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(Photo courtesy of Matt Resnisky )
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Do you think you can run faster than a steam train? If you'd like to try, you can at the country's only half marathon/relay race against a turn-of-the-century steam train held annually every October in Essex.
The brainchild of entrepreneur, runner, and Deep River resident Matt Resnisky, the race was designed as a way to raise funds for Making a Difference (MAD), a non-profit organization that raises money for other non-profits.
Team MAD was formed by an ad hoc group of dedicated people in 2006 to be part of the Hartford Marathon, and eventually it turned into its own 501(c)(3) non-profit. Resnisky, founder and current vice president of MAD, says that as a team, the non-profit trains runners and non-runners to be able to complete a half marathon (13.1 miles) or a full marathon (26.2 miles) while raising money for annually designated charities.
"Our goal is to support local charities in reaching their full potential while providing a safe and memorable experience for our runners," says Resnisky.
The Steam Train Half Marathon and two-person relay is the only road race of its kind in the United States, putting it on the map as a destination event for runners from all over the country.
"Only about 10 percent of our runners come from the local area. We have runners come from all over including California, Texas, Florida—it's great," says Resnisky, who hopes that the weather is better than last year, when gale force winds caused the race to be called off. "There is no rain date for this event, because we charter the train from the Essex Steam Train Company and they are booked up for the season, so we are at the mercy of Mother Nature."
Taking full advantage of the beautiful autumn backdrop, painted with New England's iconic foliage, the race is a chance for runners and fans to leaf peep and take in the beauty of the Connecticut River Valley at the same time.
Runners race the train, while families and friends can ride the train and cheer on the runners as they leave the station together. The starting whistle is blown at 7:30 a.m. sharp on Saturday, Oct. 26, which begins the steam train's journey along the Connecticut River toward Deep River Landing, as runners head out on a route through the charming Colonial town of Essex and along the Connecticut River on River Road.
Runners will see their family and friends again at the Deep River Landing on the Connecticut River, before racing the train back to the station. Every runner who finishes will receive a medal, but only those who beat the train will receive the coveted "I Beat the Steam Train" whistle.
"The two-hour-and-15-minute pace is enough to challenge runners who come to be competitive, but it's not crazy fast. The time is a reasonable goal. About 50 percent of the runners beat the train; the others come to have fun, take in the beauty of these small towns, and help raise money for good causes," says Resnisky.
This year, MAD will be donating all of the proceeds of the race to four different charities, including Community Health Resources, the Connecticut Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Deep River Fire Department, and the Connecticut River Museum.
In previous years, the race has garnered between 600 and 650 participants. Only 75 of those registrations can be for the relay due to the number of train seats. The relay involves a two-person team; one starting with the other runners at the train station while the other one rides the train to the Deep River Landing, and then they switch.
"This is a great option for people who don't want to do the full 13.1 miles alone," says Resnisky. "Maybe this is their first time trying a race this long and they want to ease into it. However, the two parts of the race are not split evenly. The first part is about eight miles and the second is 5.1 miles. The relay is a lot of fun and it's a way for us to encourage more people to come out and be part of the event."
He adds, "I think one of the best parts about this race is that those who are not racing but want to cheer on the racers have the chance to ride the train, see the foliage, and cheer on the racers in a very unique and different way."
In the past, the volunteer-organized race has raised approximately $13,000 each year. Resnisky hopes to increase that number this year and would like to see that number as close to $20,000 as it can be.
"We are here to create a unique racing experience that brings people back year after year and inspires new runners all the time," says Resnisky. "This is a super fun race that benefits a lot of great non-profits, so it's a win, win for everyone."
The race will take place on Saturday, Oct. 26. For more information or to get tickets for the train ride, visit runsignup.com/race/ct/essex/beatthetrain. Resnisky also encourages local non-profits to contact email@example.com to set up an information tent at the event.
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