Runners are always looking for new challenges. So before Karen Rogers turned 50, she started thinking about trying to run 50 marathons in 50 states.
But the travel was expensive, the training extensive and Rogers, of Clinton, decided to stick a little closer to home with her goal: How about running a race in all 169 towns in Connecticut?
That was in 1998. She turned 50 in 1999. Her goal was to run 50 races that year and she did.
"That's when I thought, 'This is doable,'" she said. "Connecticut is probably the 'racing-est' state. There is a race almost every single weekend."
She found herself starting one race at 8 in the morning, say, in Durham, and ending up running another in Greenwich that afternoon, just because she "needed" both towns and the races happened to fall on the same day.
Rogers completed her 13-year quest in November of 2011 with a "virtual race" in Ledyard. Like some towns in the state, Ledyard doesn't have a road race. After about six months of checking with town officials and trying to figure out how to get an official race going (to no avail), Rogers and a group of fellow DEBTiConn (Do it in Every Blessed Town in Connecticut) runners descended upon Ledyard and had their own race, and Rogers became the first of the 18-member group to race in Every Blessed Town.
"It's a very difficult thing to accomplish," said Richard Zbrozek, 65, of Berlin, who has 12 towns left. "It's nothing you can do in one or two years."
I met Zbrozek and a fellow DEBTer, Ben Mattheis of Cheshire, before the Willington PTA 5K in May and they told me their story. They had never been to Willington and thought it was great.
"It's a great group of people," said Steve Mele, 58, of North Haven, who has completed 110 towns. "We're having fun. We go to different parts of the state you never see."
Another member, Adam Osmond, a soccer player turned runner from Farmington, just started running last year. He has raced in 21 towns so far but put his quest on hold to complete his first marathon in Hartford last Saturday. So far, Osmond has run races in Colchester, Bristol, West Haven and Roxbury, among others.
"I have been in Connecticut most of my life, but I had never heard of Roxbury," he said. "It's a great little town."
There is even a king and a queen of the group, and they get to wear crowns (although not when they're running because they tend to slip off). Rogers is the queen. Bob Davis of Naugatuck is the king.
"The process of completing the towns has provided me with a unique opportunity to visit parts of the state which I would otherwise have had no reason to see," Davis wrote in an email, "and to befriend people who I otherwise would never have met."
He completed his last town — Ashford — in February with a virtual race.
"They used to have a 10K [in Ashford]," said Janit Romayko, 67, of Manchester, another DEBTer who started running in the 1970s. "I had done it way back. But they don't have a race anymore. I went along with [the group] for support [in February]."
Runners like to have goals, even silly ones, to stay motivated. One year, Romayko vowed to race in shorts every month. Once, she did a triathlon every month.
Then she stumbled upon the DEBTers and joined in. She has raced in more than 100 towns in the state, maybe more, but she started running before records were kept on computers, so she's not sure.
And what about these "virtual races?" How do they count?
"There are 17 towns which do not have races," Romayko said. "Two winters ago, we got together and ran a 5K of our own design so we could get a town done."
There must be three runners and the distance has to be at least five kilometers. And if the town adds a race in the future, the runner has to run the race.
"We had a virtual 5K in Hamburg Cove in Lyme," Romayko said. "That was breathtaking. That's been my best experience."
Mele needs Mansfield, Griswold and Burlington, all of which are hosting races next weekend. But he already has commitments to run with other people and in other events those days.
Mansfield and Burlington, he's not worried about. Griswold, however, has only one race. So he will have to wait until next year.
Bozrah had been an elusive town until this year when the volunteer fire department hosted a race Sept. 29.
"I think five or six of us ran that race," Rogers said. "We all needed Bozrah. I think we made up most of the race. The gentleman who put it on was thrilled. We told him, 'You keep having this race. We will keep sending you runners.'"
For more information about the club, go to http://www.debticonn.org.