Article by E. Packer Wilber
In 1976, four of us began to meet each Saturday morning at 8:30 to do a relaxed five-mile run. We usually met at Jim Dolan's house at 712 Harbor Road in Southport and the group included Jim, Jay Lambert, Jim Crawford and myself. Our run was essentially the five-mile course which we now use for the Thanksgiving Day Race, but we ran it in reverse, out Pequot Avenue and Beachside and back on Greens Farms Road to Westway Road.
Early in the summer of 1977, I decided to try to expand the group into a running club by giving it a name, setting the Wakeman Boys' & Girls' Club as a meeting point, putting posters in store windows, distributing leaflets at local races and getting articles published in the local papers. After two or three Saturdays, we had about 40 runners and it became apparent that Sunday morning at 8:00 would be a more desirable starting time for many in the group. So we switched over and the Club continued to grow.
While fitness and exercise are the predominant attractions of the Pequot Running Club, many friendships have been formed and the Club and its founder are proud to report that introductions initiated at Club events have resulted in several marriages. There have been a number of informal breakfast groups meeting on Sunday and during the week after a run. Every year, late in the summer, the Club sponsors a well-attended dinner – most recently a clambake – for all members and we now hold a holiday dinner late in the year.
During the summer, some members meet to do interval workouts at one of the local high school tracks and a few members get together to complete long runs training for various marathons and sometimes ultra-marathons. A growing group of walkers circumnavigates Southport on Sunday mornings as the others run. In one year, we sponsored a cross-country series and for several years we held a 12-mile race as part of a "Boston Build-up" series before the Boston Marathon.
During its first year the Club became a member of the Road Runners Clubs of America and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), now USA Track & Field (USATF). In 1980, the Club was incorporated. For several years, Pequot awarded certificates to members for exceeding age and gender standards. Several courses were measured and mapped, including five-mile and 10-kilometer courses, and shorter 2.7 and .4 mile distances.
In 1979 or 1980 we initiated "pie races" for children where each age group ran an appropriate distance and everyone who completed the distance (everyone!) was awarded an entire 10" apple pie. This was very popular and usually drew 70 or 80 children with little or no promotion. In 1978 we had our first Thanksgiving Day Five Mile Race which has become a Connecticut tradition. I think we had 630 runners in 1978 and over 1100 the next year. Our homegrown scoring system broke down that year and we had finishing runners backed up from the finish line in front of the Club, all the way out under the railroad bridge to Pequot Avenue. One proposed solution was to locate the finish line 30 yards behind the actual five-mile mark so the runners would keep moving and not bottleneck at the finish. Another proposed solution was to dig a deep trench across the finish line and sort out the finishing order by a runner's location in the pile. Luckily, saner opinions prevailed and for several years, we have employed digital timing services.
The race grew rapidly to 5000+ registrants and could be much larger if we had the space, wider roads, and if we wanted to do more promotion. In 2005, a 2.6-mile walk was added and it already attracts over 600 entrants.
For years, one of the large houses facing the water on Beachside Avenue set out a very powerful amplifier and played the theme song from "Rocky" as a motivator for the runners. In one year, a parade of antique automobiles enhanced the scenery as the race proceeded by. Every year, the Trumbull Bagpipe Band adds color and dash and leads the runners out to the starting line. Although it has been difficult, we have fought off attempts by the media to characterize the race as a "turkey trot" instead of our preferred and dignified title: The Pequot Runners Thanksgiving Day Five Mile Race.
The Thanksgiving Day Race now raises substantial amounts of money for local charities including the Wakeman Boys' & Girls' Club, Fairfield Community Services, the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, Westport EMS, the Keystone Club, Weston High School Boosters, the Laddie Lawrence Scholarship Fund (founded by us in 2001), and the Fairfield Police Explorers. We are grateful for all the assistance we receive from the Towns of Fairfield and Westport, their respective Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Medical teams, and from many local organizations, schools and businesses.
For two or three years the Club administered the Dogwood Festival race for the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, but two major races a year created too much work for the membership.
Many members have served the Club as officers and volunteered their special talents as graphic designers, legal advisors, coordinators of various social activities, race officials, photographers, refreshment providers, and so forth. Even a simple running club needs time, talent and effort. Getting race sponsors, dealing with the towns of Fairfield and Westport, organizing the volunteers and coordinating with the Wakeman Boys' & Girls' Club requires a high level of ability and is very time intensive. Over the years, many members have become expert at handling race mailings and registration, setting up and taking down all of the infrastructure needed for the course and the finish line and race administration at the finish line and out on the course. Club Presidents have included Jim Dolan, Beth Harris, Andy Garson, David Dittmann, Jeff Palmer and myself. Race Directors have included Beth Harris, Tom Harding, Marty Iselin, Andy Garson, David Dittmann, Peter Maloney, Jeff Palmer, and myself.
Jeff Palmer has emerged as the most recent leader and over the past 32 years has served as the Club President and has also taken on the massive job of planning, coordinating and running the Thanksgiving Day Race. Despite the intensive effort needed to put on a major race, the Club has largely succeeded in maintaining a balance between the need for organization and the desire of most members for relaxed uncomplicated Sunday morning runs as well as a couple of scheduled weeknight runs that were added several years ago.
Although the Pequot Running Club has changed and grown over the years, the low-key atmosphere, the companionship, and the enjoyment and challenge of running and walking have remained the same.
December 2007 (edited March, 2021)
Sasquatch (Bigfoot) Runs in Thanksgiving Day Race
Running close to the front in the 1978 Pequot Runners Five Mile Thanksgiving Day Race in Southport, Connecticut, Andy Garson could hear heavy breathing just ahead of him and noticed a strong musky odor like charred wood or maybe burning rubber. As he covered the next few hundred yards he could hear the breathing fall back behind him and the smell disappeared. Looking around, Andy couldn't see the other runner and, as he neared the finish he began to focus on his own race and pushed the odd event into his subconscious. Later and on reflection, he thought: "well, I was kind of running on autopilot at the time and the endorphins must have been flowing so I could easily have been imagining things."
In 1985 the Thanksgiving Day Race was run during a light snowfall and Peter Donovan was coasting along well within his limits, enjoying the scenery and the companionship of the many other runners. About halfway through the Race, passing Sasco Creek Road, he began to see very large shoeless footprints appearing in the snow, one after another, just ahead of him and to his left. The effect was almost mesmerizing in its regularity. The snow was muffling the sound of footfalls so Peter couldn't hear anything and, peering through the falling snow and the slight early morning mist drifting in from the Sound, he couldn't see anyone either. Since his ears had already been assaulted by bagpipers at the beginning of the race and, later, by the "Theme from Rocky" blasting from a house on Beachside, perhaps he couldn't have heard anything anyway. He soon moved ahead of the mysterious phenomenon and later, in his mind, ascribed it to the onset of runner's high and maybe not enough sleep the night before the race.
Just after the 2011 race, Tom Harding one of the Pequot Running Club Directors ran into Judy Zukerman at a whitewater kayaking event in Vermont. Judy's house in Southport fronts on the Pequot Avenue section of the course and she told Tom about the curious and inexplicable behavior of her pair of five year old Dobermans who, during the race, prowl back and forth along the property line just inside the invisible fence, eying the runners like road candy. For a few minutes midway through each of the last several races, these aggressive guard dogs have become terrified, retreating to the rear of the property whining and cowering submissively behind the house.
During the 1990s, the Pequot Running Club began to use tracking systems to automatically record the numbers and times of runners as they crossed the finish line. Duncan Harris was in charge of this process as it was developed and refined over the years and, as the years passed, he noticed that the same long nine digit number kept appearing in the tally – a number not assigned to any runner. It was as if someone or something had crossed the line unseen except by the electronic finishing technology. At first, he wrote it off as an anomaly which could be expected in such a complicated process but when the same number kept appearing year after year it became a topic for Board level discussion. No one could come up with an explanation and outside experts were similarly baffled.
The strange recurring number bothered Duncan, a scientist with a trained and mostly orderly mind. During a quiet vacation with his family in the Caribbean in the late winter of 2011, he took along the book Enigma: The Battle for the Code about the breaking of the German "Enigma" code during World War II. While reading the book, he thought about his finish results and wondered if the recurring number could be a form of code. Taking this idea as an hypothesis, his mind began to work on the problem and, as his daughters report, Duncan might as well have been on Mars for the rest of the holiday.
Working with some of the concepts from the book and his own knowledge of coding and computer analysis, it took about a week of effort for Duncan to identify the number as the likely product of a somewhat arcane coding system known as a Trifid Cipher (spelled with a single "f" unlike the plant species). Based on this insight, he painstakingly translated the recurring nine digit number into the word "SASQUATCH" and the pieces began to fall into place. Since the implications of this word were even more upsetting than its continued recurrence, Duncan kept his thinking to himself until the next Board meeting which led Peter to again mention his mysterious experience and Andy to then remember his own encounter. Tom recounted his Vermont conversation with Judy Zukerman about the curious behavior of her Dobermans.
This wasn't something that Jeff Palmer, President of the Pequot Running Club, wanted to put into the Board Minutes. Runners are all too aware that many non-runners think they must be out of their minds and this would certainly be further confirmation. Accordingly, the Board decided not to record their discussion of the possibility of an eight foot tall mythical creature running every year in their Thanksgiving Day Race.
Several Club members did do some historical research which didn't yield much. About the best hypothesis anyone could come up with is that Sasquatch, sometimes known as Bigfoot, was somehow affiliated with the Sasqua and Pequot Indians who lived in the Southport area. Most other sightings of Bigfoot have been in the Pacific Northwest which could indicate that after the Great Swamp Fight in 1637 in Southport, he moved west ahead of encroaching settlers and the gold rush, ending up in the most wooded portion of the west coast.
Why would he come back to Southport? Well, a few wolves seem to be moving east and south back to New England – maybe Bigfoot moves with the wolves. Around Thanksgiving there are lots of wild turkeys in this area and perhaps it is appropriate for Sasquatch to have his turkey too. None of us can figure out how he could be so numerate as to be able to use a ciphering system invented in 1901 or why he runs with the Pequot Running Club but then the legend of Sasquatch or Bigfoot is enshrouded in mystery anyway and explanation is perhaps best left to future generations.
Note: The Pequot Running Club Five Mile Thanksgiving Day Race in Southport, CT, was inaugurated in 1978 and 2021 will be the 43rd consecutive race. Generally, more than 4800 runners and walkers participate in the race and its associated walk.
The Race proceeds (well over $1,000,000 over the years) go to many local charitable organizations including The Wakeman Boys and Girls Club, The Laddie Lawrence Scholarship Fund at Staples High School, Westport EMS, The Domestic Violence Crisis Center, Fairfield Counseling Services, The Keystone Club (Fairfield), Fairfield Police Explorers, and The Weston High School Boosters.
Pequot Runners By-Laws
In order to run a successful club, structure is essential. The Pequot Runners, officially known as the Pequot Running Club, Inc., follow specific rules for conducting its organization through its By-Laws. To see the club By-Laws, click on the button below.