NARRAGANSETT — Little drama has existed in the recent runnings of the Blessing of the Fleet Road Race, with the winner typically leading the race for most of the 10 miles.
Friday’s 48th entry in the Narragansett summer staple was atypical, featuring plenty of lead changes, and even some unexpected chaos for good measure.
When the dust had cleared, it was some familiar names on top of the leaderboard. Brian Doyle won the race for the second consecutive year, while seven-time winner Matt Pelletier used a late surge to claim third place.
Nick Celico of Westerly, a Bishop Hendricken graduate, placed 11th in 55:01.
Jonathan Hammett of Charlestown finished 65th (1:02.39). Matt Drummond of Wyoming was 95th (1:05). Ryan Gamelin of West Kingstown was 96th (1:05.19), Sullivan Cummins of Carolina 97th (1:05.24) and Finn Weeden of Charlestown 98th (1:05.29).
Joe Light of Westerly finished seventh in the 10-mile racewalk (2:04).
“It’s cool,” Doyle said of the back-to-back wins. “Always great to come back. I was telling my friends earlier, this is really a staple of Rhode Island. The goal was to come up and have fun.
“I don’t know if I can get to Matt’s seven, but two is fine.”
Doyle was part of the early lead pack of three runners, alongside eventual second-place finisher Ian Steller and Bronson Venable, who faded to seventh place. Steller is a Providence College and Wheeler School graduate. Venable and Doyle were teammates at Bishop Hendricken, where they were coached by Brian’s uncle, Jim.
The three quickly split away from the mass of runners, and traded the lead back-and-forth for the first five miles. Venable chose to run an odd line, off on the side of the road, but his pace was good enough to keep up with Steller and Doyle for the first half of the race.
“I knew Bronson was going to try and run a five-minute pace, so I just stayed there,” Doyle said. “We were slow at [the] five [mile mark], so I figured I’d go. I don’t know what I was doing, I was kind of lost out there. The time was gone at that point, so I was just trying to hang with the leaders.
“I was gonna evaluate at six [miles]. If we were close to course record time, I was gonna go for that. Today, we weren’t even close. I just tried to win and have fun.”
Despite the fair weather and dry course, Doyle’s winning time of 52:03 was much slower than the 50:54 he posted a year ago. A crush of traffic on Route 108 interfered with the race, forcing the lead pack out of the road, and at one point, past the pair of pace vehicles. A race official cut off the press truck, causing a complete shuffling of the lead pack.
“It was fine,” Doyle said. “I don’t know who that guy was. It’s good to break it up a bit. Ten mile race, still a little longer than I’m used to. Good to mentally check in there.”
Summer traffic in Narragansett is never easy to corral, but Friday’s race featured more obstacles than your average Blessing. In addition to the wayward race official, multiple cars cut into the field at different points in the race, forcing the runners to have to adjust on the fly.
Doyle shook off those hindrances to win the race for a second consecutive summer. His brother Brendan popped into the course at three different junctures to hand off some water, and words of encouragement.
“He tells me I stink,” joked Doyle. “He’s good, it’s great to have him out there. He encourages me, he doesn’t worry about the splits or who’s where.
“He just says run hard, run tough. I think he’s why I’ve always been successful. He’s one of the least talented guys I know. He runs, he’s not smooth at all. The reason he was successful is because of his head. That’s something I’ll always take [away]. He’s one of my heroes.”
Rounding out the top 10 finishers was Jeff Venter of Exeter, Andrew Dionne, Tom Doyle (no relation), Venable, Joe Maguire, Matt Bouthillette and Michael Kiernan of Warwick.
Venable faded in the second-half of the race, dipping back into the pack after the stretch of craziness on 108. Doyle had previously been bested by his former teammate last month at the Gaspee Days 5K in Cranston.
“It gave me an indication that I definitely could not do it,” he said. “I did Gaspee, I lost to Bronson. Ran 15:07 there. That kind of woke me up. I didn’t do much all spring. Last six weeks, I’ve been training pretty hard.
“Two years [Bronson and I were teammates], he’s two years older than me. Bronson is another role model. My sophomore year he won the state title out of nowhere in cross country. My uncle teaches that stuff too, being mentally tough.”
It was also a repeat for the top female finisher. For the second straight year, Annmarie Tuxbury was the fastest woman on the course. Her time of 57:22 placed her 25th overall. URI All-American Lotte Black was third-fastest of the female finishers, placing 76th overall.
It was a big year attendance-wise for the race. There were 2,148 runners who crossed the finish line and 460 walkers. John Packhem was the fastest walker with a time of 1:54:05.
Other local finishers in the top 500 were Jeffrey Vuono, Westerly, (104th, 1:05.58), Simon Manlove, Ashaway (108th, 1:06.23), C.J. Elwell, Charlestown (132nd, 1:08.25), Luke Gillett, Wyoming (140th, 1:09.12), Michael King, Carolina (153rd, 1:09.49), Josh Smithey, Charlestown (154th, 1:09.49), Aaron Tallardy, Westerly (155th, 1:09.44), Seth Acton, Charlestown (156th, 1:09.50), Ellen Girouard, Westerly (160th, 1:09.57), Abby Cole, Bradford (161st, 1:09.57), Jeff Walker, Westerly (251st, 1:26.12), Steve Taber, Ashaway (278th, 1:16:31), Matthew Gabriele, Pawcatuck (296th, 1:16:34), Kevin Murphy, Pawcatuck (302nd, 1:16:51), Tim Gallagher, Charlestown (409th, 1:20:21), Peter Fraley, Charlestown (424th, 1:20.47), Sadie Gillett Madison, Wyoming (433rd, 1:21:21) and Frank Williams, Bradford (476th, 1:22:15).
Sarah Thomas Tracy of Richmond finished 37th in the race walk (2:13:54). Others in the top 300 were, Kristen LaCroix, Wyoming (95th, 2:22:56), Kathryn LaPlume, Charlestown (108th, 2:25:16), Bonnye Baker, Charlestown (130th, 2:28:39), Kim Barry, Pawcatuck (204th, 2:36:57) and Christine Colardo, Charlestown (271st, 2:42:39).