Fairfield Road Race celebration dominates Jennings Beach area
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – Three-thousand four-hundred twenty starting runners. Five-hundred to 1,000 spectators at the finish. Another few thousand along the course. Sixty-five port-o-potties. One hundred thousand cups of water. Over 15,000 cups of Gatorade. Three thousand pounds of watermelon. Twelve hundred apples. Two thousand Gu Gel energy packets. Three hundred pizzas. Four thousand ice creams. Three thousand yogurts. Fifteen hundred bagels. Fifteen hundred volunteers. Nine water stations. Two bands, a deejay, a fife and drum corps, and bagpipers.
The logistics and sheer numbers related to the Stratton Faxon Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile race run Sunday morning from Jennings Beach, are staggering. The 31st annual event, sponsored for the fifth year by Stratton Faxon law firm and for the tenth year by Anthem Health Plans, is the largest footrace in Fairfield County and the fourth largest in Connecticut.
“It’s a fast-growing race,” said Event Coordinator John Bysiewicz. “Five years ago, we had 3,000 participants. This year, we doubled that number with the 5K.”
In the past, a 5K and the Half Marathon were run on the same day. This year, the 5K was scheduled the day prior. “We used to be limited to 4,500 participants overall,” said Bysiewicz. “Having the 5K on a separate day allowed us to accommodate an additional 1,300 people.”
Founded by Steve Lobdell, the race director and a retired Fairfield Fire Dept. captain, the event is supported by 60 to 70 fire dept. members as well as area scouting troops, the Fairfield YMCA and Fairfield Beach Association. “It really is a community event,” said Bysiewicz. “Almost all our volunteers are from Fairfield and 700 to 1,000 runners are from Fairfield. So, over 1,500 Fairfielders are involved in the event in some way.”
Fundraising is also a big story with the race. Team in Training, representing the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, raised over $100K; Hole in the Wall raised close to that figure; and other independent groups pulled an equal amount for charity. “Between runners and charities, over $300K has been raised this weekend,” said Bysiewicz.
Overall, the Ethiopians, known to be world-class runners, dominated at the finish line. Kumsa Adugna, 24, placed first with a time of 1:04:40 and Ketema Nigusse, 30, placed second 15 seconds behind. They captured $2,000 and $1,000 cash prizes respectively. Among women, Moroccan Malika Mejdoub, 29, finished first at 1:18:06. The top U.S. finisher was Ridgefield, CT resident Lucas Meyer, 27, at 1:09:52. The fastest teen on the course was Matt Klein, 17, from Trumbull, in at 1:13.43. The top finisher from Fairfield was Paul Dolynchuk, 42, recording a time of 1:25:14.
While these competitors were in it to win it, many more, like Bostonian Elisia Eifler, had entered for the first time and were challenging themselves. “I trained three to four months,” she said, while getting a free massage onsite before the race from students with the American Massage Therapy Association. “My twin sister, a marathoner, flew out from San Diego to join me. I was nervous last night.”
Charlene Calandro, from Newtown, was participating for the first time with two friends. “We decided to cross this one off our bucket list,” she said. “We’re excited and nervous. My friend Christine is my weight management coach and I dared her to do this.”
Claudia Hordes, from Stamford, just hoped to finish. “That’s all I want,” she said. “I just don’t want to be last. It’s a nice day, I think it’s going to be fun.”
Other runners were veterans and planned to at least put forth a good showing. “I’ve done five half marathons,” said Chris Palko, from Trumbull. “This is my second time for this one. It’s a beautiful course. The start and finish is very easy, and the event overall is well organized, with lots of supporters and a great massage at the end.”
With Palko was Erin Merritt, from New York City. “I love the shady downhill in Greenfield Hills,” she said. “That’s when you can start to pick it up and go. I’ve done the race six or seven times.”
Stephanie McNamara, from Stamford, said she had done a couple of 5Ks and that this was her second half marathon. “I love the crowd,” she said. “Forty-five hundred runners is a perfect number. You’re surrounded by a mix of people pushing each other.”
Besides the independent runners, there were full teams, like the Fairfield Running Group. “About 70 of our members are running,” said Kristen DeLaurentiis, the group’s chairman. “We’ve raised over $12,000 for Tiny Miracles, which helps families with premature babies in Fairfield County.”
David MacNiven, director of marketing for Team Hole in the Wall, which funds a camp for children with serious illnesses, said, “We had 45 runners in the 5K yesterday and 135 in the half marathon today.”
Among spectators, Claire Andoy, from Ossining, NY, said, “I wouldn’t miss supporting Sonia for the world,” she said, referring to her best friend Sonia Neto, also from Ossining, who was running her first half marathon.
As runners came across the finish line, flanked by cheering spectators, and received a medal, they made their way over the dunes to a beach-based exhibit and cool-down area where several charities and vendors, like Generation UCan powdered energy drink, Blue Buffalo cat and dog food and 95.9 FM, had tables. Many runners, sweat-covered from their feat, marched right down and into the water – the ultimate cool-off.
There, runner Lisa Lapointe, from Norwich, CT, commented, “The course was awesome and beautiful and this is one of the best celebrations.”
Looking winded and relieved, Fairfielder Dave Rabideau, 41, said the course was harder than he imagined. “ The heat made it difficult,” he said. “I’d been training in the morning when it was cooler. I’d been running threes and fives, along with some tens the last couple of weeks. The extra few miles are a killer. But I did it.”