The Litchfield Hills Road Race and Carbone's Market: The two just go together. A story by Dan Lovallo.
by Dan Lovallo
At Carbone's Market and Deli in Torrington, the Litchfield Hills Road Race is
as big as the internationally renown establishment's super size grinder. Mention the event to longtime store owner Anthony "Tony" Renzullo, and the stories begin to pour out.
"It's a passion to run with the big guys," said Renzullo, 63, a longtime runner. "It's an unbelievable feeling to run in the race. You meet people along the way, from all over the country. It's really community, a good Sunday afternoon for the family."
For Renzullo's son, Eric, 26,the means summer has arrived. "You can talk about Memorial Day, but the road race begins the summer, when you gather on the green."
Tony Renzullo has missed running the race only three times in the last 20 years. He was not a runner, until he entered his 40s. Searching for a way to maintain a 50-lb. weight loss, following a diet program, he joined the YMCA. It was there, while working out on an exercise bike, he struck up a conversation with someone RACErunning on a treadmill, who suggested he should try a treadmill work too. Renzullo did, liked it, and the rest his history.
"My cousin, Bobby Pappalardo, ran the Litchfield race and that influenced me to run the race. I'll never forget the first year (1991). It was 75 degrees and they almost
called off the race, because of thunderstorms." But the race proceeded, after a delay, and Renzullo has been running it ever since.
Most everyone, who is involved with the road race in some way, shape, or form, bubbles over with enthusiasm, about how big the event has become, since it's start in 1977, and Renzullo is no exception. "It's a big time, sanctioned race. Some people, including runners, make a week of it. And some stay in Litchfield, days after the race is over," he said.
Indeed, the race received a big boost, at its inception, when former Boston and New York City Marathon winner , won the first two LHRR in 1977 and 1978. It was Rodgers, who helped spark the running revival in the USA in the 1970s. His presence in Litchfield, helped validate the event.
What is it like for Eric to watch his Dad compete in the race? "I get an adrenalin rush, watching him. It almost makes you want to do it, but not quite," he said, although he does play other sports, and is a catcher, first baseman and outfielder on the
Carbone's Market softball team.
Tony Renzullo said his most memorable race was seven or eight years ago. "It was hot and humid. The temperature was 98 degrees. They were telling people that if you did not train, don't run it. That's how hot it was. That day, I was running by people, sitting on the side of the road, from heat exhaustion. It was so hot, tar was separating. The road temperature had to be 120 degrees. I was pacing myself, but I saw one woman, who was running, who suddenly dropped on Gallows Lane. That scared me."
But Renzullo finished the seven-mile plus race in 1:10. "I was drenched in water and lost 17 pounds. I felt so weak the rest of the week. That's the race that sticks out in my mind," he said.
Renzullo always starts the race, thinking he's going to win it. "I always think I'm going to win, during the first 100 feet," he said, tongue-in-cheek. "Then I hit the 2 1/2 mile mark and the leader has lapped me. Until, then, I thought I had a chance. Maybe next year."
In the end, however, both Renzullos agreed the race always comes down to community and the good times. "Jack and Billy Neller, Bernie Doyle, family, friends and community, that's what it's all about," Tony Renzullo said.
"It's the family atmosphere. Thousands on the green, checking the watch to see if a new record will be set, a big, giant party," added Eric Renzullo.
And as the anticipation of another LHRR grows, the memories will flow at Carbone's this week, leading up to Sunday's big event.