WOONSOCKET --- When Chris Hoard woke up on Sunday morning and decided to sign up to run in the second annual Race Against Racism 5K at World War II Memorial Park, the furthest thing from his mind was actually winning the race.
But to his surprise, that’s exactly what the 38-year-old Woonsocket native did. He topped a field of 163 runners and walkers by crossing the finish line in 21:14 -- not your average first-place time for a local 3.1-mile race, but certainly good enough on this day to cop top honors.
“I just showed up to have a good time and get a workout,” offered Hoard, who picked up running 4½ years ago “on a whim” and hasn’t slowed down since. “I have finished in the top ten before, but never first, and I never thought I would do something like this.”
And Hoard didn’t think he’d rule the competition the way he did. He broke away from a pack of four runners on the race’s first hill halfway on the first mile on Blackstone Street and just kept his foot on the accelerator, even on the difficult hills at the start of the third mile on Gaskill Street.
Hoard ended up beating the runner-up finisher, road racing veteran Robert Papa of North Kingstown, by 44 seconds, and third-place finisher Eric Benevides of Johnston (22:11) by nearly a full minute.
“I was feeling really good,” admitted Hoard. “I run around those neighborhoods, so I was ready for the hills at the end, and the last half mile, I was cruising.”
The women’s winner was 40-year-old Teresa Norton of Abington, Mass., who drove to Woonsocket with two of her friends from the Colonial Road Runners of southeastern Mass. looking to run a race in this state that would help her earn a New England Award from her club for running in a race in all six N.E. states this year.
Not only did Norton secure her club award, she also wrapped up first place with a 22:23 time that was good for fourth place overall. She was more than two minutes faster that the next female finisher (who was also one of the race’s youngest participants), 11-year-old Alyssa D’Ercole of Cranston (13th overall, 24:52).
Norton was pleased with her performance, but even more elated to pass the fifth through seventh-place finishers, Justin Bibee of Cranston (22:25) and Justin Flaves (22:41) and Charles Bouley (23:04) of Woonsocket, over the race’s final two miles.
“I just came here to run and have some fun, no watch or nothing,” she added, “but I liked passing the men. I love doing that.”
Warwick’s Brad Highcove took eighth place in 23:18, and the next four runners to cross the finish line were from Woonsocket – Williams Crowley (23:22), Chuck Jones (24:04), Ed Polanco (24:37), and Garrett Mancieri (24:49).
After D’Ercole finished 13th, Seekonk’s Angela Garvey (25:03) and Woonsocket High cross country standout Lauren Rochefort (25:24) took the next two spots. Woonsocket’s Jane McIntyre (25:38) was the fifth female and 20th overall finisher.
This race coincided with the city’s Autumnfest celebration after last year’s inaugural race took place on April 10 at River Island Park. And the move paid big dividends for the race committee and first-time race director Meghan Grady, who was extremely happy with the turnout and the morning’s festivities.
“We’re thrilled,” admitted Grady, who is the Chief Operating Officer at YWCA Northern R.I. “We received a lot of support from the community. We had some great community partners involved, and we’re thankful to Autumnfest, the Woonsocket Police Department, and the runners, walkers, and volunteers for coming out to make today possible.”