By Clark Judge
(August 6, 2023) — It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s …the Flying Fenglers? Bingo.
Meet Stephen Fengler and his sister, Elizabeth. The two are from Wallingford, ran at Southern Connecticut State University and just blew through the field at the annual Killingworth Road Race on August 5, 2023. Stephen, 23, was the overall winner, covering four miles in a course-record 21:13, while Elizabeth, 27, led the women’s field in 25:03.
She also finished sixth overall.
Nothing new there. The two scored multiple victories on this summer’s race circuit and are so successful they’ve been called “The Flying Fenglers” by those who know them best.
That would be the Run 169 Towns Society, a group of individuals who aspire to run races in every town in Connecticut. “The Flying Fenglers” belong to the club and hadn’t run Killingworth. So they made their first appearance on August 5th.
They left a lasting impression.
To appreciate how astonishing their performances were, compare them to last year when nearly 200 runners competed. The overall winner was New Britain’s Mario Vazquez in 22:38, an average of 5:40 per mile … and he was nearly two minutes ahead of the runner-up.
Stephen Fengler (above photo) bettered that time by a whopping 1:25 and was 1:45 ahead of the race’s second-place finisher.
“I knew the winning time last year was something like 22 (minutes),” he said. “I thought, OK, I can try to beat it.”
The women’s champion in 2022 was Linda Spooner of Sturbridge, Massachusetts. She finished in 26:10.
Averaging 6:16 a mile, Elizabeth Fengler (photo above) bested that time by more than a minute. Though unfamiliar with the course, she said she wasn’t intimidated by a steep hill on the return half of the race – one that can cause participants to walk.
“I had heard about it,” she said. “But I run up and down hills every day on training runs. So I wasn’t fazed by it.”
Remarkably, she and her brother weren’t finished with their weekend running. They intended to run the Sunflower 6K in Griswold on August 6th. But when asked if they’ll return to Killingworth in 2024 to defend their titles, the Fenglers were non-committal.
“We’ll see,” said Elizabeth.
In fairness, there are a couple of explanations for the disparities in times from one year to the next. The first is weather conditions Last summer’s road race was run on an infernal morning when temperatures soared over 80, with a high humidity index. The conditions for this year’s race were a welcome relief, with temperatures in the low 70s, less humidity and an occasional breeze.
Second, there’s the age factor. Each of the Fenglers is 20 years younger than last year’s winners.
That’s not the only difference from last year’s field. There were fewer competitors this time which, considering the weather, surprised race organizers. In 2022, there were 203 who registered and 193 who ran. This time, there were 144 who registered and 126 who participated.
One of those was Columbia’s Suzette Reading of the 169ers. She wasn’t among the top finishers, but that wasn’t what made her race memorable. This is: Killingworth was her 169th town, an achievement recognized prior to the 8:30 a.m. start when she was introduced to an audience assembled in front of the Killingworth Congregational Church.
“I just want to get it over with,” she said, laughing.
And she did. She finished in 57:39 and was honored afterward by the Run 169 Towns Society with a crown, a sash that read “169 Towns” and applause. The Killingworth Road Race committee also awarded her a blueberry pie, normally reserved for first-and-second-place finishers in their age groups.
“It was a tremendous accomplishment,” race organizer Chuck Langevin said, “and we had the honor of being her last race. I wanted her recognized.”
Photos by Clark Judge