Temperatures were already in the 70s and the humidity was high early Saturday, but that didn't stop a record field of 262 runners from stepping out for the Westport Road Runners Summer Series 5K at Longshore Park, the latest in the summer-long series sponsored by the group
The 5K run was the second in a series of 10 organized by Westport Road Runners this summer. Each race is progressively longer, from 2.3 miles to 10 miles, and held Saturday mornings at different Westport sites including Staples High School, Compo Beach, Burying Hill Beach and Longshore Park at 260 Compo Road South. The series, sponsored by the town's Parks and Recreation Department, is open to both residents and non-residents. Every mile is marked and runners receive a numbered tongue depressor as they cross the finish, which helps track their placement and is entered in a raffle for donated prizes.
Tony Trujillo, a massage therapist available for the morning's runners, said the race has a great track record, pun intended. "An amazing fact about this series is they've never cancelled a race," he noted. "They came close one year, with (Tropical Storm) Irene, but still managed to hold it."
That is a significant hallmark since the race series has been conducted for 51 years. Race Director Laddie Lawrence shared some background. "It was started by Chuck Smith, an assistant football coach at Staples High School, Matt Johnson, a physical director at the YMCA, and Howard Burling, a Westport police lieutenant," he said. "They marked the distances with a police car that had a broken odometer, which is why we have different distances today. We have tried to maintain as many original race features as we can."
The races "used to be very simple," said Lawrence. "I'd show up with a box of sticks and a clipboard, and we'd get 30 runners. Now we'll get over 150 people per race and have sponsors and food and water stations. Still, the race is very family-oriented, encouraging people to become fit."
Brett Jones, a director with Sherpa, a goal-oriented fitness center and the event's water sponsor, said the business has been involved with the race since 2007. "This is a great grassroots series and aligns with us well," he said. "Sherpas help guide people up mountains, and we help local runners climb up their own mountains."
Some of Saturday's runners were first-timers, like Leo Biala of Stamford. "I'm an avid runner and have done local races like the Boston Build-up," he said. "And though I'm a member of the Nike Westport Running Club, this is my first Summer Series race."
Other runners were veterans, like Westporter Andrea Williamson. "I've been doing this series for the past 10 years -- not every race but select lengths from 5K to the limit," she said. "It's low key. You don't have to wear a number. Everyone knows each other. You get to see new people join. How lucky are we to live in such a beautiful place? And I'll just run into the water at Compo Beach afterwards."
There were younger runners in the field as well, like 12-year-old Nicole Rizzo from Derby, who placed third among women. "We run on a team in school and do 5Ks during the summer all the time," she said. "We did select races in the series last year. It's a good experience."
For more details on future Westport Road Runners events, check http://www.westportroadrunners.org