By Bill Burt
ANDOVER – What pandemic?
The Feaster Five Road Race, now 2½ years removed from when COVID-19 changed the world, is back and stronger than ever.
That hasn’t been the case with many road races, some of which have lost 20 to 30 percent of their entries.
With nearly 7,000 runners and walkers over the 5K and-5 mile distances – not including a record 250 dogs and, of course, the Kids K — the event was bigger and better than ever.
“I was a student at UNH when I heard about the race,” said Courtney Coufts, a native of Hanover, Mass., who has three children ages 17, 16 and Kids K winner, Declan, who is 12.
“It was [the 1999] race,” she recalled. “Me, my husband [Greg] and my family haven’t missed since. This is the best. The apple pie, the running jerseys, the energy and the fun.”
It was 32 degrees at race time. But the wind was minimal and sun was beaming.
Race times for the top runners were on target.
North Andover native Jacob Johns, 28, won the 5K last year and won it again in 15:59 from box to wire. He bested Haverhill’s James Pothier, 21, by 10 seconds at 16:09 with Stephen Vercollone, 16, of Winchester, a distant third at 17:12.
“I got a good start and ran behind (5-miler) Chris Alfond up the hill,” said Johns, a former North Andover High and UMaine cross country star. “I got a little separation at the top. and I felt pretty good. It was a little cold, but not bad. “
In the women’s 5K, it was a familiar name in the top three, North Andover natives and sisters Deirdre (18:16) and Katrina Martyn (19:53), finished first (18:16) and third.
Both are North Andover natives. Another local star, Maggie Mullens, finished second at 19:26.
Katrina finished second last year, too. In fact, their dad, Doug Martyn, 62, won the race in 2001.
“I guess I’m the only one that hasn’t won it yet,” joked Katrina.
In the 5-mile race, a professional, former UMass Lowell star Christopher Alfond, 24, a native of Ashby, coasted to an easy win in 24:10, just six seconds off the course record, set in 1999 by David Hinga (24:04).
Alfond bested multiple-time champ, Ruben Sanca, 35, of Salisbury (26:05) and Chris Gabrielson, 34, Chelmsford (26:35).
“Ruben is a legend around here,” said Alfond, referring to Sanca, also a UMass Lowell alum. “I heard about this race a lot over the last few years. It was really cool, seeing all the fans and families. I had a great, great time.
In the women’s 5-mile, Lily Robinson of Somerville won in an impressive time of 28:54. Over the last two decades, only three finishing times were better.
Roberson, only 21, has running in the event since she was “a little kid.”
“It’s one of my favorite races,” said Robinson, who competes for UMass Amherst. “Everyone here is having fun. I seem to run into people I know.”
Morgan Lingar, 31, of New York City, finished second at 29:19, and Riley McMahon, 23, of Weston, was third at 29:49.