It was man versus train Saturday as hundreds of runners lined up to see if they had what it takes to beat a steam engine to the finish line at the first Essex Steam Train Half Marathon.
"We were joking around one day and thought 'how cool would it be to race a train," said Eric Vieweg of Team Make a Difference (MAD).
This behemoth became the running partner of the 400-plus people who tied up their laces-not to race against the clock-but against a century-old steam train in Essex.
"I’ve done a lot of races but this is really different so I was excited about the train being here," said Cheshire resident Bridget Brosnahan.
With the steam engine rolling down the tracks at 20 mph, some admitted they’d be running to catch the train. Others had loftier goals.
"I’m going to beat the train today," Nora Toscano of Cheshire said.
Florida resident and Deep River native Steve Zebrowski and his wife Jennifer Laxton were happy to trade in the Florida sunshine for scenic Southeast Connecticut.
"We used to go on this train. We had class trips when I was in school," Sebrowski said.
"The hills might be a little tough for me, being from Florida, but I can’t wait to see all the prettiness of everything," Laxton said.
Instead of standing on the sidelines, spectators rode the train that runners were racing against.
"I just think it’s going to be inspiring the whole way to know that there’s people out there cheering for you," Toscano said.
While family and friends kept the runners from losing steam, donations from the charity race also helped behavioral health agency Community Health Resources keep chugging along.
"We’re at this incredible junction where we have the demand for our services has never been higher and yet we are seeing a reduction in funding from state and federal sources. So, this is perfect timing," said Maureen McGuire of CHR.
With a sold-out crowd riding the rails and running the course, Team MAD’s pipe dream now has the pulling power to become an annual tradition.