PROVIDENCE - Besides looking at the thousands of runners and walkers lined on Francis Street for the start of the CVS Caremark Downtown 5K, there’s something else that puts a smile on the face of race director Charlie Breagy.
It’s good weather.
When Mother Nature cooperates for the popular Providence race, which annually attracts a world-class field, fast times are usually the case on the flat, out-and-back course. While Breagy’s not predicting any records for this Sunday’s race (11:15 a.m.), it’s certainly possible for the men with the projected forecast of 66 degrees and a zero percent chance for precipitation.
The current course mark is 13 minutes, 26 seconds by Kenyan Ismael Kirui. In the previous 21 years of the event, only four runners have run 13:30 or faster.
This year’s race will feature three returning champions, including the 2010 titlist Robert Cheseret of Kenya. U.S. hopeful, Anthony Famiglietti, who captured the 2008 race, and Kenya’s Gilbert Okari, who ran the fastest time in the last 13 years with his winning time of 13:30 in 2001.
But the runner that Breagy considers the favorite for a record-setting performance this weekend is Sam Chelenga of Kenya. Chelenga is a graduate of Liberty University where he was a 14-time All American and also captured the last two crowns at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships. He owns a best of 27:08.39 for the 10K distance, a time that made him the fastest collegiate runner in U.S. history.
“Think about that for a moment,” Breagy said. “That’s back-to-back 13:34 5Ks. That 5K time can win this race every year, but (four). This guy is tough. He’s capable of breaking the record with the weather conditions (predicted for Sunday).”
In more of a tactical race, last year’s event was won in the slowest time in the event’s history. Cheseret put on a surge on the final uphill climb and beat runner-up Ben Bruce of Eugene, Ore., by a second with his time of 14:00.0. If the 5k turns into another kicker’s race, Cheseret and Famiglietti, a two-time U.S. Olympian in the steeplechase with 3:55 mile speed, are capable of winning another title at the CVS race.
Other strong runners in the field are Dartmouth College grad Ben True, the American winner at the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta this summer and a sixth-place finisher at last month’s Falmouth Road Race, Uganda’s Harbert Okuti, a third-place finisher at CVS last year, and Kenya’s Kevin Chelimo, who owns a 5K best of 13:30.55.
Although there presently are no returning champions in the women’s race and the course record of 15:06 by Moroccan Asmae Leghzaoui in 2006 does not seem in jeopardy, the field is still stellar. Featured among the talented bunch is former Stanford University great Sara Hall. Hall, a seven-time track All American, was a runner-up in 2006 when she captured the U.S. title.
Other elite U.S. runners are Kim Conley, an assistant coach at UC-Davis with a best of 15:38 for 5K, Rutgers grad Julie Conley, who has run 8:55 for 3K and 15:21 for 5K and Emily Brown, a four-time All American while at the University of Minnesota, with a 15:19 5K best.
There’s even a local runner with potential to place high among the field, former Ponaganset High standout Stephanie Pezzullo. Pezzullo, a star soccer player and sprinter for the Chieftains in the late 1990s before turning to distance running in her 20s while at Penn State, competes for ZAP Fitness out of North Carolina. She has clocked a fast time of 9:19 for 3K and 9:56 for the 3K steeplechase.
The race will once again serve as the USATF 5K Championships for men and women, offering cash prizes to the top 10 finishers, including $5,000 to the respective winners. The men’s and women’s overall winner of the race will receive a check for $3,000.
Breagy estimates a field of 9,000 this weekend at the CVS race, which also includes 21 kids’ races for tykes to eighth grade (8-10:30 a.m.) and the Tufts Health Plan Inspirational 3K, a fun run of sorts for high school runners (12:15 p.m.). The 3K event has a School Spirit Costume Competition, awarding the winning school new track uniforms (up to $750). All participating high schools are also eligible for 10 random drawings for a $500 cash grant.
“This is the most fun race the kids ever have,” Breagy said. “It really builds team spirit.”
The CVS race supports numerous charities, such as A Wish Come True and American Red Cross. It’s too late to register on-line, but on-site registration will take place near the R.I. State House on Saturday (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and race day on Sunday (7:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.). Race packets can also be picked up at this time. For additional information, check out the race’s website at www.cvsdowntown5K.com .