By KEVIN ROBERTS
There was a noticeable buzz around the finish line of the signature race of the 39th Apple Harvest Festival Road Races this past Sunday. It was clear that something special was happening at the end of the 5-mile race.
When 24-year-old Annmarie Tuxbury turned the corner from Berlin Avenue to Main Street, she was just a few steps behind the frontrunner down the final stretch. For the first time in Apple Harvest Road Race history, a woman was in contention for the top spot.
The former standout runner at Northwestern Regional High School and Bryant University smashed the female five-mile time record and finished second overall behind former Blue Knight standout John Longo. Tuxbury finished the course in a time of 27:31. The old record was 29:02, which was run by Dana Parot in 1998.
“I knew the record was 29 minutes, so I wanted to try to get under there,” Tuxbury said. “I wasn’t expecting to run that fast though.”
Tuxbury finished just six seconds behind Longo, who won the race for the third time in four years with a time of 27:25. The six second victory tied Longo’s smallest margin of victory. He also won by six seconds in 2016.
“I was right behind him, I had him in my sights for most of the race,” Tuxbury said. “At four miles, I thought I might have it, but then he got me on that little hill.”
Tuxbury’s run punctuated a great day that was also John Myers’ last as race director.
“I little bittersweet,” Myers said of stepping back. “I love this race. The next time I’m out here, I’ll be running.”
Myers, the executive director of the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA, saw the road races go from just the five-mile and the Little Fritter events to Sunday’s festivities, where there was a five-mile run, a 5K, a two-mile walk, the Y Cup and the Little Fritter runs.
Around 20 years ago, there were a few hundred participants. The number of participants on Sunday was nearly 1,700.
“I think it’s part of our community embracing being healthy,” Myers said of the growth. “Families are a good example. They’re great, they have the whole family out here.”
Myers believes the road races will be just fine after he’s gone.
“I think it’s got its foundation now, I think it will continue to do as well and perhaps grow more,” Myers said.
Tuxbury and Myers each praised those involved in keeping the races running smoothly.
“I enjoyed it, and the volunteers and everyone were really great,” said Tuxbury, who ran here for the first time. “I had no issues with traffic or anything. I knew where I was going, and everyone was so nice.”
Myers would attribute the good feelings to the town itself.
“What I love about this race, is that this is our hometown race,” Myers said. “You get a sense of that feeling here, from our littlest kids all the way up. People mark this on their calendars right away. They say, ‘I’m going to run in the Apple Harvest Road Races.’”
Myers has known Tuxbury’s mother and father for at least 30 years, a connection forged through rugby. Who knows? Maybe the woman with the fastest female five-mile time in road race history will be an Olympian someday. Tuxbury is competing in the Olympic trials for marathon running in Atlanta in 2020. She said she’s more of a long-distance runner, and by that she means marathons and half-marathons.
“I actually find a 5-mile race to be harder,” Tuxbury said. “It feels like a 5-mile sprint.”
Runners couldn’t have had better weather when the races started at 8:30 a.m. They were greeted on Columbus Avenue by sunny skies and cool temperatures.
“It was a perfect day out, nice and cool,” Tuxbury said.
The weather definitely played a part in the nearly 1,700-person turnout.
“We had a lot of walk-ins today because it was such a nice day,” Myers said.
After the race, Myers said hello to various people he came in contact with on Main Street on the way back to the Southington Community YMCA.
“Everyone’s involved, from those participating to our sponsors, who are just unbelievable,” Myers said. “They believe in it.”
Among the volunteers were about 70 members of Southington High’s cross country and fall track and field teams. Lady Knight swimmers took to the course for Team Lauryn. Lauryn Ossola, a former YMCA and Southington High swimmer, died after a hit-and-run accident in 2003.
“The first year they did it, it was really emotional,” Myers said. “It still is.”
There were plenty of other runners out there for fundraisers. Southington High girls soccer, Team Adam & Jim, and Team SMSAA (Southington Middle School Athletics Association) were among the groups who took part in the races. The Y Cup relay race was also back and doing well.
There were also the popular Little Fritter races, where youngsters did either a single lap or two laps around the Town Green.
“Running around the Town Green is a big accomplishment for these kids,” Myers said.
It also promotes being healthy, and that – along with town pride – is a great reason to run.
Below are the results from this year’s races:
5-Mile Road Race
John Longo edged Stephen Fengler and Holland Florian to defend his title in the men’s race. Division winners for the men were Adam Pitcher (9 and under), Carson Zielinski (10-15), Kian Siadat (16-19), Jim Rosenberger (20-29), Scott Maxwell (30-39), Mario Longo (40-49), Lawrence Regan (50-59), Dennis Barone (60-69) and Al Simmons (70-79).
Annmarie Tuxbury edged Elizabeth Fengler and Tracy Hubert to capture the women’s title. Division winners for the women were Jacqueline Liebler (10-15), Catherine Myers (16-19), Allison Zeoli (20-29), Kania Christi (30-39), Megan Barrett (40-49), Diane Snow (50-59), Jolaine Peace (60-69), and Janet Romayko (70-79).
Bill Zielinski and Tracy Hubert earned the Dave Gworek Memorial Award as the fastest Southington finishers.
5K Road Race
Michael Vesci beat Ryan O’Connor and Matthew Whittaker to win the men’s title. Division winners for the men were Eric Orstad (Under 10), Will Flanigan (11-13), Ben Fisher (14-16), Adam Hunter (17-19), Johnathan Dalton (20-29), Philip Tisi (30-39), Nick Lanigan (40-49), David Poppel (50-59), Kevin McNamara (60-69), David Tellerico (70-79), and Tom Butterfield (Over 80).
Kelley Elementary School runners combined for the fastest time in the 5th grade boys competition to claim the Y Cup. South End Elementary School runners won the Y Cup for the fourth grade boys.
Morgan Hubert beat Amanda Terenzi and Abbie Flanigan to win the women’s title. Division winners for the women were Nataly Carlson (Under 10), Lucy Bergin (11-13), Nina Muir (14-16), Monique Szabo (17-19), Jessica Goralski (20-29), Susan Taricani (30-39), Debbie Gutfreund (40-49), Luanne Borawski (50-59), Joan LaPierre (60-69), and Linda Rocco (70-79).
Thalberg Elementary School runners combined for the fastest time in the 5th grade girls competition to claim the Y Cup. Thalberg also won the Y Cup for the fourth grade girls.
Morgan Hubert captured the Chris Sanchez Award as the top finisher among SHS soccer players.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.