This story was published on longislandpress.com, written by our own Jamie Franchi after the Run for the Hill of it Race.
They call themselves the Selden Hills Warriors.
If you ask me, the word “warrior” gets thrown around a little too casually these days. This isn’t Sparta. We don’t wear armor or battle with swords. These are mostly corporate folks, after all, running in their spare time. Athletes, certainly. But warriors? Let’s just say I had my doubts, right up until I pulled into the parking lot that now houses a brand new Aldi’s on Middle Country Road, where runners crowded around a light pole marked with a Selden Hills sticker, their starting point for the most treacherous running course on Long Island.
Behind my sticker-less minivan, athletes decked out in matching red gear stretched their limber bodies, readying themselves to tackle the nefarious “Hills of the Seven Sisters,” the steep mounds that mark the tough terrain of this 10k course, known to these runners as “The Seven Beasts.”
“These are serious runners,” I texted my friend Mike “Chicken” Butitta, a runner whose boundless energy and enthusiasm for every single thing in the world, especially these hills, piqued my curiosity back when my running sneakers were safely in my closet, collecting dust. “I’m not getting out of my car. Let’s go to IHOP instead.”
Chicken has been a Hillbilly (as they call themselves) since October 2013. At first, he ran to take off excess weight and to get in better shape. He runs local races with his wife (and my friend) Kelli, setting achievable goals and then smashing them. But something about the Hills calls to him. Later I found out what.
Alas, that Sunday morning, Chicken didn’t have his phone with him, and would not receive my text until long after I’d finished the 6.2 mile run and was icing my sore knees on my couch at home. That turned out to be a good thing, because as delicious as Nutella pancakes are, had I turned away from the Selden Hills running group that morning, I would have missed out on a life-changing experience with some of the most incredible people living right here on Long Island.
“I love all the inspirational stories that people on the Hills have and I love that so many are just nice,” he texted me later when he had his phone. “Some of the best people I’ve met anywhere. They are so supportive at races or anywhere you run into a fellow Hillbilly.”
Lou LaFleur, director and organizer of the Selden Hills Warriors, doesn’t have a long history of running. In fact, it wasn’t until 1999 when he was 43 years old and saw a sign for the Shelter Island 5k hanging in the post office where he worked as a federal agent that he decided to try it out. It was a tough race, but he was hooked. He currently competes in approximately 50 races per year and serves on the board of directors for the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC).
By 2010, LaFleur was looking to increase his times with varied training: track work, some tempo runs, long runs. He’d read in Runner’s World that running on hills provides a complete training. The only problem? We live on a flat island.
Or do we?