Runners go the distance to complete Stu’s 30K challenge

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CLINTON — Under cloudy skies with seasonal temperatures, Stu’s 43rd annual 30k road race went off without a hitch on Sunday morning, March 6.

There were 185 runners who crossed the finish line in the grueling 18.6-mile race that passes through four towns – Clinton, Sterling, West Boylston and Boylston – bypassing the Wachusett Reservoir.

Sean McNeil, 30, of Avon, won the race, finishing in 1:47:18. In second place, Jason Holroyd, 45, of Everett, finished the race in 1:52:10. Dirk Walther, 40, of Somerville, finished third with a time of 1:52:27.

The first woman to cross the finish line was Aisling Cuffe, 28, in 2:03:46, while Viviana Hanley, 29, of Somerville, was second in 2:09:46. Caitlyn Ashton, 35, of Hudson was third in the women’s race in 2:19:01.

Stu’s 30K, which attracts many long-distance runners, is often used as a tune-up for next month’s Boston Marathon. It starts in front of Clinton High School and ends in middle school.

The race, which is organized by the Central Mass. Striders (CMS), was dreamed up by legendary racer Stuart “Mike” Thurston, formerly of Boylston.

Two-, three-, and four-person relay teams have become popular with runners in recent years. This year there were 25 Stu 30K relay teams in the race.

Linda Luthman, one of CMS’s race directors, was happy to see the race again after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic.

“We had nearly 250 pre-registered for the race (including the relay) and the turnout was great,” Luthman said. “The weather cooperated and we had T-shirts for the first 250, and we had a ton of volunteers to help out.

“We were the last big race to be held before the shutdown (in March 2020), and we’re excited to be back,” she said. “We had around 15 sponsors this year, which was really good.

“We used to have soups and hot dishes at the end of the event, but we changed that this year (due to COVID),” Luthman said. “We had take-out water, sandwiches, snacks and some extra bling for the runners instead.”

CMS’s other two race directors were Kim Wamback and Mike Keating.

Therese and Travis Wheeler

Husband and wife duo Travis and Terese Wheeler of Clinton are quickly becoming the area’s “first family” of runners.

Travis and Terese, who are the best in the races in the area, both completed Stu’s 30K.

Terese Wheeler was the 20th woman to finish the race, posting a time of 2:33:47, while Travis Wheeler, 41, finished 101st overall and recorded a time of 2:47:55.

“I survived Stu’s 30K,” Travis Wheeler said. “It was a tough day there, and I never raced well there, and I don’t know why. I thought this year would be different.

“A huge high-five to Terese, who trained hard and kicked my butt, which I knew she would do,” he said. “I always said she would be faster than me, if she did an equal job, and it was in this race that it happened.”

Terese Wheeler, who finished second in the Reindeer Run and the Phillip J. Weihn Turkey Chase last year, and was the women’s winner of the Tribute Road Race in 2019, was pleased with her efforts in Stu’s 30k.

“It’s (Stu’s 30K) one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Terese Wheeler. “Proud to say I got a new PR (personal best). Couldn’t have done it without Travis’ help.

“Big thanks to Brian McNally, Joel Frisch and Caitlin McGrail, for all the fun long (practice) runs and to Matt Elmsley, who kept me in better head space during the incredibly tough last few miles,” she added.

The Wheelers met when they were students at UMass-Lowell and they both realized that in addition to running, they had a passion for canoe racing. They have twice won the River Rat Race at Athol in the mixed recreational category.

“I joke that as a runner, this has been the year of the bridesmaid for me, with all the runners up,” said Terese Wheeler. “I came second in the Happy Valley Half Marathon in October (in Northampton).

“I’ve run over 565 miles since October,” she said. “I didn’t race at university, but I raced for Assabet (Valley) in high school.

“We started running to get in shape for the paddling season,” added Terese Wheeler. “Travis has always been involved in canoe racing, so I dated him and fell in love with him, and we’ve been racing since 2001.”

After a moment of silence for the Ukrainian people, the runners listen to the national anthem before the start of the 30K from Stu.

Travis Wheeler was a familiar face at Stu’s 30K.

“At one point I did 10 Stu’s in a row,” Travis Wheeler said. “The last time I raced it, before this year, was in 2018.

“It’s a really tough race, but we survived it,” he said. “Canoe racing is a great spring sport, so one complements each other. In order to stay motivated, I am always looking for the next challenge.

The timing and scoring of the race was done by Racewire.

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