32 years. This
race, like all races that Frank directs, is simple, not flashy, lots of fun,
The Boston Tune-Up was born in 1981 during a “let’s have a
race” discussion over a few beers with club member Dr. John Hoell at the “Pond
House Restaurant” that is now the “Marathon Restaurant” in Hopkinton. His first
effort in what was to eventually become the Boston Tune-Up 15K was actually a
half marathon. Simply put, “we didn’t know any better.” The race had a $3
registration that included a t-shirt and a half a keg of beer at the finish.
There were no water stops. Yet the race attracted 187 runners in 1981.
The following three years, the race distance changed to a
25K and then finally settled on the 15K distance. Under Frank’s direction, the
race remains TVFR volunteer supported, timed and catered. There are no sponsors’ names on the race
shirts, and leftover money is primarily donated to the Jimmy Fund or Pan Mass
Challenge. There was prize money at one time, but Frank acknowledges that Bill
Rodgers was probably the last to receive a winner’s check. Rodgers also still
holds the fastest finishing time (46:08 in 1986) for the 15K distance.
One of Frank’s TVFR co-veterans is John Parker. John is a
senior member of TVFR and former president of the Upton Road Runners. He
recounts one of his many Û¢Frank memories’ as a rarity on how the best
intentions can end up blowing up in your face: “It was a race in the 90’s at
the Whitin Community Center. A second cluster of runners made a wrong turn,
ignoring a road guard, and ended up crossing the finish line from the opposite
direction from the rest of the field!” Most race directors have a one-time
story like this that would make your stomach twitch and your head spin. Thank
goodness there aren’t any more stories like this in Frank’s archive.
Nealon and long-time TVFR organizer Gary Atlas at this year’s 32nd Boston
Tune-Up 15K where Frank has been the RD since day one.
Photo by Ted Tyler)
Another of Frank’s signature races is TVFR’s 5-Mile Woodland
Trail Series that is held on the last Thursday of June, July & August. These
races start at the pavilion of the West Hill Dam in Uxbridge, MA and run thru
the woods and eventually back to the pavilion. Again, by design these races are
challenging, no frills, no tee shirt, no overhead and cost conservative for
all. The low overhead at Frank’s events are fed directly back to the low cost
for runners registrations. At last year’s August Trail race, Frank presented
winners with precious “10,000 year old antiquities”Û¢well, they were really just
rocks that he collected with his grandkids while hiking in Maine. The rocks
were meticulously cleaned and hand-painted with the race’s name and date. A
prize worth keeping!
Frank has also helped support the starts of other community
races in the Milford area. He typically helps design the course and work with
first-time race directors that prove to him they aren’t involved in “one and
done” events. He impresses on all, that each event is a learning experience to improve
upon. Years ago, he would drive and measure the course distance with his car,
laying down cones to mark turn-around points. Now, course design efforts are
usually made in partnership with John Parker and they use both bicycle and
wheel measurements to insure accuracy.
Frank’s level of organization for races is impeccable. Notes,
checklists and time-date schedules prevail. Former TVFR president Sherry Brown recognized Frank in 2008
at TVFR’s annual banquet by presenting him with the inaugural “Frank Nealon
Volunteer Award.” The tongue-in-cheek award was a reminder of one morning preceding
a race in Milford. Frank was late in arriving to the pre-race setup. There was
big concern if he was “OK?” Sherry drove to his house and burst in only to find
Frank standing in the kitchen in his TVFR running gear, eating cereal and just
back from a training run. The start date was incorrectly listed on his bulletin
At the banquet, she recognized him for his unwavering ethics
and willingness to help and often lead club activities. She acknowledged that
Frank is always Û¢the guy’ marking the course early in the morning before a race
with arrows, lime and signs. There was a big relief knowing that all was A-OK
that morning and the race went off without a hitch!
Frank just celebrated his 83rd birthday last September and
continues to run a few races a year. His most recent race was as
lead runner of a relay team (including Paul Chamberlin (72), Ray Lussier (83),
and anchor runner/’rabbit’ John Parker (72)) at Stu’s 30K in Clinton, MA. Their
team, aptly named the “Gorgeous Grey Geezers,” completed the race in
3:48:49. Frank continues to be TVFR’s club ambassador, board advisor,
archivist and amongst its most active members. There are very few club
meetings that he ever misses and he is the first guy that you call when there
is a race to organize or a course to design.
As runners in the New England running community, we should
be well aware how fortunate we are because of those legends that ran &
organized races before us. Most continue to be accessible, helpful,
friendly and encouraging. Amongst those Û¢legends’ that is still
passionate of fostering the running community is Frank Nealon. Thank-you