Best feet forward: Westport welcomes half marathon back
The music could be heard as runners in the 33rd annual Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon passed the 5-mile marker, crossing from Fairfield into Westport for the first time in about 12 years. A 3-mile Westport leg of the 13.1-mile course was added back this year.
The DiGuidos placed a sound system and a tall speaker on their front lawn and played the running anthem to offer encouragement to the field of about 5,000 runners. They do the same for runners in the annual Pequot Runners' Turkey Trot in November.
"They fist pumped, threw their hands in the air and yelled `Bruce, Bruce!' " Chris DiGuido said.
"Everybody smiled. We got lots of `thank-yous' and high fives," Al DiGuido said.
Running coach Tom Harding of Fairfield -- not to be confused with Tom Harding of Westport, who ran Sunday and was the top finishers among Westport's half marathon entrants -- credited the DiGuidos for their support of the half marathon and what they do for the Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving. "You can count on them. It's such a boost for the runners, not just the music but real positive energy. It's festive when people are feeling tired," said Harding.
Even though most of the runners appeared too focused to chat with spectators as they made their away along the course on warm and humid morning, several were spotted talking on their cellphones as they plowed ahead.
The new route that incorporated the Westport loop, to and from Fairfield's Jennings Beach, won praise from runners, many of whom appreciated the flatter, more scenic course, the additional exposure to Long Island Sound with its cooling breeze and attractive views, and the route through quiet neighborhoods of large, beautiful homes.
"It's a beautiful area of Westport. It promotes the area," said John Schluter, who lives along the route in Westport. He and his wife Jean stood at the top of their driveway and cheered the runners as they passed. John Schluter was surprised to see one of his work colleagues, who lives in New Jersey, run by; he said he had no idea the man would be among the runners.
Actor Frank Converse of Weston and his wife Maureen Anderman sat along Greens Farms Road to cheer for their daughter Maggie Converse, and they stayed long after she passed by them to offer encouragement to the rest of the field. Anderman said Maggie participated in Sunday's race to raise money and awareness for the Children's Tumor Foundation in New York, where Maggie works, and also in preparation for her entry in the Lake Placid Iron Man competition. Maggie biked 100 miles Saturday as part of that training.
"It's great to have this here, thousands of people running, participating in this together on a beautiful day in Westport," Anderman said.
Maggie Converse's charity was one of dozens that benefited from money raised by half marathon runners and sponsors. Others include the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Connecticut Chapter, and Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
"I love that it's back in Westport. It's made the course a little flatter and that'll enable people to run PRs, personal records. That always draws more people to a race. And that means more people running for Hole in the Wall Camp. It's a win for the town, it's a win for Hole in the Wall and it's a win for the runners," Leaf said.
At the corner of Sasco Creek and Greens Farms roads, about a dozen spectators gathered, some cheering for the runners in general and some for specific participants. William Hathaway, 3, and his 10-month old brother Brendan waited with dad Tyler Hathaway for Kristin Hathaway, who was running in the event for the first time. William clapped for all the runners who passed by, but also had a special sign for his mom that read, "Go Mommy Go. We love you."
In Southport, at the corner of Pequot Avenue and Westway Road, the cheering "squads" were joined by four members of the Fairfield Gaelic Pipe Band, who urged on the runners playing tunes like, "When the Saints Go Marching In" and the Notre Dame University fight song. The pipers and other spectators stayed for the duration until some of the last runners limped by.