By Bill Burt
---- — While the Feaster Five has boomed into one of the biggest sporting spectacles in New England, particularly because of its emphasis on families and the “average” runner, don’t for a second be fooled by how important the competition is for many of the top racers each Thanksgiving morning in Andover.
Case in point: Matt Jenkins and his wife, Melissa Donais, both of North Andover.
Jenkins has been one of the most dominant racers in Feaster Five history, particularly at the 5-mile distance, while Donais, who ran at Yale University, is one of the best female road racers the Merrimack Valley has ever produced.
While the top runners were within 200 yards of the finish line - Ruben Sanca of Lowell defeated Jenkins by only 5 seconds yesterday - someone asked what the 5-mile course record was.
Immediately, Donais, who didn’t run because of an injury, said, “David Hinga, 24:06.” It drew a few laughs from fans near the finish line.
By the way, the local racing couple immediately left after Jenkins finished to visit his family in Saratoga, N.Y., for Thanksgiving.
Where are your sneakers?
While most runners and walkers wore running shoes from major manufacturers like NIKE and New Balance, Joe Cronin appeared to be running with a glove over his bare feet.
Technically, he was. Cronin ran the 5-mile course with the “Vibram FiveFingers,” which looks like a glove for feet.
The footwear is designed to promote better foot mechanics, naturally. As such, they’re meant to be worn directly against the sole of your foot, allowing your foot to move as if barefoot.
“I like the minimalist approach,” said Cronin, of North Andover, “It’s really the best way to run. Your foot is a muscle. It conforms to the ground. It’s been great for my knees.”
Joannie had a ball ... again
It was the last race of Joan Benoit’s season, and she said wouldn’t want to end her season at another race.
“I am in awe of this event and how great the crowds are,” said Benoit, who went back to Maine for Thanksgiving immediately after the race.
Benoit, 56, doesn’t take the event lightly in terms of competition. She was hoping to win the women’s Masters Division, which she did, in 32:55.
Hoyts a Feaster Five mainstay
The Dick and Ricky Hoyt team, aptly named “Team Hoyt,” again were rock stars at the Feaster Five.
The duo have been coming to the race for nearly two decades.
“This is awesome,” said Dick, who pushed his son Ricky for 5 miles. “It was cold, but Ricky never complained.”
If you’d like to buy a signed copy of their book, “One Letter at a Time,” as told by Ricky, go to www.teamhoyt.com.
“I will sign and write whatever they want,” Dick, after the race.
State police, dogs search area before race
As a precaution, state police and dogs were seen combing around the startling line and finish line of the Feaster Five, apparently as a precaution after what happened near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street.
We can expect this at most events at which large crowds are in attendance.
Fighting asthma ... and winning
Three years ago, Mary Young of Wilmington, Mass., was diagnosed with asthma in her mid-50s.
She decided to confront it head-on ... and took up running, adhering to the “Couch Potato to 5K” running program (www.http://fromcouchpotatoto5k.com).
Yesterday was her second Feaster Five, which probably was the reason she raised her hands in triumph after crossing the finish line.
“It took me a year to walk 30 minutes,” said Mrs. Young, who ran yesterday race with her husband, Bob. “This is a big deal for me.”
The T-shirts and the runners wearing them, stuck out like rays of sunshine.
Several dozen runners yesterday wore the pink T-shirts, which read “Remember Ritzer,” in reference to Colleen Ritzer, the Andover native and teacher at Danvers High, who was murdered, allegedly by one of her students.
A mother-daughter team, Lisa and Rachel Durbeck, both wearing the T-shirts, got a tad emotional talking about their fallen friend.
“We didn’t know Colleen, but we knew her family a little bit,” said Mrs. Durbeck. “Rachel went to school with her sister. But this touched a lot of people. We feel like we knew Colleen.”
Faces in the crowd
Several of the Feaster Five regulars were back for the 26th annual race, including WEEI’s Gerry Callahan (46:16 in 5M), WBZ’s Danny Roche (48:37 in 5M) and Barry Burbank (47:27 in 5M), Channel 7 newscaster Steve Cooper (25:24 in 5K) and state Sen. Barry Finegold (42:02 in 5M). Also spotted were local writer and first-timer John Milori (55:14 in 5M) and Red Sox media relations employee Abby DeCiccio, formerly of Andover, who finished in 51:01 in the 5-mile race.
Lest we forget Boston Marathon legend Bill Rodgers, who has been running this event for two decades, finishing in 46:00 with a smile from ear to ear.
Faces to watch
The stars of tomorrow’s Feaster Five races usually started as middle-schoolers. If that’s the case, we definitely have two future stars.
In the 5-mile race, 12-year-old Matt Perry of Plaistow, N.H., easily won the 12-and-under division in an impressive time of 32:38, which is 6:34 per mile. In the girls’ division, 11-year-old Elizabeth Tran finished in 37:11, or 7:24 per mile.
In the 5K race, 12-year-old Jacob Hudgins finished in 22:06, while 10-year-old Megan Gallagher of Andover finished in an amazing, 22:32.
There is only one word to describe their performances: Wow.
Family that runs together ...
The Martels of North Andover - parents, Matt and Lisa; children, Alex (12), Peter (10) and Charlotte (7); and dog, Mia - take their Feaster Five a little more seriously than most.
The family does a lot of running together and the children participate in the town’s Middle School Track program.
Alex finished in 26:49 and Peter in 28:50, both besting the parents, who finished with a respectable 29:06.
“The boys are pretty good athletes and they love to run,” said Lisa Martel. “We all run together, including our dog Mia.”
Best innovative T-shirt
It was easily a woman running with a Patriots dark blue jersey with the No. 83, Wes Welker’s former number here.
Well, the number was covered with white tape with a sign on the back that read, “Thanks for the win.”
Dog of the day
While there were about 300 to choose from, an English bulldog by the name of Rosco had to be one of the best.
Rosco had a small Santa Claus strapped to his back, as if he werea horse. Anyway, Rosco more than held is own on the course.
People along the course and racers made a point to acknowledge Rosco.
“We practiced a lot, so he was in pretty good shape,” said Nancy Cardoza, of Meredith, N.H.
As for his impressive energy level, Cardoza said, “I think he was excited because he heard about pies.”
From the race director
Here are some notes and nuggets sent to us by Feaster Five race director Dave McGillivary:
-- Final numbers were 10,616 entries, plus the number of kids who registered today. Last year, it was 10,720, so about 100 less this year.
-- About 55 percent women and 45 percent men.
-- 8,920 official starters (not including the kids) and 8,876 finishers.
-- For the first time ever, Monday-Wednesday online registration (no paper) was available, which worked great.
-- Weather on Wednesday, setting up, was difficult. Race day was much better even though it was cold.
-- A moment of silence for Colleen Ritzer and the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
-- The Andover Police get very high grades, enhancing support once again, with Safety Officer Chuck Edgerly and Andover DPW leading the way.
-- Someone stole everything at one of the water stations - tables, barrels, cups, pitchers, rakes, shovels and trash bags. Crews had to go back to the DMSE warehouse to replace all that was stolen.
-- All three nonprofits - Ironstone Farms, Bellesini Academy, Merrimack Valley YMCA and the Merrimack Valley Striders - combined to raise well over $100,000.
-- A lot of the leftover food was donated to Lazarus House after the race.