NORTH SMITHFIELD — A year away from the road racing circuit and temperatures in the mid-80s couldn’t zap the electricity of the Northmen 5K Challenge on Saturday morning.
Nearly 300 runners and walkers braved the hot weather to take part in the 3.1-mile race at North Smithfield High and the final fundraiser of the school year for the North Smithfield Athletic Association, the boosters club for the town’s scholastic and community athletic programs.
In the inaugural race of 2011, 249 participants crossed the finish line, but last year, the then-named Northmen Athletic Club went through a transitional phase, evolving into today’s NSAA, but the race quietly disappeared from the road race schedule.
Nevertheless, last year’s absence was forgotten, especially with the strong turnout (nearly two-thirds of the field was from North Smithfield), and that put a wide smile on the face of race director Cristina Lima when she talked about this weekend’s event.
“We actually had more [participants] this year,” said Lima, who also took part in the race and was the fifth female finisher (26th overall) in a 23:29 time. “I think we had about 30 more runners (than the 2011 race), and as hot as it was today, everyone showed up. It was wonderful.
“We took a year off, but the crew came back and I’m excited about the turnout. The kids came and supported the race, and once again, all the money raised today will go right back into athletics -- the middle school, the high school, and community athletics.”
The race began on Providence Pike near the entrance to the football field/track facility’s parking lot, and after the course circled the school and ventured along some hills and through some of the nearby neighborhoods, it jumped back onto Providence Pike and around the loop in front of the North Smithfield Elementary School.
The final mile returned the field back onto Providence Pike for a fast downhill run, and ended on the school’s track for an Olympic-style 300-yard run around the oval and toward the finish line.
Because of the high temperatures, only one runner was able to finish the race in under 20 minutes -- former North Smithfield High cross country standout and 2010 graduate Mike Martin -- and not only did he win the race in a 15:49 time (a 5:06 mile pace), but he also topped the runner-up finisher, road racing veteran Dave Schaad of East Greenwich by nearly 4 1/2 minutes.
“I was hoping to have someone to compete with, but I just had fun running by myself,” said Martin, who is a senior-to-be biochemistry major and a member of the men’s cross country and track and field teams at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
“I compete all year round except for the summer, so usually I don't do too many road races, but since this was near home, I figured I’d do it.”
After Schaad took second in a 20:05 time, Cranston’s Ray Pasquariello placed third in 20:21. Seven of the next 11 runners were from North Smithfield and three were teenagers who ended up in the top 10 -- Devan Dube (fourth, 20:34), Oliver Hazard (sixth, 20:47), and Maxx Forti (eighth, 21:32).
The women’s winner was 23-year-old Amy McDonald, who was also ninth overall in a 21:48 time and topped the second-place finisher, North Smithfield teenager Michaela Brodeur, by 24 seconds. Pawtucket’s Lindsay Anspach was third in 22:23, and Middletown’s Erin Grigsby took fourth in 23:28.