NARRAGANSETT – With the rains that plagued the start of the walkers race an hour before having subsided, the perfect backdrop had been set for the 42nd running of the Narragansett Lions Club’s Blessing of the Fleet Road Race Friday evening.
The race lived up to the perfect conditions left by the earlier weather as Sam Alexander of Waterford, Conn. commanded the race nearly the entire way, edging out Bishop Hendricken graduate Brian Doyle for the win, completing the 10-mile course in a time of 51:12.
Though he was participating in his first Blessing, had never set foot on the course and the lingering weather concerns throughout the day, the former Central Connecticut State distance runner was confident he was in for a good day before the starting gun went off.
“I was happy with it,” said Alexander of his performance, “a good way to spend your Friday.
“I didn’t know much about the course. …I didn’t know who was going to run it, but I figured I should be in the top three, unless a whole boat load of good people showed up.”
With the absence of 2012 champion and perennial favorite Matt Pelletier, who has dominated the Blessing much of the past decade when he has entered, the door was wide open for the more than 2,700 entrants vying for the title.
It did not take long, however, for a small pack of front-runners to emerge, establishing themselves as contenders and not much longer after that for the Blessing to become a two-man show.
After the chaos that ensued following the start, a pack of five runners quickly distance themselves from the masses before the first mile mark, with Alexander reluctantly taking command of the group and Doyle quietly laying in wait, tucked in behind at the back of the pack.
“It seemed like Brian didn’t want to lead, which is totally fine by me,” Alexander said. “In any race, I’m also someone who doesn’t want to lead, but I felt like today was my turn.
“I’ve been racing since middle school, so I get on both sides and I hope by now I’m mentally prepared enough to lead a race. …I just stayed calm the entire time.”
The lead group of five quickly dwindled to three as the early miles ticked off, losing a runner at miles two and three.
As the trio reached Scarborough Beach, Robert Allen, Jr., who looked as though he would be Alexander’s biggest threat early on, began to fade from the lead pack. When they made the left onto Knowlesway Extenstion, passing mile four, and up onto Point Judith Road, Allen was well behind as Alexander and Doyle began to distance themselves running side-by-side.
It was down to two.
Over the course of the next few miles, the two runners were seemingly content matching each other stride-for-stride with Alexander continuing his smooth pace out front and Doyle tucked into the draft just behind. A few times throughout miles seven and eight, Doyle made a bid for the lead, but Alexander picked up the pace enough to quickly thwart the attempts and his running mate fell right back in line, never getting past the leader’s hip.
After nine miles of running in lockstep, the race was finally on as Alexander and Doyle turned onto Kingstown Road for their final stretch towards the finish line at the post office near Memorial Square.
With a mile to go, despite a fear he might be starting his kick too early given the knowledge his opponent was stronger over shorter distances, Alexander finally opened up some distance on Doyle, looking stronger than he had all race.
“The last thing I wanted to do was kick with a mile to go because it’s so long,” Alexander said, “but I’ve seen Brian race and I know he’s a great middle distance runner, a great miler, and definitely a better one than I am.
“I haven’t been doing anything fast, nothing too quick, so I didn’t want it to come down to anything less than half a mile. I figured that’d be a bad idea.”
After that final turn onto Kingstown, Doyle was never a threat again, falling seven seconds behind the victor for a second place finish in a time of 51:19.
“I was never going to take it until the very end if I was,” Doyle said after the race. “I think, speed wise, I’m a little bit faster than him right now, but obviously he’s got the endurance. If I could wait to the end, that’d be best, but he didn’t let that happen.
“Sam’s obviously pretty good. He beat me up a couple times in college, so he’s still got me.”
Nick Ross was the first Rhode Islander to finish the race, coming in third. The East Greenwich resident, who was not part of the group who broke out to the early lead, made a late surge to finish in a time of 52:22. Allen and Geoff Nelson rounded out the top five as the two Providence residents finished in 53:00 and 54:19, respectively.
A little more than 7:30 minutes after Alexander first broke the finish line, fellow Connecticut native Marie Davenport of Guilford, Conn. made it to the post office on Kingstown Road to claim the Blessing’s female title (25th overall), coming in at a time of 58:45, setting a new course record for the female 30 to 39-year old female division.
Also setting a course record on the day was Wendy Burbank of Boxford, Mass. whose 1:31:48 broke Monique Robitaille’s record for the female 70-plus age division set just last year.
Celebrated as the top Narragansett residents to finish the course, John Bigoutte beat out long time Blessing veteran and four-time champion Glen Guillemette for the distinction when he rounded out the top 10 overall finishers in a time of 56:03. Guilemette, last year’s top male Narragansett resident, finished second in that category in 2013 (21st overall) finishing in 58:29.
It took some time to do so as it was not until the 150th runner crossed the finish line before the last of the Blessing’s top running awards was handed out. That award went to Julia Sliwkowski, who took home the honor of top female Narragansett resident, finishing in a time of 1:08:29.