Two women to run 50th straight Manchester Road Race


From left: Shluger, Romayko, Chase-Brand. Stephen Dunn photo.
Thanksgiving morning’s 87th running of the Manchester Road Race (just outside Hartford, CT) is also the 50th running since women were first allowed to enter officially in 1974. And two Connecticut women will be running for the 50th year in a row: Janet Romayko and Beth Shluger. 

In fact, it will be their 51st year in a row, as both ran unofficially in 1973. This is believed to be the longest female road race streak in the U.S., if not the world. 

Even before Romayko and Shluger, Manchester held an important place in women’s running history. In 1961, Julia Chase, later Chase-Brand, completed the distance after skirting around road race officials who tried to block her from the road. Chase, then an 18-year-old Smith College student, attracted international attention, because no U.S.women had previously run a road race. 

Chase-Brand also returned to run Manchester on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of her 1961 debut. However, she did not run the intervening years. 

Romayko and Shluger both grew up in Manchester, a town that has enthusiastically supported road running since the first Manchester race in 1927. In fact, Romayko lived near the 1-mile mark of the course route, and remembers watching the race as a 4-year-old. In 1973, not wanting to attract attention, she wore men’s clothing--“I looked like a big paper bag,” she says--and ran much of the distance with her husband and uncle. “No one seemed to care that a female was on the course,” she remembers.

Romayko, now 78, belongs to a super-athletic family. Her mother was a competitive swimmer who still achieved All-American status at age 85. Her father was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, and later scored eight holes-in-one on the links. Romayko was always highly active as a child and teen even though Manchester High School offered nothing but cheerleading for female athletes. She thought about running Manchester as early as 1971, but backed off because “I was a good girl who didn’t break the rules.” 

Shluger, now 68, took a different route into running--one that has been a starting point for many. She ran her first Manchester in 1973 on a dare. It was hatched the night before at a local watering hole where she and her classmates were enjoying a few. “I wasn’t a runner and didn’t take sports seriously at the time,” she admits. “I was a clueless 18-year-old girl full of energy but with no thought about the significance of running a race that I wasn’t allowed to enter because I was a girl.”

First time memories (1973)

ROMAYKO: “I jumped onto the course to join my-husband-to-be, James. I am a traditionalist, but I also like to do things a ‘little off center’ like running Manchester in 1973. I wore some combination of clothing tops, and gray sweatpants. James was a big talker, so I mostly listened to him during the race. I knew the course so well that it was easy for me. I don’t remember that anyone really noticed me during the race.”

SHLUGER: “I remember driving to the race in my 1967 Camaro. I wore a crazy outfit: long tights, with yellow velour shorts over them. I had sneakers but they weren’t meant for running. I felt pretty out of place, and jumped in after the start. It was a serious runner crowd, not like the festive atmosphere now. I took lots of walk breaks, and had very sore feet. No one paid much attention to me, though I do remember a couple of women spectators near the beginning who urged me on.”

The continuing tradition

ROMAYKO: “In 1975, James and I moved to Massachusetts for his work in Cambridge, but we never missed the tradition of running Manchester every Thanksgiving. It became a center piece of both our lives. It was like a ‘coming home’ after a year of our crazy commuter lives and drives.

“I will continue running Manchester as long as I can. My aunt walked the course on Thanksgiving at age 93. I’d like to beat her record. It was a thrill for me when the Race Committee added 5-year age-group awards, and I was able to win the 65-69 division. My mother told me that ‘ninety percent of success is showing up,’ and she was right. I am so thankful for the way this race paved the way for women runners, and has continued to recognize them.”

Romayko has been employed for years as a social worker in Mansfield, CT, and continues to enter many road races and triathlons. She has finished 49 marathons, including four Bostons.

SHLUGER: “I don’t really know what made me come back the years right after 1973. I guess it was embedded in my DNA. When my brother started running in 1977, the rest of my family got more involved. That cinched it for me. Before long, I had better shoes and a better running outfit, and then my other brothers and their spouses joined in the running. We loved the crush of humanity inside the start area. So many people. So many HAPPY people.

“For 50 years I have had the gift of knowing exactly what I’ll be doing on Thanksgiving morning, and it's a gift of love, family, community and the Manchester Road Race. In this sometimes-crazy world, that is a mighty precious gift.”

Shluger founded the Hartford Marathon Foundation in 1994, became its CEO and President, and directed the Hartford Marathon (with a top field size of 15,000) until her retirement in early 2023.