Archive for the 'Family' Category

2022 HURT 100

The Livingston Family’s 2022 HURT 100 expectations were exceeded by a hundred miles! Debbie ran a monster race to claim the victory and finish 7th overall at this island of Oahu classic ultra in its 21st edition. In my estimation, HURT is defined by two things: 1) the course and 2) the “ohana” or extended family that makes up the heart of the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team’s community.

I’ve organized this post so that it is easier to follow. I’ve created sections for Debbie’s ultra history, HURT pre-race, each of the five laps, post-race, and a summary.

Debbie and I have been a thing since 1999 which means I’ve been around for the entirety of her 23 year ultrarunning career. I’ve seen nearly all of her spectacular performances. Among her 100+ ultras, I’ve seen all but a few. One thing I’ve witnessed is all of are her 100 milers. All that running has actually improved my writing! That number of hundreds is 12, though there are two DNF’s in that total (they build character).

Among the “shorter” races, there have been some incredible performances. At dinner last night, she cited the 2012 Laurel Highlands Ultra (70 miles) as her best ever performance. There have been so many others to recall and smile about. She has an incredible palmares. However, when asked about her ultrarunning, most people want to know about the longest of these races, which means hundreds. With her HURT finish, that dozen-long list is pretty cool to see. She hasn’t taken the easy route. Her choices include some of the tougher options, including several iconic mountain races with gnarly courses.

HURT 100 has been on her wish list for a long time. She knew the course would be ideal for her strengths. It’s a hilly race on very difficult terrain, but at sea level. The hills are short and steep. Undulating would be a good description. The longest climb is probably less than two miles and it isn’t a relentless grade, but rather has a bit of up and down. That’s quite different from the climbs at Bighorn, Tahoe, or Hardrock. Those are all races at altitude where she hasn’t performed at her best. She is an incredible downhill runner, especially on technical terrain, so the HURT course was one she wanted to try. HURT is known for its’ roots. After all, the best known video about the race is called ROOTED.

HURT’s own description of the event is very informative and worth sharing as an overview and the Book of HURT is a great resource. Check it out:

The Hawaiian Ultra Running Team’s Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run, referred to hereafter as the “HURT100”, is a very difficult event designed for the adventurous and well-prepared ultrarunner. It is conducted on trails within the jurisdiction of the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR)Division of Forestry and WildlifeNā Ala Hele program. Nā Ala Hele has turned traces of pig trails through the rain forest into people-friendly, single-track paths. The event organizers are very grateful for the staff’s untiring year-round commitment to trail maintenance for all users, and help in preparing for this annual event.

A detailed description of the HURT100 including the registration process can be found in the latest edition of the Book of HURT.

The About section of the website is loaded with info including course maps and descriptions. The Book of HURT has excellent course overviews, race history, logistics, more maps, and a lot of other data.

  • 100 miles over 5 laps (partial out and backs) in a semi-tropical rain forest.
  • 24,500 feet of cumulative elevation gain (and 24,500 feet of cumulative loss) over the course of 100 miles.
  • 99% single-track trails, 1% asphalt.
  • Moderately packed soil, generously interspersed with roots, rocks, puddles, and mud wallows.
  • Narrow trails through forest, along exposed ridges, and past vertical embankments.
  • 20 stream crossings (four per lap).
  • Three aid stations per lap.
  • 36-hour time limit.

This statement is hyperbole, but getting into HURT 100 may be as challenging as finishing. Annually, the race’s initial entrant list is limited to 136 runners (slots) and normal attrition results in approximately 125 starters. Of the 136 slots, only 118 are part of the lottery. The others are reserved for the prior year podium finishers and 10 HURT Board discretionary picks.

There is a wait list and when Debbie missed out on the regular 2022 lottery, she was 55th on the waitlist. She has missed out in prior HURT lotteries as well, including 2020, the last time the race was held. 2021 was a miss as a result of the pandemic related cancellation.

125 starters is 20 less than the Hardrock Endurance Run, which is probably the most limited iconic ultra in the world. The Western States Endurance Run has the highest demand and is the most sought after, but it is larger with more than 350 entrants and even more hoopla. These are three different kinds of races, though all are held in incredible surroundings. Hardrock has even more vert and is at high altitude in big mountains. Western States is the grandaddy of the sport, boasts the most competitive field (other than maybe UTMB a much larger race), but has less climbing and less ruggedness. WSER does have high heat. HURT 100 has a mix of everything. The course is the most gnarly of the three, it’s hot AND humid, it’s got a ton of climbing, it has the most single night of darkness (more than 13 hours), and of course…it’s on the island of Oahu in Hawaii which just raises the fun factor even more.

We hadn’t been to Hawaii since 2010 when I did the IRONMAN World Championships. Our kids didn’t remember that trip and we have been looking for a reason to get back to the islands for more than a decade. For more than a year, our family kept a placeholder in the calendar in case she got in during the June lottery. However, when she ended up so far down on the waitlist, we deleted the calendar item. We never thought that so many waitlisters would get in. Of course, we also didn’t fully anticipate the impact of the pandemic, the delta surge, the omicron surge, the airline challenges, Hawaii’s travel requirements, and the race’s vaccination requirements. HURT normally attracts a broad entrant list with folks from all over the USA and elsewhere around the world. Asia, and particularly Japan, normally has several entrants. Despite the volatility with the entrant list, this year’s starters were a diverse group of men and women.

After the summer, Debbie and I lost track of the HURT waitlist process and moved on, but then on November 5th, she got an email, inviting her to register. She was given three days to decide and process registration before they would move to the next person on the waitlist. The message reminded her about the race’s requirements and Honolulu’s requirements, including vaccination for runners, pacers, crew, and volunteers. We talked about it over a few days, I got support from my colleagues at HORST Engineering, we discussed the impact on Shepard and Dahlia’s schooling (because we wanted to include them) and ultimately committed to the trip. We knew there would be risks but couldn’t have anticipated how logistically challenging it would get as the pandemic raged on.

So essentially, with two months notice, she accepted. She was confident that she was in great base shape and could ramp up to 100 mile distance preparation in eight weeks. Her last 100 was Bighorn back in June. That was her last ultra distance trail race. She rode the Vermont 50 on her mountain bike and has done several trail running FKT’s, but the busy fall was mostly focused on her coaching middle school cross country for Bolton Center School. Her 20+ year base of fitness made this possible.

Leading up to the trip, we had to navigate the holidays, the Covid-19 omicron variant surge, flight cancellation worries, and host of challenges. It was touch and go, but when travel day arrived, we were ready to go.

Pre-Race

We traveled to Honolulu on a direct flight from Boston. We arrived on Tuesday the 11th January, which gave us several days to adjust to the time change (five hours behind) and get used to the heat and humidity. We decided to get up early every day to keep some semblance of normalcy. On our first full day, we hiked Mt. Olamana with the kids. It was awesome and gave us a taste of the Oahu trails. We had an early morning rainstorm that turned the trail into a greasy muddy mess. Thankfully, by race day, the trails dried considerably and were only wet in spots. I’ll write a separate post about this hike and some of our other activities including our visit to Pearl Harbor and various beaches. Last week, I wrote about my FKT on Mt. Ka’ala. There is no question that we packed in a lot of activity.

We had the good fortune to stay at the home of friends in Hawaii’kai. This headquarters was a great spot and within 30 minutes (unless there was bad rush hour Honolulu traffic) of the start/finish/aid station at the Nature Center, the Paradise Park Aid Station, and the Nu’uanu Aid Station. The race was on the weekend, so traffic was minimal and it was easy to get around. The main transportation challenges related to the slow and narrow roads. Plus, parking for all three aid stations required a least 1/2 mile walk. This isn’t a big deal, but you had to factor it in. Crews only had access to the Nature Center and Paradise Park so you could easily manage that back and forth.

The course is a called a “loop” but that is not really true because the trail is not continuous. It’s shaped more like a “tripod” or “t-bone” with out and backs to each aid station and a central section of overlapping trail. You cover 20 miles each loop, but using only 13 miles of unique trail. At times, especially at night, it was a bit confusing. The first leg was marked with white ribbons, he second section with green ribbons, and the third section with orange ribbons. If you saw a blue ribbon, it meant you were headed down a different (wrong) trail. Overall, the course was marked well.

Race packet pickup was a frill free drive-thru affair on Friday afternoon at a local school. Then Debbie and I got up early on Saturday around 4:15 A.M. We left the kids at the house and we got to the Aid Station in time for the final Covid-19 protocols which included a temperature check. Once that was done, she got her number (67) and her wrist band, which was traditionally blessed with special water from a stream on the course. She had an hour to place her three drop bags in the proper location and mingle a bit while shaking out any pre-race nerves.

Loop 1

The race started promptly at 6:00 A.M. The course funnels over a footbridge and then goes uphill immediately. Crew weren’t allowed to see their runner until late morning, so that pretty much meant that they were on their own for Loop 1. I drove back to the house to pick up the kids. I helped them get packed for the day and then we drove to the KCC Farmers’ Market on the campus of Kapiolani Community College in Honolulu. The market was packed but we walked around and got some food for the day and some items to bring home.

After the market, we drove back to the Nature Center in time to see the first runners arrive. Debbie was already leading the women. We knew it was going to be a long day and night and there was a long way to go, but we didn’t mess around and helped get her out of the aid station quickly. I ran up the hill with her and encouraged her to keep the pace.

When she was out of sight, I returned to the kids. It was getting really hot and it wasn’t even 11:00 A.M. We drove to Nu’uanu and found a parking spot about 1/4 mile from the aid station. We checked in with the volunteer coordinator, submitted our Covid-19 paperwork, showed our vaccination cards, and got our temperature checked. They issued us a wrist band and we got our first assignments. Shepard and I helped unload supplies, including fuel for the generators. Dahlia met the kitchen crew and learned the ropes. All food was individually bagged. Sadly, there were a lot of plastic bags, but this was a compromise in an effort to keep people healthy.

Throughout the afternoon, the kids helped in and around the kitchen. They rolled rice balls, made ice bags, and prepared lots of other foods. When runners arrived, they would approach them and offer ice and other items from the tables. I helped fill hydration packs, fetch items, and I took a lot of photos. I spent a lot of time down by the stream crossing. I assisted by calling out numbers of the runners as they made their way across the stream. Another volunteer was radioing their numbers up to the aid station, which was about 500 feet up the hill. By the time each runner reached the station, their drop bag had been found and set on a bench. The aid station crew were fantastic and the processes were well oiled.

Loop 2

The kids and I worked our designated shifts from noon until 6:00 P.M. I’m so happy that Debbie had signed us up to volunteer. Both kids were worried that they would be hot, tired, and bored. Neither of them wanted their shift to end and they both asked to come back. Thankfully, they made a lot of friends, including with Freddy, the aid station captain, and he was thrilled with them. We got to see Debbie come through on Loop 2, which was neat. By the time we left to head back to the house, it was getting dark, and the runners who were arriving, were showing fatigue. The male front runners were already lapping those at the back of the pack.

Loop 3

I took the kids back to the house and changed into the gear I would need to run with Debbie overnight. I posted updated on social media, said goodbye to the kids, and drove back to Nu’uanu. I checked in with Freddy again and helped in the same fashion as I had earlier in the day. Eventually, Debbie arrived towards the end of her Loop 3 and she was still leading. The main chasers were Mele DeMille, Anna Albrecht, and Yukari Hoshino. Alyx Luck Barnett and Denise Bourassa were a little farther back, but all of these women were still in the running at the halfway point of the race. Anna and Denise are past winners. Anna won when the race was last held in 2020 and Denise won in 2016. Anna is 27 and an awesome up and comer. Denise is 52 and a stellar veteran runner. Debbie and Denise did battle at the Pinhoti 100 in 2012. It’s crazy to think that was 10 years ago. Denise won the race but because she had already finished in the top 10 of the 2012 Western States Endurance Run, the Golden Ticket for the 2013 WSER went to the 2nd and 3rd place women. Debbie finished 4th at Pinhoti and that was the closest she has come to nabbing a Golden Ticket of her own. Denise went on to finish 7th in the 2013 WSER.

Loop 4

I figured it would take close to two hours for Debbie to get back to the Nature Center, so I continued to aid other runners for an hour or so before heading back to the Nature Center. When I did drive there, I parked and then rested a bit in the car. I ate some food and then packed a bag of gear for her. She had a drop back at the aid station, but I augmented that with a change of shoes and socks. She chose to tackle the race with a pair of Altra Olympus sneakers. I hiked up and waited for her. When she arrived at 10:18 P.M., she told me she wanted to change her shoes. Ever since she crossed the stream on the first lap, her feet had been wet. The dry socks and shoes would help until she had to cross the stream again.

Mele was 16 minutes back, Yokuri was 39 minutes back, and Anna was 57 minutes behind. With 40 miles to go, all of them were still in contention, but if Debbie could get through another loop in the lead, she would be in good shape. The overnight loop was bound to be the most difficult and I’m glad I was there to pace her. On the big climb out of the Nature Center, she took out her trekking poles for the first time. I led her up the hill, picking the best line through the roots. The moon was bright but it as still very dark under the jungle canopy. On this stretch, her UltrAspire Lumen 600 waist light battery died after using it for eight hours. She had a spare as planned, so she took a minute to swap it out. She had used her UltrAspsire headlamp for the hour of darkness at the start of the race, but had used it sparingly since. It was her second backup. I also used the UltrAspire Lumen, alternating between the high and middle settings. You have to use that high setting sparingly to conserve the battery, so I saved its for the technical descents. I was impressed with Debbie’s condition. She was hiking steadily and aside from some foot pain due to constantly having wet feet, she wasn’t complaining about any other issues. She had yet to have a real low point. Her gut was good too.

She ran a very strong descent into the Paradise Park Aid Station. The aid station had a pirate theme. Nu’uanu had a tiki bar theme. Both aid stations were stocked with anything you could want or need at an ultra with tons of vegan options. She didn’t stay long at the aid station. She drank some Skratch to get some electrolytes. She had a little miso soup with rice. She asked for grapes to go. At this point, she started to drink cola with caffeine. She doesn’t consume anything with caffeine unless its during a race. It was a little before 1:00 A.M. when we departed the aid station and started the climb back out. There were few beautiful spots on the climb where you could see the canopy in the moonlight. You could also make out the stars and they were stunning. We passed Mele as she was coming down and by my math, Debbie had at least a 12 minute lead. It turned out to be 16, which means she was at least matching Mele’s pace. On the climb, we subsequently passed all of the other top women as they were descending to Paradise Park. Seeing them made Debbie push even harder.

We eventually made it up to the “flat” section in between Paradise Park and Nu’uanu. This was up on a ridge that had awesome southern views over Honolulu and Waikiki. The lights of the city were gorgeous. This was one of my favorite spots on the course. The trail was getting slick as condensation collected on the rocks and roots. Debbie says she didn’t fall once during the race. Many other runners suffered different fates. There were several twisted ankles and the roots were largely responsible for this. Debbie described running through the root sections like running through tires on a high school football obstacle course.

Debbie really pushed the downhill into Nu’uanu. The section along the stream was muddy. She mentioned the the jostling had caused some discomfort in her stomach and that she was going to be cautious about her food intake. She made a very quick turnaround at the aid station. She stuck with Skratch and cola, plus another bag of grapes. At this point, she was anxious about her chasers and wanted to get back on to the climb to see if she could gauge where they were at. Throughout the day, she had identified the points at which they would pass each other on the out and back sections. I gave her words of encouragement and she powered up the climb. Mele was the first to arrive on the descent and I calculated about a 20 minute gap. It was hard to tell but it felt similar to Paradise Park. Without a mobile connection, I couldn’t tell what the actual gap was. After the race, we we were able to see that it was 25 minutes, which meant Debbie had actually stretched the lead. Yukari was still in third and she was followed by Anna. We saw both of them on our way back up to the flats.

The downhill section to the Nature Center is known as “the pipes” because there are exposed concrete pipes all the way down the middle of the trail. I don’t know if they were previously used for drainage, but this section of trail is horribly rutted. There are lots of rocks and deep crevasses. It was muddy and slick, but Debbie ripped the descent. She led me which is normal as I’m a tentative downhiller. I shouted encouragement from behind. My thinking was that if she got to this section on the last lap with a healthy lead, that no one would catch her. She was in her element navigating this tricky descent. We got back to the Nature Center at 5:15 A.M. It had taken us nearly seven hours, which was her slowest lap, but everyone was slower in the darkness. She complained again about her stomach so she stuck with just cola.

Loop 5

This was my last stop, but I chose to exit the aid station with her and hike a little ways up the hill. I gave her a final round of encouragement. I was worried that she had to cover the next seven miles without a pacer. The others had support, but I knew Debbie was great at navigating the tricky course and she had her wits with her. I gave her a kiss and she kept climbing. I hiked back to the car, drove down the road, and found a spot where I could connect to the Internet. I posted my first social media updates in more than seven hours. I was also able to monitor the live tracking. It hadn’t been updated yet, so I drove back to the house and checked it again. What I saw was that Debbie had grown her lead at the Nature Center to 31 minutes but it was over Yukari. Mele was a further one minute back and then Anna, who was starting to charge, was another two minutes back. The women’s race was turning into a real battle with second, third, and fourth all within four minutes with 20 miles to go.

Shepard had set his alarm, so he was up when I arrived at the house. The sunrise looked to be spectacular. Dahlia was still asleep, but I roused her and asked her to eat some breakfast and prepare for the day. She wanted to do some more volunteer work at Nu’uanu. I knew we had several hours to kill. I washed up and then Shepard and I drove overt to Koko Crater. We were excited and wanted to do a walk. It was a beautiful morning and the famous abandoned railway to the top was jammed with people. We did the up and down hike from a distant parking lot in 51 minutes. We had a spectacular view from the top but couldn’t believe how many people were up there. Between the top and the bottom there had to be 1,000 people.

We drove back to the house and as expected, Dahlia was ready to go. Shepard grabbed his gear and we drove to the Paradise Park Aid Station. We had to park outside and walk 1/2 mile too the station. When we got there he said he wanted to run with his Mom. The original plan was for him to run in with her from Nu’uanu, but he said he was feeling good and wanted to go with her from 12.5 miles out. We checked him in as pacer. Debbie arrived a few minutes later and she was in good spirits, but she knew they were chasing her and she knew Anna was moving up. She left her lights in her drop back, drank some Skratch and cola, and then took off with Shepard. When I was able to get the live tracking, I saw that Mele arrived 33 minutes behind Debbie and Anna was one minute behind her. Yukari had faded, losing a chunk of time. This was shaping up to be a battle between Anna and Mele and the question was whether or not Debbie could hold on.

Dahlia and I walked back to the car and drove to Nu’uanu. This is when things really got interesting. I dropped off Dahlia so she could help the other volunteers. She returned to the kitchen. I parked the car up the road and walked back. The aid station volunteers were starting to pack away some of the items and I pitched in, putting away tiki torches and stuff that was no longer needed. I went down to the stream to see the volunteers who were spotting numbers. I took some photos. I was stoked when Debbie arrived with Shepard. They got to the aid station at 9:17 A.M. She was moving well and Shepard was encouraging her. There was only seven miles to go and the question would be whether or not she had a big enough lead. She had yet to falter or have a really bad patch so again, I figured that if she could get up and over one more big climb, no one would catch her on the descent to the finish at the Nature Center. We had at least an hour before we needed to leave, so we continued to help runners as they arrived. Some of them were on Loop 4 and some of them were on Loop 5.

One runner we were waiting for was our Hawaii’kai housemate, Timmy Glickman. Timmy had a strong first two loops but had struggled on Loop 3. He was due in at Nu’uanu on his Loop 4. Debbie had lapped him, but when he arrived, I gave him lots of encouragement. He DNF’d HURT in 2020 and was determined not to quit this year’s race. The organizers were going to have to pull him before he stopped. He rested a bit at the aid station, but then with a determined expression, he marched down the hill to the stream and kept going.

The other excitement at the aid station came when Anna arrived. She looked great. She had caught Mele and chopped 10 minutes off of Debbie’s lead between Paradise Park and Nu’uanu. Anna had stopped at the aid station but was jumping up and down waiting for her pacer. She clearly had gotten a second wind and was hammering. Mele arrived one minute later and the race was on. She didn’t even stop at the aid station. She crossed the threshold at the station and immediately turned around, beating Anna out. Anna quickly went after her. Mele’s pacer had been waiting for her and ran down the hill too. A few minutes later, she returned saying that Mele was going it alone. The lead was down to 24 minutes. By my math, this was enough but I was still worried. With Anna and Mele doing battle, they could either close the gap further or they could blow each other up. At the 92 mile mark, things were very exciting.

After the race, Shepard told me that Debbie didn’t panic, but that she was definitely flustered. They had passed Anna and Mele and thought the gap was closer to 15 minutes, which you could easily lose in the last two hours of an ultra like this. Dahlia and I helped out a few more runners, and then said our goodbyes to our fellow aid station volunteers. We drove back to the Nature Center for the final time. We parked and walked up to the finish line. It started to get hot, especially in the sun. At this point, it was just a waiting game. I expected Debbie in the next 20 minutes. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we weren’t allowed near the finish line, but they other volunteers promised us that when Debbie finished, we could enter the area to congratulate her and take photos.

I went around the backside of the aid station and walked up the hill so that I could see when Debbie and Shepard were coming. Gaps between runners were big but when one of the men she was chasing, Masazumi Fujioka, arrived, I knew that she was getting close. Less than three minutes later, she came flying down the hill. She looked possessed. I yelled for her, snapped a few photos with my Canon SLR, and handed my iPhone to Shepard. I asked him to shoot some video. She had to navigate the footbridge and then a sidewalk section that got her into the finish area. I ran around to the front and saw her reach the end. There is an awesome sign and then a bell that you are asked to ring, signifying your completion of the race. It was emotional for all of us, but especially Debbie. She leaned her head on the sign and soaked in the adulation. Shepard stood back and watched. Dahlia ran over and hugged her Mom. I stood back and watched as the race volunteers presented her with several amazing gifts, including a lei, a crown of flowers, a wood plaque to hold a bronzed face mask, a fleece, an aloha shirt, sunglasses, a hat, and a belt buckle.

All of this was fantastic, but simply knowing that she had scored a victory on such an iconic course was enough to give her joy. She was amazed with her own performance. She finished in 29 hours, 9 minutes and 10 seconds also good for 7th overall. She beat her goal of breaking 30 hours. Anna was the next woman to show up. She was 21 minutes behind indicating that she had pulled there minutes closer, but it wasn’t enough. Debbie’s lead had been secure. She told me that Shepard had urged her on and that coming down the pipes section in the last three miles that she was taking huge risks. She said she “switched off her pain receptors” and flew down the hill.

Shepard said she was grunting and making noises with every painful step. Mele must have cracked in the final seven miles because she had been gapped by Anna and finished 12 minutes behind Anna after leading her out of the aid station at Nu’uanu. Both of them gave it their all. Anna ran out of trail.

She didn’t run as consistent a race as Debbie, and afterwards said that she struggled earlier in the day, gave up too much time (more than an hour), but stuck with it and eventually turned her race around. She didn’t catch Debbie, but she still had a fantastic result. Mele held off Yukari for third. All of them deserve credit for giving pushing so hard all the way to the finish.

Post-Race

In the end, only 46 runners finished the full 100 miles within the 36 hour cut-off time. 77 runners didn’t finish. That’s not the race’s highest attrition rate in race history, but it is up there. Among the men, the top three were Pete Mortimer (23:59:34) who gave it his all to break 24 hours, Sergio Florian (25:30:16), and Cory Logsdon (26:03:44). It’s worth mentioning 4th because Anthony Lee led the race for a long time. He faded but still had a strong result. As noted, the top women were Debbie (29:09:10), Anna Albrecht (29:30:40), and Mele DeMille (29:42:07). HURT maintains an all-star list of winners. Debbie is not the first Connecticut resident to prove their muster on this course. Our friend, Matt Estes, won the race in 2007 in a then record time of 20:43.

She had quite a January. Her birthday was last Monday (the 10th) and she is the January “calendar girl” in the Breaking Trail Calendar “celebrating trail divas over the age of 40 and the Connecticut trails they traverse.”

The kids wouldn’t be happy if I neglected to say something about our rental car. It was a Nissan Sentra with 25,000 miles on it that definitely had been “driven like a rental” before we got it. It was the butt of many jokes thrroughout the week, but with all paved roads between the aid stations (a very rare occurrence), it was an economical drive that worked fine for our purposes. It made for some interesting zero to 65 merges onto the H-1 freeway, but we survived. Debbie’s skillset honed during 23 years of running on New England trails was ideal for this course. She is good in the heat and shines on technical gnarly trails. HURT’s terrain is likely the toughest she has encountered in a 100 miler and the climbing is immense.

What’s next? Debbie is bound to suffer some adrenal fatigue. A week later, she is walking fine and I bet she starts running easily again by Monday. However, she will have to take it easy given how deep she went. We did some skiing and snowboarding yesterday because the New England weather is cold and snowy. It’s another story but she got into Hardrock again. The race goes clockwise this time, so she is very excited to take it on. She wants to improve on her 2017 time and feel better doing it. I know that she will start planning the Colorado trip with the goal of arriving at least two weeks before the race so that she can properly acclimatize this time. In between now and July, she will be running Mt. Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, and probably another long ultra. I’m not sure if it will be a 100. She is interested in that Connecticut Ultra Traverse. We last did the entire CUT 112 as part of our 2020 New England Trail FKT. I think the CUT is too much too soon to Hardrock, but she will decide. I’m sure there will be an FKT or two mixed in this spring. I’m hoping to join her on an adventure or too. She will have to get her mountain climbing legs back by July.

She has done a few interviews this week. First she joined Ian Golden and Ellie Pell on the Trails Collective Podcast. It’s available in several video and audio formats. Just Google it. This link will take you to the recorded Facebook Live version.

On Friday night, Art Byram and Jimmy McCaffrey interview our entire family for the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast. That was fun. It was cool for Art to involve the kids and get their perspective on the race and on their Mom. Of note is a recent interview with Ellie Pell who recently nabbed a WSER Golden Ticket with a 2nd place finish at Bandera.

It’s hard to put a succinct final HURT 100 summary together. I may need more time and perspective, but the HURT ohana was very special. The volunteers were amazing. The spirit of aloha permeated the race and our entire trip. Hawaii is a special place and the island of Oahu is beautiful. Honolulu is a vibrant city, but its omnipresence didn’t detract from the race because the course was rugged and beautiful in its own right. This trip was about family so the fact that Dahlia, Shepard, and I were deeply involved in helping Debbie to one of her best performances is a special feeling. I’ll leave it at that.

HURT 100 Live Results

HURT 100 Final Race Results

Mt. Ka’ala Sea to Summit to Sea 

Yesterday, I ran/hiked Mt. Ka’ala Sea to Summit to Sea.

It is described on the Fastest Known Time site:

Mt Ka’ala (4,025 feet) is the highest summit on the island of Oahu.  Start at Sea Level (0 ft) elevation at Pōkaʻī Beach (Pōkaʻī Bay Beach Park) run Waianae Valley Rd until you reach Mount Ka’ala Trail which will take you up to the summit of Mt. Kaala. The Mount Ka’ala Trail technically ends at the top when it runs into Mt. Ka’ala Rd, there is a sign on the fence that states end of the trail no trespassing past sign. So this is where the official turnaround for the fkt will be. The true summit (4,025 ft) is a few feet past the sign around the government-owned radio tower, you can probably walk past the trail end sign to the true summit and not get any trouble but proceed at your own risk. To finish the route, from the trail end sign you return the exact same way that you came all the way back down to sea level (0 ft) at Pōkaʻī Bay Beach Park and touch Pōkaʻī Beach.

I wanted to do something fun and hard while we were visiting Oahu and this was the route that made the most sense. It took us a little more than an hour to drive from East Honolulu. The beach was decent with calm water in a small bay, so Debbie and the kids had a place to hang out for four hours.

I read about the route on the FKT site and then further researched it on All Trails. The first (and last) four miles were on the road which was blazing hot, even at 9:00 A.M. I suffered even before the road started to pitch up in mile three. My body wasn’t acclimated to the heat. I felt better on the return leg.

Once the road started to climb, the surface changed to concrete, which was interesting. Unfortunately, there was a lot of garbage along this stretch of road. This included piles of trash, mattresses, old appliances, building materials, and abandoned vehicles. It was a real eyesore.

Eventually the road reached a gate. This is where most hikers start. Without the road run, the hike is half the total distance at 7.1 miles. My round trip ended up being 14.2 miles. Beyond the gate, the road continues for a little ways before turning to dirt and then narrowing into the trail. Once it turns to singletrack, it gets rugged and steep.

The steepness can’t be underestimated. There are long sections of 40% gradient. These sections have ropes (and some cables) that are permanently installed. It was a real shoulder workout. The ropes were in good shape but I always made sure to check and to also have contact with the ground, a tree, or a root to be safe. I didn’t want to put my full weight on a rope, have it break, and go flying. There were some sketchy spots but it was manageable. One thing I read about online that came in handy: I wore gloves. When I packed for the trip, I thorough in a pair of garden gloves. These had little “nubbins” for grip, which protected my hands. If you do this run/hike, gloves are essential.

I saw five other people on the trail. I passed a two-man group on the way up, and then a two women and a man on the way down. The best views were from the flanks of the mountain. The top was a wide table land with a marsh. There were hundreds of bog bridges with chicken wire (for grip) nailed to them. The trail was very overgrown. The top was ugly with the large radio tower installation. Apparently, there is an access road that goes all the way to the top but you can’t walk on it.

I didn’t linger at the summit. It had taken me 2 hours and 10 minutes to get up there. It was faster on the way down. I ran out of water with two miles to go. I wanted to run 7.5 minute miles, but could only manage 8.5 minute miles. By the time I got back to the beach, I was seriously overheated and it took several minutes to recover. Eventually, I joined the kids in the water and that helped cool me down.

This was a great route and a cool experience. The idea of going from sea level to the highest point on the island and back, was neat. If you only want to do the trail section, then you will still be delighted. This is a total body workout and it’s worth the effort. Don’t underestimate he physicality.

2021 Santa’s Run

Today our family returned to the Santa’s Run after a one year layoff because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve returned to a lot of fun races after most were cancelled in 2020. This was my 10th time doing this classic Glastonbury, Connecticut race.

I first did it in 1989, but then didn’t do it again until 2000. Over the last 21 years, I’ve done it eight times. The past few times, we have done its as a family. Today was one of those days. I ran with Dahlia, who had a decent run. She went out a little hard (I was behind her for the first mile) and paid the price, but she hung in there and still scored first in her age group.

Debbie ran the first mile with us before she picked up the pace (or rather held the pace the three of us were on) and also got first in her age group. Shepard blasted the run, going 20:36 for the 3.5 miles, which was good for 8th overall. There were a couple of 17 and under runners in front of him, so he only got third in age group, but he was happy considering that the had a cyclocross race yesterday in Southwick.

Santa’s Run was much smaller this year. The usual festive atmosphere in the Glastonbury High School gym was moved outside and it was different. Thankfully, the weather was fantastic. The temperature was in the low 40’s Fahrenheit, but it felt warmer in the bright sun. The raffle was done outside and there were no awards. It was low key but still fun.

We saw fewer friends, but some were still there. Of course I have to mention Todd Brown who was wearing bib #1 again. He is Mr. Glastonbury. After the race, we stopped at Boston Hill Tree Farm in Andover to get our Christmas Tree. We have a special connection with that place and the owner. She has attended Debbie’s yoga classes for years. That completed another tradition that we missed in 2020 because when we went to get our tree last year, the farm was closed. Santa’s Run and a Christmas Tree run made for a fun Sunday.

Race Results

2021 The Ice Weasels Cometh

I got my mojo back at yesterday’s The Ice Weasels Cometh at The Wick in Southwick, Massachusetts. I had a good ride in the singlespeed (SSCX) division. This version of Ice Weasels was a lot of fun. It was my third time doing the the December Weasels race but it was Shepard’s first. He joined me for the trip. I did the 2018 and 2019 races when it was held in Medfield. The race has been at a half a dozen different venues since its founding.

I’m a six time The Night Weasels Cometh veteran, which is held in October, so I’ve had my share of Weasel shenanigans. Last week’s Bishop’s Orchard race was one to forget, so I was happy to to end the New England season on a positive note. This was a decent ride, but not a great ride. It was good enough for me leading into Nats week. I’m still banged up from various crashes and the long season (this was my 17th race since late August), so a few days of rest will do me some good.

The Wick is a motocross track. We used various parts of it including the wooded sections. One aspect of the course was the deep and sandy ruts left behind by recent dirt bike races. The course was generally fast with one distinct muddy section. The loose sandy dirt and leaves were the main challenge. There was one set of barriers (with the infamous skinny daredevil option) and one large log. Both required me to dismount and run them.

As usual, Ice Weasels had a strong turnout with nearly 400 racers across all of the categories. Shepard did the U19 race that was held in conjunction with the Killer B Men. That was the second largest field of the day behind the combo Singlespeed/Fat Bike race that I did.

The Masters field was also large. Team HORST Sports and the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad had a large turnout for this season finale. The list in addition to Shepard and me: John Meyerle, Tom Ricardi, Cole Ricardi, Paul Nyberg, Alexandra Miller-Davey, Matt Domnarski, Boden Chenail, Brett Chenail, Lars Roti, Tanner Pierce, Andris Skulte, and Wade Summers. Only a handful of us are headed to Chicago for Nats so this winds down the cyclocross season for the rest.

The weather was good. It was cold but dry. I was better prepared than last week with various warm clothes options. I made sure I stayed warm in between Shepard’s race at noon and my race at 3:00 P.M. Last week, I got chilled before my start and never recovered.

I had a race long battle with Masters rivals Anthony Vecca (AV) and Christopher Curven. We traded places at various times. Each of us had a strong section of the course where we were putting that hurt on the others. However, none of us could get away from each other and we stuck together coming into the sprint. Lapped traffic added to the challenge as there were more than 100 riders on the course.

Each of us had to deal with the same circumstances so no one had an advantage. Chris led out the sprint after taking the final fast corner in the lead. It was a funny sprint with only one gear. We came into some lapped traffic right at the line but it didn’t seem to matter. I came around Chris but AV came around both of us. He had the stamina to heckle me as he passed yelling something like “come on old man.”

That’s what I love about AV. He has had the best of me lately but I’ve prevailed in the past. We give each other no quarter. Next weeks SSCX Nats race predictor has us finishing next to each other, so I sense a rematch is in the making. This was a great way to end the New England cyclocross season and I’m already looking forward to next fall and more Weasels fun. In the meantime, I have two Midwest races left to go and then this entire season is a wrap.

One other cool thing that happened yesterday was that Debbie was selected in the Hardrock Endurance Run lottery. I won’t explain the whole story but you can refer back to the 2017 Hardrock report, her first finish of that spectacular event. Only 145 lucky (and talented) athletes get to do Hardrock each year. It will ave been five years since her last run in the San Juan Mountains. The 2017 preview post also has some background on the lottery. Sitting in the van in between our races, I opened Twitter, and discovered the news. She and I both forgot to follow the lottery live (from Colorado), but once the news hit, I called her and she was pumped. 2022 is going to be another big one.

Race Results

2021 Bishop’s Orchard CX

I’ve had an amazingly good cyclocross season, but yesterday was an “off day.” In France, competitive cyclists call it “un jour sans,” which translates, “a day without.” I like the Bishop’s Orchard CX course, but I didn’t like it yesterday.

Six laps around the orchard was six too many for me. I crashed (hard) twice during warmups, was cold, out of synch, and I had dead legs. That’s a bad combination. I even got out sprinted at the finish line with an uncharacteristically poor attempt to pass on the left where there was no room. To avoid crashing into the large four foot wide plastic barriers (pallet cubes), I had to slam on my brakes and skid across the finish line. I shouldn’t even have been sprinting for 12th place, but my ego got in the way and I wanted to fight until the end. That move was symbolic of my race. Nothing went right.

I’ve really had an awesome season. I’ve felt strong in most races. Consistency helped me win the 50+ age group in the CT Series of CX. I might not have put an exclamation point on the series win (with a strong finish yesterday), but I did all of the races and had a lot of fun.

I’ve fallen off my bike more than a few times, but that’s part of the sport. I’ve destroyed some bikes and bike parts, but that’s also part of the sport. My results were even better than expected, so I can’t complain. I heard a great saying recently. It was in a business context, but it is applicable here too.

“There is no winning and losing. There is only winning and learning.”

I plan to recover a bit this week and give it a go at the Ice Weasels Cometh on Saturday afternoon. This will be my 2021 New England cyclocross season finale. If all goes well, it will be a final effort/tune-up before the USA Cyclocross National Championships in Wheaton, IL.

On a positive note, yesterday was a really good day for others on the team. Paul Nyberg nailed down third place in the CT Series of CX with a third place finish in the race. He had a really strong season. Several other Team HORST Masters riders rode well.

The CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad also had some great results. Luke Wilson has had an awesome year in the Junior Boys 9-12 year old age group. He came into the race leading his division and I think he held his spot. Alexandra Miller-Davey’s breakout year continued. She was strongest in the Junior Girls 15-18 age group. She won the race and the series title. Two CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad champs is fantastic. More importantly, these kids have learned to love the bike!

Boden Chenail took his first big win in the Junior Boys 15-18 race and was second overall in the series. Shepard was second in the race, which was a nice result for him. With cross country running taking up most of his time this fall, he has only been able to do four cross races, but he is having fun.

One thing for sure is that we were all cold. Snow fell lightly throughout the day and the temperature hovered around freezing. The course was slippery, slow, and hilly. Normally, I like that, but I suffered more than usual. The folks at Bishop’s Orchard and the volunteers, including a few standouts (Rob Stiles and Jake Kravitz) did an amazing job. This race always has a good vibe. Even though I’ve struggled there, I’ll keep it on the list.

Race Results

2021 Manchester Road Race

I think the highlight of today’s 85th running of the Manchester Road Race was the weather. It started out cool, but with brilliant sunshine, it turned out to be very pleasant which made for an awesome day. After last year’s “virtual” edition, people were stoked to be back running the streets of Manchester. This was my 32nd overall and 27th in a row. I’m going to keep going as long as I can.

The Livingston’s had a fantastic race. Shepard scorched the 4.748 mile course in 28:02, good for 17th in the competitive 15-18 age group. Coming off his freshman cross country season, this was remarkable. That time is one second slower than my 2019 time and only 62 seconds slower than my personal best set in 2009.

I told him we have a showdown coming in 2022 when I’ll be in the 50+ age group for the first time. I plan to train a bit and then run it hard. Of note is that he ran 90 seconds faster as a 15 year old compared with my time at the same age in 1987. I think I have one of the best “data sets” (all in Excel) of any MRR runner.

Debbie beat her time goal and met her place goal by breaking into the top three of her age group (third in 45-49) in 32:58. That’s her first ever podium finish at the MRR. That’s pretty good for an ultra-distance trail runner. She is thrilled with this result and has been putting in some hard work, so it is deserved.

I ran with Dahlia and she might have been the standout Livingston performer of the day, running 35:59 for 6th in her 13 and under age group. She just wrapped up her 7th grade cross country season and will get another shot at a top finish in this age group next year. I loved running with her because she was a star. She got SO many cheers from SO many people. Lots of folks knew her and as the “fastest short person” she got tons of applause from strangers too.

Mrs. Schieffer joined us and she walked the course, which is pretty good given that in the last 18 months, she had double knee replacements. Kudos to her for persevering.

We saw lots of friends including some in costume. The Shenipsit Striders were out in force, and we took our traditional photo at 9:15 A.M. in front of St. James Church.

Since I ran with Dahlia, I was able to take a lot of photos and a few videos. That was neat. It’s rare for me to go slower than race pace, but I’ve done it a few times now, mostly with the kids. It’s a fun non-competitive way to enjoy the race.

HORST Engineering sponsored Veteran’s Row for the fourth consecutive year. The overall race production was a bit smaller than in 2019 and prior years, but that was mostly out of precaution for everyone’s health and safety. There were about 7,400 official finishers, which is quite a bit less than past years. The race accommodates up to 15,000 registrants. Covid-19 isn’t the only factor in the lower numbers. The entry fee has climbed a bit in recent years and there is a lot more competition for other Thanksgiving Day races and events in Connecticut and elsewhere.

The good weather certainly helped runners achieve fast times. The overall performance of the day has to be Weini Kelati’s record setting win. She smashed the previous course record by 62 seconds, which is remarkable. She ran 22:55 and finished 18th overall. Keira D’Amato was second and she also broke the previous course record.

The first place male was Ben Flanagan in 21:23. He bested Leonard Korir by 12 seconds. These were standout performances by some of the top runners in the country. Manchester always attracts a quality field of elite runners.

I’m sad that the MRR is now in the rearview mirror for 2021. As noted, I’m planning to run fast in 2022. It may be a year from now, but it’s a goal worth aiming for because the tradition has to continue.

Race Results

2021 West Hill Shop Cyclocross

Today’s 30th annual West Hill Shop Cyclocross was a memorable one. It might have been the muddiest edition ever. It was my 14th time doing the race since my first time in 1995. That was the first year I did cyclocross. Last week, I was at the 30th Northampton International Cylcocross, which I also did in 1995.

This great photo credit: Todd Miller

West Hill Shop, or “Putney” as we often refer to it, is one of my favorite races of any type that I’ve done in my long endurance sports career. I absolutely love this event. I’ve done it in several eras. I’ve done it as a single person, a married person, and as a Dad. Today, I got to race at the same time as Shepard. He did the Men’s 3/4 category and I did the singlespeed, which started together at 3:15 P.M.

Debbie and Dahlia joined us on the day trip. We left home just before 9:00 A.M. and drove to Brownville to check out our land. Everything was good there. We stopped at the local deli for lunch, ate it in the van, and then drove back south to Putney. We arrived around 1:30 P.M. which gave us time to do a lap of the course and then warmup in town.

After one lap of the course, we had no interest in doing another. It was muddy and wet. There was no reason to gum up our bikes any more than we did on that one loop. This year’s course was a slight variation of that we have used over the last 10 years. With the mud, the pace was slow. I had to get off five times per lap. Once for the double barriers, twice one the hill (run-up), and twice in the upper field section where there were couple of really tight turns in the mud.

I felt better than yesterday (The Governor’s Guard Rodeo), but still had to manage my effort. Especially on a singlespeed, this was a big gear slog. You could only go so fast. I had no chance keeping up with the fast guys at the front. For the first few laps, I was in a second group. I had a few bobbles on the first lap, chalking it up to only one warmup lap, but settled in and pulled away from that group. I had no one to chase and just rode my pace trying to pick better lines each lap. I finished 5th.

Shepard had a good ride and we both had fun. We were cold and muddy (had I mentioned that) afterwards. We packed the worst of our gear in a bin, put on our warm clothes, and drove home. When we got there, we washed our bikes in backyard and then started a heavy load of laundry.

Putney is one of those races that has a great vibe. I hope that never changes.

Race Results (will be posted when available)

2021 The Governor’s Guard Rodeo (Cyclocross)

This is a quick report one The Governor’s Guard Rodeo held at the First Company Governor’s Horse Guards farm in Avon, Connecticut. This was the penultimate race in the CT Series of Cross.

The finale will be in 15 days at Bishop’s Orchard CX in Guilford and I’m looking forward to it. Today’s race wasn’t very eventful. I was underwhelmed with the course and my performance, but I’m still glad that the folks from Cheshire Cycle put on the event.

They also hosted The Governor’s Guard Roundup MTB Race back in the spring. That was the first time we used this venue, so today’s race was the second. My feelings are that the course was unremarkable other than one giant/deep mud puddle, a few other muddy sections, and a nasty wet/muddy sand section that sucked the life out of my legs.

There were several fast sections including a gnarly descent, so overall the pace was a quick one. Despite the fact that my legs were hurting today, I would have preferred a few more dismounts (there was one set of barriers) including at least one stiff run-up. Saturday races can be tough for me. It all depends on the kind of work week that I had. This week, I was lacking some motivation to race.

Tomorrow, I’m racing at the 30th anniversary West Hill Shop Cyclocross in Putney, Vermont, so this is my first and last double weekend of the year. I’m also going to skip racing next weekend to chill a bit as I gear up for the final push towards Nats in Chicago. I don’t want to burn out now. I’m sure that I’ll have fun racing SSCX tomorrow and then a week off from racing will do mme some good.

I had high hopes to get another crack at a win today with the Really Rad Festival of CX drawing away much of the top Masters talent, but I spent too much time falling off of my bike to contend. My first fall came when I was leading Matt Krause and Herb Grignon on lap three. I slid out innocently on some pine needles, but by the time I got back on and sorted out my chain, which had fallen off, they were gone. I never closed the gap and they battled it out for the win while I spent the rest of the race chasing in no-man’s land.

I had another fall in the mud pit. It was getting deeper and looser as the race went on and I hit something in the middle (about hub deep) that through me to the left and straight into a tree. That required a dismount and a long run through the mud, which cost me more time. I had a few other bobbles, so this was hardly a “clean” race.

Alas, I’ve had a great stretch and even in a small field, third place is respectable, but I’ll need a another top placing at Bishop’s if I’m going to hold on to a series podium spot. Kudos to Matt (who won) and Herb (who was second) and the other competitors. I earned a few six-packs for my effort, including a non-alcoholic one, which is what I’m sticking with until after Nats. I feel better and sleep better when I avoid alcohol completely. I’ve hardly had a drink in three years, but if I’m going to imbibe, December is a good time. The weather was spectacular with another mild day. It was cool in the morning, but it was nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit by the time we raced and the sun was shining brightly.

We had another nice turnout from the Team HORST Sports Masters racers and also the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad. Shepard had a Shenipsit Trail hike with his Scout troop, and Debbie took Dahlia to a Scout event with her troop at Devil’s Hopyard State Park, so I was solo today.

I’ll miss these local races after the season winds down, so I’m enjoying the fact that we have a few more to go.

Race Results

2021 Northampton International Cyclocross

Yesterday was the 30th annual Northampton International Cyclocross at beautiful Look Park in Florence, Massachusetts. Next week’s West Hill Shop Cyclocross in Putney, Vermont is also turning 30. These are two of the longest standing CX races in New England. They are also two of the oldest in the country.

NoHo CX took a year off in 2020 because of pandemic, but it was back for 2021 and we had a blast. Kudos to Adam Myerson, the folks at Cycle-Smart, and the Northampton Cycling Club. This year, Shepard and I only raced on Sunday. The event has been two days for many years and we often do the double, but yesterday was the CT Middle School Cross Country Championships, and we were there to support Dahlia (who ran), Debbie (who coached), and the rest of the Bolton Center School team.

That meant I was fresh for today’s race and I’m glad I was because it was competitive and super fast. I’ve done 17 NoHo’s (or predecessor races including the UMASS Cyclocross at Orchard Hill). My first one was in 1995 and it was my third ever cyclocross race. West Hill Shop ended up being my fourth. So, both of these races are special to me. In the last 26 years, I’ve done more than 230 cyclocross races. Now I get to do them with my family. That’s pretty cool. I guess you could say I like cyclocross.

The 50+ field in today’s race was stellar. I think it may have even been stronger than the Gran Prix of Beverly back in September. That was my previous best result in a long time, not counting last week’s win at Cheshire Cross. Winning was fun, but the quality of the riders in today’s race was better, so my fifth place finish is notable.

When crunching the numbers, I can see that I was ranked ninth coming into today’s race and that was confirmed with my call-up. I was the first rider to get a spot on the second row behind the eight riders on the front row. That worked out for me because I was able to choose my lane and opted for second from left close to the barriers. I ended up having a good start and making it around the first big hairpin in sixth place after picking up a few spots in the long straightaway before the first big turn.

I rode a smooth first lap and held my position. It was on lap two that the front group started to breakaway and the field fractured. We also started to hit lapped traffic, which was a factor throughout the race. We were the third field to start in our race. The Category 3 Men (55 of them) started at 10:45 A.M. The 40+ Masters (39 of them) started a minute later, and the 50+ Masters (51 of us) started a minute after that. So, there were nearly 150 guys flying on this course all at once.

I mostly raced with my group, but occasionally we were blocked by slower traffic and had to settle into the paceline while waiting for a good spot to pass. The lower section of the course was faster than ever while the upper section was a bit more technical. The entire race was done at blazing speed. I averaged 14 miles per hour, which is pretty quick for a 46 minute CX race. Contrast that with last week’s hilly, technical, and muddy course in Cheshire where I averaged less than 12 miles per hour.

I think I’ve already said it a few times, but today was fast, really fast! Enough about the speed. I had a blast and I’m happy with the result. The weather was fantastic. It was cold in the morning, but I ended up going with shorts and short sleeves which is great for early November. The sunshine was as good as yesterday. It was brilliant and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Two years ago, it was in the teens (Fahrenheit) at NoHo, so a temperature in the low-50’s is balmy compared to that.

I rode a clean race. I only had to get off and run one twisty and slippery section when I came up on lapped traffic and someone dismounted in front of me. A few guys around me had crashes and that hurt their chances at a top finish as they had to chase back on. Our race was won by Jean-Francois Blais. He also won yesterday. He was pretty far out front. Roger Aspholm was second, Andy August was third, and Vincent Bolt was fourth. I was with Vincent with 1.5 laps to go, but he pulled away. He may have had an incident earlier in the race that set him back, but he flew by me. We encountered a long train of more than 10 lapped riders. He did a better job at working his way past them. By the time I got to the front of the group after nearly a full lap of riding, he was gone.

I was in a strong group that included Bart Lipinski and Christopher Curven, but I pushed incredibly hard on the last lap going through the upper section so I could maintain my position in front before we hit the pavement and the final four winding turns before the finish. I knew I had to be in the front in case we encountered more lapped traffic (which we did). I sprinted against a Category 3 rider in order to keep my speed high and avoid getting passed in the final stretch. I knew I was in the top 10, but was pleased to see the actual result, fifth.

I did a nice cool down on the bike path with teammate Andris Skulte, and then had a lot of fun cheering on Shepard and his CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad mates. This was Shepard’s first cyclocross race since August. His focus over the last 2.5 months has been cross country running, but that wrapped up with the state championships last week. It’s great to have him racing cross with me again, at least for a few more weekends. He had a good race for his first one in a while. His shifting (chain skipping) was acting up, but he hung in there and finished strong and in good spirits.

Team HORST Sports had a great turnout this weekend, with riders in all of the Masters age groups and all of the Junior age groups. There were several other notable performances. The 30th Northampton International Cyclocross was awesome. Debbie, the kids, and I celebrated at Pulse Cafe where we enjoyed another great meal.

Race Results

2021 Cross Country Championship Season

The 2021 Cross Country season has come to a close and we are going to miss it. Yes, there are still some runners competing, but for the Livingston Family, we wrapped things up today at the Connecticut Middle School XC Championships at Wickham Park in Manchester. 

Our household has been totally absorbed in XC since late August. Debbie is the coach of the Bolton Center School (BCS) Girls and Boys teams. Dahlia is a 7th grade member of that middle school team. Shepard is a freshman member of the Bolton High School (BHS) team. I’m a super-fan.

Before this state championship run, we had the NCCC conference championship. For BHS, those were held on the home course back on 21 October. For the BCS crew, their league meet was the NEMSAC conference championships at Lebanon Middle School on 27 October. 

Wickham Park has been the location of the latest stretch of awesome state championship races. Over the past week, more than 4,000 people have run at Wickham, Connecticut’s premier XC destination. Today alone, there were more than 2,500 kids running in the park. 

The first big championship event at the park was the CIAC XC Divisional Championship on Monday 01 November (postponed from Saturday 30 October). BHS coach Paul Smith refers to the “class meet” as his “Christmas.” After season of training his runners all season, building towards a peak, this is the race where he gets to “open his presents.” 

For BHS, this is the the big one and the girls team did awesome in the Class S race. S is the smallest school category, but it is still competitive. The high school championship races are all held on the same 5,000 meter (5K) course. The Bolton girls finished second to Somers, qualifying for the State Open Championship. They were led by Meghan Minicucci, who finished second behind Rachel St. Germain of Somers. All of the Bolton girls ran strongly. They will lose a few seniors to graduation, but should be strong again in 2022. As for Rachel, we’ve seen a lot of her this season because Somers and Bolton are both in the NCCC, and she has dominated every race. This was a good race for the BHS girls and they should be proud of their State Open qualification. 

The BHS boys finished 4th. They didn’t qualify for the State Open, but without any graduating seniors in their top seven runners, there is room for improvement in 2022. Silas Gourley led the team with an 11th place finish. This gained him All-State honors and an individual State Open qualification. 

Shepard finished 19th, falling short of the top-12 goal that would also have qualified him for the State Open. He was disappointed with his time, running a bit slower than the Wickham Park Invitational last month, but less than 10 freshman ran faster than him across all classes, so he has to be pleased with this race and his entire XC season. He and the Bolton boys have a lot to look forward to in the future. 

Yesterday, Debbie picked up Shepard at school so they could meet me at the park to cheer on the Bolton girls and Silas. HORST Engineering is only 1.7 miles from the park, so its easy for me to get there by bike. I love the place and pass through at least four days a week on my bicycle commutes to/from work. 

I always get pumped for the State Open. I’ve been attending most every year for the last 10 years. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. A few years ago I wrote about the 1989 East Catholic Boys XC Team that won the Class MM Championship and finished third in the State Open. That is one of my favorite high school memories as I was a member of the team. I hope that both of my kids experience the State Open during their high school careers. If they keep progressing, they just might. 

Yesterday’s races were amazing. The boys went first. We knew many of the runners, including Silas. He ran his best race of the year in a very competitive field. The battle for the top spot was thrilling with Conard’s Gavin Sherry and Callum Sherry besting Manchester’s Aidan Puffer. They all had fast times. Notable finishers that we know were Luke Anthony (East Lyme) in 6th and Luke Stoeffler (Tolland) in 17th. Both qualified for the New England Championships with their top 25 finishes. That meet is next week in Vermont. 

In the girls race, Bolton hung tough with the big schools that typically shine at the State Open. They finished 16th, which when you think about how many high schools are in Connecticut, is pretty darn good. Again, they were led by Meghan, who set her personal best. The weather was gorgeous, which made for fast running. The course was a bit soft from all the recent rain, but yesterday we had brilliant sunshine and a deep blue sky. She was 9th and was Bolton’s lone qualifier for the New England meet. This result makes her one of BHS’s best ever runners. 

Worth noting is that once again, Rachel St. Germain dominated. She won by more than 40 seconds. This was the performance of the day. Shepard was very inspired after watching the State Open. He joined me last year too. He said his goal is to qualify both with the team and on his own. It will be fun to watch him pour the effort into getting better. 

We were back at Wickham today for the CT Middle School State XC Championships. Debbie took the bus with Dahlia and the rest of the team. I rode to work and then rode back to the park to meet them. Shepard rode over with our friend Chris Duffy, whose kids also attend Bolton schools. 

Right after I arrived at the park, I jumped in the “Mom & Pop” race which is hosted by the Silk City Striders. I jogged it while Shepard raced it. Debbie ran it too along with several friends. Bolton finished second to Fairfield in the competition for most participants. Our goal was to win, but we were close and are hungry for next year! The race was held on the shorter 1.7 mile course. 

This is the biggest race of the year based on total participants. They split the state in two (East and West) and hold A races for each half for boys and girls. The A race is held on a 2.3 mile course. Then they held four more B races on the 1.7 mile course. Some of these races had 400 kids in the field. It was amazing to watch.

Dahlia joined her team in the East A race and they did well. Her friend Clara Toomey was the top BCS finisher. Dahlia followed her. Both were in the top 100, which is actually quite an achievement. They are 7th graders and will get another crack at it next year. Bolton was 11th in the East team results. 

The BCS boys also did well. They were led by Christopher Allinson, who was 54th, a good result. This is the same place Shepard finished in two years ago. Unfortunately, with the Covid-19 cancellation, Shepard didn’t get to beat that result as an 8th grader. Chris will be on the BHS team next year and he has a lot of potential. 

All of Coach Debbie’s runners did well and she has taught them how to love running while become better people. She has given them a lot of confidence and life skills related to exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, strength, and balance. I’m biased, but I’ve observed her methods and they are effective. I know the parents are very appreciative of her coaching and the kids love being on the team. 

In about nine months we will start gearing up for the 2022 season. I’m already getting pumped! 

Race Results

NCCC XC Conference Championship

NEMSAC XC Conference Championship

CIAC XC Divisional Championship

CIAC XC State Open Championship

CT Middle School State XC Championships

2021 Cheshire Cross

After a one year hiatus, Cheshire Cross returned and it was a blast. I wish I had more time to hang out, but I had to leave immediately after my race because of a schedule business trip that started on Sunday afternoon. The weather was gorgeous, though the course was still muddy in spots after the heavy rain that we had yesterday and earlier in the week.

Cheshire has a great vibe, with the centerpiece being Heckle Hill. The fans on the hill were so loud and I loved it. The infamous climb is a feature that is hard and has character. The timing of this year’s race, falling on Halloween, made the fun factor even better. Since I last raced Cheshire in 2019, I was motivated. Being in my new 50+ age group was another exciting aspect of today’s race and I had something to prove after mishap at the start of last week’s Belltown CX.

My crash severely hurt my chances at winning Belltown, which was a course I loved and suited me. The technical and hilly tracks have been a strength of late, so a bounce back race at Cheshire was welcome given how gnarly the Cheshire Park course is. Despite being super-motivated to race today, I was still unsure how things would go because my main geared cyclocross bike is undergoing emergency repairs at Seven Cycles.

Earlier this week, my friends at Bicycles East stripped the Mudhoney PRO frame, boxed it, and I drove it to Seven in Watertown, Massachusetts. The diagnosis was a right side titanium lug pulled away from the carbon fiber seatstay. Seven deemed it an important repair because the carbon tube could have been compromised and failed. I managed to finish the race after the frame was damaged, but that didn’t mean I could do another race or several more races without a failure.

The Mudhoney PRO is my only modern geared cyclocross bike that is worthy of racing. In my basement, I have at least one older bike that I could have used but I wouldn’t feel comfortable on it, whereas my Mudhoney SL singlespeed is identical to the PRO, but without gears. I had no choice but to race that bike today. I thought about switching too the singlespeed category, but figured that if I scored any points in the 50+ age group, it would help my overall standings.

When I arrived at the course and realized that due to the rain, the use of the longer flat sections on the ball fields that were a feature in past Cheshire races was out of the question, my mood improved. The rest of the Cheshire course is hard, technical, twisty, and heavily wooded. Between the woods, the sand, and mud, the course was going to ride slow. That favored me in this situation as I only had one gear and it was a hard one to push, but still not big enough that I would be spun out. Shifting would have been nice, but if there was to be a race where I could get away with one speed, this was it.

I had a much better start this week. I was first call up and got off the line in third place and held that position through the first few turns. I stayed there for the better part of the first lap before moving up to second. Then by the end of the third lap I had taken the lead with a few rival riders trailing behind me. I continued to apply pressure in the uphill sections that were rideable (for me) and also pressured them in the muddy sections.

I had to run most of Heckle Hill because I couldn’t get far without a derailleur. I also had to run both the timber beam and the double barriers since bunny hopping was out of the question (for me). So, I had to get off three times a lap. I don’t think it penalized me because those were slow sections. I was gassed at the top of the big hill, but so were the guys who rode it. By the fourth of six laps, I was stretching out my lead on those tougher sections. When we doubled back, I could see the riders chasing me, but as I caught other riders from the 40+ field (they started a minute in front of us), I knew I was riding well.

I didn’t have any incidents and was able to recover quickly from a few botched turns. Pushing the big gear was hard on my knees. I was able to get heart rate high and keep it high. I nearly covered 10 miles in about 48 minutes so it was a relatively slow course. There was nearly 1,000 feet of climbing, so that was a big factor.

I was thrilled to cross the line first in the age group, notching my first win in a long time. Orchard Cross in New Hampshire drew away some of the Masters competition, but it still felt good to reach a goal. I’m excited for the rest of the season and plan to carry this fitness as far as I can. Team HORST and the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad had a good day. We had riders in all three Masters age groups, 40+, 50+, and 60+. We had riders in all of the Junior age groups as well. We even had a presence in the kids race and women’s race.

I know we have had some good battles with our friendly rivals on the Stage 1 Airline Cycles team. I’m going to need my geared bike back by next weekend at the Northampton International Cyclocross is a very different course with long fast flat sections and hard packed ground. The thick grass and mud at Cheshire Park was quite different. Fingers crossed that everyone working on the fix has good luck…and the parts they need to get the job done.

I’m looking forward to racing my singlespeed again, but just not next weekend.

Kudos to the crew at Cheshire Cycle Race Team and other volunteers who promoted today’s race. The next CT Series of CX race is in two weeks in Avon.

Race Results

2021 Belltown CX

There was a lot going on at Day 2 of the Belltown CX. It was a battle, a competitive battle. I didn’t race on Saturday but I gave it my all today. I wanted a good result in the Masters 50+ race, but it could have been even better. However, there is no way to know. I felt great, but I didn’t get to fight for the win because of a hard crash at the start.

I’m not sure what happened but I had first call up and picked my spot on the front row. It was a crowded front row with too many riders (my opinion) on a narrow piece of land. That’s a subtle complaint. I got into my pedals OK, but was several riders back after 100 feet as we wound up to full speed. The course tape narrowed slightly. Someone in front of me checked up and swerved into my wheel. I don’t know who it was and it doesn’t matter. These things happen.

In an instant, I crashed hard on my left shoulder, hip, and knee. Even the left side of my helmet was muddy, which means it touch the ground, at least for a moment. Then, to make matters worse, at least three other riders crashed into me, falling on top of me. Thankfully this wasn’t on asphalt. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve got a potentially serious problem with my Seven Mudhoney frame. I didn’t find the issue until I was washing my bike six hours after the race, so it’s a non-factor in this report because the bike held up for the subsequent 47 minutes of riding.

I wouldn’t say I was dazed because my head is fine and a didn’t hit it, hard but the feeling was more of being shaken up and frustrated. My heart rate was jacked up as I assessed the damage. My number was partially torn off of the left side of my dirty jersey. My shorts and gloves were also soiled after planting them into the ground. I slowly picked myself up as the the racers who made it through cleanly took off like crazy men. I would have done the same thing if my “friendly rivals” had a mishap and it was to my advantage. Those that crashed with me also got going as I stood up and fiddled with my bike. I had to put the chain back on and also straighten my handlebars, which had turned 45 degrees to the left.

I was the last one to make it off of the initial straightaway before we entered a wooded section. My bike didn’t feel right. I hadn’t even noticed that my saddle was also turned to the left. I had to hop off again, straighten it, remount, and get going, losing more precious time. I did my best to start chasing, but my legs felt like lead for the remainder of the first lap. There has to be some sort of physiological reaction as the adrenaline was pumping. It was probably the flight or fight mechanism. I picked off a few of the back-of the-pack riders as I worked my way through traffic. My first lap ended up being 7:17 while the leader (Steve Sadler) was 6:24 and the eventual winner (Ciaran Mangan) was 6:34. So, I was 53 seconds back.

As I suffered, I ceded another 10 seconds on lap two, completing it in 6:46 while the Ciaran did it in 6:36. I lost six seconds to him on lap three and another five seconds on lap four before I started to settle in and claw back time. On lap five, I started to really motor, working my way through the field and I took back six seconds. I had several teammates and friends cheering for me and that was motivating. It was great to see Arlen Zane Wenzel. He was coaching me as I closed the gaps to the riders in front of me. Special thanks to Laura Becker who was her usual loud self. She has to be my favorite cheerleader! Also thanks to David Hildebrand who gave me some encouraging tips as I was tracking down the riders who were still in front of me. On lap six, I made up another 11 seconds, but on the final lap I gave back two seconds. One can only speculate what would have happened if I hadn’t crashed.

My charge brought me all the way up to third place. Steve continued to stay between Ciaran and the chasers, which included Wade Summers, Jeremy Brazeal, and Richard Nadeau. I was happy to get past all three of them with a half a lap to go and held them off for the third and final podium spot. It was a bittersweet podium because I feel like I could have been up a step or two. This course was made for me. Wade, Jeremy, and Richard had a tight battle for 4th, with Wade taking it three seconds behind me. Jeremy and Richard had a sprint a further three seconds back with Jeremy prevailing.

Steve ended up in second in 47:45, 17 seconds in front of me and Ciaran took the win in 47:12. Congratulations to them. I finished in 48:02, 50 seconds behind first. Again, I can only speculate how the race would have gone had I been able to battle directly with Ciaran rather than chasing the entire race. As they say, “that’s bike racing.”

I loved the course. It was “gnarly” which means technical, hilly, and hard. There were several long hard sand sections. I was able to ride it and even bunny-hop over a wooden step coming up from the beach. Farther up the hill, there was a set of double barriers. There were several steep climbs, and there was one wicked run-up. There were several spectators camped out on the side of the run-up and they were also offering me encouragement every lap as I dug deep. I used my Long Cross Spikes and they were awesome. I was very strong on the hill sections. Other than the crash, and spending some time wrapped in course tape on lap two, the rest of my race was ridden cleanly.

Kudos to the Stage 1 Airline Cycles Team for hosting the event. They always do a great job with their races. Debbie and Dahlia were at a Scout Camporee, so only Shepard joined me, and he didn’t race. He has to save his legs (and not take chances) in advance of next Saturday’s Connecticut State Championship Cross Country meet at Wickham Park. He just had a very good race at the NCCC Championships on Thursday.

Over the course of the two days, Team HORST Sports and the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad had another strong turnout with some great results. I won’t list them all, but we had many podiums. There was some great riding by the team.

I’m nursing some wounds on my leg, arm, shoulder, and back (tire tracks!) and I’m sure that I’ll be stiff in the morning. I’ve also got to resolve this bicycle issue. I’ll be reaching out to our friends at Bicycles East in Glastonbury. They are adept at troubleshooting problems like this. Hopefully, the bike doesn’t have to go back to Seven Cycles, at least not until after the season. I’ll report back! In the meantime, I’ve got a singlespeed “pit bike” and it is on to another CT Series of CX race at Cheshire CX this coming weekend. I’ll be there one way or another.

Race Results

2021 NCCC Cross Country Championships

This year’s NCCC Cross Country Championships at Bolton High School were a smash hit. The late-October weather was spectacular and the running was even better. I saw lots of great performance, lots of perseverance, and lots of smiles.

It was nice for our hometown team to host the event on our challenging 5,000 meter course. The Boy’s Varsity race was at 3:00 P.M. The Girls Varsity & Junior Varsity (combined) followed. The Boy’s Junior Varsity went last. A very nice awards ceremony wrapped up the proceedings as the sun was setting on a lovely afternoon.

The boys race overall team title came down to the “6th man” with Suffield prevailing over Ellington. They were tied with 72 points but the tie breaker was based on the position of the sixth runner for each team, which is proof that every spot matters. Behind those two squads in third, was our team, Bolton. This was a nice improvement for the Bulldogs as they approach their late season peak.

On the individual front, the top three boys were Griffin Mandirola (Suffield), Damian Smith (Ellington), and Jack Dendinger (Canton). Bolton placed three boys in the top 18, which qualified them for All Conference. They were Silas Gourley in 9th, Shepard (Livingston) in 10th, and Mason Fox in 17th. Sam Brudz just missed All Conference, finishing in a strong 20th.

Isaac Swenson, Jack Martin, and Robert Giering rounded out the Bolton team. Shepard was very happy with his race. He was honored for being the top freshman finisher. Even though he has a strong foundation of running and cycling, this has been a big step up to high school varsity. Debbie is the Bolton Center School (middle school) coach so it is neat to see how her athletes have progressed and “graduated” to the high school ranks. With Coach Paul Smith’s guidance, Shepard has set some goals and he is tackling them. He has faced “injury” for the first time in his running “career” but is learning from the process. Practice is 2 hours and 15 minutes a day, six days a week. This includes the running, stretching, strength training, workouts, and other prep. His school work and other commitments have added to the freshman “load.” This season is bringing back great memories from my best year of XC in 1989.

The team is improving just in time for the Class S State Championships a week from tomorrow at Wickham Park. I’m always spouting a famous phrase that my high school coach, Paul Haggerty, used to repeat: “You don’t want to peak until the leaves fall from the trees.”

In the girls race, Bolton finished second behind a strong Somers team. A slim nine points separated the two teams. This was a disappointment, but Somers is formidable and the girls can improve on this result next week at Wickham. Third place went to Suffield.

The top three finishers were Rachel St. Germain (Somers), Emily Bridges (Suffield), and Megan Minicucci (Bolton). The rest of Bolton’s top five girls were also All Conference. They were Anna Carini in 7th, Taylor Michaud in 8th, Nora Carini in 11th, and Sophia Balskus in 18th. Emily DeNunzio narrowly missed in 19th. Lana Houlberg rounded out the top seven.

Bolton’s JV runners also ran well, which bodes well for next year and the year’s to come. As noted, the CIAC Class Meets/State Championships are Saturday 30 October at Wickham Park in Manchester. Bolton is racing in Class S with the boys race at 2:05 P.M. and the girls race at 2:35 P.M.

Race Results

Photos:

Boys Varsity

Girls

Boys JV

Awards 

2021 Keene Pumpkin Cross

Today I returned to the Pumpkin Cross in Surry, New Hampshire. Surry is just outside Keene, where I have fond memories of past bike races. I was last at the Keene Pumpkin Cross in 2015. Prior to that, the last time I raced cyclocross in the Keene area was when Team HORST Sports joined forces with Team Frank to host the Frank-N-Horst Cross at Jonathan Daniels Elementary School. I raced Frank-N-Horst in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004.

We had a lot of cycling friends in the Keene area, which is a lovely community. On the road, I did the Keene Road Race/Optical Ave. Criterium (race weekend) in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2000. Today, we drove by the road race finish line and the Frank-N-Horst course and that brought a smile to my face.

I remember when the road race finished in front of Peerless Insurance. It was a crazy final kilometer as you screamed north on Route 12 after more than 50 miles of racing. You took the Maple Ave. exit on the right, and then at the bottom of the ramp, made a hard 90 degree left turn, went under the overpass for 12, and sprinted 150 meters to the line. When I did the Cat 3 race in 1998, I came through the final corner banging bars with Keith Berger. He accelerated from the scrum to win the bunch sprint in brilliant fashion. I finished 8th.

So, it was good to be back in the Keene area today. Pumpkin Cross was a fantastic race. After an overnight storm with heavy rain, the course was heavy, wet, and gnarly with several mud bogs. I used my mud tires and they came in handy. I did the Men’s 50+ race. We started 30 seconds behind the 40+ men, and the 60+ riders started behind us. I finished 4th, but was hoping for more. If I had one more lap, I would have had a shot at the podium because the third placed rider appeared to be fading and I was closing in.

The race was short and slow at just over 40 minutes and just under 7.5 miles. The conditions were not ideal for speed. I tend to do better on the power courses that are also technical. This race was a slog. There were a few fast sections, but they weren’t sustained. The course was well-designed with a tough asphalt climb, a technical turny section, several challenging off-camber hills that you had to traverse, two sand sections, a set of tall barriers, two logs to dismount and run over, and a gnarly woods section that forced me off the bike twice/lap. That’s a run-on sentence, but that’s what this course felt like!

Some guys rode the woods section, but I didn’t take a chance. I got off twice. Once for the steep downhill onto the wood bridge over the muddy stream, and once again to get around a deepish mud bog at the exit from the woods. So, I was getting off five times per lap. Mike Rowell won our race and he rode all the tough stuff, which was an advantage. I was a bit nervous, so I got off.

Surry Mountain Lake Beach is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers day use facility located on the Ashuelot River and it is beautiful. The leaves were colorful. Debbie and I drove up this morning. Our kids spent a chill weekend with Debbie’s parents. The only other Team HORST rider at the race was Alexandra Miller-Davey. She did the women’s race and did very well. It was fun to watch her ride.

We got to see our old friends, Chris and Kate Northcott and their children. They were on Team Frank back in the day. We had fun catching up with them. It wa also fun to see old teammate Kathryn Kothe. Kudos to the race organizers and volunteers for putting on an awesome grassroots events. After a cool down, we made the drive home, and stopped at India House in Northampton. It was neat to learn from one of the owners that they are a 38 year-old family business. Earlier this week, HORST Engineering celebrated 75 years in business.

When I got home, I cleaned my bikes so that they are ready for next week’s Belltown Cross in East Haddam, Connecticut.

Race Results (2021 Pumpkin Cross)

Race Results (1999 Frank-N-Horst Cyclocross)

Photo Credits: Debbie Livingston took the shots of Alex and me.

The State of Manufacturing 2021

My emotions have been running high during this 75th anniversary year at HORST Engineering. It’s been a year of reflection as we struggle to overcome the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. Despite the stress of the situation, I’ve remained incredibly optimistic about our business and the future of manufacturing in Connecticut. Immense pride drives us to persevere through one of the best times, and one of the worst times in our history. Over the last five years, there has been renewed interest in supporting local manufacturers, but some momentum has been lost during the pandemic. So, at the start of Manufacturing Month, it is important that I share the message that we need policy makers and other advocates to redouble their efforts so that manufacturers recover from the pandemic slowdown, and thrive again.

Growing up around this family business, I never thought that I would be leading our company towards a diamond anniversary. In 1996 when we celebrated our 50th, I organized a modest celebration, but as business careers go, I was just a rookie with a lot to learn. I was less than a year into my “full time” career when we hit that milestone, and I had no idea what I was in for. We were slowly clawing back from that awful early 1990’s recession that changed the aerospace manufacturing economy forever. The fall of the Berlin Wall, and end of the Cold War triggered a massive wave of downsizing and consolidation among the big defense manufacturers. The large customers made a strategic shift to outsource most of their part production. 

The aerospace manufacturing supply chain is made of thousands of small businesses. Those that hung in there were poised for growth. 

Long lead times and deep backlogs are the main reason why aerospace and other advanced manufacturing businesses are often last into a recession. It also means they usually are the last out. When I started my career at HORST Engineering, we were hurting. Thankfully, we stabilized and started to make a series of investments that set us on the right path. Over the last 25 years, our growth has come in cycles. As the military aerospace sector struggled to adjust, the commercial aerospace sector was beginning to take off. That’s right around the time that the world started to “get flat.” As the global economy recovered, and low cost airlines emerged, air travel became more affordable and a travel boom ensued. 

Those that innovated, embraced the use of computer technology, and leveraged the beginning of the Internet era, made the leap from old-school manufacturing to advanced manufacturing. Our company could no longer compete in the wide ranging markets (i.e. typewriter components, hardware, machines, etc.) that we had supplied parts to in the past, but with aerospace and a few other high technology industries, we were able to reconfigure our enterprise to do the high mix/low volume, precision products that are critical to Connecticut’s success. 

The cycles continued and our business rode the waves. Growth was interrupted in September 2001 when the terrorist attacks on 9/11 dealt another blow to the aerospace industry. In the period that followed, passenger air travel struggled to recover, while defense industries returned to the fore. We adjusted our approach and persevered; a common theme in our history.  Security became paramount and with the necessary changes that were implemented, commercial aviation soared again. 

In 2008, it took a global financial crisis and a Great Recession to stop the growth. At HORST Engineering, we didn’t bottom out until 2010, and then it took several years to recover from the economic meltdown. Another period of intense innovation, technology investment, and renewed interest in American manufacturing followed. The high cost of energy drove new aircraft programs geared towards fuel efficiency and improved reliability. 

As a supplier, if you kept pace, you were rewarded with more business even as high precision work went offshore. Our family business has never made “cheap crap” and we never will. Our Core Purpose is to “help people fly safely” and whether that is taken literally when we make critical “flight safety” fasteners for jet engines or metaphorically when we do similarly close tolerance work for our non-aerospace customers. 

One of the special aspects of aerospace technology is the trickle-down effect. Aerospace is literally “rocket science” and the knowledge gained benefits so many other industries. HORST Engineering’s capabilities have been honed by our aerospace work. We are also part of a network of suppliers. That ecosystem is vital to the success of manufacturing in Connecticut and throughout New England. We have one of the highest concentrations of high tech suppliers in the world. Within a short distance, we can reach other suppliers who specialize in heat treatment, coatings, testing, and other special processes. We count on them, and they count on us. Some of our longstanding suppliers have done business with us for more than 60 years. These connections are what make our supply chain so deep, and so amazing. 

When you measure success in financial terms, we had a heck of a run between 2013 and the first quarter of 2020. Over the years, we have tried a lot of different things in an effort to grow and diversify. This has included prior expansions and acquisitions. 2019 was a “banner year” and we reminded everyone on Team HORST what that looks like. After sharing the success, we launched our biggest project in company history with the acquisition of a large, but blighted building in our “hometown” of East Hartford. We knew that the aerospace super-cycle was getting old but we had prepared for a downturn. 

On the commercial side of our industry, a duopoly exists and one of the two companies at the top was really struggling. So, when 2020 kicked off, we were literally bracing ourselves for what might come. The good news is that we had built a strong balance sheet and our past history of reinvestment gave us the protection that we thought we needed to ride out another down cycle period while still executing a construction project and move. 

This has been quite a downturn. When we built our 2020 business plan, “pandemic” wasn’t one of the threats that we listed. I am proud that we were quick to react, even quicker than most companies. Our first Covid-19 Task Force meeting was on March 16th, 2020. I was following the news coming out of Asia and was aware that the Covid-19 virus was cause for concern, but how could you predict how bad this would be? Throughout 2020, we worked very hard to keep our people safe. We were an essential business and as a manufacturer, we had a built in advantage because “safety” is part of our everyday habits. 

Things got worse as the year progressed. The speed of the downturn was quicker than past cycles and even as businesses that are part of the “stay-at-home” economy have flourished, the transportation and hospitality sectors have languished. We aren’t guessing when permanent improvements will kick in, but we are optimistic that we will grow again. In the meantime, we completed our renovation, executed a huge move, made a difficult decision to consolidate our Massachusetts operations, and increased our focus on lean enterprise. You don’t get opportunities like this too many times in your career. I’ve been saying that we are a “75 year-old startup.” We have the benefit of an incredible legacy and we are now in a state-of-the-art factory. 

Committing to an expansion plan in East Hartford, Connecticut in the midst of the doldrums is a bold endeavor, but we are making it through and poised for an upturn. Many have questioned why we would pour so much money into a project in a high cost location. I wondered too, but when I did the deep thinking required before initiating the investment, I determined that advanced manufacturing was here to stay. Connecticut has a lot of issues, and in my younger idealist days, I thought that I could single-handedly change the politics, the negative vibe, and the economy. 

I’ve wizened and realized that there is less in my control, but that I can still make a difference. We took a 50 year-old dilapidated building and transformed it. It’s incredible. Over the last two and a half years, we have gotten much-appreciated support from our town and the state. Even the federal government stepped up and we have used the contributed resources as intended. The combination of outside support with our own savings were vital to the success of this project.

Our employees, suppliers, advisors, and customers all had to deal with the same circumstances. We are getting through this and now that we are operating from our new factory, we are even more excited about the future. The technical schools are also regaining their footing. After some setbacks, Goodwin University, Asnuntuck Community College, Manchester Community College, and the other institutions who help train the next generation of talented manufacturing workers, are making progress again. Skills have always been a competitive advantage for the people of Connecticut. Job growth will return, and wages will grow. 

Productivity will offset inflation while improving quality. For many years, I spoke loudly about how “high tech” manufacturing was, and is. I argued that technology wasn’t video games and apps, but that technology was a rocket engine and a space suit. I always pointed out that HORST Engineering had parts on these life-changing products. I described manufacturing as clean and advanced even as our own factory was a step behind the standard that I desired. I envisioned a “dream factory” that would be the culmination of teamwork and success. 

As I walk across our new factory floor, one that you “can eat off” (just not in Covid times!), I recognize how far we have come. My grandfather, Horst Liebenstein, fled Germany in 1938, and that gives me a unique perspective. He immigrated at Ellis Island, he Americanized his name to Harry Livingston, and eventually made his way to Hartford, a thriving industrial center. He met his spouse, Sylvia, and they started a family. They then founded our company in the North End on Garden Street, just over a mile from the Connecticut River. The entire Connecticut River Valley is a corridor of manufacturing prowess. The Aerospace Component Manufacturers refer to it as “Aerospace Alley.” 

I grew up in this business with my father Stanley, Uncle Steven, and mother Adeline as mentors and guides. They took risks before me and added to the foundation that my grandfather built. With the help of many key employees, we have capitalized on the head start that our predecessors gave us. I have no idea what the future will bring, but we will be ready. As noted, we have gotten good support from many, including the State of Connecticut, but policy makers need to know that more should be done. Retirements and competition will require more investment in programs to develop manufacturing skills. My hope is that a reckoning in higher education will redirect more people to skills oriented programs that won’t leave them indebted and unhappy in their jobs. 

Doing business here doesn’t have to cost so much. Policy makers still need to moderate regulations and ease up on taxes. I’m worried about health care costs and about the impact of the pandemic on business travel. I’m worried about a lot of things, but we stayed in Connecticut, we are investing, and are diversifying here.

I want our story to inject a bit of joy. East Hartford, Connecticut, and New England may not reclaim past industrial glory, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be better. Lean enterprise is all about respect for people and continuous improvement. Manufacturers understand that more than most businesses.  Let’s build on that theme. I probably won’t be around in 75 years, but my kids should be. By then, they will have kids and grandkids of their own. One of the benefits of being the steward of a family business is that you are guaranteed to have a long-term mindset. 

You look back, and then you look ahead.


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Well that was pretty incredible. Congrats to @trailrunningmom Congrats to ALL the participants whether they finished or not. Mahalo to ALL of the volunteers. More will be written about this ohana when we get home.
@trailrunningmom was holding steady as she departed Nu’uanu for the last time at 92.5 miles. Shepard is having fun but it’s all business now. There is a pitched battle for second place and if they keep pushing, it’s a threat to Debbie’s lead. I’m doing the mental math and she has to keep pushing too. Anna and Mele left the aid station together and are throwing down.
I said I would only post two more times, but I’m posting three. A big shout out to fellow New Englander, our “adopted” runner and Hawaii “housemate” Tim Glickman. I’m pulling for him to persevere. He came through lap four at Nu’uanu at 72.5 miles and was hurting but we agreed he would NOT quit. They will have to make him stop. I told him to just keep moving forward.
We made it to Paradise Park Aid Station (Manoa) just in time to catch @trailrunningmom at mile 87 (or so). Shepard is on pacing duty now and he decided to go from here rather than Nu’uanu. That’s cool. She is up to 7th overall which is also pretty cool. She hasn’t faltered yet and we don’t expect her to. I’ll post after Nu’uanu and then at the finish…and then I’m done!
@trailrunningmom is on the final lap (five) now and back on her own. This images are from our overnight “date.” We ran to Manoa and then to Nu’uanu and then back to the Nature Center. She is hanging tough, just like the sign says. I’ll meet back up with the kids and track down their Mom again soon.
It’s been seven hours since the last report. I joined @trailrunningmom for lap four/the graveyard shift. This sequence includes her return to the Nature Center after lap three and then our trek to Manoa. She is running so well on this gnarly course.
Evening at Pu’una Aid Station. @trailrunningmom is holding on to the lead but Mele DeMille is looking strong and she is chipping away at the gap bit by bit. She was eight minutes behind Debbie coming into 52.5 and picked up a little time with a quick-turn. When Debbie hits the Nature Center at 60, she will have two laps then go.
More afternoon scenes from Nu’uanu Aid Station, including leader Anthony Lee. He was flying. We saw him twice in six hours. He lapped…a lot of folks!
The kids and I did the noon to six volunteer shift at Nu’uanu Aid Station while @trailrunningmom was doing what she loves to do. There was no cell reception so I’m finally sharing highlights from Lap 2. Timmy wasn’t far behind.

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