UConn professor poised to finish 169th race - one for each Connecticut town

By Grace Merritt
When UConn Assistant Professor Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch crosses the finish line in a tutu at the Huskies Forever 5K in Mansfield in late October, she’ll reach the end of an unusual four-year quest.

The Mansfield race on Oct. 27 is the very last town in her plan to run a road race in all 169 Connecticut towns. She saved Mansfield for last in honor of UConn, where she has been teaching communication since 2014.

She is part of a fun-loving, statewide running group called the Run 169 Towns Society, whose 3,300 members all aim to complete a race in all 169 towns. According to group tradition, once a runner reaches 100 towns, he or she wears a tutu. And once the runner completes 169 towns, he or she is informally crowned queen or king of the group, typically by whooping, enthusiastic group members. So far, there have been 52 queens, 37 kings, and one dog, a black lab named Quinn, who got the honor at an Oct. 20 race, said Adam Osmond, one of the group’s founders.

Oeldorf-Hirsch’s accomplishment is even more remarkable when you consider that she was a self-described unathletic child, who preferred playing the violin, singing in the choir, and all manner of stage performance. She says she never considered running until she decided to lose weight and found it to be an inexpensive workout.

Gradually, running became more of a hobby for her. “It was a fun thing to do, a good way to see neighborhoods, a de-stressor, and generally good for my mental health,” she said. “And moving here, I now have the social group that comes with it. I call them my tribe.”

Oeldorf-Hirsch has been diligently chipping away at her goal nearly every weekend, sometimes running two or even three races a day in different towns.

The group is fond of “planned weirdness,” particularly costumes, she said. In Scotland, Conn., for example, all the runners wore kilts. She has also run dressed as a Christmas tree, a raven, and Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz.

And then there’s the unplanned weirdness. In one race, a herd of deer ran out and blocked the race route. In another, the runners inadvertently disturbed a bunch of ground bees, and the race had to be rerouted.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Oeldorf-Hirsch and her family moved to Oregon when she was five. She later attended Portland State University, then came east to earn a doctorate at Pennsylvania State University.

At UConn, she conducts research in the Human-Computer Interaction Lab, focusing on the effects of social media on learning, civic engagement, and the sense of well-being.

While she is thrilled to be finishing her 169-town journey, she is looking forward to having a more flexible racing schedule and spending more time helping other runners as a volunteer for the Hartford Marathon Foundation.

Feeling Inspired?

You can join Professor Oledorf-Hirsch as she completes the run in her 169th town! Register today for the sixth annual Huskies Forever 5K. Bring your little ones along, too—they can run in the Lil’ Huskies Kids K!

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