It began as a simple road race 41 years ago.
Since then the Narragansett Lions Club’s annual Blessing of the Fleet Road Race has become not just one of the most recognized races in New England, but also one of the signature events in the state of Rhode Island. On Friday, it is a legacy that will be furthered when the Blessing’s 42nd running takes place.
“We’re lucky we have a hard working crew, a supportive town and this signature event that raises the bulk of our funds,” said Lions Club president Dan Carter. “The goal of the event is to raise funds we then donate to a number of different charities throughout the year. …It’s been going on a number of years, so we’ve worked out the kinks.”
In recent years, the road race itself has seen its number of entrants rise to more than 3,000 combined runners, walkers and wheelchair participants, and this year should be no different when racers from across the country lineup outside Narragansett Pier School and take on the grueling 10-mile course.
As has become the tradition, after the gun goes off for walkers at 5 p.m., wheelchair racers at 5:45 p.m. and runners at 6 p.m., participants will begin a trek that takes them throughout historic Narragansett, first running along Ocean Road past Scarborough Beach, back up to Point Judith Road, through local neighborhoods to return to the Pier School before heading down Kingstown Road towards the finish line just outside the Post Office.
“I’m not a runner. I couldn’t run 10 miles if you paid me, but I can tell you the runners themselves like the course,” Carter said. “It’s generally flat, sometimes you get a nice sea breeze that cools them off and I think it’s one of those things that sort of builds on itself. Where runners talk amongst themselves, what runs they have enjoyed and what runs they have not. I think just by word of mouth, the runners have built it up and the Lions put on a pretty good show afterwards.
“When the run’s over, they’re ending in a nice spot right there next to the Towers and there’s a big party going on and the runners enjoy hanging around.”
While 3,000 partake in the race itself, Carter estimates it is more likely in the neighborhood of 15,000 people who enjoy the festivities surrounding the race. The race will run in conjunction with the Blessing of the Fleet Seafood Festival, which goes Friday through Sunday in Memorial Square near the race’s finish line. The two events Friday serve as the precursor to Saturday’s Blessing of the Fleet at noon in Galilee.
While organizers may hope to further the success of the event as a whole, when it comes to the race itself, the 42nd running might have a difficult time trumping last year’s installment.
Warwick’s Matt Pelletier, coming off a series of injuries that had kept him out of the event in recent years, took home his fourth Blessing title with a finishing time of 50:46. Pelletier exploited his knowledge of the course and a blazing 5:05 minutes per mile pace to destroy the competition, finishing more than two minutes ahead of second place finisher Brian Fuller of Ludlow, Mass.
Jennifer Donovan of Framingham, Mass, was the top female finisher at 59:31. Coming in just ahead of Donovan was Glen Guillemette, the top Narragansett Male at 59:03 and also the winner of the 50 to 59-year old male division.
Current University of Rhode Island women’s track coach Laurie Feit-Melnick, who set the course record for a Narragansett female back in 1997 (1:00:58), took home that distinction once again with a time of 1:14:48.
Also last year Monigue Robitallie’s time of 1:44:08 set the course record in the female 70-plus age division.