BEACHCOMBING: Have What It Takes to Join the Run 169 Club?

Photos by Catherine Avalone

Eighteen years ago, Karen Rogers of Clinton, then nearing her 50th birthday, thought to herself it would be a fun idea to try to run in a road race in every town of Connecticut.

That’s 169 towns, 169 races.

By the time Rogers had finished what she calls her “quest,” it was Nov. 6, 2011.

When she crossed the finish line that day in Ledyard, she had her “Oh, yes!” moment. But that was followed by: “What now?”

“Then my buddies said, ‘Why don’t you try doing it again?’” she recalled. “I’m working on it. I’ve done 59 so far.”

Her “buddies” are members of the Run 169 Towns Society, subtitled Do Every Blessed Town in Connecticut. (run169towns.org). It now boasts 1,539 members from 159 towns in the state.

Rogers is considered “the queen mother” of the group because she was the first to do every town. (She even wears a crown to races, but not when she runs because it tends to fall off.) Bob Davis of Naugatuck was the society’s inaugural “king,” as he was the first man to complete the task, in Ashford in February 2012.Since then, five others have run in every town: Paul Rabenold of Avon, Ben Mattheis of Cheshire, Janit Romayko of East Hartford, Steve Mele of North Haven and Richard Zbrozek of Berlin.

Most runners tend to be sociable and chat each other up at races. And so when Rogers started talking about what she was up to as she knocked off town after town, other runners liked the idea and decided to get something organized. This happened in March 2012.

Adam Osmond, 49, of Farmington, is one of the eight founders, although the only one not to have run in every town. (He’s at 135.) He got sidetracked earlier this year when he broke a bone in his foot after stepping in a pothole in the rain during a race in Woodstock.

Osmond, who set up the group’s website in 2013, notes the society’s members share information with one another about the towns they visit for races. “We tell each other: ‘What’s the best coffee shop there? What’s the best park? What’s a good place to go kayaking?’”

“What drives this is really the fun of it,” Osmond adds. “We take selfies and group pictures at the races, we have an annual picnic and we do a Christmas party. We’re a very diverse group and we all want to have fun.”

Mele, 62, says he tries to run in a race somewhere in Connecticut almost every weekend with his buddies because “I don’t like the feeling of being left out. And I’ve never met so many nice people.”

Mele notes runners are “goal-oriented,” but he adds the society’s members usually don’t worry about how long it takes to finish a race. The most common race distance is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), but many of the members enjoy New Haven’s Faxon Law 20K on Labor Day.

You don’t need to pay any dues to join this society. The group has a motto: “All you have to do is show up and run.”

“We also allow walkers,” Rogers says. “Some people have had knee surgery or have some other reason why they can’t run anymore. They could walk in every town in Connecticut if they want.” (Nobody has done this so far.)

The oldest member of the group is Thomas McIntosh, 79, of Coventry (71 towns). The youngest is Sierra Lionbertger, 6, of Glastonbury (three towns).

Zbrozek, 69, says he is grateful to Rogers for being a trailblazer in the every-town movement. “I used to be embarrassed about it, that people were saying, ‘This guy is nuts!’ But when this group got going, I realized, ‘People won’t think I’m crazy now.’”

When he finished his 169th, in Morris last January, Zbrozek recalled, “I felt so elated. Even though it was pouring rain and I was wet and muddy and tired, I’d finally done it.”

Mattheis, 62, who reached his goal in Franklin in August 2015, says, “The first 150 are easy. But getting through the last 19 is really tough.”

Rogers and Romayko, 71, enjoy the fringe benefit of seeing other parts of the state, checking out towns they would otherwise never visit. “You see the history, the people,” Romayko says. “Some towns are in their own time. Salisbury is beautiful. It’s majestic.”

Rogers notes that because she is a history buff, “I like to go to places and see what’s been made there. East Hampton is ‘the bell town,’” she says, referring to its history of having bell-making factories.

“It’s been a delightful journey,” Rogers says of her quest and the society that grew out of it. “Friends made along the way — and more to meet.

Randall Beach is the longtime columnist for the New Haven Register, where his column appears Fridays and Sundays.

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