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March of the Penguins: Get Ready for the New Year's Day Run-Swim

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published December 28. 2013 4:00AM

With only days to go before the greatest event on Earth, the New Year’s Day run-swim, I’ve been training with a vengeance by repeatedly dashing full-speed into a giant block of dry ice while wearing only nylon shorts, and then hanging upside down in a 55-gallon drum packed with seaweed and piña colada Slurpees.

For the uninitiated, this exhilarating, southeastern Connecticut tradition for nearly half a century consists of a group run from Mystic to Fishers Island Sound followed by a leap into the frigid water, and then a high-speed ambulance transport to the I.C.U. — all right, I made up that last part.

I’ve chronicled this madcap celebration so many times I’ll spare details, except to remind everybody that like last year we will be starting at noon Wednesday at St. Mark’s Church on Pearl Street, and then rambling south along Noank Road, detouring up the nasty hill on Brook Street and winding up at Esker Point Beach on Groton Long Point Road, a distance of about 3.3 miles.

In past years we’ve left from the Pequot Avenue home of marathon legend Johnny Kelley and plunged in at Groton Long Point’s Main Beach, but after Kell’s death and bridge construction the course and diving-in point have changed.

Bill Billing of Mystic and I have the record for participating the most consecutive years — I forget; it’s either 136 or 137 — while Kim Murphy of Stonington is one year behind. I bumped into both of them a week or so ago and they look terrible — I don’t think either can hobble more than a few yards, let alone run 3.3 miles, so I’m pretty confident one day I’ll have sole possession of first place, which will be my crowning achievement, to illustrate how shallow and unproductive my life has been. (Just kidding, guys — we’ll all be loping together for a few more decades).

Anyway, the event is free, open to the public, and has no formal name, organization or purpose other than to have a good time. Hope to see you there.

This time of year is also a good time to reflect on the past 12 months, and I look back at 2013 with joy and delight tempered by shock and sadness.

The Boston Marathon bombing stopped me at about mile 25.5 last year, and I still can’t process that awful tragedy except to say we all mourn the deaths and injuries inflicted by madmen, and most of us who ran last year vow to return stronger and more determined to finish the course next April.

I’ve been training with Phil Plouffe of Mystic, who ran side-by-side with me last year until we reached Commonwealth Avenue, less than a mile from the finish, when

everything froze. We’ll cross the finish line next time.

My son, Tom, who blazed through the course in 2 hours and 42 minutes and finished long before the bombs detonated, is now living in New Mexico but also plans to return for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

None of us who were there will ever forget Boston 2013, but that bitter memory is offset somewhat by the many happy, silly and transcendent experiences over the past year: climbing snow-covered Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome in New Hampshire in January; making maple syrup in February and log chairs in March; winning a Triple Crown of kayak races in the tandem division with my buddy, Ian Frenkel – the 5-mile Essex River Race in Essex, Mass., in May; the 20-mile Blackburn Challenge around Cape Ann in Gloucester, Mass., in July; and the 14-mile Lighthouse Race on Long Island Sound in September; whitewater rafting in August on Utah’s Green River with friends and family, with my son as the guide; and perhaps my greatest victory, taking first place in a rake vs. leaf blower competition in November.

I’ve also battled, with mixed results, an annoying cardinal tapping for months on windows in our house; beetles that devoured my Brussels sprouts and grape leaves; and a wily catbird that kept finding its way into my blueberry enclosure.

I’ve enjoyed relating these experiences and especially have appreciated feedback from readers – even those who’ve called me an idiot or worse.

Happy New Year, everybody! Here’s hoping 2014 is even better than ’13.

 

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