Doug Benedetto. Torrington's Running Man.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
You might say Torrington’s Doug Benedetto is a man possessed…but in a good way.
Ever since his first road race that he ran in cutoff shorts, a polo shirt and basketball shoes 16 years ago, Benedetto, owner and operator of Detail Unlimited on the Winsted Road, has been pursuing his dream of moving faster, whether it is on foot or on a bicycle. Beginning his running career as a 240-pound former football, baseball and basketball player in high school, Benedetto, 52, is now 181 pounds and, he says, getting better as he ages.
“I’m much more disciplined now and in touch with everything I do,” he said recently. “From the food I eat (he is a vegan) to how I train. It really consumes a lot of your life. I get up at four a.m. and get to the gym at 5. And I will go out for a bike ride when I get home from work or workout for two hours after I referee a basketball game at night. I have a very understanding wife (Jill Tedesco, a teacher in the Torrington school system).”
His first fling at running in an organized event was the annual Torrington Road Race. “I decided to give it a shot not knowing anything really about running and training. I did okay and actually ran past a couple of friends of mine near the finish line.” Benedetto entered the Litchfield Hills Road Race the following year, which made him realize just how punishing the sport could be.
“I trained a little for Litchfield but I was still big. I finished in under an hour which made me think that if I trained more and harder and lost weight I could improve.”
Benedetto, who has served on the Torrington Board of Public Safety for 14 years, ran his first half marathon in Hartford in 2009, finishing in about an hour and 38 minutes. He actually finished second in the race’s “Clydesdale Division,” for larger men. “I ran the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Providence, R.I. and finished that in a time of 1:28 in 2010.” He was making strides and cutting his times.
He continued to train on a regular basis, sometimes with pals Skip Renzullo and Kim Marchand, going for long runs in Peoples Forest in Barkhamsted to build up his endurance. His next jump was to the marathon, 26.2 tough miles. He ran in the Philadelphia Marathon in November of 2011 as a way to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon the following year. The time to qualify for Boston was 3:25 and Benedetto ran a 3:24.26, making the cut by only 34 seconds.
“The Boston field was filled for 2012, so I got into the 2013 marathon.” Fate and tragedy would then play a part in Benedetto’s running career and life. He finished the 2013 race in good stead, but some 20 minutes later the terror attack happened.
“I was walking back to the finish line and I heard a boom, which most of us thought was an explosion underground or a generator exploding. Then a second huge explosion went off and we knew it was something very serious.” Benedetto, along with other runners, were told to go to local hotels so as to clear the streets in case of further attacks. He waited for his friends and then left for home.
“A few months after the attack we went up for a charity run for the victims of the attack,” he explained, “and they picked me to carry the American flag for the last five miles, which was an honor.”
He decided to run carrying the flag on a pole at that year’s New York City Marathon to honor the fallen and injured at the Boston Marathon. “I was told by the police before the start of the race that I couldn’t run with the flag. I protested and was very angry. It was the American flag and Boston had just happened a few months before. A rules chairman showed me where it says you can’t run with a flag in the race. A policeman took the flag off the pole I had and I was so mad that I wasn’t going to run. A Coast Guardsman saw what was going on and took me aside. He said, “You’re going to run with that flag. We got a small pole, zip tied the flag to it and I ran with it.”
The image of Benedetto running with the flag was captured by a number of media, including the New York Daily News, the New York Times and NBC Nightly News. He has run with the American flag ever since, including at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 in Washington, D.C. The following year a photo of him with the flag was used for the cover of the race’s brochure.
Benedetto has run marathons in Boston, New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and Hartford. His best time has been a 3:16 turned in at Chicago last October. He plans on running the Boston and New York City marathons this year.
He has also transitioned to duathlons, events that call for a run, a bicycle ride, and another run. In 2015 he set the men’s record at the Litchfield Hills Duathlon, a 4.5-K run, 40-K bike and 10-K run, by finishing in a time of 2:01.22. He also plans to begin competing in triathlons, with the ultimate goal of taking part in the famous Iron Man Triathlon, which calls for a two-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and then a marathon.
Benedetto has finished first or second in his age group at a number of events and said one of his biggest thrills is beating the younger guys. “It feels good when you are finishing ahead of guys in their twenties. But it’s fun finishing first or being at the top against guys your age as well. You are never too old to run. I see 80-year-olds at races. I have people tell me they don’t want to hurt themselves by running, but you can’t think about that. You just have to go out and do it.”
And that Benedetto does, six days a week with one day off to rest and recover. “You have to be mentally tough and have a lot of dedication. I have a big calendar in my office with all my races on it. I can see what I need to train for and it motivates me. Sure, there are days when I don’t want to wake up at four in the morning and would like to shut the alarm off and fall back to sleep. But you have to push through. I’ve gotten better as I have gotten older and that is because I’ve disciplined myself to work harder and harder.”
Benedetto said that being a basketball referee for PAL and high schools (he’s a member of the Litchfield County board of officials) also helps keep him in shape as it provides additional exercise. He also coaches PAL basketball. He credits good friends Renzullo and Marchand with providing motivation for him, especially during his first several years of competing at marathons and road races. In the beginning, they would meet him at various mile markers of a race and run with him to the finish line.
Doug Benedetto isn’t slowing down as he ages, he’s actually speeding up. And there is no telling what’s in store for the onetime burly football player who turned into an elite runner.