PAWTUCKET — Katie Libby considers herself more a soccer player than a runner. After all, that was her primary sport during her teenage years at Cumberland High and as a collegiate athlete at Nyack College in New York City.
But whenever the 30-year-old Cumberland native steps on the starting line of a race, as she did on Saturday at the Cherry Tree Running Festival’s half-marathon event, there’s no denying that she is a runner.
“I just get competitive when I am out there,” Libby said. “I see people in front of me and I just want to pick them off.”
Libby didn’t have to worry about picking off too many people during the inaugural Blackstone Valley Half Marathon. On an overcast morning, she led from the first mile until crossing the finish line in front of the Pawtucket City Hall, winning the individual title with a time of 1 hour, 27 minutes, 49.5 seconds, good for ninth overall among the 664 finishers.
“It was tough,” Libby said. “There were more hills than I thought.”
Libby, a past winner of the popular Arnold Mills Road Race in her hometown, is training for the upcoming Amica Ironman 70.3 (mile) Triathlon in Providence this July. She ran a personal best for the 13.1-mile distance that winded through the local communities of Pawtucket, Central Falls and Cumberland.
Libby admitted it was difficult to stay focused during her journey.
“It was kind of a quiet race,” she said. “It was tough to keep the pace going. There really wasn’t anyone around. There weren't many spectators, so it was tough."
The men’s crown in Saturday’s half marathon belonged to James Primes of Newton, Mass., who covered the out-and-back course in 1:16:56. Primes, 24, a 2009 graduate of Boston College where he earned a degree in Accounting, decided on running the race only about 12 hours before the start.
“My roommate told me about it last night,” he said. “I hadn’t heard about it. He told me why don’t you come on down. I can’t turn down a road race.”
Primes, who was a member of the rowing team at BC and ran track & field at Andover High, took the outright lead just after the first mile. He maintained a consistent pace along the relatively challenging route that included about five miles on the Blackstone Valley Bike Path.
“The course was scenic, the weather was perfect, you really couldn’t ask for more for a race,” said Primes, owner of a 2:43 best for the full marathon. “I was leading a couple of other guys for the first mile and I decided to open up a little bit…I probably ran about 5:40 (miles) for the first half and then maybe six-minute miles for the last half.”
The Cherry Tree Running Festival, which will donate a good portion of its proceeds to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation, also featured the first-ever PFC Kyle Coutu 5K and the Cherry Blossom Youth 1K.
Nearly 800 runners and walkers participated in the Kyle Coutu 5K, named in honor of the former Tolman High football/ track athlete and U.S. marine, who died on Feb. 18 of last year while supporting combat operations in Marjah, Afghanistan. Anthony Gonsalves, a 2008 graduate of Tolman and an ex-teammate of Coutu, claimed the overall title, defeating pre-race favorite Chris Magill of Cumberland with his time of 16:07.6. The 38-year-old Magill, a former St. Raphael Academy standout, took runner-up honors in 16:20.2. Rumford’s Jon Letendre placed third at 17:20.9, while former Cumberland High all-stater Jim Dandeneau, 43, was fourth overall and first among masters with an 18:04 clocking.
The 21-year-old Gonsalves, who was a half-miler at Tolman with a PB of 2:02, currently competes for Central Connecticut where he specializes in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5K, an event he has run in 15:27 on the track.
His main reason for “coming home” was to honor Coutu, who was a weight-thrower for the Tigers.
“It was a perfect end to my season,” Gonsalves said. “I raced the (steeplechase) at the New England’s last week and made All-New England. I thought I’d continue my season one more week and run this race for Kyle.”
Providence’s Kim Jackson, 32, copped the women’s title with a time of 18:41.9. She was sixth overall. Tarsha Cicerone of North Providence was a distant second, taking 15th overall at 20:41.3.
Rene Guerra, 13, of Pawtucket, was first in the 1K event with a time of 4:00.1. Somerset’s Ashley Frank, 12, took the girls’ title, placing fourth overall in 4:19.8.