By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — The Knights on the Run 5-kilometer road race produced several winners Saturday morning.
The overall victor, Jefferson Welch of Haverhill, mastered the often-hilly course in 16 minutes, 16 seconds. Welch, 26, was fresh from his conquest of the 5-mile Bobby Bell Race in his hometown Oct. 13.
Top finisher among the women was Caitlin Kasala-Hall, 24, who crossed the finish line at a very impressive 19:14.
One of the biggest winners of the balmy day was the North Andover Athletic Association, for which the race raised several thousand dollars. Alexandra Coakley, race director, said her goal was to enroll 300 runners.
The third annual Knights on the Run, publicized by dozens of signs throughout the town, drew an estimated 320 runners and walkers. When it was over, 304 had crossed the finish line, according to Coakley.
“We exceeded all our expectations,” she said. “The weather had a lot to do with it. It was a great day.”
It was sunny and the temperature was somewhere in the 60s – not too hot, not too chilly – ideal conditions for most runners.
Coakley noted that 114 high-school students competed. Members of the cross country teams were barred from competing in the race by Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, but they helped out at the water station on Great Pond Road and shouted out mile times to runners.
Members of the high school’s football, field hockey, soccer, golf, ice hockey, wrestling and swimming and diving teams were allowed to run and many did, including several Scarlet Knights who had defeated Methuen High 27-26 on the gridiron the night before.
“It makes me proud,” Coakley said of the turnout for the race.
The North Andover Athletic Association supports the North Andover High sports program by paying for items not covered by the school budget, including the Scarlet Knight windscreen banners at Walsh Stadium.
The association has also provided a sound system for the stadium and bought a mat for the state champion Scarlet Knights wrestling team.
Anyone who aspires to win a 5K race might want to chat with Welch, who also won last year’s Knights on the Run. Welch, who excelled on the track and cross country courses for Haverhill High, ran cross country at Merrimack College, a Division 2 school in that sport.
Welch told The Eagle-Tribune he typically runs four to nine miles in the morning, before going to work in the commercial operations department at Philips Healthcare in Andover, then does another few miles during his lunch break.
“I’m in the prime of my running career,” said Welch, who knocked 45 seconds off his time of last year. Yet he wasn’t satisfied with his performance Saturday morning.
“I wanted to break 16 minutes,” he said.
At 170 pounds, Welch, a 6-footer, is heftier than most champion distance runners. He lifts weights twice a week to reduce the risk of injuries, he said.
Welch has competed two marathons, but for now, at least, he said he will most likely stick with 5K’s and 5-milers. It’s all a matter of time, he said. Training for a marathon is like working another job, he said.
Lisa and Nick Cincotta were a winning mother-and-son combination. Nick, 17, an North Andover High senior who represents students on the School Committee and is a varsity wrestler, finished third overall at 18:22. Lisa, 43, placed third among women at 21:32.
Nick said he takes pride in his approach to cardiovascular workouts – of which wrestling has many. If he starts to feel fatigue, “I go faster,” he said.
Second place overall went to Dan Marino, 17, also a North Andover High student, who posted a time of 18:09. The No. 2 female finisher was Elizabeth Jordan, 27, at 19:28.
Assistant Principal Michael Grant claimed another kind of victory. He’s new to the sport of running, having started last year. Grant, 47, completed the course in 35 minutes.
A year and a half ago, however, he would not have been in shape to run 3.1 miles, he said. He weighed 260 pounds at that time.
Then he started eating a healthier diet by eliminating many carbohydrates and replaced watching the TV with exercise. The result: He’s now down to 190 pounds.
Grant said other teachers and administrators at the high school have taken similar steps to improve their physical conditions – and set positive examples for students.