WESTERLY — The Surftown Half Marathon is only three years old, but already the Westerly Track & Athletic Club has established a home-course advantage.
The local running circuit represented its home stomping grounds spectacularly during the 13.1 mile race around the Watch Hill and Misquamicut course. Justin Bentley, of Hopkinton, a Westerly High biology teacher, finished first among the 1,614 entrants in 1:17.07, and Ryan Woolley of Westerly was third. Jeff Walker of Westerly finished sixth in 1:21.28, and his 13-year-old son, Matthew Walker, perhaps posted the day’s most impressive performance by finishing 26th in 1:27.43.
“Maybe there is a slight home-course advantage,” Bentley said. “Jeff and I do a lot of training on this course during the winter. When the Hartford Marathon Foundation brought this event here, it was a no-brainer, we had to run it. It’s nice, honestly, to be familiar with landmarks on a course and knowing what hills are coming up.”
Bentley, 35, finished seventh in this race last year. Training for a marathon three weeks from now in New Hampshire, Bentley wanted to run fast, but had no idea if he was a favorite to win.
“You never know who is going to show up,” Bentley said. “I broke out pretty fast and ran evenly with Ryan Woolley, and after a few miles we are in front looking at each other like ‘it’s you and me.’ We ran together for about 10 miles, then I started to pull away. It was a very nice run until the hill at the Ocean House, which is kind of a bear. Overall, the time of day (7:30 a.m. start), the weather (60 degrees), the overall flat course, the organization of the race, it was perfect. I couldn’t ask for better conditions.”
Bentley finished 16th in the 2011 inaugural Surftown eventin 1:22.46 and placed seventh last year in 1:19.34. Though he runs often in the more common 5K races, he has developed a passion for half marathons.
“It’s my favorite distance,” Bentley said. “The pace I ran today (5:54 mile) is the pace at which I feel most comfortable. I’ve never won a half marathon race, so this is one of my racing highlights.”
Walker also shaved a minute off his time from his 15th- place finish (1:22.33) last year.
“It was a great day for the Westerly Track & Athletic Club,” Walker said. “We’re trying to build up the club and have everything from fun runs to competitive runners that you saw today. Seeing so many WTAC singlets near the front of this race gives us a great source of pride.”
Walker was understandably more proud of his son, a Westerly Middle School student. The younger Walker had never attempted a 13.1-mile run before Sunday.
“It was really tough and I felt like stopping a few times,” Matthew Walker said. “It was a great experience.”
The only other teen to finish in the top 100 was Christopher Messier, 17, of Plainfield, who was 35th.
“Matt is a really good role model for younger kids,” his father said. “Overall, the middle school track team did a great job as volunteers helping out during the race. Matt showed what is possible for a middle schooler to accomplish — 13 (years old) for 13 (miles) through his training.”
Marie Davenport, of Guilford, Conn., was the first female finisher, placing second overall in 1:18.54. Katie Davenport, of Westerly was the first local female, finishing 60th in 1:33.40 and 11th among all females. Among the top 100, 22 local runners placed.
A 5K was run simultaneously with the half marathon. Marcus French-O’Carroll, of Yonkers, N.Y., won in 18:14. Ryann Murphy, of Westerly, was third in 20:28 and Nick Longolucco, of Bradford, was 10th in 21:30. The race had 412 finishers.
While Bentley was the overall winner, the race cast the Misquamicut Beach area and local volunteers and police, fire and EMT personnel in a positive light as the region continues to conduct business as usual as it mends from Super Storm Sandy last fall.
“We didn’t notice any difference this year with race logistics from last year and we ran the same route,” said Beth Shluger, race director and Hartford Marathon Foundation CEO. “It’s amazing what the beach looks like now compared to six months ago.”
Bentley noted the symbolism of the event drawing 2,000 competitors and the race going off without a hitch as it preceded Sunday’s portion of the Misquamicut Fall Festival.
“This successful race is another sign of people coming together to bring back the beach,” Bentley said. “I know the race organizers used a good portion of the race proceeds to help certain aspects in the ‘Bring Back the Beach’ campaign. The organizers know racing and have the logistics of staging a race down to a science.
“This is a great time of year to have a half marathon here, and I look forward to running in many more of these here.”
Local runners in the top 225 males were: 1. Bentley (Hopkinton) 1:17.07; 3. Woolley (Westerly), 1:19.10; 6. J. Walker (Westerly) 1:21.28; 13. Seth Acton (Charlestown) 1:24.0; 14. Stan Mickus (Mystic) 1:24.29; 26. M. Walker (Westerly) 1:27.53); 30. Mike Boumenot (Pawcatuck) 1:28.45); 39. Andrew Taylor (1:30.02); 49. Joshua Pesch (Westerly) 1:31.44); 54. Daniel Brannegan (Pawcatuck) 1:32.24; 71. Brian Anderson (1:34.56); 73. Kory Klimas (Pawcatuck) 1:35.10; 79. David Silva (Pawcatuck) 1:35.37; 81. Jeff Huckle (Westerly) 1:35.42; 88. Steven deCastro (Pawcatuck) 1:36.08; 96. Paul Collette (Pawcatuck) 1:36.37; 97. Brian Kelley (Westerly) 1:36.38; 134. Paul Norian (North Stonington) 1:39:29; 144. Aaron Gall (Mystic) 1:40.36; 149. Rich Coppa (Ashaway) 1:40.57; 176. Andrej Dukalev (Mystic) 1:42.43; 182. Jim Constantine (Pawcatuck) 1:43.05; 194. Michael Crutchley (North Stonington) 1:43.31; 207. Dirk Vlieks (Mystic) 1:44.05; 210. Greg Niles (Stonington) 1:44.12
Local finishers among the top 225 females were: 11. Katie Davenport (Westerly) 1:33.40; 14. Stacey Leitz (Carolina) 1:35.09; 16. Jennifer Massengale (Mystic) 1:35.23; 39. Jennifer Decaro (Westerly) 1:39.40; 40. Tara Smallidge (Westerly) 1:40.57; 43. Kayla Mahoney (Stonington) 1:42.01; 52. Karen Dobley (North Stonington) 1:43.10; 136. Jennifer Decaro (Westerly) 1:39.34; 148. Tara Smallidge (Westerly) 1:40.47; 160. Kayla Maloney (Stonington) 1:41.50.