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Natchaug Trail End-to-End Run

This morning, Debbie and I did a hard effort on the Natchaug Trail, running it end-to-end from the southern terminus at Goodwin State Forest to the northern terminus at the Nipmuck Trail junction. Then we rode back to our car on our bikes.

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Here is an excerpt from the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s description of the trail:

The Natchaug Trail traverses the James L. Goodwin and Natchaug State Forests. Together with the Nipmuck State Forest, Yale Forest and several large private tracts, they combine to form one of the largest areas of contiguous forest in southern New England supporting a large variety of wildlife.

The trail follows a short portion of the beautiful Still River and journeys along Bigelow Brook. Meandering over relatively easy terrain, it crosses several small brooks, passes stone walls, and slips through interesting stands of trees. State foresters actively manage these forests for wildlife and timber production and the trail traverses a diverse and interesting tree mix ranging from 2 to well over 100 years old.

There are opportunities to catch sight of a variety of wildlife including turtles, beavers, and many birds along the streams and in the areas around Pine Acres Pond, Black Spruce, and Beaverdam Marshes. Active forest management has produced a variety of young, early-succession forest habitats which abound with diverse species of birds and other wildlife.

History is abundant along the trail as it passes near old CCC Camp Fernow (1933-42) and through General Nathaniel Lyon Memorial Park (first General to be killed in the Civil War). A short northern section also coincides with the Old Connecticut Path traveled in the 1630s by settlers (driving over 100 cattle) from the Boston area to the Hartford area in one of the first major inland migrations of America by European settlers.

The Natchaug Trail joins the Nipmuck Trail in Ashford and hikers can continue exploring north to Bigelow Hollow State Park and the CT/MA state line or south to Mansfield Hollow State Park.

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The Connecticut Walk Book lists it at 17.6 miles and it goes through the towns of Hampton, Eastford, and Ashford. Our GPS’ measured it a little short at about 16.9 miles with about 2,100 feet of elevation gain. Two weeks ago, Debbie and I did a thru-run of the Nipmuck Trail. The Natchaug is the Nipmuck’s shorter sister. Both trails are maintained by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski and we thank him for it. The blazes, markers, and signage were excellent. So were the many bridges. There is still some blowdown, but some of that may be fresh from the nor’easter that blew through at the start of the weekend. We got a dusting of snow on Saturday morning that melted, and then Sunday evening snow squalls left another coating in shady spots this morning.

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We got started early. We were at the Goodwin State Forest parking area by 6:15 A.M. It’s a 30 minute drive from the house. With no races on the schedule, we have delved into the FKT world. Yesterday, I wrote about that interesting community of adventurers in a blog post. We planned this run/bike over the last couple of days. We have to score a few more FKT’s in Connecticut before Ben Nephew (who currently leads the FKT rankingswith 58) gets out of quarantine and drives south. Once he does, it will be hard to stay at the top of the leaderboard. He will crush all the established times. The good news is that from messages I’ve exchanged with him, he is planning to attack some of these routes and bring even more positive notoriety to our great trail system.

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To make this morning’s logistics more manageable, we drove to Iron Mine Road late on Saturday and took the kids on a Nipmuck Trail hike to Ladie’s Room Rock and Pixie Falls. At the start of our hike, we stashed our bicycles just off of the trail, which is about 1.3 miles from the Nipmuck/Natchaug junction. Our normal technique for these run/bike adventures is to find a good sized tree (out of view from the trail) and lock the bikes around the tree and together. We stash a waterproof bag with our cycling shoes, helmets,  a larger pack (for me to stuff all the running gear), and anything else that we need for the ride.

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It was a lovely hike and Pixie Falls was a real treat. The kids loved it. We opted to return home for dinner rather than doing take out. That meant we got to bed at a normal time, and were well rested for the early wake-up this morning. Everything was packed, so we just needed to fuel up and make the drive to Hampton.

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Debbie and I ran the Nipmuck together, but since the Natchaug is shorter, we opted to go our own pace. At a shorter distance, I’m quicker…most of the time. That was true today and I finished in 2:39:59. She finished in 2:59:48. I waited for her at the terminus since it is in the middle of the woods. She had her own cheering section as she completed the point to point route.

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Prior to today, records show that Dan Bates had the first and fastest official time on 04/20/2020. He ran 2:46:33, which is excellent considering it was part of a larger 45 mile loop that he made with the Air Line Trail, the Natchaug Trail, and the southern section of the Nipmuck Trail (East Branch). That looks like a fun loop that we want to do.

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This was our first extensive time on the trail. She has run sections that are part of the Goodwin Forest Trail Run, and I’ve been on the Air Line Trail, which overlaps for a short section at the start. The first five miles were pretty flat and kind of ugly, but the trail conditions improved. These state forests have been heavily logged. Once we got to the five mile mark, the climbing started and it was up and down the rest of the way. That’s typical for a Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail.

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The other typical feature was that the terrain was rough. There were copious rocks and roots. Debbie describes the rockiest sections as “rock gardens.” I’m not the best on the hard stuff, but I stayed on my feet. My only fall came on the final uphill with a quarter mile to go. I slipped and ended up in the leaves.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the trail. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail. I only saw one hiker on the entire trail. Granted, we started early, but from what I gather, the Natchaug is a gem that doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic beyond the state forests that it passes through. It wound through various marshes and there were many beautiful streams. We also went past some lovely old foundations and chimneys. This is an historic area and you can tell that there was civilization in those woods back in the day. The old logging and forest roads were fast and they linked up with the technical singletrack sections. There were a few short road sections and those were good for making up time and stretching out the legs.

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As noted, it was cold enough for snow. In the morning, it was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was chilly. It warmed up into the mid-40’s. We finished around 9:30 A.M. and we jogged the 1.3 miles south on the Nipmuck to get to our bikes. We packed some dry layers and had to bundle up as it was a cold and blustery ride with intermittent sunshine. We took a scenic route that meandered through the lovely Natchaug towns that are at the edge of Connecticut’s Quiet Corner. I love riding up that way.

We were back at the car by 11:20 A.M. and home by noon. The kids were pumped to see us and after lunch, we celebrated by playing some basketball. The Livingston’s are gifted ballers with great height and we’ve got game!

Fastest Known Time (FKT)

This morning, I went for a little ruck on our neighborhood trail, the Clark Trail, and listened to the latest Fastest Known Podcast episode (#86) featuring Connecticut native Sarah Connor. It was fantastic to hear a Connecticut runner interviewed on a podcast that is produced in Boulder, CO. I think there is a west coast bias when it comes to trail running and outdoor adventure, and I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the west vs. east debate, but this is sport, and it’s all in good fun. CO may not be on the coast, but it’s part of the mountain west that gets much attention relative to our part of the country here in New England.

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Sarah made FKT news for her surge of activity in April. In recent years, she discovered the FKT concept and community. At the moment, the FKT leaderboard lists her with 17.  All of them were at least partially in Connecticut. Her interview with podcast host Buzz Burrell focused on Connecticut as a hotbed for FKT’s. He was quite surprised that our little state had so much activity.

She explained her background and perspective on why there has been more interest. With the pandemic and race cancellations, many runners, like Sarah, have come into the season raring to go but with nowhere to run. The FKT phenomenon has taken off here in Southern New England, but is not foreign to many of us in the region. Many of us have been adventuring for years, but without formally documenting the efforts or capturing the details as the guidelines set forth. There has to be many folks who don’t even care to document their adventures, but for those of us interested in a little competition, FKT’s serve a purpose. The FKT leaderboard is currently topped by Ben Nephew, from nearby Massachusetts, who has traveled a similar trajectory as Debbie. He started running short and mid-distance races (including many in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series), continued with mountain running, delved into ultras, and is now focusing on FKT’s. Even Ben has done quite a bit of running in Connecticut over the years.

I figured a blog post would be a good companion to Sarah’s podcast interview and would shed more light on why Connecticut is a perfect place for FKT activity to thrive. Debbie and I have been running the trails of Connecticut for more than 20 years. One important reason why FKT’s are growing in our state is simply because the trails exist. Another is because the recent attention and social media are spurring others to discover the FKT format.

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Many of Sarah’s FKT’s were on Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails that were established and are maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. I have been on CFPA’s Board of Directors since 2008. This is my 12th and final year, as I have served the maximum three full terms. I’m recruiting others to take my place so that they can help move our wonderful organization forward even more. CFPA describes itself this way:

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people to the land in order to protect forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces in Connecticut for future generations.

With a Staff of experienced conservation professionals and a Board of Directors who strongly support CFPA’s mission and values, CFPA delivers programs on Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsEnvironmental EducationLand Conservation, and Public Policy.

CFPA is on the cusp of launching our next three to five year strategic plan. What is remarkable is the organization was founded in 1895 and was the first private, nonprofit, conservation organization to be established in Connecticut. CFPA is one of the oldest and most respected conservation organizations in the country and has inspired the land trust movement in Connecticut and beyond. It is important to note that CFPA is a creation of the descendants of Connecticut’s settlers 17th century settlers, but the Native Americans were exploring the landscape long before Europeans arrived. It is fitting that many of our trails are named after Native American tribe names and other words.

In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The 19.2 mile Quinnipiac Trail extending from Prospect to Hamden was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system. Debbie grew up in Prospect and her first true introduction to trail running was on the Quinnipiac. She would frequently run it to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back.

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One thing I’m proud of during my time on the board is that CFPA has embraced the trail running community, and the trail running community has embraced CFPA. The BBHT’s are one of the best and most extensive systems of “close-to-home” trails anywhere in the country. It’s no surprise that Connecticut leads the nation in National Trails Day events. Every year, I write about Trails Day and the impact it has had on our state. Last year, Connecticut had more than 200 official events. That’s a lot for a small state, but many of the same reasons for this high level of activity are what also drive the growth of FKT’s.

I could delve deeper into the history of CFPA and the BBHT’s, but two references do a fantastic job of this. Check out George McLean Milne’s Connecticut Woodlands: A Century’s Story of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and the Connecticut Walk Book: The Complete Guide to Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsI’ve consulted these books many times over the last 20 years. Milne’s book is from 1995, and out of print, but you can find copies online. The “Walk Book” was first published in 1937 and the 20th edition was published in 2017.

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The 825 miles of trails in the system, and all of the spur trails, park trails, town trails, land trust, and other trails make Connecticut a state with more trails per-capita than any other state in the nation. I don’t have the specific facts to back this assertion, but I have heard this stated several times, and it is likely true. There are 3.5 million residents and 5,567 square miles. We are the third smallest state (land area) behind Rhode Island and Delaware. There are a lot of trails, and they are literally right out our front doors. Furthermore, these are not federal trails, but rather state and local trails. They are on rugged, rooted, and rocky terrain, and all at low elevations. They were designed for walking and hiking, but these factors make them perfect for running too.

As members of the New England and Connecticut trail running community, Debbie and I have witnessed the amazing growth of trail running, ultra running, and now FKT’s. Admittedly, we hadn’t paid much attention to the formal FKT process. We knew that there was an active message board community that emerged during the early Internet era, but we didn’t officially pay attention until Debbie uploaded one to the modern website after her 2018 Mohawk/AT Loop adventure. We’ve been doing FKT style runs since the early 2000’s. Others were doing them long before us. Many of ours came during the years that we were focused on climbing the 67 New England 4,000 footers.

Most were before GPS technology and we don’t have good records of our times, but we frequently pushed it on these routes. In 2008, along with our friend Matt Schomburg, we were the first to do the entire Grafton Notch Loop in Maine. When my blog post of the trip inspired Ryan Welts and Adam Wilcox to run it in 2014, they mentioned us as inspiration, which is pretty cool. That was likely the first time I heard the abbreviation FKT. We have subsequently done other epic routes in White Mountains of New Hampshire/Maine, and Green Mountains of Vermont. Our White Mountain Hut Traverses in 2011 and 2013 were notable adventures. This route dates back long before the Internet and was established by Hut Croos from the Appalachian Mountain Club. Speed hiking was a thing decades ago as these Croos developed massive strength during their time spent in the Huts. They very well may have been early pioneers of the trail running, mountain running, and FKT movements.

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In the podcast, Sarah mentioned the CT Trail Mixers running club. By historical standards, they are a relatively new group. The longest standing trail running club in Connecticut is the Shenipsit Striders, founded in 1975. There is a lot of history on my blog about the Striders. Debbie joined the club in 1999, was the president for many years, and after 15 years, in 2019 she retired as the Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. Our club promotes the two oldest trail races in New England, the NipMuck Trail Marathon (36 years), and the aforementioned Soapstone (35 years).

Both are part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series, which has 12 events in any given year. These stats demonstrate the growth and popularity of this series. In 2019, a cumulative ~20,000 miles were run during the series, with 780 individual men runners and 511 individual women runners. The most finishers by race were the HMF Events (Hartford Marathon Foundation) Summer Solstice 5 Miler with 195, the Shenipsit Striders Events Nipmuck South with 153, the Shenipsit Striders Events Soapstone Mountain Trail Race 14 Miler with 123, and the Connecticut Traprock 17K & 50K Ultramarathon Traprock 17k with 120. Overall, the Solstice 5K/5M combo had 295 finishers, the Soapstone 6K/14M combo had 226, and the Traprok 17K/50K combo had 200. These are big numbers for a small state. 

So, with all of 2020’s races canceled for now, there is a huge void. Many people are filling that void with FKT’s. Over the last 90 years, many people have hiked all or many of the BBHT’s, but now folks are running them too, and in droves. Now, this may sound like the trails are crowded, but that’s not the case. Sarah pointed out how she can run for hours without seeing anyone. Some popular trails are busy but many of these trails are little known and quiet. That factor has also contributed to the surge in FKT activity as runners seek new places to go. Connecticut is a tiny state, but there are trails everywhere.

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We have the dedicated trail maintainers led by CFPA’s Trails Committee to thank for making sure we have access to these trails and assuring that these trails are open to all residents. CFPA itself is an under-recognized nonprofit organization that deserves more respect and increased membership. Though the Connecticut DEEP has a long history, we can no longer count on the government to maintain our parks and trails. With a staff of about 10 that is augmented by hundreds of volunteers, the nonprofit CFPA is based in Rockfall, and works tirelessly to protect the landscape of Connecticut. That landscape includes our own 825 miles of trails (crossing private and public lands) and many state parks.

I’m biased, but Connecticut has the best trails in the world. Debbie and I have hiked and run all over the world and our trail network and trail community are the best. I’m torn because I want to shout this from the hilltops while also keeping this secret to ourselves. From time to time, a journalist or trail advocate will pick up on the fact that Connecticut’s trails are extraordinary, but then people soon forget. The glossy running magazines spend little time featuring New England trails. Whenever you see a “best of” or “top 10” list, there is frequently a token New England trail or trail town thrown in for good measure. It isn’t new for me to point this out. In 2013, Meghan Hicks wrote a story for Trailer Runner magazine. Somehow she reached Debbie and me and we nominated Manchester, Connecticut as a top trail town. It was great to be chosen and we touted many of the great facts described throughout this blog post. Typically when east coast or northeast trails are cited for excellence, they are in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Other accolades are given to trails in Maine or Vermont, where you can get above treeline. However, some of the best trails are those closest to home. So, during a pandemic, when you have to stay home or at least close to home, the local trails are the best trails.

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In addition to CFPA, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a strong presence in Connecticut. I am also on AMC’s Board of Directors. I’m at the start of my third two-year term so my love of AMC is strong. AMC is much larger than CFPA, has a regional mission, and is also a pioneering nonprofit. We were founded in 1876. AMC’s website describes our mission well:

Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. We believe these resources have intrinsic worth and also provide recreational opportunities, spiritual renewal, and ecological and economic health for the region. Because successful conservation depends on active engagement with the outdoors, we encourage people to experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural world.

Like CFPA, it’s younger sibling, AMC does substantial work advocating for and maintaining trails throughout New England. In addition to managing the White Mountain Huts, AMC was instrumental in the creation of the  Appalachian Trail Conservancy, another key nonprofit in the trails movement. The ATC oversees the entire Appalachian Trail. The AT goes through 14 states including 51 miles in Connecticut.  That’s important to note. The AT is iconic, and even though it is a short stretch, it highlights Connecticut’s status as a state with awesome trail resources and an even better trail culture.

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So, all of this info and history supports what Sarah described during her interview. She may not have known all of this background, but she can read it here and will likely be even more proud of her heritage as a Connecticut trail runner. Debbie and I have been inspired by so many legendary New England trail runners over the last 20+ years. Each of us have done hundreds of races.  We had a full slate of ultras planned for this spring and summer including Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, Run Ragged, and the Bighorn Trail Run. We were going to use many shorter races in our training. With all of our events cancelled, we have also turned to FKT’s for fun and adventure. We have uploaded a few past routes where we were able to scrape together the necessary documentation, and we have done a few new ones. One example is our Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run.

With all of the event cancellations, I haven’t had as many stories to write about on this blog. I’ve been flat out at work trying to keep things going there and not writing as much, but sharing this post makes we quite happy. Chances are we will try another FKT tomorrow.

Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run

I missed blogging, so I did an adventure to have something cool to write about. Today Debbie and I ran the entire Nipmuck Trail from the southern terminus of the East Branch to the northern terminus. The run was just over 35 miles with a little under 5,000 feet of elevation gain and our total time was 7 hours 25 minutes and 29 seconds. Our Connecticut Walk Book says the distance is 36.3 miles but my Garmin GPS track measured it shorter. Since much of the trail is on private land, it changes from time to time and the distances can vary year to year.

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The southern terminus of the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park. The West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield, but there is no way to combine a run of the full trail including both branches, without backtracking.

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.33.20 PMWe desired one continuous point to point run, so we chose to use the slightly longer East Branch since we recently hiked (with the kids) on the West Branch and wanted to see something new. The northern terminus is at the top of Bigelow Hollow State Park next to Breakneck Pond and on the Massachusetts state line.

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The Nipmuck is part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s 825 miles of Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history.

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The CFPA’s official description of the trail is worth sharing:

The Nipmuck Trail extends from Mansfield north to the Massachusetts border. It is shaped roughly like an upside-down fork and has two southern branches: the West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield; the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park in North Windham. The northern terminus of the Nipmuck Trail is in the beautiful Bigelow Hollow State Park.

The trail crosses through a number of recreation and conservation areas including Mansfield Hollow State Park, the Natchaug and Nipmuck State Forests, Schoolhouse Brook Park, the Yale Forest, Bigelow Hollow State Park, and other lands owned by towns and land conservation trusts, most notably Joshua’s Trust. Highlights on the trail include Wolf Rock (an enormous glacial erratic), lookout over Mansfield Hollow Lake, 50’ Cliff, Pixie Falls, Ladies Room Rock, Coye Hill (highest point on the Nipmuck Trail), and the Fenton and Mount Hope rivers. The Nipmuck Trail crosses open field, follows along ridges and woods roads, and provides a continuous spine to which numerous other trail systems connect.

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We are quite familiar with the trail. Four of our all time favorite races, and all of them classics, use the Nipmuck for some or all of their courses: Nipmuck South, NipMuck Trail Marathon, Northern Nipmuck, and Breakneck. Only the first two remain active. Nipmuck South is a relative newcomer, but NipMuck is the oldest and most famous trail race in New England. In 2020, it will celebrate 37 years of continuous running, assuming the Shenipsit Striders are able to host it in October as planned.

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I’ve never run the 14 mile Nipmuck South, but Debbie has. I’ve crewed, watched, and photographed, and I’ve been on that section of trail a few times. I’ve run the 26.4 mile NipMuck Trail Marathon seven times. I first did it in 2004, and I last did it (on a relay with Debbie), in 2019. The 16 mile Northern Nipmuck is one of our all-time favorite races, but it is not held anymore. I did it eight times, between 2002 and 2010, though that first time was a 12 mile DNF that motivated me to train a little more (running) than I previously did in that era. I recall that day vividly. I had done very little trail running after a decade of competitive cycling. I figured I would give it a go at the April race, but halfway through the return leg, I couldn’t move my legs anymore. They were absolutely hammered. I got a ride back from the aid station on Barlow Hill Road.

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I ran the 13 mile Breakneck six times between 2002 and 2009, but it is no longer held. The first time I ran it was also a DNF, but that was because I smashed and gashed my knee in a hard fall at the four mile mark. The wound required many stitches to close. Things were better the last time I ran it. It was one of my best and fastest trail races of all time. If Brian Rusiecki hadn’t shown up, I would have notched my only ever win in a long course New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series event.

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With no races during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, we figured we would test ourselves on familiar trails that were at low elevations and close to home. Our intent was to push it. I still took a bunch of photos, but we kept moving. The Nipmuck Trail is about 95% rugged singletrack. The trail is amazingly beautiful and challenging. As noted, it winds through some lovely northeastern Connecticut towns including: Mansfield, Ashford, Willington, Eastford, and Union. There are about 17 road crossings, a few short road sections in the first half, and then a one mile off-trail section (dirt and asphalt) on Oakes Road at about the 20 mile mark.

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Debbie and I had plans to run several ultras this spring including the Tammany 10 and the Traprock 50K, both of which were cancelled. I haven’t run an ultra since last July’s Never Summer 100K. I’m fit right now as I kept up my exercise regimen after the fall cyclocross season, and I’ve taken advantage of the mild winter weather in New England. I’m mostly cycling, but I’ve done a couple of 15+ mile training runs and have been averaging 20 miles of total running each week. Most of my riding has been accomplished by commuting to and from work. The lockdown has made that easier since I have no meetings after work. I’ve been feeling pretty good, but a pulled left “butt muscle” slowed me down over the last two weeks. It improved enough this week, so I was ready to do something big this weekend. Plus, I needed that adventure to write about.

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It was awesome to be out in nature for the better part of the day and we had the warmest temperature of the week. We are fortunate that our kids are self-sufficient and it benefits the whole family when Debbie and I can get away for can short trip. Speaking of nature, the day started off with four deer sprinting across the field that is just beyond the trailhead at the southern terminus There was low fog, and the deer were a good omen for the day. We also saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron in the Fenton River. We saw many squirrels and other critters too. We didn’t see any beavers, but we saw their handiwork.

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I had another hectic work week, but the weather forecast for Saturday was better than Sunday, and I wanted a recovery day before returning to work on Monday. So, after a short night of sleep, we drove to Mansfield and started just before 6:00 A.M. Debbie and I both wore our UltrAspire packs (vests) with 70 ounces of water. We each carried a bottle in our vests that had a concentrated mixture of Un Tapped Lemon Tea Mapleaid. I brought three Go Macro Bars, a Clif Z Bar, a fruit rope, and a Clif Shot gel. By the end of the run, I was hungry and thirsty, but I was still effectively hydrated and fueled. We both wore Altra Lone Peak shoes. I think hers are the 4.5 model and mine are the older 3.5 model. I opted for shorts and a short sleeve shirt with a base layer, while she used knickers and a long sleeve shirt. We both started the day with our Air Shed pullovers and after it warmed up, we switched ear warmers/bonnets for trucker caps.

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We only had a few problems finding our way. The delays and turnarounds didn’t cost us too much time; maybe only a few minutes each. The blazes and signs were very good. Much of the trail work was done by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski, the legendary former Race Director of the NipMuck Trail Marathon. He and other CFPA trail maintainers have done an awesome job with the trail. This trail has been his passion for much of his lifetime. I think I’ve heard him joke that he was “married to the trail.” It was easy to recognize his handwriting on the signs. Thank you NipMuck Dave for all you have done! Note the upper case M is a touch he added to the name of the race (and his name), many years ago. That’s not how the trail name is spelled on maps, but any time I refer to the race or Dave, I follow his preference.

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In addition to the great signs and markings, there were awesome stone and bridge work for much of the way. There were muddy sections and a fair amount of standing water. The Nipmuck is quite challenging with lots of rocks and roots that are typical of Connecticut trails. I think it is more rugged and hiller than our other favorite, the Shenipsit Trail. The full distance of the Shenipsit is just under 50 miles, so it is longer, but the terrain is a bit easier with more dirt roads, roads, and less pure singletrack. It isn’t as hilly as the Nipmuck, but it is still a tough trail. I like them both, but I think the Nipmuck is prettier.

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The hills really start to hit you after Perry Hill where the second part of the NipMuck Trail Marathon course begins. Those hills get more and more severe until they reach the high point on the trail at Coye Hill. The Northern Nipmuck section has the toughest inclines and declines. By the time we got there, around 26 miles, I was really starting to fade. I was stronger in the first half and led Debbie, but her endurance and running skills shown at the end. She led the final six miles because I had cracked. I revived a bit in the last mile as we neared the finish, but credit goes to her because she could have easily dropped me. The good news is that we were aiming to make this adventure a Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the Unsupported Mixed Gender Team. Debbie has one official FKT from her 2018 Appalachian Trail/Mohawk Trail Loop. The Mohawk is another great Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail. As for this FKT, I’m sure others have done this route before, but I don’t know who. The official record is void of an official FKT, so we will submit ours. Given the East vs. West branch issue and the clear difference in running this south to north vs. north to south, I hope they permit some variations of this iconic trail route.

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With our early start, we didn’t see many people in the first five hours. We saw one trail runner at Mansfield Hollow, and several fisherman along the Fenton River and the New Hope River. We didn’t see any hikers until we got to the section of the trail that goes from Boston Hollow Road to Bigelow Hollow. Once we got to Bigelow Hollow, the trails were more congested with lots of hikers and walkers. That part of the trail is narrow, so we did our best to social distance from the other folks. The distancing is a challenge with so many people spending time on the trails. The last three miles of trail are some of the most difficult. There isn’t much elevation gain, but the trail hugs Breakneck Pond and is very challenging with repeated short and steep ups and downs.

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Unfortunately, the northern terminus is 2.5 miles from the nearest parking lot at Bigelow Hollow. That meant that after running 35+ miles, we had to hike a few more. A big thank you to our friend Laura Becker who hiked out to meet us and then helped us get from Bigelow Hollow back to our car in Mansfield. We were home by 3:00 P.M. and then spent the rest of Saturday hanging out with the kids. Their dinner request was pizza, so we safely picked up two larges at Mulberry Street in Manchester. We ate one and saved one for tomorrow when I’m sure I’ll be hungry again. After that, I’m sure to be hungry for our next running or cycling adventure.

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Journal Inquirer: Conversation with Scott Livingston

An interview I did was published in this weekend’s Journal Inquirer.

Click here for the full link.

The reporter, 

MANCHESTER — It was 1938 when Scott Livingston’s grandfather Horst Liebenstein emigrated from Germany to the United States, where he eventually established what would become Horst Engineering, now based in South Windsor and East Hartford. Livingston, who lives in Bolton, is the third generation running the business and discusses his family’s history and taking over the family business.

Q: Did you grow up in Bolton?

A: I grew up in Vernon.

Q: What was life in Vernon like for you?

A: I grew up on Hickory Hill Road. I started on Taylor Street. My parents moved there in 1969, the same year they got married. They were married Woodstock weekend. My father jokes that he had friends choose the concert over the wedding and wishes he was there himself, but instead got married.

I’ve lived on the Rail Trail all my life; four different locations, twice with my parents and twice since I’ve been out on my own, including where we live now in Bolton. The trails are a central part of my life. Growing up in Vernon was just exploring the woods and the trails. I went to Lake Street School. I have a younger sister, Stacie. She lives in Coventry. She’s not involved in the business, but she’s still an important part of the family. She’s a physical therapist.

Q: Since this is a family business, were you groomed from the get-go to potentially take over?

A: No. My grandfather founded the business in 1946. He had three sons. My father is the oldest of the three. The middle son is Steven, and he became partners with my father, Stanley, early in the ’60s, but wasn’t official until the late ’70s. They had a younger brother, Bert, and he only briefly worked in the business in the ’70s after college; my father, Stanley, and Steven had been really firmly involved with the business for years at that point. There really wasn’t room for all three.

My mother joined the business in the early ’80s, and she’s been here for more than 35 years. The three of them really were the partners that ran the business in the second generation. She deserves as much credit as Steven and Stanley.

I got involved as a kid growing up in the business like anyone else in a family business would. I was exposed to the business along with my sister being exposed to the business. I had the good fortune of seeing my grandfather still working day-to-day until he passed away in 1998. By then I had started there full-time. But there was a period during my high school years going into college where I did not plan to work here. I was looking for something different.

Q: What did you want to do?

A: I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger. I was in ROTC briefly, but because of some medical disqualifications in the early ’90s I wasn’t able to pursue that path. In the subsequent period where I was rethinking what I wanted to do career-wise, I worked here and that exposed me to the opportunity. It also exposed me to the challenges, which I thought I could help my family with. I went back to school.

Q: Where were you going to school?

A: I went to Boston University to start and I ended up finishing at Boston College. If you know anything about Boston schools, they’re opposites. I needed a change of pace and I went from downtown BU to somewhat suburban BC just to get through it. I studied economics and I came back to work in the business full time after college. I went to high school at East Catholic in Manchester, even though I grew up in Vernon. I went to the Middle School in Vernon.

I wasn’t going to work here and I didn’t study engineering. It was my grandfather’s dream that I did work here and all his kids and grandkids would work here because that’s the whole reason why he built the business. He came from Germany and he didn’t do it the easy way. He persevered and got the business to a point where, when Stan and Steven got involved and then with the support of Lynn, they were able to take it to the next level. My Uncle Bert remained involved and had an ownership stake. So once it was clear that I forged a career path here, he and I became allies. It was an opportunity for him. He lives in Florida. He wasn’t involved in the day-to-day running of the business, but he was an advocate in transitioning the business in a proactive and healthy manner from the second generation to the third generation.

My father, uncle, mother, and I; the four of us engaged experts to help us and we’ve invested heavily in family business education over the years. We’ve invested in non-family management to build a strong professionally managed business that still has the qualities and core values of a family-owned business.

Q: What year did your grandfather move to the United States?

A: October 19, 1938, Ellis Island. He came here with almost nothing. His birth name was Horst Rolf Liebenstein and that’s the name he arrived at Ellis Island with. He changed his name. He Americanized it. Horst became Harry, Liebenstein became Livingston. My grandmother was Sylvia Hurwitz and she grew up in Hartford. She was born here. Her roots are also Eastern European but I believe a mix of Russian and Polish.

The German culture is really what dominated the business. My grandfather got a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Ilmenau (University of Technology), but he had to leave his life in Germany behind and start from scratch here. He had two brothers, an older brother, Berthold, and a younger brother, Hans, and both of them kept their names and they both ended up in Africa in the mid-’30s. They left Germany prior to Horst. There were German colonies in Africa and Berthold ended up in Kenya and Hans ended up in South Africa.

Berthold passed away at a young age around 1940 so they didn’t see each other again. Hans raised three daughters in Cape Town and I believe that my grandfather reunited with his brother after 30 years in 1964. Ultimately, approximately 15 years later, he moved the bulk of the South African family to Connecticut. One or two end up in Israel. There’s Jewish roots in this family and it’s a big part of the origin story of the business.

Q: Was the tension in Germany part of the motivation to move?

A: Yes. Kristallnacht was in November that year. It was a long process to reclaim the home he had abandoned in 1938. His parents remained behind and perished during the subsequent period. He was the last of his generation in the family to remain there. His parents didn’t want to leave. They weren’t in great health. They operated a small store on the first floor of the home in this town, Bad Liebenstein.

 

The house was returned to us in 1999 a year after he passed away. It was through a formal process with the United Restitution Organization. It was East Germany and what happened was a family moved into this house after the war.

I don’t know the particulars … but the same family that lived there for decades in the house bought it back from us after we got it back. So it was effectively a paper transfer.

Q: When your grandfather came here, how did his business start?

A: His metalworking skills came from working in a bicycle factory in his teens in Germany. He was highly educated as a mechanical engineer, but he also was a tool and die maker. He was a hands-on engineer and he knew how to make stuff. He came from New York to Connecticut around 1940. He met my grandmother. She helped him learn English. They lived in the north end of Hartford and he had this plan to start his own business. There was no intent to work for others after experiences he had gone through. But he needed to learn. He needed to learn the language, he needed to learn the industry in the area. He basically sampled a variety of processes at area shops and manufacturing companies in 1940 and 1946. He worked wiremold (at Wiremold).

He worked at John’s Hartford Tool Company and a handful of other companies over that six-year period. He started to moonlight, and he was doing engineering design work on the side in the evenings.

When he founded the business in Hartford in 1946, he called that Horst Engineering and Manufacturing Company. That’s our full legal name and it was at 602 Garden Street on the second floor of a barn. The business moved to East Hartford in 1950 and we’ve effectively been headquartered in East Hartford ever since.

But his designs didn’t take off enough to pay the bills, so he started making parts for other people and really evolved into a contract manufacturer. There’s so much industry here.

My father really took that to the next level. They didn’t have design engineering capabilities in the next generation. My father brought the sales, supply chain, the front end of the business expertise. My uncle was a disciple of my grandfather and he was the engineer and the manufacturing expert; tool and die maker himself. Their combination, with the support of my mother and HR and finance, allowed them to develop as a contract manufacturer and push into higher precision products because between 1979 and 1989 everything changed.

By 1995 all of the commercial industry was under pressure here in Connecticut. If you were in basic products it first went elsewhere in the country, particularly the South and Midwest and then it went offshore. What remained was high precision, and in Connecticut that’s primarily aerospace and medical. High precision aerospace components are one of Connecticut’s greatest exports and that’s where we really carve out our (spot).

Q: Are you the sole family member now running the business?

A: The three second-generation leaders still work here part-time.

Q: Is there a following generation?

A: They’re too young. My children Shepherd (Shepard) is 13 and Dahlia is 10. My sister has children who are 16 and 13. I have a first cousin from the youngest brother who was involved in this business, and she’s only in her early 20s. She interned here a couple years ago. For the foreseeable future we are continuing with our non-family member (management strategy). We have a lot of families who are in our business that are not Livingston family. That’s common in this industry. We’ve got brothers and sisters. We’ve got fathers and sons, multiple father and son combinations. Cousins, nieces, nephews. It fits in with our core values … and our core purpose. Our core purpose is to help people fly safely. Who knows what the future brings, but we’re making a major investment, and we wouldn’t be doing that if we didn’t see a good path in front of us. We’re expanding. We’re going to be consolidating the three Connecticut plant sites underneath one roof in Prestige Park. We’re renovating a 101,000-square-foot building. It’s a massive project and a big commitment to this community and to the industry.

2020 Bolton Road Race (+ NEAM & Boston)

Our hometown Bolton Road Race returned after a one year hiatus due to last year’s last minute snowstorm cancellation. My records show that I hadn’t run it since 2017. Now, I’ve run it eight times since 2005, the year we moved to town.

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HORST Engineering has been sponsored this race many times, and this race is a family affair for us. All four of us rode to the start on our bikes. Bolton High School is only two miles away. Shepard, Debbie, and I ran the hilly five miler while Dahlia looked after the Schulz kids so their parents could both run.

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Today’s weather was so much better than last year’s race day weather. We have had a very mild winter and now that March has arrived, you can hear the sounds of spring. We had a busy weekend leading up to this afternoon’s race.

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Yesterday, Dahlia and I joined several of my colleagues from HORST Engineering participate in the Women Take Flight event at the New England Air Museum. HORST was an exhibitor. It was a great event. When our “shift” ended around 1:00 P.M., we returned home to meet up with Debbie and Shepard who were at the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad mountain bike practice at Case Mountain.

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By 3:00 P.M. we were back in the car and headed to Boston for the night. We parked at the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge and took the shuttle bus to Harvard Square. From there, we took the Red Line to Downtown Crossing and then walked to our hotel in the Financial District. The kids hung out there for the night while Debbie and I visited the Museum of Science. It was my second museum of the day! I hadn’t been to the MOS in years but we were there for a special event.

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The Appalachian Mountain Club hosted a special party to honor Walter Graff for his 45 years of service to the organization. Walter was most recently the Senior Vice President and he has been instrumental in the AMC’s success over the last five decades. I’m a current member of the Board of Directors and Debbie is a member of the Board of Advisors. We have been active AMCers for more than 20 years and that isn’t even half of Walter’s career!

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We saw many great friends and got to explore a portion of the museum. We vowed to return with the kids. Speaking of the kids, we were back at the hotel by 10:30 P.M. We moved our clocks ahead by an hour and then headed to bed. Debbie and I arose early and ran from downtown back to Alewife. We saw a great sunrise over the city and the Charles River and had a glorious eight mile adventure along city streets and paths.

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We returned with the car to pick up the kids and then on our way home, we took a short detour to Central Square in Cambridge where we “refueled” at Veggie Galaxy. That was a treat for all four of us including the 9:00 A.M. Oreo Frappe.

We made it home around 11:45 A.M. and quickly changed into our running gear. If you are wondering (and worrying) about our activity level, well, don’t. This is normal for us! We mounted our bikes and rode to Bolton High School to hang out with many of our running friends. The race started at 1:00 P.M. and by 1:20 P.M. I was hurting. That was at the three mile mark. I realized that the last two miles were going to be total suffering.

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The last mile of the course is a doozy. The signature Brandy Street “hill” comes at 4.2 miles and it is a tough one. I had moved up to 9th place by the top of the hill, and had run most of the race in “no man’s land,” but a young Columbia teen outkicked me in the last quarter mile after attacking on the short descent after the hill that leads to the final uphill finishing drag.

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I was 10th and that’s OK given that I’m just training through every race right now. Shepard had his best ever BRR and he broke 35 minutes for the first time. My fastest ever time was in 2013, but I’m uncertain if I can get back to that level for a short road race requiring so much speed. Debbie wasn’t far behind Shepard.

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Will Sanders, the winner of last week’s Colchester Half Marathon, absolutely crushed the course in 25:41. I don’t know if that is an official record. Thomas Paquette has run pretty quickly in the past. Will averaged 5:09 per mile, and he finished more than a minute ahead of the second place runner, so congrats to him. That’s two amazing performances in the last eight days. The first woman was Linda Spooner in 34:18. She had a nice run too. It was noted at the post-race awards that her daughters were first and second in the U-12 division which means it was a great day for the whole family.

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We returned home by bicycle and that last little bit of exercise capped an excellent weekend of activity. Thank you to Race Director Brian Miller, key helper Kelly Taylor Catlin, and all of their “staff.” The volunteers were very helpful and I’m sure the 270 runners who finished appreciated their work. Along with HORST Engineering, there were many other great sponsors. Some of the proceeds supported raffle prizes, and I know that some will support the Bolton Booster Club. I’m glad that this year’s race wasn’t snowed out!

Race Results

2020 Colchester Half Marathon

Today I awoke with stiff and sore legs and it was a good feeling. Yesterday, Debbie and I had our first solid training day of the year. The fact that it was Leap Day made it even more fun. We rode from our home in Bolton to the Colchester Half Marathon, ran the race, and rode back. HORST Engineering was closed for the day so I could put work out of my mind and focus on five hours of movement.

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With the ride to the race, warmup for the race, race, cool down after the race, and ride home, we covered more than 50 miles on a very cold and blustery day. Our kids spent the day with Debbie’s parents, so we had extra time to execute this adventure. A shout out to Tony Bonanno who did THREE laps of the course with a little extra to get a total of 40 miles. That’s impressive. One of the things that I love about endurance sports is that just when I think that we put together a tough workout, there is always someone who is just a little more crazy.

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The Colchester Half is known for frightful weather. I’ve run it in 2007, 2010, 2015, and now in 2020. It looks like I’ve fallen into a pattern of running it every five years. I checked my blog and the 2010 and 2015 images look like those were snow years. I also recall that 2007 race and it was cold, snowy, and muddy. In that edition, I pushed our son in the Chariot CX-1 jogging stroller and it was quite the challenge as he didn’t really want to go that far on that day and the tires were sinking into the mud which made it even harder.

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The winter of 2019-2020 has been extraordinarily mild, so there was no evidence of snow  on the course. Ironically, minutes after we got home, a massive snow squall hit but I was safely inside standing by the fireplace. The Colchester course is known for being hilly (about 1,100 feet of elevation gain) and also for having two sections of dirt road that cover a few of the 13 miles. The footing and traction are often dicey, but yesterday’s surface conditions were perfect with no ice to speak of.

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My fastest ever edition was in 2010, so it was satisfying after 10 years to “only” run three minutes slower. I’m sure I trained more specifically in 2010 and I know I didn’t ride 18 miles as a warmup. Even still, I always want to go faster. The last two miles of the course are notoriously difficult as it is a long straightaway with a series of hills that grind steadily upward. Most people run their slowest miles on this section of the course and I was no exception. I feel like I faded badly though the data shows I only faded slightly. I felt terrible and gave up two spots in the last miles, which sucks because I’m overly competitive.

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I ended up running 1:28:27 for 20th, which is very good and I’m happy. There were 676 finishers which was remarkable. That has to be the record. This race is one of the best values around. The $14 entry fee created massive demand and people came from all over New England and some came from even farther away. The female winner was Alayna Bigalbal, and she came from Virginia. She did say that she grew up in New London and had family in Connecticut. I was with her for the first half of the race and by the end, she was gaining on me. She only finished 14 seconds behind me and she appears to be a very strong runner.

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I can’t overstate the value of this race. Longtime Race Director Rick Konon was all over the course, running around and cheering for everyone like a madman. He has infectious energy and passion and it shows. I always enjoy watching him in action. Debbie handled our pre-registration but I don’t think there were any additional fees. The online registration cost was included, which is remarkable. There was also pre & post race massages, a post race party (complete with multiple vegan options) in the Bacon Academy cafeteria, and ample non-alcoholic beverages. The website also says you get “results, excuses, tales of woe, and camaraderie.” It’s also worth pointing out that there were several volunteer-manned aid stations with fluids. All of the folks affiliated with the race were enthusiastic and helpful. I’m not sure what they do with the race proceeds, but I imagine they are put to good use.

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In an era where some 5K’s cost $40 or more, Colchester is a throwback, and if this race cost twice the current price they would still get 500 people to run it. I’m not suggesting that they charge more because the low cost makes lot of people happy. The Shenipsit Striders approach the promotion of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race the same way, so if you want a trail version of a half marathon that is also a great value, check it out and we will see you in May. Full disclosure: Debbie was the Race Director for more than 15 years and we still have a vested interested in seeing Soapstone succeed!

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The men’s winner was Will Sanders and he absolutely crushed the Colchester course record, running 1:10:20 which is amazing. As noted, the surface conditions were excellent, but the temperature was only 25 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind was a factor, so conditions were not ideal and he still had a great day.

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I dressed appropriately. After the bike ride, I had a complete change of clothes which included Patagonia Capilene underwear, undershirt, and long sleeve shirt. I wore Darn Tough socks, Altra Impulse shoes, CEP compression sleeves, Cw-X tights, gloves, a Capilene bonnet, Rudy Project sunglasses, and my Shenipsit Striders trucker cap. I also wore my UltrAspire waist belt so I could carry my iPhone and a bottle filled with UnTapped MapleAid. The first few miles were chilly and I was wishing I had a high collar or something on my neck, but by the halfway point, I warmed up. For a period of time, I actually pulled up my sleeves. I also removed the bonnet and shoved it in my waist band.

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The sun came in and out for a while, but after an hour or so, it went in for good. The skies clouded up and the breeze picked up. It was cold and raw but still good conditions to run in. I mentioned my suffering on the finishing stretch, but overall it was a good race. My pacing was good. I avoided a fast start and ran for several miles with Olivia Mondo. She is training for the Boston Marathon and sometimes we are evenly matched Lately, in the shorter races, she is much faster…but I’m more than twice her age so I have an excuse! She only finished a minute or so behind me, but she looked much better at the line. I was doubled over and my legs were already seizing up. I doubt that she will be walking like a duck (like me) today. I bet she even goes for another run. I won’t!

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Debbie had a good run and we saw a lot of friends. I mean, a LOT of friends. Between the Shenipsit Striders, Silk City Striders, and other folks from the running community, I bet we knew 200 people. It was a great way to kick off the 2020 season. After the post-race meal, we changed back into our cycling kits. I should have brought another pair of socks, or at least I should have changed back into the socks that I originally rode in. I was lazy and kept on the socks that I ran with and that was a bad call. They were damp and once the cold air penetrated my cycling shoes, I paid the price. The ride back took longer and it was colder. We suffered but made it home by 3:00 P.M. and before the precipitation started. By 5:30 P.M., we were back in Prospect to pick up our kids. Debbie’s Mom rewarded us with another home cooked meal followed by blueberry muffins that our daughter helped bake. All things considered, it was a really good day.

Race Results

Park City, Utah

Over the Presidents’ Day Weekend our family made our first ever western ski/snowboard trip. We have been to the mountains of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Washington but never together in winter.

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I’ve had the good fortune to ski at Deer Valley, Park City, Telluride, and Vail, but Debbie had never been west for snowsports. That’s odd because she has been snowboarding since her youth and I just came to skiing as an adult.

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It hasn’t been easy for me to learn as it didn’t come naturally like skating, running, or cycling. For me, skiing has been more like swimming, another sport that I didn’t groove as a youth.

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Our kids learned snowboarding from Debbie on the smaller slopes of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, but they are still progressing. It was a real thrill for them to ride the massive Park City resort.

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We stayed in Canyon Village which was merged into Park City. Park City is part of the Vail Resorts portfolio and in the Epic Pass program. It’s a wonderful mountain town. I’ve been there twice in winter and once in the summer. Debbie and I were also on the other side of the mountains at Snowbird when we did the Speedgoat 50K.  Snowbird is on my winter adventure bucket list.

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This would have been an awesome year to go as they just got more than three feet of snow two weeks ago bringing their season total to more than 400 inches. A friend of mine skied there a few days before we arrived in Park City and he said it was spectacular. He said that Little Cottonwood Canyon (the road) and all the resorts on that side were closed for three days because of avalanches, but he was fortunate to get to Snowbird the day they reopened.

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Canyon Village was a good spot. Every day, Debbie and I ran down to the bike path that connects the Old Town and Kimball Junction. There is more than one path, but we mostly went back and forth with a few small loops as we wanted to keep building our running fitness for the upcoming trail season.

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We skied/snowboarded from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. each day with only a brief stop for lunch. We stayed at the Grand Summit Hotel and our room was conveniently located at the base of the Orange Bubble lift. Saturday was partly sunny and mild with good conditions. Sunday was snowy all day long. In the afternoon, it sleeted a bit.

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Conditions in the morning were good with fresh powder, but by afternoon, the snow was heavier and the wind and cold made for challenging conditions. We toughed it out. We were rewarded on Monday as the the precipitation switched to all snow and it came down all night. We awoke to more fresh powder and incredibly blue skies. This is the true definition of a “Bluebird Day.” Bluebird Day’s aren’t just any sunny day, but particularly one after a big snowfall.

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It was much colder but the sun was brilliant. The conditions were fabulous and that lasted all day long. By the end of the three days, both kids had improved their skills immensely. We went to Old Town twice and had lovely evening meals.

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We walked around, visited the Park City Museum, and checked out some of the galleries. The other two nights we ate at the room where we had a small kitchen. The Whole Foods at Kimball Junction was fabulous and we used the convenient and free Park City mass transit system (bus) to get around.

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There are so many other great resorts to visit in the USA and Canada, but I would say that we would return to Park City in a heartbeat.

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2019 Scrooge Scramble

Our Christmas Day tradition of running the Scrooge Scramble 5K in Rockville continued. Debbie and I have run this classic 14 times since 2004. Once again, Shepard and Dahlia joined us for this festive affair that benefits the Cornerstone Foundation.

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As usual, we saw many old friends. The Silk City Striders and Shenipsit Striders always have a good turnout. Todd Brown and the Wilson Family have become an integral part of our Christmas morning celebration.

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This year’s course as again a loop affair. We lapped it six times. The twist was that they started the “elite runners” 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the pack so that we had more open road to run. That made me chuckle since the only elite runner I saw was the winner (aka Santa). The rest of us in the first wave were good, but hardly elite! We did have fun.

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It’s true that with a 1/2 mile loop and 200 people, it can get crowded, but that’s all part of the fun. Shepard and I stuck together and didn’t have to weave through the crowd until our last lap.

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Debbie wasn’t far behind us in group one and Dahlia ran with group two. That meant we could cheer for her. After the race, we mingled a bit and then I changed into my cycling kit. I took a lovely 30 mile route home and nailed my 4,000 mile 2019 goal with a week to go.

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Now, I can shift from riding to running and see if I can hit a distance milestone on my feet. Debbie and the kids returned home and they spent some time with their gifts. Debbie and I are grateful for the ability to provide for our family and to support organizations like the Cornerstone Foundation.

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Race Results

2019 The Ice Weasels Cometh

The 2019 cyclocross season came to an end today, a day later than planned. In the end, the postponement of The Ice Weasels Cometh was better for me. I didn’t even have to wash my bikes! They will need an end of season cleaning at some point, but for now, they are happily hanging in the basement without another race to attend.

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While the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships were going on in Lakewood, Washington, the unofficial championships of New England were going on in Medfield, Massachusetts. Weasels was  fitting end to a good cyclocross season.

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I did the singlespeed race at 3:00 P.M., which was the finale of the 2019 Zanconato Singlespeed Cyclocross Series. I did eight of the nine races in the series which started back on September 9th. This was my 15th cross race of the year.

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Yesterday was a total washout, so the promoters let everyone know on Friday that the race was being postponed until Sunday. Thankfully the course drained well. The wicked winds also helped dry things out. The temperature was mild, rising to the mid-40’s by mid-day. By late afternoon it had dipped back down to 40 and the wind was whipping.

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I felt pretty good and managed 6th place after battling with Keith Burgoyne, Eric Wyzga, and Henry Lord. The four of us have fought all year-long. Keith is surging and capitalized on his late season form, pulling away from us with two laps to go. Eric, Henry, and I remained locked in battle as we worked our way through a lot of lapped traffic. The Zank  SSCX race was run in conjunction with the fat bike race and between us, there were more than 100 people on the course.

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I managed to take the lead amongst the three of us with 1/2 lap to go and led them through the worst of the lapped traffic. This was to my advantage and I was able to hold them off as we blasted up the final asphalt straightaway to the finish line.

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Several of my Team HORST Sports mates joined me at the race. Art Roti, Brett Chenail, Boden Chenail, Keith Enderle, and Dave Geissert all wrapped their CX seasons with an Ice Weasels finish.

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I’m very happy with my season, but also very happy that it is done. I was feeling the burn  as we approached the December races and was just hanging on. I was able to get motivated for today and was happy that it wasn’t muddy. I was able to ride strongly and spend time with my cyclocross friends. To celebrate the last race of the year, I had pancakes for breakfast and then again for dessert after dinner tonight. On to 2020.

Race Results (will be posted when online)

2019 Santa’s Run

Today we returned to the Glastonbury Santa’s Run for the first time since 2011. It was my 9th time running this local 3.5 mile race. I first did it back in 1989. This year’s race had 912 finishers. The low entry fee and community vibe have always made this a fun one for runners and walkers of all abilities.

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This was the first time for the kids, though I’ve pushed them in the jog stroller before. I knew that my legs would be heavy after yesterday’s NBX G.P. of CX, but I still pushed hard. I had to stretch my legs on the final 1/2 mile uphill to hold off Laurel Manville who went out hard. She finished second behind Lindsey Crevoiserat who had a strong run. Olivia Mondo was hot on Laurel’s heels, finishing only two seconds behind. In recent years, Melissa Stellato has had a lock on the top spot, but she didn’t run this year as she is pregnant with her second child.

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The top men were Philip Mitchell, Pat Dennen, and Nick Blanchard. Special mention goes to Brett Stoeffler who was 5th. At 52, I’m still chasing him! He runs such a smooth pace, its maddening. I kept him at 15-20 seconds for the first two miles but then he pulled away. Of course, he didn’t speed up at all. I just slowed down!

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Debbie and Shepard each won their age groups. Shepard had to hold off hard charging age grouper. His legs were a bit weary after giving it his all at NBX yesterday, but he too persevered and had a strong run. Todd Brown and Debbie had a great battle up the final climb and all the way to the line. Debbie needed 10 more feet to beat him, but he survived. Dahlia also had a strong run, breaking the 10 minute per mile barrier for the second race in a row.

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We saw a lot of other friends. Now that cyclocross season is coming to a close, we will likely return to running more races, though I expect we will focus on trails. The Santa’s Run always gives an ornament to each finisher, so we plan to get our Christmas tree this afternoon and now we have four more ornaments to decorate it with.

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Race Results

2019 NBX Gran Prix of Cyclocross, Day 1

I’ve always got mixed feelings when the cyclocross season winds down. On the one hand, I’m so ready to be done. Normally that is because I’m not tired of racing, but because I’m tired of packing for the races, traveling to the races, and cleaning up after the races. I do tire of the crashing, which seems to be common in cyclocross, at least for me. On the other hand, when it is over I will miss the excitement, camaraderie, intensity, and competition. I’ll also miss the New England parks, schools, and other neat places that we visit throughout the fall.

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Yesterday was Day 1 of the NBX Gran Prix of Cyclocross. We aren’t returning for Day 2 like we have in recent years. Shepard and I were able to manage one more race day, but we opted not to do another double/full weekend. He culminated his CX season at NBX whereas I’ll get in one more event at next Saturday’s The Ice Weasel’s Cometh. Some friends will be headed to Tacoma, Washington for the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships, but that’s a long way to go for a cross race. We have done Nats before, but 2019 is a year to skip. Next year, the Nats will be outside of Chicago, so there is the possibility that we will go.

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Shepard went out on a high note with a strong ride in yesterday’s Cub Juniors race on a cold, blustery, and icy day at Goddard Memorial State Park in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The early season snow made for a challenging track as it didn’t melt in time for the race. Between the icy corners, sand, and leaves, the course was very slippery. I had a couple of hard falls on my pre-ride of the course. That made me cautious and tentative for the actual race. NBX is one of the more technical courses we do.

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It’s always been real trouble for me. I perpetually underperform on this course and haven’t yet figured out if that is a mental issue or if my bike riding skills just don’t match up well with Goddard State Park. I’m not able to get my heart rate up and not able to maintain my speed through the tough technical corners. I also usually have a handful of mistakes (e.g. falls, bobbles, etc.) and yesterday was no exception. I biffed it in the sand on a couple of occasions and that cost me valuable time. Nevertheless, I had a blast.

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Since I raced the Masters 40+ race we didn’t have to spend ALL day at the event. They don’t do a singlespeed race at the series/UCI events. Shepard’s race was at 8:47 A.M. so we were up early and on the road by 6:00 A.M. That is one aspect of cross season that has grown tiresome and I won’t miss it even if I continue too get up early. We have packed our van and trailer late on Friday nights many times this fall, and I’ve had enough of that for now.

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It was great to see Jon Gallagher from ONe2Go Results. Jon is a dear old friend, fellow Boston College alumnus (though he never raced on the BC Cycling Team) and someone I raced with many times in our younger days. He is based in Utah, but spends a lot of time on the road, timing cycling events all over the world. This fall, he has been to New England on a few occasions, but this was my first (and last) chance to catch up with him face to face in 2019. We had a meaningful conversation in the cold finish line trailer, but it was awesome. It’s been 25 years since we spent the summer of 1994 racing our bikes in Belgium.

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A few of our Team HORST Sports and Team HORST Junior Squad teammates will return for Day 2 today and we wish them luck along with all of the other racers whether they are there for a final Nats tune up, or if this is their last race too. The Ice Weasels Cometh will be my Nats and I’m looking forward to it.

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Shepard and I have spent some special time traveling to these races. NBX was my 14th cross race of the season and it was his 13th. On the way home, we passed through Providence and grabbed lunch at Plant City. On Sunday, we will spend some time with Debbie and Dahlia, do a little running, get a Christmas tree, and reminisce about our most recent cyclocross adventure.

Race Results

2019 Secret Squirrel CX & Bishop’s Orchard Cyclocross

Our four-day Thanksgiving Holiday weekend culminated with the Bishop’s Orchard Cyclocross in Guilford, Connecticut. The penultimate event was yesterday at the Secret Squirrel CX in Raynham, Massachusetts. We proceeded those races with a low-key hike of Mt. Holyoke in Massachusetts, and a kicked off the weekend on Thanksgiving at the Manchester Road Race. IMG_0279

Bishop’s was a fitting end to the weekend as I did the last race of the day and the last race of the 2019 CT Series of CX as the snow was flying. It was a spectacular ending to this awesome little series. Last year’s Bishop’s was equally as epic as it took place after a heavy snowmelt and the course was waterlogged. Today, in the morning, the course was like tundra, but by early afternoon, the flakes were falling. By the time my race started at 2:30 P.M., the snow was falling heavily and it only intensified over the next hour as the Elite Men and Singlespeed (Men and Women) fought their way around the tough (and hilly) orchard course.

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It was another long day of cyclocross for our family. Yesterday was just as long but I’ll come back to Secret Squirrel later in this post. As good as that race was, it can’t come close to today’s spectacle in Guilford, so that is where I will focus. It wasn’t just the weather that made today special. The race is part of our home state series and we had strong participation from Team HORST Sports and the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad.

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The kids have been the highlight of this CX season again. CCAP has done a remarkable job at building a cyclocross community and getting so many juniors involved. In addition to my son Shepard, our juniors included Boden Chenail, Lars Roti, Owen Lezon, Ethan Lezon, Sean Rourke, and Alexandra Miller-Davey. Our Masters racers included Wade Summers, John Meyerle, Brett Chenail, Rich Frisbie, Arthur Roti, and Andris Skulte. That was a wonderful turnout for the CT series finale.

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Team HORST Orange was on the podium many times. Awards were given for:

  1. The race
  2. The USA Cycling Connecticut State Championships
  3. The CT Series of CX

I won’t list all our series winners and podium finishers because the the final results aren’t posted yet. However, finishing on the podium today were Wade (2nd in Men’s 50+) and Alexandra (2nd in Junior Girls 12-14.

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I noted that we spent the whole day at the race. Shepard raced at 9:47 A.M. so we were out of the house by 7:15 A.M. Dahlia joined us. Both kids were troopers for spending the day outside in harsh conditions. My father, Stanley, also came to watch the Junior races, which was cool. We had use of the Team HORST tent (which had a little heater) and the Bishop’s Orchard barn which had some heaters too, but they still had to brave the elements. They will sleep well tonight. Debbie did the Shenipsit Striders Shenipsit Trail End-to-End Run, so she skipped the race. She spent all morning in the woods. She left the house at 5:10 A.M. The run started in East Hampton and she did the first “half” finishing in Bolton Notch at 12:15 P.M. She thought about coming to Guilford afterwards, but with the bad weather, wisely opted to stay home and prep dinner for us as all three of us were quite “hangry.”

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One series result I’m positive about is my own. My race was nuts. As mentioned, we were the last to go off. The Elite Men started one minute in front of the singlespeeders and the race was slated for 50 minutes. It was snowing steadily at the start but by the half-way point, it was coming down extra heavy. The course conditions deteriorated quickly and it got very slippery. I stayed on my bike, which was goal number one.

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My Seven Cycles Mudhoney SL has been a beast all season. I just love this bike. On the start line, I realized that my front Tufo tubular had lost a little air during the day. I put 25 psi in it early in the morning, but it softened up. I yelled for Shepard to go to the pit and get my other bike and wait for me should I need it, a geared Mudhoney Pro (with zip ties locking out the shifting). The kid was awesome, he spent the entire seven lap race in the double-sided pit moving my bike 14 times. A friendly stranger gave him some hand warmers for his gloves as he was frozen solid standing there in the snow.

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The good news is I actually like the low tire pressure and decided to just keep riding my dedicated SS bike. It was probably 20 psi and it was ideal for the conditions. Bishop’s is as hilly as it gets. We gained nearly 1,000 feet in 10.6 miles and it was up and down. The course is also almost exclusively on grass (other than the asphalt finishing stretch) and is quite bumpy, so you have to constantly pedal. There were many tight turns and several technical off-camber sections. It was an excellent track. I was forced to get off for the barriers and then on one of the steepest climbs.

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I opted to ride all of the orchard climbs even tough I could have run faster. The strategy there was that my cleats were getting caked with ice and mud which made it very difficult to clip in. So, I wanted to minimize my dismounts. That meant that I rode some of the hills at an extremely slow pace and I was even forced to tack back and forth a few times to get up the hills. It was hilarious. I loved it.

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It was a small field and I spent the first half of the race battling with Eric Wyzga for 4th place. He and I battle every week and we finished 9th and 10th yesterday at Secret Squirrel. So, we know each other well. To his credit, the SS race was his second of the day. He also did the Men’s 3/4 race and rode well. So, despite doing three races in four days, I had the advantage this afternoon and I took it. I eventually distanced him and held on to my 4th spot. I also stayed on the lead lap which took a big effort since the Elite Men started one minute in front of us and just as I crossed the finish line for start of my 7th and final lap, the two leaders were sprinting behind me. I got there first which meant I had another 8+ minutes of suffering and fun in the snow.

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That was OK because I wanted to keep riding. I ended up with 58 minutes, which was long. Shepard brought my pit bike back to the car/trailer and I rode straight there to meet him. I let him jump inside and I started the car to get some heat going. Our tent had been packed up when the rest of the team departed. Dahlia was staying warm in the barn, but she eventually joined us. I didn’t even change. I packed our four bikes in the trailer and then we drove up to the store as Dahlia had to use the restroom. We are lucky she did because while we were waiting for her, my phone rang and it was Jake Kravitz calling from the barn.

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He asked if we were still at the race. I replied yes and asked why. He said I placed in the series. That was a pleasant surprise. I knew that I was sitting 4th coming into the race, but didn’t realize that Donny Green (despite winning today in fine style) didn’t complete the minimum number of races. He came into the race in 3rd place, but the series also rewards participation and consistency. He got some nice prizes for winning, so I didn’t feel bad about beating him out on participation.

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Since Donny hails from Massachusetts, I also got bumped up to third for the Connecticut State Championships. I earned a nice medal. First went to Connor Walsh and second to Anthony Vecca. For the series, it was Anthony on the top step and Connor in second. For third, I got a sweet handmade Ukrainian goblet. I was thrilled. Shepard was a good sport, joining me in the barn and taking photos.

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I mentioned Jake, who did was a big help to the race promoters. The Bishop’s staff and volunteers did a fine job. So did Rob Stiles who pulled together all the results and hosted multiple award ceremonies in the barn. Between Jake and Rob, they kept the energy high all day long. This was a great finale.

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We got back in the car and then had a wild drive home. I was so glad that we took my Subaru Outback rather than our Volkswagen Eurovan. I actually had the van packed and trailer attached by 6:30 A.M., but checked the weather and made the switch. It paid off as it was white-knuckle driving with post-holiday traffic and nasty weather. It took us 90 minutes to get home and we were quite thankful that Debbie had made a hot meal for us.  Everyone was cooked after four days of intense outdoor activities. I’ll have some bikes to wash and gear to clean, but it was worth it. Now for some rest. The work week starts tomorrow and it will be another busy one.

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Bishop’s Orchard Race Results

OK, so a little bit about Secret Squirrel. Shepard and I spent Saturday in Raynham. His race started at 8:30 A.M. so we had to get up very early and make the two-hour drive. There is no fast route to Raynham as it is due east. We just made it in time, but he missed call-ups and had to start in the back row. He was a good sport about it and used an adrenaline surge to move up to 6th in the combined junior field. He held his spot and ended up third in his age group earning a nice scarf as a prize. We had to hang around all day as my race didn’t go off until 2:45 P.M. It was a Zanconato Singlespeed CX Series event, so it was a full field that also included some fat-bikers. I had a decent race, but my legs were still hammered from the road race on Thursday. As mentioned Eric and I fought the hard fight and I came out on top. The Zank Series finals are in two weeks at The Ice Weasels Cometh.

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Race Results (will be posted when available)

2019 Manchester Road Race

“This is Thanksgiving in Manchester!”

That’s the same refrain that I’ve heard Race Director Jim Balcome proclaim 30 times since 1985 when I ran my first Manchester Road Race at the age of 13. This was the 83rd edition and his 43rd as RD. This year was also my 25th in a row since I returned to the race in 1995 after a four year layoff.

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and the MRR has played an integral part in making that so. I love milestones and 30 years of doing anything is a substantial one. I’m proud of my consistency and the fact that I’m literally and figuratively running strong at 47 years-old. I’m not unique in having a long streak. Amby Burfoot did his 57th MRR today. Todd Brown did his 43rd. Janit Romayko has done more than 50, and so have many others.

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Even more special is that Shepard did his 7th and Dahlia did her 4th. Who knows if the kids will maintain a streak, but the fact that we do this event as a family makes the day even better. Debbie doesn’t keep track of records like this, but she has probably done it close to 20 times.

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I haven’t run fast in several years as I’ve been shadowing Shepard in recent MRR’s. This year he was ready to run on his own and push himself. I got the green light to give it my all. Debbie ran with Dahlia. Both kids smashed their personal bests. Shepard really wanted to win the 13 and under age group as he was 3rd last year. He figured that breaking 31 minutes would put him in range of the AG win. He did 30:13, exceeding his own expectations, but three boys went faster and he ended up 4th, the harshest position to finish in when the awards go three deep.

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He took it fine, which was impressive to witness. For a moment he was bummed out, but then I saw that fire that burns inside of him was stoked even more. He is a goal setter, and has amazing self-motivation. I know where he gets that from. The balance and understanding comes from his Mom, so I would say that the blend of character that he exhibits is a winning combination. He was very happy with his performance and as long as he can stay positive and keep progressing, he his wonderful endurance sports career will continue to develop. The most important thing is that he continues to have fun.

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Dahlia is our little tiger. She knocked 12 minutes off of last year’s time and pushed hard to achieve that result. Debbie says she ran the entire 4.748 mile distance which is remarkable since she occasionally stops (in protest) during races and says she can’t take another step. Today she took quite a few steps (she has small legs!), and in a field of 12,000 or so runners, it was wise that she kept moving.

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Unlike last year’s frigid temperature, this year was much more seasonable. It was around 42 degrees Fahrenheit at the 10:00 A.M. start but it was windy and raw. The breeze was a stiff one and hit me hard in the face as a head/cross-wind around the 4-mile mark. My worst suffering came between miles 3.5 and 4.5. This has always been my toughest section and this year, I was just “meh” on that section of the course. I had a fast first mile, ran the hill fairly well, and then started to lose ground on the group in front of me as we descended Porter Street. Brett Stoeffler was up ahead and he was a good gauge. I kept him in view for a long time. He was only 10 seconds up, but I failed to close the gap and eventually his lead was extended as he held his pace and I slowed a bit.

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I was stuck without anyone to draft off of and my cadence slowed in the last part of the race. After making the turn on to Main Street, I was able to rally a little and on the last little rise I pushed myself to hit my highest heart rate of the race. I could see the clock ticking up. For a moment I thought I could break 28 minutes which was my goal. However, I’ve run the race enough times and knowing what kind of kick was left in my legs, the mental math told me that it wasn’t going to work out. I let out a little groan and pressed on. It was going to be close.

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Alas, I crossed the line with a net time of 28:01. Two ticks fewer and my time would have looked 10 times faster. Regardless, the time was good enough for 3rd in the 45-49 age group which was my second goal. I wanted to crack the top three. This was my first age group podium in 30 years at the MRR. I was 4th in 1989 and 2016, and 5th in 2013, so I know how Shepard is feeling having just missed out in the past.

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We saw so many friends and that is another reason why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and probably one of my favorite days of the year. I can’t list them all. There were so many fist bumps, high fives, and hugs. Willi Friedrich, our longtime Shenipsit Striders club-mate, did his 50th MRR. He had a whole crew with him to honor the occasion.

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My mother-in-law Barbara came to watch and she was a good sport looking after our backpack full of warm clothes and gear. My parents Lynn and Stan were at the start/finish and they got to see Shepard and me cross the line.

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Once again, HORST Engineering sponsored Veteran’s Row. It’s been awesome to be associated with the event on a deeper level and to contribute to the success. The race helps out so many causes. Several HORST colleagues ran the race and I’m sure we will have a lot to talk about next week when we return to work. Last week, I attended the annual Press Conference and last night, Debbie, the kids and I were at the Spaghetti Dinner. The kids got to meet many of the elite runners and collected a bunch of autographs including last year’s winner (and course record holder) Edward Cheserek (who finished 2nd today), and Edna Kiplagat who won today. Edna is an amazing runner and one of the best of all-time. She is a two time marathon world champion and has wins at the Boston, New York, and London marathons on her palmares. She is also an Olympian.

Her Wikipedia profile includes this wonderful info:

Kiplagat is a police woman in Iten, Kenya. “I am one of the role models in my town and country,” says Kiplagat. “I have mentored girls in school and I have empowered women to form community associations. I also support less fortunate kids to pay their school fees.” [19]

Kiplagat and her husband have five children – two of her own, two adopted from her sister who died of breast cancer in 2003, and one adopted from a neighbor who died in childbirth in 2013. Her children Wendy, 9, and Carlos, 13, were at the finish line and award ceremony for her victory in the 121st annual Boston Marathon.[23]

She started the Edna Kiplagat Foundation to raise awareness of breast cancer.[24] Kiplagat also volunteers to create awareness for garbage management toward keeping a clean environment.[19]

That’s awesome.

Manchester Road Race 2019 Veterans' Row graphic

My legs will be wrecked from this effort. The asphalt and downhill pounding always do a number on my quads. I just don’t do enough running to condition my legs to take a beating like this. It’s back to bike racing this weekend with the Secret Squirrel Cyclocross and then the Bishop’s Orchard Cyclocross. I’m excited about my fitness in 2019, and am only feeling residual back pain from my August bicycle crash. I’m  really just excited about being so strong for so long. I’ve broken 28 minutes on 11 separate occasions so this wasn’t close to my fastest MRR, but I’m happy. Next year it will likely be Debbie’s turn to run hard and see how fast she can go. I will probably run with Dahlia for a few years and then see about running fast again when I turn 50.

Race Results

2019 KMC Cross Fest

Shepard and I returned to the downsized KMC Cross Fest at Thompson Motor Speedway. KMC intentionally shrunk the scope and scale of the event after several years as a multi-day UCI event. This year, it was a one-day (non-UCI) race and part of the CT Series of CX. 293 racers showed up which isn’t bad given that the location is in the rural Quiet Corner of Connecticut. There was a race in New York that drew another 253 riders, so the northeast region had two options for a late-November Saturday event.

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The course was quite different from the last time I did it, but I still had fun. The motorsports track makes it a unique venue. There was a lot of wide-open riding. I would describe it as a “roadie” course. That made singlespeed tough. Only eight of us lined up for the SS class. We started two minutes behind the Elite Men.

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Shepard did the Junior 12-14 year old race with his CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad teammates Alexandra, Boden, Lars, and Owen. Ethan did the 9-12 year old race. Sean and Cole did the Junior 15-16 years old race. Sean also did the Men’s 3/4 race along with Brett. We were well-represented in the Masters races with Rich and Art in the 40+ race. Wade and Tom did the 50+ race. Dave and Keith did the 60+ race.

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Saturday races are always tough for me. I was a little worn out after a long week, but it helped that I had all day to get warm. My race started at 2:47 P.M. Shepard’s race was earlier in the day at 9:47 A.M. so we had some hanging around and cheering to do in between the events.

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With only eight riders, there was nowhere to hide. I was with the front three riders halfway through the first lap, but they came to an abrupt halt on one of the tricky off-camber sections and I slammed into the back of Anthony Vecca. That resulted in a big endo where I went over the handlebars. By the time I got up and sorted, they had a 10 second gap and were gone. I ended up with two other riders but eventually distanced them and spent the rest of the race in “no man’s land” coming across the line in 4th place.

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The drive to and from the race was nice. This part of the state is a great place to ride. Debbie and I were out there in August when we did a loop that included a lovely section of the Air Line Trail. It will be interesting to see what happens to KMC in 2020. There was talk that they were looking for a new venue, but that didn’t material for 2019. I have some small complaints about the race. One is the $5 parking fee that goes directly to the venue. I don’t mind paying a fee, like we did at Look Park, but they are  a nonprofit with a great mission. The cost seems high when you consider that adults paid $36 to race plus the Bikereg fees. The Club Row team tent fee was $75 plus the Bikereg fee, which was also stiff. For that amount of money the parking should have been included.

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Richard Fries and the race committee described this as a “reset” year. Like I said, we still had fun and the event was low key and despite the small complaints, the production of this mostly grassroots race was appreciated.

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Race Results

2019 West Hill Shop Cyclocross

It’s hard to believe that I hadn’t been to the West Hill Shop Cyclocross since 2015. This was the 29th annual race in Putney, Vermont and it was my 13th time doing it. It’s one of my absolute favorite all time events and I was trilled to spend the day with Shepard. Most of our Team HORST Sports and CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad teammates were at Supercross Cup in New York. After several years attending that event, we decided to skip. We heard the rest of the team had a blast, though we were happy for a day trip and we were happy to visit Vermont.

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It was a long and cold day. We left the house at 6:15 A.M. and didn’t get home until 6:30 P.M. after making the drive north. The challenge is that when Shepard races the Cub Juniors and I race the Singlespeed, they are usually the first race of the day and the last race of the day. When we arrived, it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit and that isn’t the most fun temperature to ride in. By the early afternoon, the mercury had climbed into the mid-30’s but then by the time the singlespeed race started at 3:15 P.M., the sun was already low in the sky and the temperature was falling again.

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What made today special was that Shepard did the two-lap (15 minute) junior race and then he joined me for the multiple lap (five or six? over 45 minutes) Zanconato Singlespeed Cyclocross Series race. The last race was the largest field of the day because it was also combined with the Men’s Category 3/4 race.

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It was great to some old friends. Craig Damaschi drove up from Connecticut. He and I went to East Catholic High School together and raced on the cross-country team. We were teammates on the 1989 State Championship squad that I wrote about a few weeks ago. When I met Craig in 1986, I had already started mountain biking, but he was my introduction to road cycling, which led to bicycle racing and eventually cyclocross. He was steeped in European cycling tradition. His Italian heritage was a huge factor. He had stacks of old Winning magazines and was a Velo News subscriber too. He and I spent hours riding and talking about riding. It’s great to see him back on a bike and pushing hard in cyclocross.

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Everything about this race is classic New England grassroots cross. The bike shop itself is a big part of what makes the race (or any event held there) special. The shop has lots of character. The entire town of Putney is neat and we love it there. We are members of the Putney Co-Op and that is where Shepard and I enjoyed lunch. It was only a short ride up the street from the bike shop.

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On the way back to the race venue, we stopped at another awesome local business, the Green Mountain Spinnery,  which is adjacent to the bike shop. He was wondering what was inside, so I said, “It’s open, let’s go take a look.” We have been there several times, but he didn’t remember because the last time was 10 years ago. For many years, Debbie and I went on the post-Thanksgiving Putney Craft Tour which often featured the spinnery. We haven’t gone in 10 years, but I wrote about the 2009 version. The spinnery hasn’t changed at all and he was thrilled when we were offered an impromptu tour. The old equipment is fascinating.IMG_5559IMG_5561

I left him to hang out at the bike shop and I went for a substantial warmup. I took the freshly paved Westminster Road out to the town line and back. It’s normally beautiful and on this late fall day it was lovely. The long warmup helped and I had a good race. My start was fantastic as I was in 4th for the first 1/4 lap, but I blew a turn on a very slick corner and drove my left knee into the ground. I recovered and only lost three spots, but that forced me to chase. It was unfortunate but that sketchy corner caught more than one rider off guard.

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I eventually settled into a group of three that was battling for 5th place. Anthony Vecca, Henry Lord, and I traded places throughout the race. Anthony had 10 seconds on us at one point but Henry put in a surge and I stuck with him. We eventually closed in on AV, and I thought I was the strongest going into the last lap. On the lower section of the course (which was different from when I last did it–I liked it, especially the numerous twists and turns) I pushed to the front and we fought hard on the double run-up.

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As we approached the final few turns, I sprinted past them to take the lead figuring it was my best shot to get to the finish line ahead of them. I didn’t think anyone could come by me on the fast final straight, but AV did and I was bummed. After we crossed the line and I cursed, he said, “You deserved that.” I wasn’t quite sure what he was referring too as we were racing cleanly, but then I figured it was “payback” from the 2018 West Rock Superprestige MTB Final (also singlespeed) when I beat him by mere seconds in a last lap surge. I think that demoralized him, so I guess he is right. He got me back today.

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Shepard rode well. It was his longest ever CX race and also the first time he raced twice in a day. Racing with the adults is going to make him faster. He said that he was good for three laps and then he bonked. Yesterday, he was outside in the cold with Boy Scouts Troop 25. They had an 8-mile hike. Today was another long day, so we have to make sure he recovers and stays healthy. After the race, I let him go into the shop where the wood stove was cranking. They also had a barrel fire going on the outside and it was a popular spot. While he warmed up, I packed the trailer and the van as the sun set. It was another great cyclocross weekend.

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Race Results (will be posted when online)


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