Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Lynne in NYC

Kopac's Corner

Peace, Love, and Covered Bridges

by Bob Kopac

On June 3, 2006, Lynne and I drove 4 hours from Poughkeepsie, NY to Woodstock through torrential rains so Lynne could run a half marathon race the next day. No, not Woodstock, NY, but Woodstock, VT, and the 15th annual Vermont Covered Bridges Half Marathon. On arrival, we met fellow Hudson Valley runners and sloshed over to the Woodstock Elementary School to meet race director Bill Blaiklock. Considering the race course was being pounded with 2 inches of rain, Bill appeared calm and peaceful. Hmm, he must not be a type-A personality.

Question: With all this rain, how are you going to handle parking?

Bill: We changed the configuration of the parking to take advantage of the high parts of the field instead of the low. We were driving a couple of thousand cars across the low bottom section, and it got muddy. So we added some extra fields, changed the whole parking flow.

Question: You limited the field to 2,000 registered runners. You also have people running for charity. How many?

Bill: About 150. We donated 150 spots to 4 different charities: Cancer center, Alzheimers, Multiple Sclerosis, and Davids House. They should raise about $100,000 between them.

Question: Do you think 2,150 runners will be your limit?

Bill: We were looking at almost 3,000 runners [in previous years]. The course and the facilities including parking just could not handle it. So part of what we have done is scale the race to a certain size, about 2,000 give or take to try to take advantage of what the course can really handle and also to keep a small-town feeling Runners want something when they come to a small town in Vermont that still feels like a small town The population of this town is only a couple thousand. We have 400 volunteers, so a large percentage of the towns are volunteering in this. So it is a huge community event, but if you are not careful you can make it too big and really lose the whole feel of what made it successful.

Question: What is the local peoples opinion of the race?

Bill: Actually, very positive. I think people see it as a huge event that brings in lots of people. Obviously, we are a tourist town, so the more you bring in, the better. We donate about $30,000 to local youth recreation programs, soccer teams, cross-country teams, etc. About 25 different groups receive funding. So it is important to the community in terms of just involvement, in terms of people coming here, seeing the community. A ton of local people run. It directly or indirectly affects almost everyone in these couple of towns.

Question: What is your biggest problem or worry with this race?

Bill: Its really just trying to put the logistics together with so many volunteers, so many moving pieces. I think we are unique for this type of organization with the size of this event that we are all volunteers. We do not have any paid staff, no administrative people. Everything is done through volunteers We sell out the race in 10 hours [the 2nd Monday in December at the http://www.cbhm.com web site] and 65 percent are repeats. So, obviously we have managed to fit the pieces together very well, and the towns and all the people around are very happy with it and excited about it.

Question: What is the strangest thing that has happened at the race?

Bill: Well, we havent had any UFO incidents yet, although that could happen. I do not have a good answer for you, probably because I have not slept in 3 or 4 days. [Laughs]

After a night of pouring rain that probably prevented Bill from sleeping, the morning dawned with overcast skies but little precipitation. As the race was a point-to-point race from the unsettlingly named Suicide Six ski resort in Woodstock to a field in Quechee, runners waited to board busses at the Quechee Quality Inn, one of the assembly places, where I took photos and helped hand out water. I told the captive audience, We have lots of water, especially for those of you who are nervous.

After the last bus left, I drove to the Middle Covered Bridge at the Woodstock village green to get a good location to photograph the runners approaching along River Street. Just as the runners caught sight of the bridge, they had to turn right away from the bridge onto Mountain Avenue, where they ran past many beautiful old houses before looping onto River Street.

Finally, just past Mile 4, the runners turned right and ran through the covered bridge. On the other side they were met by many spectators and a brass band, one of 12 bands along the course. The runners ran past the crowds on the village green and past the village shops, then they left town on Elm Street.

I next drove slowly on Route 4, due to the many other motorists leaving town, towards the 1836 Taftsville Covered Bridge. I finally arrived near the bridge, as did many other motorists, so I had to park some distance away and walk to the bridge. I arrived in time to watch the mid-pack and back-of-the-pack runners. They had survived the long hill at Mile 5 and now were running on a flat and scenic tree-lined dirt road next to the Ottauquechee River as they approached Mile 8 and the Taftsville Covered Bridge.

However, instead of crossing the bridge, they turned left and went up a painfully steep but mercifully short hill. Many spectators and a brass band helped the runners up the hill. As the runners struggled up the hill, I noticed that many had come from New York City, as evidenced by their distinctive New York Flyers T-shirts. I yelled out, Go Flyers to help them up the hill. I gave encouragement to other runners by saying, I know you were getting bored by the flat river road, so we made a hill just for you. There also was a large contingent of Canadians wearing red maple leaf T-shirts. I helped them up the hill by saying, Hills are your friends, eh! Surprisingly, the runners laughed at my remarks instead of beating me. Perhaps they were too tired by that point.

Around Mile 9, according to Lynne, there was a policeman directing traffic at an intersection, waiting for gaps in the stream of runners to let cars through. Lynne said, But the way he was directing traffic! He was not just using his hands, he was using his whole body, and he almost looked like he was dancing. He was great; he should have had music. It would have been really cool if there had been a band right there, he was just hopping. He had all this arm action, he really put a lot into directing traffic.

Towards the end of the race the runners ran through downtown Quechee and past the Quechee Covered Bridge. However, since the bridge was a short distance up Waterman Hill Road to the right, and the race course went around a curve to the left along Main Street, Lynne never saw the bridge.

The remainder of the course was very scenic, as it ran past Deweys Pond and fields of wild flowers. I walked back along the course away from the finish line at Deweys Mill Road to see the finishing runners. That was where I encountered a female spectator cheering on Tamara Kinzer of New London, NH. She said, Tamara just had a baby 6 months ago, and she only had run 3 miles maybe 5 times. She was determined she was going to do this half marathon. And she did it!

I also talked with Victor Haddad of Somerset, MA as he finished his race. He said, I am 75 years old. Can you believe it? I have been running for 30 years. It was obvious he loved to run, and he loved this course. That was understandable. With a scenic course, good music, a small-town atmosphere, and enthusiastic spectators and volunteers, the Vermont Covered Bridges Half Marathon is a race to love.

P.S. Hudson Valley runners had a fun time at the half marathon. Erika Abrahams time of 2:14:00 was under the time of the USATF Age-Group guidelineimpressive for someone who twisted her ankle near the start of the race which resulted in a stress fracture. Lynne Kopac and Joe Sweeney ran together after Mile 8 and helped distract each other from the pains they were feeling, both finishing together and both setting PRs in the process. Everett White and Jack and Linda Spyker-Oles returned to Vermont just one week after running the Vermont City Marathon. Jack and Linda finished the half marathon together, as did Al and Laura Grigull. Roy Abraham enjoyed the course and his finish. Eileen Sylvia finished the race and then made an excellent restaurant recommendation where many of us ate afterwards.

During lunch, some of the runners got up to go to the restroom, and a restaurant patron asked if they were drunk based on the way they were walking. They replied, No, we just ran a half marathon! The topic at our table was the different pains everyone was feeling. Al Grigull asked, Why do we run? I said, Running makes you dumb, and the longer you run, the dumber you become. Al replied that, since he ran a 50-mile race recently, he must be the dumbest!

Top 6 male finishers:

  1. Rick Rountree 1:08:56 Williston, VT Age 28
  2. Mark Churchill 1:12:43 Morrisville, VT Age 30
  3. Rich Smith 1:12:55 Enfield, NH Age 36
  4. Matthew Hyde 1:12:58 Arlington, MA Age 29
  5. Sam Davis 1:13:17* Colchester, VT Age 45
  6. Tom Coogan 1:14:52 New York, NY Age 34

Top 6 female finishers:

  1. Cindy Pomeroy 1:23:05* Windsor Locks, CT Age 44
  2. Kristen Coogan 1:23:16 New York, NY Age 31
  3. Maribel Souther 1:25:30 Hanover, NH Age 31
  4. Debbie Gould 1:27:47* Pelham, MA Age 40
  5. Riva Johnson 1:28:05* West Point, NY Age 43
  6. Rebecca Butler 1:28:46 Hanover, NH Age 28

Hudson Valley runners (chip time):

* Time is under the USATF Age-Group guideline