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LHRR: Fun and Games

POSTED May 22, 2011
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                                        LHRR: Fun and Games

             It’s 18 feet of potential torture that stirs the soul of even the stoutest. Six yards of big-time challenge that takes no prisoners and has reduced some of the best to wobbly wannabees. Welcome to the Litchfield Hills Road Race.

            No, no, no not the official race. That’s 7.1 miles of cake held on the second Sunday of every June in front of a tree-lined green stuffed with people, candle operas, cheese dip and most of the McKenna family.

            This is the 18-Foot Bridge Race held on the Russell St. Bridge. This is man-up time or woman-up time or something like that. This is fun behind the run and there is plenty of that to be found at the LHRR.

            Only the rookies think that the LHRR starts and ends with the 1,300 or so runners who do their thing for about two hours or so on Sunday afternoon. And even they find out very quick that while the race is the center piece it is far from the only piece.

            The race is a feel good party that spans days, not minutes and hours. What started in 1977 with a race and lot of partying is now a lot of partying with a race in the middle. The organizers and workers realized that long, long ago. There is work to be done and there is fun to be done and as history has proven they have learned to do both very, very well.

            Take the Bridge Race. The treacherous trek requires a beverage stop at the nine foot mark. The object is to come closest to Gordon Schaefer’s winning time. The mystery is that no one knows what that time is. Last year the winning time was 40 minutes. That’s less than a half a foot a minute, you want to talk about endurance?

            The first half of the race is uphill, the second half downhill. For several years there was even a state police car there to lead the race. Believe me, nothing will test you like the Bridge Race. Medical experts have even suggested three days of rest following because of what the race can do to your body.

            Then there is the Open Bud Open held every Monday after the race at Stony Brook Golf Course. Legendary LHRR announcer, fashion icon, Litchfield Park and Rec Director, Village Restaurant libation server, Litchfield High cross country coach and all-around good guy Brent Hawkins began the event as a post race celebration and wind down. It has been a huge success.

            In each foursome there is one good golfer, one lady, one out-of-country person and probably somebody who just wants to drive the cart or got lost on the way to Goshen. It works. Anywhere from 20 to 40 participate and some even remember to tell about it after.

            Not everyone knows the game as Bill Neller tells it.

            “One year Hawk hit the ball in the water and I think it was a guy from Spain dove in the pond to get the ball. He thought you had to play the same ball or something.”

            There is usually a cart riding around with refreshments and by the end, well, many are refreshed. After, the group plays a game of spoons and a Rookie of the Year is proclaimed. Just another LHRR tradition, folks.

            There is also the cemetery tour, one part tears and one part cheers. There is a walk around to say hello and good-bye to those who have gone to the big finish line in the sky. A bagpiper accompanies. The stories flow along with the stories, laughs and remembrances.  

            Jean Murphy, wife of legendary LHRR figure Bear Murphy, always plays Sinatra’s `My Way’ at the grave and the grandchildren no show up. The final stop is at LHRR co-founder, Joe Concannon. A toast is made and times resurrected. 

            It is about good people and good times remembered. But as Neller mentions there is sadness. The number of good people on the tour is growing and we’re not talking about the ones still capable of movement.

            The fun and the funny moments have never stopped through 35 years. Neller likes to take a group to dinner before the race, race directors, friends and whoever. Legendary Tommy Leonard, a long-time LHRR friend and Falmouth connection is usually in the group. One year a bagpiper came in while the group was eating and played the Marine hymn. Leonard, very much a Marine guy, pulled out his harmonica and joined in.

            “Tommy walked out with the guy. I don’t think he ever ate,” laughs Neller.

            There is the barricade crew that does its thing on Saturday. One crew dances while the other crew loads. Singing is a must. Former head barricade boss Spencer Crampton used to lead the singing.

            Of course fun times can lead to a few mishaps and such. Ask Steve Jones. The former world record holder in the marathon was in for the race and staying at Leo Paul’s house a bit out of town. A few organizers left Sunday morning to set up for the race and told Jones they would come back to get him.

            So much for that plan. Jones had an idea where the center of town was and began walking in. He got a couple or rides, one probably from a tractor and finally arrived much to the chagrin to a few forgetful organizers.

            “Here we have the world record holder and we forgot to get him. He walked to the race,” Neller said.

            The race goes on, the fun goes on, the stories go on. It is the special essence of the LHRR. Now if you will excuse me I must continue my training for the next bridge race. I’m up to 10 feet already and my endurance is getting better.    

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