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Ridgefield Half Marathon Holds Trove Of Memories For Race Co-Director

John Dugdale has been involved with the Ridgefield Half Marathon, either as a volunteer, runner or race director, since the race started in 1977.
John Dugdale has been involved with the Ridgefield Half Marathon, either as a volunteer, runner or race director, since the race started in 1977. Photo Credit:

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- John Dugdale knows every inch of the course for the Ridgefield Half Marathon. Besides being the co-race director with Rick Favier, the 81-year-old Dugdale owns several age group records on the 13.1 mile layout and ran the course frequently with buddies from the Wolfpit Running Club.

“The course is part of a 10-mile loop that I’ve run for 20 years,’’ said Dugdale as he works with Favier on final preparations for Sunday’s 40th anniversary of the popular race. “It was certainly to my advantage, knowing every detail of the course when I was running the race.”

Injuries curtailed Dugdale’s running the past few years. When he was on top of his game, Dugdale was one of the top Masters runners in the nation. He still holds the age group course record in two age divisions for the Ridgefield Half -- 40-49 and 50-59, and held the record in the 60-69 age group. In 1984, he flew around the course in 1:11:25, an average of 5:27 per mile, and finished sixth.

“I didn’t even start running until I was 43,’’ said Dugdale, who was slowed by a heart attack at age 69. “I competed for 30 years, and even in my early 70s I was running OK. I moved to Texas, got away from my running group and sloughed off a little bit. I don’t really miss it. I play water volleyball three days a week and still try to stay active, but just don’t run any more.”

Dugdale returns from Texas each year and works with Favier to produce the Ridgefield Half. The race actually started as a December marathon in 1977. “We had a good crowd, 500 or so,’’ Dugdale remembered. “I was a new runner so I was not involved in the running of it. I worked at a water stop and didn’t know what the hell I was doing.”

The race continued as a marathon for four years before it switched over to a half marathon. The course also changed, moving from the northern part of town, near the current high school, to its present location. The race starts at the Ridgefield Playhouse and consists of a gently rolling double loop through part of the town’s southern region. The race’s final mile comes into downtown Ridgefield and finishes with a sharp downhill on Market Street.

“This course is about as flat as we could get it in Ridgefield,’’ Dugdale said. “We tried to find a course that was reasonably flat and didn’t have a lot of traffic.”

Participation in the race has been mostly steady over the years, usually between 400-600 runners. In 2002, 631 runners crossed the finish line. Last year, 331 runners finished led by Ridgefield High School cross country coach Bryan Kovalsky in 1:13:27.

“It has been a good run for a race,’’ Dugdale said. “It’s a throwback race, in the sense we’re kind of old fashioned. It’s a race put on for runners and by runners. We don’t have beer and pizza and a big party at the end.”

With the help of Ridgefield Running Company and its co-owners, Megan Searfoss and Deb Povinelli, the Wolfpit Running Club has put more marketing muscle behind the event to help runners re-discover the race. Pre-registration approached 500 more than a week before the race.

“We think it’s a fun race,’’ Dugdale said. “It’s always had a lot of community support and we have people at every corner to direct the runners. We feel like we’ve done a good job with it.”

For more information or to register, click here to visit the race website.

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