Karen Pajer, Scott-Schaeffer-Duffy criss-cross Massachusetts, running 5km in each city


There was just too much fun in their previous quest, there just had to be a sequel.

Karen Pajer and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy were pretty fresh out of their quest to run through all the streets of Worcester together when the seed was planted for the next project.

“It was almost exactly a year ago at the (Central Mass Striders) members banquet when I heard from one of the girls,” Pajer said, “and for her COVID project she set out to go through every city in her state of Rhode Island, which she didn’t complete because the race returned.

AFTER: Looking for a road race in Central Mass.? Here’s a schedule to get you running in the summer

Of course, that idea touched on a Bay State deal with Pajer, knowing it would take a bit of convincing to hire Schaeffer-Duffy. Four months later, the mission began.

As they prepared to travel to the Berkshires on Thursday to drive through five more cities, Pajer and Schaeffer-Duffy had traveled 5 miles or more through all but 100 of Massachusetts’ 351 cities, and they’re not looking back.

Although such a 351-day project sometimes felt daunting for both of them, they were enriched by more than just ticking a box on a long to-do list.

“I’m surprised at the enormous diversity in Massachusetts,” Schaeffer-Duffy said. “There are thriving towns and there are places with old wood in the same condition. It’s a lot more diverse than I thought, and there are a lot of beautiful places to go that are off the beaten path. There are hundreds of places.

And the fun continued, picking up from when Schaeffer-Duffy to Pooh and Pajer as Piglet took the Hundred Acre Wood known as All the Streets of Worcester. Car rides offer plenty to see.

“You should hear conversations in the car,” Pajer said. ” ‘Are we there yet?’ No. ‘Now what?’ No. “About now? No.”

That's how the color code appeared for Scott Schaeffer-Duffy and Karen Pajer in early spring, with many shaded cities ever since.

In each city, they took pictures of landmarks in each and inserted them into notebooks. After learning how to find these places in unfamiliar areas of the state, they learn a lot more about the community. Hikes are often planned to coincide with historically significant dates. Call it a year-long history lesson on the Commonwealth we live in.

It all started last Halloween, and the destination was fittingly Salem.

“The day before Halloween, we were at the Saturday morning (CMS) race,” Pajer recalled, “and he said, let’s run tomorrow, and I said I was running with Clear (Schaeffer-Duffy’s wife) and a friend. And he said, ‘Well, we don’t have to run cities.’

“I said wait, are you on board for the cities project?” Let it go, I’m leaving Claire, no problem.

“I said I would do Salem because it would be fun on Halloween, a town,” Schaeffer-Duffy said. “We get there and say, we’re going since we’re here…we should do Marblehead and Swampscott…”

Over the fall and winter, the goal was to hit about seven cities per week, providing enough pace to complete the challenge in a year. Pajer, 54, a second-year teacher at Leicester, and Schaeffer-Duffy, almost 64, are trying to pick up the pace to get through 20-25 cities earlier than planned before the start of the school year at the end of August.

The target is to finish on October 17, two weeks shy of a year since the start, sharing the accomplishment in Worcester at CMS’s weekly Monday night race.

Both have run relatively injury-free since the spring, although there were some concerns shortly after snow clearing.

“I thought it was going to end in March because I had an injury (hamstring, hip flexor) that was so painful,” said Schaeffer-Duffy, used to the pain having been badly injured a while ago. three years after being hit by a car. while running. “People were telling me I had to take four weeks off. And I don’t do that.

They picked their runs appropriately across multiple cities. On the day of the Boston Marathon, they took the CMS Participant Bus to Hopkinton where they ran from the pre-race start line, as well as from the old start line in Ashland. Two days later, on April 20, they ran down the Battle Road from Lexington to Lincoln and back to Concord, after watching young people re-enact the early skirmishes of the American Revolution.

Karen Pajer and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy outside the Mayflower II in Plymouth on Sunday November 21.

In Rockland, they came across a Mother’s Day memorial — on Mother’s Day. In Great Barrington, they walked past the property of the sociologist and civil rights activist WEB From Wood the day after June 16.

“It’s way more complicated than I thought,” Pajer said. “We are trying to find a route to see these sites.”

“Once in a while we may schedule something where we can go through two cities directly, as the landmarks line up,” added Schaeffer-Duffy, peace activist and founding member of Saints Francis and Therese Catholic Worker. who also coaches cross country at South High.

One such run covered North Quincy and Quincy, where Schaeffer-Duffy posed for a photo with the former president’s statue John Adamsan ancestor on the Schaeffer-Duffy family tree, on his mother’s side.

The exciting sites are too numerous to list, including Johnny Appleseed items in Leominster, the Statue of Peace with “Grumpy Faces) in Norfolk, and to the west with the state’s tallest waterfall at Mount Washington and the Peace Pagoda in Leverett. Of course, there were many white churches spotted near townships, and many more side streets of dirt roads heading west.

“Some cities surprise us with the beauty of certain things, some cities shock us with the lack (of such beauty),” Schaeffer-Duffy said.

Pajer plans the logistics for the races and took care of most of the driving. She got pulled over for speeding once in the far west of the state, but only got a warning from a gentleman affectionately known as “Friendly Officer.”

“She’s been sticking to the book ever since,” Schaeffer-Duffy said.

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, also an avid runner, has joined the two on a few jaunts to local towns, but notes that the quest isn’t quite for her.

“It’s a long-term commitment,” she said while noting the educational value. “I think all exploration is great and I believe in exploring the world.”

Karen Pajer and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy start their run from the Scituate Lighthouse parking lot in late April.

Among the remaining towns are all of Cape Cod and the islands. “We didn’t even know Gosnold existed,” Schaeffer-Duffy said of the town of just 70 people encompassing the Elizabeth Islands in Dukes County. The two have tentatively scheduled a ferry from New Bedford on July 3, with coverage of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape Town contestants later in the month.

“We always look forward to a lot of these places,” he added. “Cape Town has a lot to offer and I’ve never been to Nantucket.

Also on the reserve list is Boston, where a run along the Common or the Charles is much appreciated, with a farewell photo in front of the State House likely.

The trek across the Bay State also provided occasional lessons in Pajer’s sophomore class. “There are 351 cities, so we made it a math problem – if we travel 3.1 miles in each city, and there are 351 cities, how many miles do we travel?”

While she downplayed the challenge in class, Pajer appreciates what she picked up along the way, which continued Thursday in Alford, Richmond, West Stockbridge, Stockbridge and Lenox.

“It was a learning experience,” she said, “and it wasn’t part of the expectation, because it was originally a silly, stupid thing. There was learning along the way, and that part I hadn’t planned.


Just under a week after the state quest wraps up, Schaeffer-Duffy will host the annual Nick Kanaracus 5K to benefit South High’s cross-country program.

The event is a fitting memorial to the gentleman of the running community Nick Kanaracusa South High graduate who was a marathon runner, former president of Central Mass Striders, and outspoken supporter of Southern cross-country before his death in 2016.

The October 23 race at South High (170 Apricot St., Worcester) offers voluntary registration at 1 p.m., followed by the race at 2 p.m. For more information, contact Schaeffer-Duffy at @[email protected]

—Contact John Conceison at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ConceisonJohn.


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